Preserving history

Offerings like rose and raspberry macarons, pistachio cake, passion fruit tart, coronation chicken and truffles, salmon rillette royale and caviar egg salad layer the Biltmore’s high tea platters. (Chris Mortenson/Staff Photographer)

Under the Moorish ceiling of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel’s Rendezvous Court, high tea has begun. The gentle notes of a piano fill the room as trays of steaming teacups and bubbling Champagne float to its tables, where guests pick at tiered towers dotted with ornamental delicacies.

“We managed to get a number of the original menus from the hotel … from 1928, 1932 and 1935,” said Alex Decarvalho, general manager at the Biltmore. “We looked and cherry-picked a selection that we thought would be just as good today as they were back in the day, and we incorporated those into our afternoon tea menu.”

In preparation for the Biltmore’s 100-year birthday celebration, which began with a speakeasy-themed New Year’s Eve ball, Decarvalho and his team surveyed 100 members of the media about the Biltmore’s prevailing image and impression in Downtown LA. The “afternoon high tea” ceremony was an overwhelmingly popular answer, as the hotel’s Rendezvous Court, according to Decarvalho, is “made for an elegant afternoon session” and built to fit the demand.

“Everything we are doing around the Biltmore and the anniversary is just to celebrate our history and heritage and some of the classic elegance, architecture and design of the Biltmore, with the (tea) service that sparks back to a different time, a time where people have a little bit more time to sit down and enjoy the food, company and service,” he said. “It’s a little bit more traditional as opposed to, these days, a lot of the places that want to get you in, give you a good experience and get you out so they can turn the table around. We want people to come in and spend a couple of hours just enjoying themselves and really getting the most out of that experience.”

The Biltmore’s teas are crafted by chef Justin Bastian of St. Bastian Tea Company, with two custom blends designed specifically for the hotel’s ceremony. Much like fine wine, tea blends must strike a balance between its various flavors and notes.

“We offer that as a unique experience,” Decarvalho described. “When our teamaker put together a selection of several different blends, we had some of our most traditional customers, we invited them in to try it out and give us some feedback. The Angelus brand is our Biltmore house tea blend that was designed (for the hotel), and for people who do enjoy tea, it’s an art getting those blends right.”

Alongside the Angelus blend, made from a collection of black teas, the Biltmore’s “royal tea” selection includes the Biltmore Sterling, a lavender Earl Grey tea; the Prince, a scotch Earl Grey tea; and English Voyager, a full-bodied, smoky breakfast tea, along with herbal teas like the Soleil, which is a hibiscus tisane, and High Regency, a rose assam and rooibos tea.

The tea service, which includes a complimentary glass of Champagne for guests ages 21 and older, was designed as a wedding of beverages with sandwiches, scones and pastry offerings. 

The pastries are sculpted by pâtissière Mercedes Molina, who Decarvalho described as “the best I’ve worked with in my nearly 30 years in the hospitality industry … and her pastries are just amazing,” while the hotel’s culinary team is led by executive chef Franco De Dominicis, who was raised in southern Italy and trained at the Accademia dell’Arte Culinarie di Napoli before working as a sous chef in London’s San Lorenzo Knightsbridge, where he served the likes of Sir Paul McCartney and Princess Diana.

While Molina and De Dominicis work to create magic on guests’ plates, Decarvalho also emphasized the role of the Rendezvous Court’s architecture in building an immersive dining experience.

“It’s one of a kind,” he said. “The decor style has lasted through the decades, and it’s something we’re very proud to have preserved. The best investments we make are ones that guests will never see. We signed the bill for over a million dollars in quarter four last year, and it’s just on restoration of ceilings and walls. And if it’s done properly, you’re not even going to notice. That’s our expectation, that if it’s done well, you’ll just see it in its original splendor.

“A hotel that’s a hundred years old, it requires a lot of upkeep. That’s our goal, to make sure that people can still see the beauty of the original architecture and design, but in its pristine condition, all very well kept and as it was when it was first built.”

From its role as a covert speakeasy during Prohibition to hosting the Academy Awards throughout the 1930s, the Biltmore’s identity in LA has continued to evolve since its birth in 1923. For Decarvalho, this storied history, seen in the building’s architecture and ceremonies like afternoon tea, sets the hotel apart in the Downtown cityscape.

“The Biltmore is the only hotel that I know, certainly in Downtown LA, that has its own guided tours provided by the LA Conservancy,” he explained. “Downtown LA was really having a resurgence a few years ago, and the whole process was sort of slowed down by the pandemic and having to restart as businesses try to find out what the new normal is and how to work. So, we’ve been working with the parks and recreation office … really encouraging the rejuvenation of Pershing Square and (learning) how we can play a part in that. We’ve been a lot more involved in just revitalizing. 

“There’s so much potential for Downtown LA, and we can see the trend. We just want to continue to build on that trend in Downtown LA, not only for its financial and commercial status but also as a great residential alternative. … (We want to raise) awareness on the beauty and the appeal of Downtown Los Angeles for the Angeleno community. We’re very much working towards that.”

High Tea Ceremony at the Biltmore

WHERE: Rendezvous Court, 506 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles

WHEN: Reservations can be made through OpenTable and by calling the front desk

COST: $75 per person

INFO:, 213-624-1011