Dessert Correspondents

A Melbourne, London & Hong Kong dessert blog

The Conservatory – Afternoon Tea

An afternoon tea with potential in what is perhaps Melbourne’s most opulent dining venue. 

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Our experience

Southbank has long been dominated by bleary-eyed clubbers and light-fingered gamblers, spotted with a handful of extrovertedly over-priced glitzy restaurants catering for those who had the requisite bling-bling and deep pockets to frequent Crown Casino’s Mahogany Room. That shadow still lingers, but a wave of more refined sophistication increasingly laps at the Yarra River’s southern banks. Situated in the Casino Complex but isolated from the gambling crowds, the Conservatory is perhaps, the most beautiful restaurant venue in Melbourne. It is a luxuriously appointed space washed in a palette of pale jade green, creamy white, aluminium grey and spots of rich garnet.  Stunning art deco pendants are ensconced in cathedral high ceilings, and diners are seated on plush upholstered chairs. The view is stunning — of shimmering city skyline bordered by brown river waters. Notwithstanding its name however, there is not a green leaf or blossoming flower in sight at the Conservatory.

The Conservatory - the frontage

The Conservatory – the frontage

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The Conservatory - the setting

The Conservatory – the setting

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The Conservatory - the setting

The Conservatory – the setting

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On our visit, afternoon tea at the Conservatory was strictly timed, with entrance to the venue granted at only 3.00 pm, and ending at precisely 5.00pm. It was conducted as a buffet-style, rather than a three-tiers affair. Table dressing was plain and consequently, rather underwhelming. Big, white, plain. Tea was offered from a communally-shared tea pot, and may or may not have been loose leaf. Just as the tea plate was stark white, the tea poured into the tea cup was stark black.

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory - the afternoon tea buffet

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the afternoon tea buffet

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Savouries were perhaps the strongest point of high tea at the Conservatory. Diverging from classical ribbon sandwiches (which do feature), there were also bruschetta slices with a Mediterranean spirit — sundried tomatoes, mozarella, pesto, saucy chicken — and miniature roast beef burgers, savoury almond friands, arancini balls, cheese pastry cubes, and a generous cheese platter.

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory - the savouries

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the savouries

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The Conservatory - the savouries

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the savouries

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The Conservatory - the savouries

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the savouries

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Scones were soft but dry, and were present in two varieties — plain or raisin-studded. The accompanying strawberry jam was dismal in its lack of spread-ability.

The Conservatory - the scones

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the scones

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The Conservatory - the scones

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the scones

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The dessert buffet occupied two sides of the buffet’s four-sided table arrangement. It was without a doubt, rather eye-catching. However, looks can (and proved to be) somewhat deceiving. On our visit, there were two “real” cakes, which were difficult to slice through and a messy option with so many patrons visiting it. The glorious counter of sweet things was an army of mousse. Long-time readers of this dessert-only blog will know the great aversion which these Dessert Correspondents harbour against gelatin, a porcine by-product. Ergh. It appeared that the same cream — somewhere between a mousse and a panna cotta — had been used with only a superficial change in its embellishments, from raspberry jelly to orange to lime to coconut to mango. Disappointing. On the more positive side, there was an ice cream bar with  five types of ice cream to be scooped into proper wafer cones and sprinkled with a rainbow of confectionery from glass bowls. This was clearly a favourite of fellow patrons. There were also psychedelic lollipops tied to trees which created a pretty whimsical effect, and a magical, multi-tiered flowing chocolate and caramel fountain.

The Conservatory - the dessert buffet

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the dessert buffet

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The Conservatory - the dessert buffet

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the dessert buffet

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The Conservatory - the dessert buffet

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the dessert buffet

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The Conservatory - the dessert buffet

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the dessert buffet

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The Conservatory - the dessert buffet

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the desserts

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The Conservatory - the dessert buffet

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the desserts

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The Conservatory - the dessert buffet

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the desserts

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The Conservatory - the dessert buffet

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the desserts

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The Conservatory - the dessert buffet

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the desserts

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A chef wheeled out a towering trolley of desserts at 4.30pm and commenced clearing the afternoon tea and preparing for the dinner buffet. Evidently, more attention had been paid to this trolley of dinner desserts than to the desserts offered at the afternoon tea.

