You might go for the dainties, the Darjeeling or the Devonshire cream. The components that make a wonderful afternoon tea are, largely, a mater of taste. However, we can offer in addition to our own opinion this rather rough rule: places that claim to serve High Tea are best avoided.
The good men and women of the Grammar Gang blog offer this comprehensive explanation of the term High Tea. Traditionally, the High Tea was a substantial meal of savouries eaten by working people at 5 PM. It might sound posh; but it isn’t. And, after all, a genteel afternoon tea is all about affectation and ancient etiquette. If you’re going to partake of the three-hundred-year-old ritual that was begun by the Duchess of Bedford to ease her mid-afternoon malaise, do it somewhere What Speaks English Good.
Arguably, the very best place in the nation is at the site of its first settlement. In The Rocks, set your sights on colonial decorum at the absurdly wonderful Observatory Hotel. Phone 02 8248 5252 to book your place in hospitality heaven and meet the tea-master who is on hand to match your brew with baked goods. It ain’t cheap. Then again, it ain’t anything south of paradise. This is a place to frock up and chow down (by which of course, we mean, eat daintily) and enjoy the feel of a serene salon. And, btw, this is one of th efew joints to serve up the full enchilada every day. (N.B. May not involve actual enchilada).
In Sydney, we also like the Stamford in Circular Quay and the Gunners’ Barracks at Mosman for their old-school respect.
Any arvo-tea aficionado will not miss the efforts of the Country Women’s Association at the Royal Easter and Royal Melbourne agricultural shows every year. For sheer scone quality alone, these are stellar events set amid the sheep and the show bags. To return to more salubrious surrounds in the south, though, tradition directs you to The Windsor. Across from Parliament, the old girl serves her sweeties with a certain resignation. It has the reputation but, sadly, not always the goods. For service of a higher standard, head to the far-more-contemporary but (yes, we’re going to say it) better deal at Café La at the Sofitel on Collins.
We quite fancy the Hopetoun Tea Rooms for its slavishly old-fashioned décor and feel , also on Collins. And, for hipster luxe, there is none better than Madame Brusels at the top end of Bourke. Enjoy irony with your cucumber sandwich.
And enjoy the gentleness of the tea tradition. We welcome your contributions to the search for the perfect afternoon.