You are in Victorian London with John Worthing J.P., while his useless friend Algernon Moncrieff scoffs all the cucumber sandwiches expressly ordered for Lady Bracknell. You observe the butler's effortless averting of her wrath by avowing, without missing a beat, that there were no cucumbers to be had at the market "not even for ready money". Post haste to Woolton, where Algie munches all the muffins (most certainly not the horrible stodgy cakey things they sell in Melbourne... may I recommend Mary Forsell's Crumbly Raspberry Muffins from The Berry Garden pub. MacDonald Orbis, but go easy on the crumble) It's all very clever, but Algie and Jack are really not the best advertisement for the species. If you can't stand the effete, get out of the drawing room ... and take the train.
You are sharing a carriage with Emma Peel and John Steed, on the train to Little Bazeley by the Sea, (do, do get off at Greater Bazeley by the Bye, as you are destined to be literally hounded to death on arrival). At three o'clock precisely, Steed reaches into a handsome carpet bag and withdraws a beautiful wooden caddy (Indian or China?), porcelain cups, saucers and teapot, a three tiered silver stand of comestibles, silver teaspoons, tongs, milk jug and sugar bowl. An ear splitting whistle pierces the quiet ... it's not the train but a steaming kettle lifted from the bag to make the perfect brew. Another marzipan delight? It's easy to see why Steed brought his own - good afternoon tea is nigh impossible to find.
And were Mrs. Peel and Steed in Melbourne investigating the strange deaths of several deluded architects found wearing snowsuits and skis beneath the blades of Melbourne's new Museum, Exhibition Centre and Centrelink Gateway, wherever could they go?
Let's analyse this. Now, the essence of the occasion is refinement - fine china, fine linen, fine silver, all the ritual paraphernalia. The food also must be light and fine, the bread white. Wholemeal bread is an anathema. (Sustenance is not an issue. It's not as if you have to work for a living, or why would you be idling for hours in the afternoon?) So, white bread pressed flat for asparagus rolls, slivers of sandwiches, biscuit pastries crisp and pale, light as a feather scones served with jewel-coloured jams and clotted cream, mini eclairs and dainty jam tarts, tiny lamingtons (as reinvented by the brilliant Helen Goh), and weightless (on the plate) passionfruit sponges, two hands high in any country kitchen but shamefully absent from professional tables.
The Windsor comes closest, with its Restaurant 111 Spring Street,(though the old leather lounge would have been more in the Avengers' style).It's an elegant room, a perfect oasis of calm, with the pleasing patina of silver spoons, strainers, pots, all resplendent with lions rampant(to remain calm, avoid contemplating over whom and where they ramped).Three-tiered silver stands hold delicate and delicious scones and savouries. The staff are self-possessed and attentive. The cakes, well ... on Sunday afternoons, as seems to be the case everywhere, they are by and large too heavy- dense chocolate cakes and thick cheesecakes that are simply the wrong accompaniments for tea. I would ring ahead and make sure that the mini eclairs and small fruit tarts were in greater supply.
It seems that the other city hotels are catering to a clientele that's neither fussy about nor fond of afternoon tea and are providing in the weekends a conglomeration of afternoon tea and high tea (a simple evening meal containing inter alia a cooked dish). If that's what the punters want, so be it. Is Afternoon Tea possible in the Post Modern Post Colonial Age? But it would be nice to have the elegance of the original preserved and provided as an option
Perhaps I'll invite Steed home for marzipan delights (remembering he likes his tea stirred anti-clockwise) while Emma's kicking the teeth out of some twisted barley sugar manufacturer, and see if he won't stay around to build a Champagne fountain.
David Jones - Cafe Mezz (Lt Collins Street entrance off South Bourke Street store)
Clean, modern, comfortable. almost stark but very popular Probably because of low prices and friendly staff. Fellow patrons were a mixture of shoppers and workers, young or interesting (no, it isn't the same thing)
Mark Avela was a bright, entertaining and efficient host, though his role is probably waiter. A small range of cakes was available: Sticky date pudding, Hazelnut cheesecake, Lemon butter cake,
Chose the first which was actually more a cake of extremely light texture, and delicious flavour, served warm with ice-cream.
Leaf Tea in china pot, very hot, and a generous jug of milk, again in china. All this just a scone's throw away from the old cutlery crashing Coles Cafeteria which, tragically, had its Muffin the Mule sold off and its marvellous art deco tiling toned down to become a menswear department before I could hire it for the party venue of the century
Also Devonshire tea available at $6.00. Very Good!
