Last week, I took a colleague (herself English, so she should know!) to a full-blown high tea at the Observatory Hotel. We felt like the Duchess of Bedford as soon as we walked through the entrance hall; it gleamed with the cool marble tiles, smooth swooping banisters and glinting chandeliers. After wafting his way between the perfectly laid tables and crisply folded newspapers, we were greeted by a smiling waiter who settled us into comfortable bachelor-green leather armchairs with the exciting prospect of champagne. A sign of good things to come.
Neat triangles of crustless bread filled with a variety of egg mayonnaise, ham and cheese, smoked salmon and, of course, cucumber were arranged neatly on the lowest tier of our china cake stand. Our eyes swiftly climbed up to the next level of our cakey pyramid: the scone layer, featuring four freshly baked miniature scones accompanied by dinky jars of clotted cream and strawberry jam which emanated a sweet, summery fragrance. More often than not hotel scones are claggy, insipid and fridge-cold, so it made these - sweet, raisin studded and misted with a haze of icing sugar - irresistible. The menu goes on, with miniature ramekins of crème brulee, cones of chocolate mousse, powder-pink macarons and fruit tarts. Not all of it was as fresh as the scones as tiny squares of cheesecake tasted of fridge, but overall the glorious array of afternoon treats didn’t just plug the hole between lunch and dinner, but substituted both.
It couldn’t be called afternoon tea without at least a pot of freshly-brewed foliage. The Observatory boasts an impressive list; from the familiar Ceylon, Darjeeling and Lapsang Souchong, to the more intriguing and exotic Dragon Eyes Jasmine, Warm Spice and Sencha First Flush. Served in mismatching teapots, each prettily patterned, was a welcome change the customary institution-white was.
It’s a shame that afternoon tea isn’t more popular. In this era of carrot-crunching health professionals advising to eat five (albeit small) meals per day, perhaps it will make a comeback, and the Observatory Hotel would be a spectacular place to return to when the time comes.
89-113 Kent Street, The Rocks, Sydney NSW 2000
Click here for high tea bookings