IS there anything more lovely than a plate packed with finger sandwiches, plump scones flanked by dishes of jam and cream, colourful macaroons, and cute miniature cakes?
Afternoon tea has always been one of my favourite eating experiences, especially when I have time to linger over pots of a fragrant brew and perfectly-arranged pastries, and when I found myself sans appointments this afternoon I headed for one of Sydney’s most elegant eateries to indulge in the refine mid-afternoon ritual.
The Tea Room at the Queen Victoria Building – simply known as QVB to Sydneysiders – is one of the finest places to afternoon in the New South Wales capital with the baronial space featuring 19th-century flourishes like high ceilings, crystal chandeliers, Royal Albert china, colourful flower arrangements in tall vases, and attentive waiters dressed in smart white coats.
For a couple of quiet and calm hours I lounged in a plush velvet armchair, snacked on gourmet goodies presented on a three-tier stand, and sipped delicious rose tea while admiring a space built to host sophisticated soirees.
QVB was constructed in the 1890s as a project to give artisan tradesmen like stonemasons, tilers, carpenters and plasterers work during a dip in the economy and the third-floor saloon that’s now home to The Tea Room was then the grand ballroom.
I selected rose tea from a menu boasting two pages of flavour options, spanning the most traditional Early Grey and English breakfast to flowery blends like wild cherry and vanilla, with the fragrance of the floral variety wafting across the table when served in a prim-and-proper pot.
“The Tea Room preserves a rich tradition using the highest quality single-estate loose-leaf teas and tisanes sourced from the finest growing regions in the world – China, India, Japan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Africa,” the venue’s menu explained.
“Unlike most loose-leaf teas, which are blends from many estates, our single-estate teas guarantee the purest expression of flavour, place and quality.’’
The menu also detailed the origins of the ritual with Anna, the 7th duchess of Bedford, “inviting her friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal of bread and butter sandwiches, small cakes and tea”.
“Later, made popular by Queen Victoria, afternoon tea developed into an indulgent cuisine of wafer-thin crust-less sandwiches typically of cucumber, smoked salmon and cheddar cheese and regional British savouries such as Welsh rarebit, Scottish scones and English crumpets,’’ a page noted.
When my yummies arrived I started with the sandwiches before moving onto the miniature cakes and macaroons and finishing with two fat scones still perfectly warm and ample enough to hold heaps of jam and cream.
There’s no doubt afternoon tea has always been a very feminine endeavour – there wasn’t a male guest in The Tea Room all the time I was there – and the combination of a pretty Victorian chamber matched with a thoughtful offering of freshly-made treats made this the perfect place for a girly afternoon.