Meticulous and colourful window displays. As always, the litany of available coffee styles. I asked for a tea macchiato. The coffee maestro looked bemused. "What's that?" he said." Precisely", I replied. I bypassed his ironic bypass and ordered a pot of tea, and a selection of the many mini cakes and biscuits on display, all under $1 each. Tea was as forgettable as expected. It manifested as a tea bag in a steel pot, not hot enough, together with a too small jug of milk.
Great cakes - although Italian custard in mini choux pastries (profiteroles they insisted) are never to my taste - kisses are delicious, lemon tarts are very good, as are the strawberry tarts.
Along the walls are glass fronted refrigerators (squeaky clean) filled with special occasion cakes to take home, along with smaller individual mousses and cakes. In another room, 20 or so gelato flavours available in cone or cup. Behind the counter, a large Chocolate model of the restaurant (three frontages) to intrigue and delight children of all ages
Lots of happy customers. The place buzzes like a hive of bees as local businessmen and women, academics, teachers, local residents, shoppers, old friends, interviewers and interviewees, playwrights and actors, in fact anyone surfing the great fun of Lygon Street.
A young woman enters and chooses an shiny chocolate covered cake in the shape of a crown as her 20th birthday cake..."a crown to say goodbye to the teen queen! "All create and sustain the buzzy celebratory atmosphere they have sought.
Cost:Plate of 4 mini cakes $4.00 (approx), plus Tea $2.00 - Total $6.00
The Best. Waitresses - charming, intelligent, flexible, hospitable.
Tea:Leaf, Russian Caravan, china pot, pot of hot water, glass of cold water to drink
Vases of home-grown, full-blown roses. Posters for theatre and music, fliers, kids' books. Customers' home away from home.
Cake: Hungarian Plum Cake - like mother used to make. Also tried: Lemon Tart - excellent. Shoo fly bun - fine. As well: Wonderful bread and pastries baked on the premises to take away.
Cost:Tea$2.50, Cakes $3.00-$4.50, Bun $1.00
Traveller's Aid Tea Rooms
Just keep walking.
A lovely building, beautifully fitted out in the laurent style aesthetically designed china, wonderful patisserie, finely finished decor. But something is missing. The clientele dribble in, quite a few tourists, people who are familiar with the splendidly successful South Yarra and Camberwell branches ... but where is the life, the joie de vivre?
Utterly, utterly, dead. More fun at a meeting of barbed wire fanciers.
I keep returning, but it is always the same, low spirited, solemn, I first went there the day France won the World cup, seeking somewhere to celebrate, somewhere with an echo, however faint, of the delirium I had seen in the Champs Elysees on TV the night before
Utterly, utterly dead. More fun at a meeting of barbed wire fanciers. I must have imagined the whole world cup thing. It contrasts sharply with the colourful party atmosphere of nearby Block Place ... perhaps the decor needs more colour, and brighter music, and someone with a sense of humour or fun or style to set the tone.
The same wonderful fare, room for only about 20 inside, and seats are at a premium, Looking onto sunny Burke Road, with its busy throng of shoppers, the place is welcoming and pleasing to the senses with the heady scent of all things farinaceous and yeasty in the air.
Fellow customers are mainly women, probably taking a break from a shopping trip, or catching up with a friend , and there's a pleasant unobtrusive level of conversation.
A baguette to share, a gorgeous cake, some bread and pastries for home, and a hot hot pot of loose leaf tea in the Laurent china tea service. Completely satisfying. Excellent.
Service: bright, sunny, chatty. Room for about 20 people. Same excellent fare as the city. Highly recommended.
Laurent, South Yarra
A very very pleasant place to stop. A few tables inside and some out in Toorak Road. Not much room, and a steady stream of customers buying baguettes, pastries, and patisserie. The pace is just short of frantic. Hard working staff who are always warm, smiling and obliging. Always some locals taking coffee with a pastry or delicious custard -filled doughnut, and shoppers or passers- by, like me, who find it just too difficult to by-pass Laurent.
