The first time I went to high tea was about 15 years ago for a girlfriend’s birthday at the Victoria Room in Darlinghurst, Sydney. It was very bohemian and very dim. Sheer fabric separated the tables and the room looked a little bit like an old claustrophobic antique store. Crammed into the room were tassels, fringes, crystals and bejeweled items in a room full of strong red and purple colours. Bottles of champagne popped amongst teapots and teacups and I wondered if the name should have been changed to high booze.
I had expected something more ‘English’, more country manor, less dimness, more restraint in colour and noise. Surely the English spoke in muted tones when partaking in such an esteemed event as high tea? Surely the English would not have popped champagne in the middle of the day?
Fast forward 15 years, and I’m at The Tea Room in the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) in Sydney with Panda, her friend G and G’s mum. The QVB itself is a beautiful historic building built in 1898, and the girls are extremely excited to be posh ladies for 2 hours. I’m also extremely pleased – things are as I expect high tea to be.
The Tea Room is located in the original Grand ballroom (swoon). The lift entrance is encased in glass and reception is outside the actual dining room to keep noise levels down. When you walk into the large room, you barely hear a murmur even though there are guests already enjoying their morning tea. We are seated on large single person lounges at a low table. Baccarat crystal chandeliers hang from the very high ornate Victorian ceilings, the carpet is soft and thick, and there is a huge urn in the middle of the room with a large pastel-hued flower arrangement. Sumptuous is the word.
There’s also something very grand about drinking tea from a silver teapot and dining on delicate morsels of food from a 3-tiered plate stand, and a Royal Albert one at that.
With my carb-sensors switched off, the afternoon high tea is all fresh and reasonably tasty. The hot course includes Peking duck pancakes (bingo! say Panda’s eyes) and a savoury cheese biscuit with smoked salmon.
For the cold course we have crust-less sandwiches (which were a little lacking in the wow factor that I was expecting for the price we’re paying) with fillings like coronation chicken (chicken in a curry sauce is our explanation to the girls), egg and chives, and cheddar and chutney.
The sweets are done well and include a salted caramel macaron, chocolate mousse cake, blood orange jelly cheesecake and a lovely mini fruit tart. I struggle to finish an extra-large scone which comes with jam and cream, however I do enjoy the sweet and slightly crumbly texture.
The girls share a serving, which turns out to be a wise move, because we go from totally famished to Oh no, you have it, I can’t fit anything else in with 3 sweets and a scone left. Although the girls do manage to polish off the bowl of cream (I’ve always told Panda that dairy is good for you).
While the food isn’t going to get them into any food guides, in between the girls fluttering their eye-lids while drinking tea with their pinkies raised (because apparently that’s what posh ladies do when having afternoon tea), the attentive service of the unflappable waiters, the lavish surrounds and tranquil atmosphere of The Tea Room, it was a great afternoon out for two harried mums and two wonderful tweens who deserved the day out.
Verdict: High tea isn’t cheap – you’re paying for both the food, surrounds and the feelings that the experience evokes (which isn’t always a bad thing). It’s definitely not something you would do on a regular basis, and it’s best shared with family and friends.
Cost: Afternoon tea $45 pp and $6 for a glass of orange juice