There are certain English traditions that we enjoy keeping and will never go out of style, such as enjoying a roast dinner on Sundays, grabbing a meat pie for lunch, and catching up with friends over an afternoon session of high tea. Originally started in the 1840s in England and reserved for the wealthy, high tea is now a popular experience that can be enjoyed by anyone who has a sweet tooth for jam, cream, scones, cakes and tea!
To discover where the best spots for high tea in Melbourne are, we’ve created the ultimate high tea guide so you will know exactly where to find them! But first, here’s everything you need to know when it comes to high tea.
What Is High Tea?
‘Officially’ called “tea” by the Queen of England, high tea (also called “afternoon tea”) is traditionally served between the hours of 3 pm and 5 pm, and features a selection of elegant finger foods such as homemade scones with jam and cream, crustless sandwiches and a variety of tea. High tea is basically the fancy equivalent of an early dinner, with a lavish assortment of nibblies rather than having one full meal.
What Is On A High Tea Menu?
As high tea was originally for the upper class members of society, don’t expect to find any snags, burgers or sausage rolls on the menu.
High tea typically begins with a three-course selection of savoury sandwiches with the crusts removed and cut into neat little fingers. These sandwiches can include ham and brie, egg salad, smoked salmon, cucumber and butter, and more. Depending on where you go, savoury items can also include steak and kidney pies or casserole dishes.
You will then move onto the sweet delicacies, such as freshly baked scones with homemade jam and clotted cream, lemon curds, marmalade, teacakes, shortbread, carrot cake and tarts. Everything on a high tea menu is ‘petit four’ (meaning “small oven” in French) and is small, bite-size portions to be eaten with your fingers.
Why Is High Tea Expensive?
High tea is not the same as going to a restaurant and ordering a meal – it’s about the entire dining experience, which is reflected in the price. There are many factors at play, such as using fresh, quality ingredients that are sourced locally, the variety of food prepared and served, and the fact that customers stay much longer during high tea.
However, there are affordable high tea options that can be found in Melbourne.
What Is Proper High Tea Etiquette?
The dress code for high tea is usually smart casual, but no one will judge you for dressing up in your best attire. If you’re a stickler for the traditional rules of high tea or wanting an excuse to show off your proper etiquette skills, then here are some of the main rules to follow during high tea:
Now that you have an overall idea of the high tea experience and the rules to follow, here is where you will find the best high tea spots in Melbourne!
If you are searching for the most authentic high tea experience in Melbourne, then look no further than The Hotel Windsor, which has been serving traditional Melbourne high tea since 1883. Upon arrival, you will be greeted with your choice of either champagne or French sparkling wine.
Their high tea menu can be broken down into three categories; sweets, savoury and sandwiches. The savoury menu features delicious treats such as heirloom tomato, fried capers and ricotta tart, and gougère with roasted pumpkin and comté cheese. The sandwich menu offers a mouthwatering selection including sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and pastrami on toasted rye bread, and cucumber, spiced fennel and crème fraîche on fresh white bread.
Finally, the sweets menu is a playground of delicious options such as hibiscus madeleines, creamy mille-feuille with gianduja (a chocolate paste made with ground hazelnuts), Chou à la Crème (French cream puffs) with mascarpone, saké and blueberry, and chocolate sponge with orange mousse and marmalade!
The NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) is home to some of the most fascinating collections of artwork and sculptures – and is also home to one of the best high tea spots in Melbourne. The Tea Room inside the NGV, located on level 1, offers diners a modern interpretation of the traditional high tea experience. Served with a hot teapot of Devonshire tea, their high tea menu features a wide selection of savoury and sweet options, inspired by their major summer and Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibitions.
You can choose from their selection of sandwiches including blue cheese, celery and poached chicken breast, cream cheese, apple and fennel, and mustard, cucumber, mayonnaise and ham. If you’re in the mood for something a little more hearty, then they also offer heavier options such as bœuf bourguignon with kipfler potatoes, and clam chowder with bacon lardon.
Their talented team of pastry chefs offer an irresistible sweet menu including Japanese Black Forest cake with Hojicha sponge, raspberry marshmallow lychee cake with rose-scented cream, and their popular almond dacquoise, strawberry and watermelon cake!
Who said the best afternoon tea in Melbourne had to be expensive? For a more affordable high tea experience without sacrificing any of the quality, the Royal St. Collins Cafe & Tea Salon is the perfect option when meeting friends or enjoying a spot of afternoon tea with your partner.
Their high tea includes a set selection of sandwiches such as smoked salmon with herbed cream cheese, chicken with spring onion and aioli mayonnaise, and grilled vegetables with basil pesto. Their mini dessert platter offers a choice of their signature sweets including delicious macaroons, walnut banoffee mousse, orange blossom, homemade rose water and date scones, and raspberry and lemon meringue tart.
Royal St. Collins also offers a wide selection of Harney & Sons tea, with flavours such as peppermint, raspberry, earl grey, chamomile, prana chai, rose, dragon pearl jasmine and many more!
You can enjoy an elegant high tea experience at the Lancemore Mansion Hotel every Sunday afternoon, which offers magnificent views of their stunning four hectares of English gardens at Werribee Park. During the colder winter months, their high tea is held in their historic library, and on their majestic balcony during summer and the warmer months.
Each booking comes with a complimentary glass of champagne, and you can choose from a selection of tea, including T2 Melbourne breakfast tea, poured into the most beautifully exquisite china teacups. You can also choose from a variety of savoury bites such as mini quiches, smoked salmon sandwiches and chive muffins.
Their cake stands make it almost impossible to choose, featuring delicacies including fluffy pink macarons with buttercream, lemony madeleines, apple frangipane tartlets and classic lamingtons made with rich chocolate ganache. The high tea experience at Lancemore Mansion Hotel should definitely be on your to-do list!
As another affordable yet exceptional high tea experience, The Austen Tea Room is quietly nestled along Nicholson Street in Essendon. And if the name didn’t already give it away, the tea room is heavily inspired by the love for author Jane Austen.
Walking into The Austen Tea Room is like stepping back in time and visiting what it was like to have high tea in a quaint little tea room during the Victorian era of England. You can expect authentic high tea sandwiches such as red onion, beetroot, cucumber and cheese, along with salmon, chicken, ham and turkey sandwiches as well.
Their dessert menu offers warm, homemade muffins, cakes, macaroons, biscuits, citrusy tarts, and freshly baked scones served with cream, jam and your choice of fruit. You can also choose from a selection of refreshing loose leaf tea such as lemongrass, ginger, English breakfast, chai, organic vanilla and many more.
High tea is an indulgent experience that everyone should try at least once in their lives, whether they’re wanting to stick to the old school etiquette or looking to enjoy a more casual and relaxed atmosphere.
The next time you are organising a catch up with some friends, make sure you visit some of the destinations on this list to enjoy some of the best high tea that Melbourne has to offer.