Order and pay at the counter. Staff very attentive and courteous, but the one who served me was low on intuition and didn't waste time. on a pot. Sensible really. Tea was a cup of very hot water with a teabag on the side. Self dunk. Ironically, it was quite good. Always order Earl Grey if it's to be bagged-somehow it survives better than most. For an extra 20 cents, I could have had the full aesthetic of the thermally inefficient steel pot. Had to return to the counter and ask for milk. Seems my assistant was away with the pixies doing anything but serving in a food establishment. Still, we all have those days, and it can be quite relaxing to allow ones self to mimic the mindless rhythm of the detached soul. Expect to see Deprak Chopra there any day now.
To be serious, a glitch in a high standard sandwich bar that was otherwise staffed by very eager, energetic and courteous staff will not stop me from calling in again if time is of the essence and I need a quick fix.
Mini fruit tarts (strawberry or peach), were quite good, mini roll with turkey and cranberry sauce very good. Croissants, soft light and buttery. Bread roll, very good.
Tea: $1.80 cup ($2.00 pot), Roll $2.50, Mini tarts $1.50, Chocolate Croissants $1.90, Plain Croissants $1.70
Paul Bocuse at Daimaru
Premises: Small, seating for about 20. Part of busy ground store floor and inappropriate if you are looking for a quiet place. There was quite a mix of patrons-tourists, shoppers, friends, no one alone save me. Perhaps we were united by the lure of the cakes and pastries displayed in all their glory ... well, some of their glory. It's not as extensive or eye stopping as Laurent. No, they were probably therefore the excellent value light early lunch dish that's always advertised on the blackboard menu. Or perhaps they were just the right wing globally conspiring chauvinistic coffee establishment
The staff were pleasant but solemn. Leaf tea was nicely served in a China pot, with a generous china jug of milk. You can't possibly know how comforting it is not to be continually asking for more milk as one is forced to do in those establishments where it is served begrudgingly in the meanest little container. Unsensible me ordered a St. Marc - a glorious concoction of chocolate and smoothed mousses with edible gold on the top. At that moment, Nero passed by and gave me a strongly disapproving look. He was right- delicious, but a bad choice in the morning, especially when there were more appropriate pastries on offer.
Tea and Cake at the Hyatt
Only possible if you "buy" the $9.50 dessert platter as well as your pot of tea ($4.00).
While the buffet is impressive, including mini strawberry and lemon tarts, mini creme caramel, chocolate cake, two cheesecakes, orange and poppyseed - ie. many favourites. However it is inappropriate for morning or afternoon tea.
Service, poor - not coordinated. Fellow guests - probably hotel guests.
Pleasant decor. Roomy. Spacious. Somewhat noisy due to water features and lobby. This can be a plus or a minus.
Double Dutch Cafe Bar
More suited to snacks and coffee. At night a Mecca for musos. Only open 3 weeks when reviewed - best to wait. Cake good, home-made.
Tea ("I don't understand tea," declared the maker) served with a jug of warm frothy milk!
Cost:Tea $2.00, Cake $4.00, Total - $6.00
Myer Cordon Bleu, Ground floor Lonsdale Street.
Pleasant staff, pleasant surroundings. Tea - teabag in china pot, very hot, good milk jug, good strawberry shortcake.
Cost: Tea $2.95, Cake $4.50, Total - $7.45
Cioccolata e Caffe
Very rich cakes featuring chocolate. Explosive chocolate muffins over the top with chocolate and sugar, sickly lamington also too chocolatey. Perhaps try fruit muffin. Sweetheart cake not nice.
Tea in plunger got cold quickly. Baby-cinos available. Serves foccacia and savoury snacks. Welcomes children.
Cost: Tea $2.20, Muffins $2.95, Sweetheart$5.00
The Paragon Cafe Rathdowne Street, Carlton
A wonderful aspect from inside or outside tables on the wide verandahed footpath. One of the loveliest parts of the North Carlton village, its gentle terraces no higher than the trees, soft shadowed, framed with iron lace, and the gigantic elms of Curtain square like grand green galleons. I could sit here all day.
So shiny - the floor, the tables, the counters, everything absolutely gleaming, shiny surfaces of wood, marble, metal in floor table and furnishings.
Clientele: couples, families, women who lunch, fairly noisy, but pleasantly so, save for a pair of obnoxious, ungracious developers on the next table loudly, raucously plotting the destruction of the suburb.
The service was prompt and pleasant. A generous chunk of lemon tea cake (enough for four) came with the usual stainless steel tea bag combo to be expected in an Italian restaurant.
I watched two friends at an outside table lingering over glasses that reflected the world. They swirled the sunlight through their pale gold wine and drank the beauty of the day.
