100-150 Spring Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9633 6000
There’s something about high tea that sends women into a spin. While I’m a self-confessed tomboy who prefers The Ashes to sashes, Havaianas to wedges and Supercoach to Coach bags, I must admit that the ritual of putting on a pretty floral dress, sitting in fancy surroundings and tucking into a scone at high tea secretly thrills me. So what better place to have high tea in than at the famous Hotel Windsor, the grandest institution in Melbourne? Or so Linda, Shirley and I thought.
We rocked up in time for our 12pm booking one sunny Sunday afternoon, wearing pretty summer frocks. Despite my efforts to doll up though, the humidity was doing all sorts of nasty things to my hair and skin so I was looking like a tree full of owls. But while The Windsor was posh and had an air of 19th century snottiness, the staff were anything but snotty and with friendly smiles, they directed us to a table against the wall.
Built in 1883, the Windsor is Australia’s only surviving ‘grand’ hotel and apparently where bits of the Australian constitution were drafted (like, wow). Despite much criticism about its deteriorating state and its supposedly tired carpeting and outdated decor, I have to say that I was mightily impressed when I walked into the sun-filled lounge area where other ladies (and the odd fellow) were filling in for two hours of scones, teas and all things sugary. As we sat down on the comfortable cushy chairs, I marvelled at all that was around me – linen tablecloths, ornate iron chandeliers and delicate crockery – and hoped that when they get around to renovating this hotel, this room would remain the same.
With our glasses were promptly filled with water and flutes of complimentary (but crappy) sparkling roses given, we were showed our menu for the day before being left alone. At this stage, we thought that we would be offered tea but it didn’t happen. Thinking that they were still in the stages of seating everyone, we decided to let them finish while we sipped our ghastly and sandpaper-dry roses (sorry, I didn’t get the name of it).
We didn’t have to wait long for someone to return to our table, this time carrying a three-tiered silver stand of goodies. From the top, there were scones (two raisin and two plain); in the middle were an assortment of ‘French pastries’ merely consisting of two pork pies, two different types of quiches (times two) and finally, there were cut sandwiches which came with assorted fillings: smoked salmon with creamy avocado & dill, egg, mayonnaise & snow pea tendrils, Virginia ham & Dijon mustard, chicken, apple & mayonnaise and cucumber with sour cream & chives.
And for the scones, double cream and two kinds of jam. It would have been nice to be told what jam was what (we weren’t told) but I’m guessing that the Southern Highland strawberry jam was the intensely sweet one while the one with a slight tang was the summer berry preserve.
What really annoyed me the most was not the quality of food (more later) but the fact that a neighbouring table of two had exactly the same amount of food as we did, and we had an extra person. And while the fact that the whole ‘tapas come in three’ thing irks everyone in Melbourne, especially those who dine in even numbers, the fact that we received two of everything created a more frustrating situation as not everyone was able to try everything. In hindsight, I should have been all “yo, what the f*ck is up with the quantities?” but none of us thought of it at the time. Plus, they would have probably sent me to Eggleston Hall with all the other feral chavs with that sort of language. The photo above depicts how much savoury stuff I devoured in the entire course of the tea. Yeah.
The pies and quiches were alright but nothing to twitter about, and ditto the scones which were not at all fluffy and on the dry side. The jams were not bad though. As for the sandwich? They were boring, dry and tasteless, like they had been sitting around, uncovered, for several hours (they probably were). Things were not going so great.
Another thing that irked me was the service. We had just about finished the tower and were thinking of starting work on the next stage of the tea – the dessert buffet table on the other side of the room – but we still had not been offered any actual TEA to drink! Our waitress eventually came around and asked us if I could like some Windsor Blend tea (when I asked her what sort of tea it was, she said it was “something like an English Breakfast tea.”). Shirley shook her head while I said yes, Linda had not yet given her response but the waitress construed her silence as “no” … and just left the table! Linda DID, in fact, want tea so we had to flag the waitress down. Sigh. The same waitress also seemed to have an issue with filling two of our glasses up with water but running off before she would fill the other empty glass. What the hell was with that?!
After realising that no one was going to ask us what type of tea (from the list on the menu) we would like, we flagged down a different waitress to ask for some non-Windsor Blend tea. A grassy sencha green for Shirley, a chamomile and orange blossom tissane for myself and
an exploding flower a ‘glorious blooming tea’ for Linda. There was some slight awkwardness when the teas were being brought out because the waitress and her companion couldn’t remember who had ordered what but they got there.
The next stage was the dessert buffet table where we were free to roam around and sample the desserts on offer. I may not have a massively sweet tooth but you bet your arses I wasn’t going to leave here until I’ve devoured $79 worth of cakes, pastries, puddings and chocolate!
Prettiness! And creme brulee!
They even had ice cream! Unfortunately, I never got to the ice cream stage…
This was all the dessert I ended up having. After the crappiness that we had to endure for the first half, I was glad that the dessert part fared much better. I wouldn’t say that the desserts were to die for – and certainly no better than the desserts that you can get at buffet restaurants such as Melba at The Langham, for example – but if I had to say ONE good thing about the Windsor afternoon tea experience, this would be it. Props to a lovely, delicate creme brulee and a delicious peanut butter and raspberry slice but the cake that had the biscuit-like macaron half (above) was a bit of a fail as it was a-kg-bag-of-CSR-sugar too sweet.
Unfortunately, I stopped eating after that. I was full, yes, but usually at other place I would have kept on eating to get my money’s worth but the desserts here were not fantastic enough for me to want to eat until I puked. You can say that it’s because I’m not a sweet tooth and that OTHER people would have kept going but Linda and Shirley have the sweetest tooths in the world and they, too, didn’t eat more than I did. That says A LOT.
The three of us left the doors of Hotel Windsor feeling mightily disappointed. $79 for one mini quiche, half a party pie, one scone, three sandwich fingers and one plate of dessert was one helluva rip-off. Yes, I know that high tea isn’t meant to be cheap but when you have places such as Dolls at the Mount that keep people happy at a THIRD of the price and places such as The Langham and The Hyatt that, despite being as ‘toffy’ as Hotel Windsor, don’t charge anywhere near as much as $79, then you know what the problem lies in the guys who organise high tea at Hotel Windsor. You can say that we’re supposed to be paying for the experience of dining at the OMG!WINDSOR! but c’mon, you can go all out on the furnishings and all that but when you have poor service and predominantly insipid food, you’re not going to fool anyone.
Despite our negative experience though, I know that high tea at Hotel Windsor will, unfortunately, always be a popular weekend activity for the ladies of Melbourne. As my workmate, Sean, so eloquently put it, the people at The Windsor realise that “stuff like [this] is popular with gullible women so they just throw anything together.” Hah. We won’t be back.