The Conservatory - the dessert trolley for dinner buffet

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory – the dessert trolley for dinner buffet

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Our verdict

The Conservatory has obtained a reputation for fine buffets. For lunch or dinner, yes. For afternoon tea, not really. Although the savoury options are very good, it is somewhat difficult to overlook dry scones, the predominance of mousse cakes, plain tea… and a disappointing lack of service. It is unfathomable how such a beautiful place can offer such an afternoon tea. That said, afternoon tea at the Conservatory — because of its simplicity and its stunningly elegant setting — is ideal for first-time afternoon tea patrons. It does have potential to be great. For us though, on our visit, we gazed beyond the beautiful art deco windows and sighed. Our quest for  excellent high tea in Melbourne therefore continues.

  • Dessert adventure checklist
  1. Dessert destination: The Conservatory, Level 1, Crown Complex, Southbank, Melbourne, Vic 3006.
  2. Budget: $$$ ($45 pp).
  3. Sweet irresistibles: High tea.
  4. Must-eat: Available daily, buffet-style.
  5. The short and sweet story: An afternoon tea with potential in what is perhaps Melbourne’s most opulent dining venue.
The Conservatory -

Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory

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Conservatory on Urbanspoon

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11 comments on “The Conservatory – Afternoon Tea

  1. Sam
    May 6, 2013

    I love The Conservatory ! My godmother used to bring me here when I was much smaller

    • Hi Sam – ooh, we never had the chance to visit before The Conservatory was refurbished. It’s such a beautiful place, hopefully you get a chance to visit its new incarnation soon. Thank you for your readership ~ MoMo & Coco.

  2. BakingTray
    May 6, 2013

    Thanks for reviewing! My friend was just talking about going here and as it will probably be my first “high tea” experience, I think it should be ok =)
    may I ask what your favourite cake was? :)

    • Hi Baking Tray – nice to see your comment! Yes, for newcomers, The Conservatory is a splendid idea. As to favourite cake, probably the coffee/chocolate cake (pictured above), but if you prefer mousse-cakes, there were a lot more varieties. Looking forward to hearing what you think. Thank you for your continued readership ~ MoMo & Coco.

  3. thehungerpangs
    May 8, 2013

    I’ve been itching to do afternoon tea at The Conservatory – the interiors are so beautiful! And the dessert buffet looks out of this world. Shame about the scones, though.

    • MoMo & Coco
      May 10, 2013

      Hi thehungerpangs – thanks for your comment. Do visit….maybe for a lunch or dinner buffet though. It’s a very very beautiful place for use. Thanks for your readership ~ MoMo & Coco.

  4. Ashley
    May 9, 2013

    The space looks just gorgeous, but shame they couldn’t execute the food al ittle better :( Would think at such a nice setting you might get your own teapot rather than a communal one!

    The chocolate fountain is really something to look at though!

    • MoMo & Coco
      May 10, 2013

      Hey Ashley! – Nice to speak to you again. I wonder where we can get a nice big chocolate fountain? Only ever seen plastic playthings at department/kitchenware stores. It would be a dream definitely! Thank you for your continued readership ~ MoMo & Coco.

  5. I’ve never been to an afternoon tea dessert buffet-I wonder how I would fare? Would I dive right in? I think so!

  6. Elizabeth
    July 4, 2013

    I am looking for an afternoon tea venue to celebrate my 40th with a group of friends. The stunning decor and city views made me lean towards the Conservatory, but now I’m not so sure. Do you have any other recommendations? I’m thinking there will be about 20 of us.

    • MoMo & Coco
      July 7, 2013

      Hi Elizabeth – thanks for reading our dessert blog. The Conservatory is a beautiful place, they may have changed/improved their menu since we visited. You should contact them directly for more information. We would recommend Mamor Chocolate Salon or the Langham Melbourne. Please see our past reviews on these venues for further details. Thanks again for stopping by. MoMo & Coco.

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