High tea in a magical, hidden world – the finest experience to be had in Melbourne.
MoMo & Coco wished to treat the beloved maternal entity to something special this year. However, we were definitely not willing to be rushed around at two famous Melbourne high tea establishments that had decided to forgo service and ambience for a commercialised “timed-seating” fiasco for such a special day. So, when we stumbled on the Plaza Ballroom’s Mother’s Day High Tea while browsing online, we knew this was the jackpot! One sitting, no rush, limited numbers, dessert buffet, and open-once-in-a-year-only opportunity!!
(*Please do not confuse yourself, as we almost did, but this is not at the rather famous and lavish Plaza Hotel in New York. However, we must say it comes pretty darn close!)
Built in 1929 by architect Mr. C. H. Ballantyne, the Plaza Ballroom is tucked away beside and underground the opulent Regent Theatre on Collins Street. It has endured a turbulent history, having being engulfed in fire, hosed down with water and buried under earth and time. Originally used as a luxurious theatre and cinematic space, the Plaza Ballroom was restored and reopened to public access and awareness alongside the Regent Theatre in 1996. Today, it is usually only available to the public for weddings and corporate functions. On the Sunday of Mother’s Day of 2011, a red carpet entrance awaited a small, exceedingly well-heeled crowd (including MoMo & Coco, of course hehe) out at Collins Street, with entry granted only at five to 2.00pm. Like Alice down a rabbit burren, down down a subterranean lair we went….
At the landing of the filigreed iron stairs, we entered a lobby foyer akin to a Spanish-style piazza courtyard. With a design sensibility heralding back to the 19th century Spanish Rococo period, the floors were tiled with ochre diamond tessellations. Moorish mosaics lining a side fountain made pious crosses, while ornate candlebras mounted on the walls highlighted the intricate roof-to-floor masonry work. Heavy drop pendants from the ceiling cast a pervasive eerie glow that would have perfectly suited Gaston LeRoux’s Phantom.
The grand doors swang open at exactly 2.00pm, and behold what a sight! We stepped carefully over the plush red carpet to be greeted by an entourage of smiling, uniformed staff. They offered glistening crystal glasses filled with pink moscato, sparkling wine and fruit juice. Beyond the swathes of opalescent drapes that evoked a mystical Persian harem, we counted maybe 10-15 linen-dressed tables for the afternoon tea participants, each serviced by two staff members (one who was responsible for the food, and the other for beverages/tea). Old-fashioned Spanish-style candelabras dropped from the high, ornate ceilings, and soft blossoms of orchids and tealight candles graced each table. A string quartet serenaded the guests for the first half of the afternoon with classical romantic-period and jazz melodies, before shifting to softly-accented spanish dance music.
The traditional three-tiers were brought out swiftly. Delectable savouries included a Tasmanian smoked salmon and dill cream sesame miniature bagel, and three types of ribbon sandwiches, which uniquely used three different types of bread. These were a creamy egg and chive mayonnaise on rye, poached chicken and tarragon sourdough sandwich, and a roasted capsicum, grilled eggplant and wild rocket on multi grain. Say bye-bye to boring white bread ribbon sandwiches!
Almost as soon as we finished the tier of ribbon sandwiches, out came a plate of HOT savouries! MoMo & Coco has rarely had HOT savouries in a high tea – how splendid…nom nom nom! These hot savouries included a hearty osso bucco pie with tomato sauce, and sweet potato pasties served with minty yogurt.
To the scones – generously large and fat, served with jam, marmalade and cream that had been whipped up into the cutest floral pinnacles. We each had one scone, and greedy beady big eyes turned to the dessert buffet.
How long can you wait? We will keep you waiting. Let’s first show you the tea buffet. A diverse and rather exotic range of teas were available, reminding us of our tea experiences in London. The tea menu included rare Chinese black and oolong teas, keemun mao feng and tie guan yin, and even rarer oriental green teas of “tea origami” that unfold into large flowers when infused in boiling water. Yes, both the traditional earl grey and english breakfast teas were available, as were the more herbal infusions of peppermint and tisanes of lemongrass and chamomile. Small individual tea jugs were used, rather than large teapots, thus enabling one to sample the full tea range available, if desired.
Ok – let’s show you one part of the decadent dessert buffet of irresistibles. Apologies for not taking photos of the other sides of the buffet centrepiece – we are still trying to overcome camera-related etiquette. The centre “C-shaped” figure is a hand-crafted chocolate sculpture. MoMo & Coco were sooo tempted to pick it up and carry it home!
First irresistible to be sampled — the vanilla caramel creme brulee, with a hint of coffee, and topped with blueberries and raspberries, a touch of cream and a white chocolate wafer.
Second irresistible — apple and blueberry flan with Calvados anglaise sauce. A lovely summery-looking irresistible that momentarily made us forget it was pouring rain outside.
The third irresistible – an old fashioned steamed pudding, served with your choice of molten white chocolate sauce or blackberry compote. MoMo & Coco’s related paternal entity, having spent a great number of years in old-England, adored this…three times over!
The fourth irresistible — subtly-flavoured Baileys baked cheesecake, fashioned into cute pyramids, topped with a flash of edible gold leaf, and a crispy, slightly gingery biscuit base.
Fifth irresistible available — white chocolate and pistachio macarons. A perfectly light intermission of an irresistible to prepare us for….
And the last sweet irresistble, was the indulgent, rich chocolate mousse tart.
And to finish – MoMo & Coco and related entities each took a small bowl of this lovely fresh fruit salad, served with fragrant cinnamon and vanilla bean syrup.
Oh —we thought we had finish, but then the wait staff came out with a end-plate of small milk chocolates.
MoMo & Coco is of the opinion that personalized service has gone down the drain lately. We were very very mistaken. Our faith has been renewed. It is lurking somewhere, but it can be found. Here, each mother on the table received sweet presents of gourmet preserves and a personalized hand-written well-wishing card. Each guest also received a little chocolate box, courtesy of Koko Black. A personalized hand-written thank you card was later sent in the mail to each guest. The most gracious thanks to the wait staff who served us, and to Ms R Fenton for all her assistance and kind patience.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: The Plaza Ballroom, Regent Theatre, 191 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD, Vic 3000.
- ☑ Budget: $$$ ($89 pp).
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: High Tea.
- ☑ Must-eat: An annual event on Mother’s Day in May.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: High tea in a magical, hidden world – the finest experience to be had in Melbourne.