A beautiful display of cakes and tarts, bread and savoury snacks such as quiche, and tomato topped brioche.
Small dining space. room for 8 inside , and a few tables on the footpath. Business men on the way home ,on the way to the airport, Nova cinema patrons and locals dropping in for a coffee and snack or to pick up delicious bread or something sweet to round off dinner.
Very fine offerings indeed -excellent flourless chocolate muffin superior croissant, sugary macadamia nut shortcake, lemon muffin, sticky date munch.
Teabag and stainless steel combo, but generous-sized pot and china milk jug.
Very pleasant young staff , including a good- humoured self-possessed young gentleman who did not seem allergic to middle-aged women/who seemed to acknowledge a common humanity with middle-aged women. Wise fellow.
Cost: Tea $2.30, Cake: $2.00
Sofi's Lounge at The Hotel Sofitel
The lounge that is Sofi's is at the right of the reception area of the hotel proper. Ten thirty. Others, three tables of mixed executives doing meetings, a solitary woman with diary doing meetings on her mobile phone. Lofty, open, but not intimidating, with inviting contemporary art exhibitions of painting and sculpture adding interest and stimulation to the area a definite plus. The hostess, working the floor alone, was very relaxed and welcoming. Tea arrived in an lovely, large Wedgewood pot, with matching crockery. Very contemporary and attractive. But no strainer.
I called the hostess who explained that there was in fact no strainer needed because there was indeed a tea bag in the pot, and, she added, without missing a beat, but obviously responding to the involuntary look of surprise on my face, there was no strainer because there was no room on the table, it being crowded with the tea pot, teacup, milk jug, plate etc.! The tea was easier to swallow, but there were points for inventiveness, daring and courage under fire. And she did offer to make a new pot with loose leaves but I didn't want to strain the friendship.
There was a very small selection of four okay pastries and a homely muffin. The advertised afternoon tea with "gourmet mini sandwiches , freshly baked scones, opulent cakes and pastries, and a select range of Mariage Freres Teas " is probably worth trying, but watch out for crowd control.
Cost: Tea 4.00, Pastries x 25.50
Timbale Swan Street, Richmond
More a sandwich bar, order and pay at the counter, with a young grunge collage style decor. Usual steel combo, with miniscule milk jug, and discarded tea bag leaking damp stains over paper napkin and plate. A chicken bacon and avocado sandwich was wholesome and substantial. Tried a dry chocolate cake, and an excellent flourless pear and orange cake. Not for the tea drinker nor anyone wearing the matron's uniform. Photos of delighted customers all along the staircase bore witness to a vivacious satisfied society of customers, obviously coffee lovers, and probably night-owls.
Cost: Tea $2.00, Cake: $3.00
Had a delightful morning introducing four year old niece to the ceremony of morning tea at the Windsor. Not just to morning tea, but to gracious hospitality that is so hard to find. Plenty of aspects to explain and appreciate, The linen, the charming classical background music, the floral paintings, the silver and the serene light-filled room overlooking the grand curves and spires of Parliament House and St. Patrick's Cathedral. The little girl was addressed as "princess" and she felt like one, sipping her hot chocolate from a silver teaspoon. Her mother and I ordered the fixed price morning tea, and relaxed in this absolute oasis of quiet and calm which we had mainly to ourselves.
Lions were rampant everywhere, from the doormat to the silver teapot, but the accents were charmingly French. A three tier selection of savoury and sweet offerings comprised .a cucumber sandwich, fine slices of very light quiche, tiny rounds of smoked salmon, a little brie with apricot and almond, a very plain madeira cake, a small chocolate muffin. The cake selection was a little dry and sensible, but this was not inappropriate for morning tea, and cream was served in a silver dish on the side. Still, the wake-up zest of a little fruit, strawberry or lemon, perhaps in a mini tart or pastry would be a good idea.
A large range of teas, and beautifully hot. The only complaint was the lack of synchronicity in the arrival of the beverages and the comestibles.( You use this vocabulary when you've been treated like royalty.)All in all, the relaxation only found in a meticulously run dining room.
Completely refreshed and confidence boosted, we walked on air to Spring Street farewelled by no less than six courteous gentlemen ... and no paparazzi
The set price was $18.50 for the duennas; no charge(save the hot chocolate) for the Infanta.
© Mary Kenneally 1999
See also katherine Knox on the search for a real toasted ham and cheese and tomato sandwich and baby-chino.