A Melbourne, London & Hong Kong dessert blog
A honey-themed high tea in an elegant hotel atrium bar setting.
Snuggled between sleek sterile office towers, the Intercontinental Melbourne is housed in two of the most beautiful buildings in the city — the Rialto Building designed in 1889 by Mssr W. Pitt and the adjacent Winfield Building by Mssrs C. D’Ebro and R. Speight in the subsequent year. Its frontage evokes late Victorian baronial splendour, painted in Italianate colours of sandy gold and striking tans, and with countless of narrow arched windows and towers that find their zenith in fairy-tale-like turrets. Doorman resplendent in hotel livery complete the very fine, genteel picture.
Inside, the lobby entrance resembles different things to different minds. Do you see an atrium reminiscent of London’s Landmark Hotel? Or do you see a refurbished penitentiary? In fact, it is actually the recovered laneway between the two constituent buildings that make up the Intercontinental Melbourne.
Recently re-launched as a special themed occasion, afternoon tea at the Intercontinental is served from Monday to Saturday (inclusive) in the lobby-level Market Lane Bar. It’s a typical sort of hotel bar-lounge, possessing a typical tranquil and classy atmosphere which draws a typical crowd of guests and business people. Its decor follows the minimalist lines of the Art Deco era with splashes of cream, red, and chrome. A focal point is the well-stocked bar glistening with various spirit bottles and sparkly stemware. Cleverly designed to take advantage of the natural light pouring through the glass rooftop, a series of balcony seats afford a view of the atrium too.
Inspired by the hotel’s own rooftop hives and that of other Melbourne CBD bee-keeping enterprises, the Intercontinental’s afternoon tea was a honey-themed one. Tea setting was de rigeur boring white, unfortunately nothing to speak of. The tea available was the most extensive that we have ever encountered in our afternoon teas in Melbourne. It was decorously presented in a large tea caddy, partitioned with glass flasks filled with tea leaves of the respective tea, and accompanied with a bound book of the origins and notes of the tea for D-I-Y tea sommeliering. Highly impressive. Tea could be served as a table pot, or as individual pots, each placed daintily on a tealight to keep it warm throughout the afternoon tea. Service was professional, friendly, discreet and non-intrusive, but somewhat minimal, not bothering to explain the components of the afternoon tea and unable to recommend teas. As at the Windsor, one should be forewarned that a most displeasing surcharge applies if paying by credit card.
Served as a three-tiered affair, the Intercontinental’s afternoon tea followed proper English afternoon tea protocol, with savouries located at the bottom, scones folded in napkins and sweet irresistibles at the top tier, and preserves and cream presented on a separate plate. Bravo!
Savouries bypassed the boring ribbon sandwiches and included instead a goat cheese with honey on a medallion of white bread (the highlight); a ham and cheese mini-baguette; a salmon mini-bagel; and a triangle of rather lacklustre, dry cucumber sandwich. MoMo & Coco do love interesting savouries at an afternoon tea, so we were very much pleased.
Scones at the Intercontinental were served warm, folded in napkins to retain some of that warmth. There were two types, one each for each patron — a plain scone and a chocolate scone. Both were soft and small, perhaps a little too small for our liking. The berry jam was intensely sweet; the other preserve was lovelier, seemingly be a marmalade but less zesty and with slight honey and caramel tones; and the cream seemed whipped rather than clotted (the latter being our personal preference). Round wedges of butter were also present, but MoMo & Coco do not use butter with our scones. Good, but not great scones.
To the top tier now, there were four irresistibles present, and they proved to be the highlight of the afternoon tea… as they should. We were delighted!
The first irresistible was the ubiquitous lemon meringue tart. A large meringue swirled with the extravagance of Marie Antoniette’s powdered wig sat upon a pastry base that was just right in thickness and buttery-ness, containing a small centre of lemon curd. While we have said before that lemon tarts are the last thing we desire in an afternoon tea, this one wasn’t too bad… especially when we drizzled a little honey on top.
The second irresistible was a finely-executed strawberry cake, with a slightly-scented honey jelly top layer that gave way to a strawberry mousse, balanced by proportion of soft cake. Exquisite.
The third irresistible was another finely-executed black forest gateau. A layer of moist chocolate cake, a layer of very dark chocolate mousse, a heart of a glazed morello cherry, a twirl of cream flecked with chocolate pieces — all encircled with a hard chocolate amour. It was a rather decadent morsel.
The fourth irresistible was a somewhat forgettable macaron. Pink, sugary, they yielded no particular flavour that MoMo & Coco could discern. Nevertheless, a sweet morsel with which to complete our afternoon tea session.
MoMo & Coco’s experience of high teas in Australia has been generally dismal. By contrast, afternoon tea at the Intercontinental was a surprise — discreet though minimal service, elegant yet stunning setting, traditional but with a modern twist. MoMo & Coco’s only quibble would be that the “Rooftop Honey” theme was expressed in only one of the food items and by the mere presence of a jar of honey on the table. Strictly speaking, it was therefore not much of a “themed” afternoon tea. Guidance should be sought from London’s Athenaeum, where an award-winning, similarly inspired honey-themed afternoon tea may be had. Although MoMo & Coco were the only participants at the Intercontinental’s Market Lane lounge on that sunny summer afternoon, we believe that it should not be long before the Intercontinental is recognised as offering something truly special, a departure from the underwhelming generic rubbish served at most other afternoon tea venues in Melbourne.
- Dessert adventure checklist
- Dessert destination: The Intercontinental Melbourne Hotel, Rialto Tower, 495 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD, Vic 3000.
- Budget: $$$ ($45 pp)
- Sweet irresistibles: High Tea.
- Must-eat: Available daily.
- The short and sweet story: A honey-themed high tea in an elegant hotel atrium bar setting.