A themed high tea affair with a glorious generosity to raise the dead.
Drawing inspiration from the Melbourne Museum’s limited-season Tutankhamun exhibition (showing 8 April — 6 November 2011, and which MoMo & Coco highly recommends visiting), the Sofitel hosted a specially-themed Egyptian high tea during selected weekends in April-June 2011. Booked almost a month ahead of time, one part of MoMo & Coco found the perfect remedy to a rainy weekend and to childhood travel-lustings to visit Egypt (currently put on hold for another few years or so, given the recent civil turmoil).
In the afternoon that we visited, the suprisingly contemporary Sofi’s Lounge on the lobby floor of the Sofitel was decked out with posters depicting the often-seen death mask of the boy-king Tutankhamun and richly decorated sculptures of sphinxes and mummies. There were four, somewhat rushed but unfailingly courteous, wait staff servicing the guests, two dressed in Indiana Jones outfits, another two very suitably as Pharoahs with gilded neckpieces and cuffs, and a graceful Cleopatra in white linens and golds. MoMo & Coco absolutely regrets not finding the courage to ask them to pose for the camera.
Tea was limited in range, but unlimited in quantity. Tea arrived in glass teapots, and strong, almost-Arabic-style coffee in heavy silver pots. The mosaic-patterned teaware reminded MoMo & Coco of Grecian or Roman mosaics, rather than traditional Egyptian art, but nevertheless evoked those overlapping ancient eras. When it came…sparkling wine was free-flowing too!
The traditional three-tiered service was not used here. Every component of the high tea was buffet – serve yourself, eat as much or as little as desired, and have no fear because everything is frequently replenished with more and more. The first buffet tackled were savoury irresistibles, with the famoust head bust of Nefertiti serenely gazing after us. From memory, there were six different types of ribbon sandwiches and three types of hot foods. The ribbon sandwiches included a mix of white and multigrain bread, with fillings of queenly cucumber, honeyed ham, roasted beef, creamy chicken, scrambled egg, and smoked salmon. The hot savouries included circular knobs of falafel served with tahini, hearty lamb kofta kebabs with subtle minted yogurt, and a small chicken casserole pot (the latter which MoMo & Coco forgot to photograph in the excitement, apologies).
The second buffet table was set up as an oasis, with a massive chocolate fountain standing between two palm tress, accompanied by bowls of melons, berries, marshmellows, turkish delight and crystallised ginger to dip into the fountain, and embellished by lurid gold tablecloths, gold beads, gold gauze, gold, gold, gold. What a mirage!
This second buffet also contained bowls of fruit and raisins scones, accompanied by cream, strawberry jam…and our favourite, but rarely seen, lemon curd!!! MoMo & Coco must also add, generally we don’t like scones all that much, but these were the softest scones tasted in a long long long time. Over the course of this high tea, MoMo & Coco greedily lathered the lemon curd on two…or was it three?…of these exquisite irresisitibles.
At an adjacent table, french pikelets and crepes were available for order, perfectly golden brown, and served with self-serve dollops of clotted cream, sweet berry compote, and thick thick honey, caramel and maple syrup.
And so we come to the third and final buffet table – a dessert buffet masterpiece of irresistibles, arranged in crescent-moon-shaped glass trays (a nod to Islamic influences, perhaps?), S-shaped glass platters (symbolic of cobras?) and stepped plateaus (a nod to the step pyramids at Sakkara?) around a gilded sarcophagus (a coffin in any other language). Such a wonderful spread of irresisitibles to possibly raise the dead, no?
MoMo & Coco proceeded to sample this buffet of irresistibles rather systematically. We visited three times, with each plate containing four items only. In this way, we sampled all irresistibles on offer, except a strawberry shortcake. The first plate of petite-fours sampled consisted of a brown ghorayebah (which is flat pistachio biscuit, and which we forgot to photograph). A second item was a luxurious opera cake cut into a pyramid, coated in rich chocolate, and topped with a fleck of gold leaf, reminiscent of the gold gilded caps that once topped the pyramids at Giza. The third irresisitible was a dense savarin cake, embellished with a juicy raspberry. The fourth irresistible was one of the party’s favourite items of the afternoon – a light, beautifully flavoured coconut mousse and lime jelly slice, with a vanilla/almond biscuit base.
The second plate of petite-fours is pictured below, and this time, MoMo & Coco remembered to take proper photos.
The first irresistible on the second plate of petit-fours, was the Egyptian loz, also known as “almond sweetbread,” made of pistachio and ground almonds, and dusted in icing sugar.
The second irresistible on the second plate of petite-fours was a strawberry tart, made of three fresh succulent strawberries sitting over a bed of cream, garnished with shredded mint leaves, and encased in a slightly thick pastry cup.
The third irresistible on this second plate of petit-four was another item that made the party’s list of favourite irresistibles. Layers upon layers of thin pastry, soaked in honey, scattered with pistachio = baklava…hmmmmm…irresistible…(and yes, the pistachio flakes were certainly as luridly-coloured, as pictured).
The final of the second plate’s petit-fours was a moist, richly flavoured carrot cake, with just a dash of cream cheese frosting.
And, here we have MoMo & Coco’s third and final plate of petit-fours…or petit-trois here.
The first irresistible on the third plate was a light panna cotta, perched on a pool of light orange syrup and scattered with poppyseeds to higlight the translucency of the syrup and the smooth custard inside.
The second irresistible followed the Middle Eastern theme of using orange-blossom water, or flavour, but this time in combination with poppyseed and honey, transforming into a dense cupcake decorated with a twirl of chocolate icing and a white chocolate triangular decoration.
The third irresistible was the perfect finale to the high tea. A stunning chocolate tart, with a shape evoking that of Egyptian feluccas or papyrus boats sailing down the Nile, or even perhaps, the heavily-kohl-lined Egyptian eye portrayed in many Egyptian artworks. Decorated on the surface with a striped milk and white chocolate pipe, and a S-shaped hierogylphic swirl, the inside revealed a decadent layer of chocolate, entombed in a chocolate biscuit casing….hmmmmm…irresistible…
Compared to other parts of the world, dining in hotels in Australia offers a generally lacklustre, “strictly-for-the-guests” experience. However, located in the “Paris-end” of Melbourne, the Sofitel increasingly distinguishes itself with a classy restaurant preparing some very innovative food and offering stunning views day and night (No 35), a glamourous bar/lounge (The Atrium), and now, a worthy afternoon tea venue (Sofi’s Lounge)…with both the generosity and hospitality of an imperial Egyptian affair, indeed!
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Sofi’s Lounge, The Sofitel, Lobby Flooor, 25 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD, Vic 3000.
- ☑ Budget: $$$ ($65 pp)
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: High Tea.
- ☑ Must-eat: Buffet on the weekend, traditional 3-tier during the week, themed events occasionally.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: A themed high tea affair with a glorious generosity to raise the dead.