In a historical art deco venue, be serenaded by orchestral performances, a quasi-museum lecture and food parsimony.
In Asia, shopping centres are metropolises in their own right, all glistening glass and steel, big names and big brands. In the US, shopping centres are mostly functional, minimalist, with the few slick numbers of Saks and Bergdorf Goodman centred in New York. In Europe and the UK, one need only think of La Galeries Lafayette, Le Printemps, Le Bon Marche, La Rinascente, Galleria di Vittorio Emanuele, Harvey Nichols and Harrods to know that the past time of shopping can be transformed from mere routine wandering to a truly glamorous affair. In Melbourne, there’s only David Jones and Myer. Designed by the leading architects of the early 20th century, Mssrs H W and F B Tompkins, Myer has stood since 1914 as a stark white building overlooking the bustling Bourke Street shopping mall. Follow the fluttering white-on-black flag signposts, and stroll in to discover what must be one of yet another long-forgotten, recently re-revealed, secret of Melbourne.
Via lifts or escalators, ascend up six floors of shopping, and look down. Now, overcome your sudden vertigo and turn around.
Enter a modern hallway, decked out in warm oaks and gleaming grey tones, highlighted in the bright halogen downlights. See tables of sleek lines, and featured centrepieces of brassy fluted vases, deep-dish bowls, and milk can-like canisters. Glance at shelves lined with etched glass ware from the renowned crystal houses of Villeroy & Boch, Waterford, and Royal Doulton, throwing prisms of light across the floor. Continue, passing a trio of semi-enclosed dens of plush high-backed pale gold settees and chaises.
At a double door glass entrance, smile demurely at the uniformed staff, the men immaculately dressed as all men should in jackets and ties, and the women wait staff in ruffled black cocktail dresses. Present your ticket that came posted in an elegant white envelope. Take a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne from their proferred silver platter.
And…start immersing yourself in a world from another time. It’s large, it’s magnificent, and it utterly takes your breath away. And for history and antique lovers (such as one part of MoMo & Coco), it’s just heaven on earth. In its heyday, the Myer Mural Hall was a restaurant and function space, used for galas, exhibitions, fashion parades and concerts. Since its re-opening earlier this year, it can be hired out for that very special function. And on a few Sundays of the year, it follows its English department store counterparts of Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Fortnum & Masons, and offers an elegant afternoon tea.
Three large lantern-like chandeliers with an elegant Art Nouveau petal design drop from the soaring ceilings. Heels click on caramel parquetry floors. The silk scarves, pearls and country club tweed and cashmere of the well-groomed, well-coiffeured dining crowd reflect in the Art Deco mirror commodes. At one end, twin stairs of a typically Art Deco streamlined style are ribboned with gleaming steel balustrades, and cascade down from corner balconies, backed by the theatre of pale gold drapes. At the other, the same gold drapes are pulled back to reveal a birds-eye view of Bourke Street Mall. Buttoned velvet circular settees line this end of the wall. On lattice-backed chairs, ten are seated around large round tables dressed in bronze brocades patterned with woven silk piping.
The table setting of the afternoon tea was genteel elegance. Napkins were creamy white, embroidered with a cursive flourish of an “M” for Myer Mural Hall. With antique-collecting as one of MoMo & Coco’s past times, we could appreciate each exquisite detail of the porcelain dining ware. The main plates followed the blue and white tones of Delft porcelain. A few irresistibles were displayed on gold gilded platters of Limoges porcelain, swathed with luscious rose blooms. Teacup sets alternately featured Fragonard images of serenading lovers admist rose gardens, and porcelain so finely painted that it evoked the rippled effect of English guilloche enamelling. Milk and sugar cubes were prettily displayed in hand-cut crystal wear. Tea was unfortunately most limited in range, and came in tea bags – a possible faux pas in the institution of afternoon tea.
Alas, the pity of the afternoon tea itself. Between ten on the table, there was a turntable of very little food, resulting in a very light afternoon tea. To accompany the light afternoon tea, (and perhaps to distract us from the paucity of the offering), guests were regaled by a few concerto numbers played by a trio of emerging classical artists from Chamber Music Australia, dressed monochromatically in sparkling black gowns, satiny jackets, and starched white shirts. Towards the end of the afternoon, the heart-wrenching, full-bodied arias by an opera student echoed through the cavernous setting.
Of the savouries, there were two ribbon sandwiches, one of a ham and cheese and another of creamy poached chicken and mayonnaise. Also present, many square slices of quiche lorraine and frittatas, and too few of a tartlet of beetroot and fetta.
One of the best that MoMo & Coco have savoured in our history of afternoon teas, the scones were desirably baked golden on the outside and pillow soft on the inside, served with a delectable sweet strawberry preserve and luscious fresh cream. Unfortunately, only one of these golden beauties for each guest.
And for such crazy sugar-addicts as MoMo & Coco, the sweet irresistibles were faultless in execution, but again disappointingly few in variety and number (just two types and just one each for each table guest). A miniature eclair was indulgence, crisp golden choux pastry coated in chocolate icing, encasing an entirely-filled log of smooth custard.
The second irresistible were macarons. Strawberry, blueberry, pistachio, coconut and chocolate were available. The one solitary chocolate beauty that MoMo & Coco had and the one solitary blueberry macaron that our dining companion selected both possessed the sought-after melt-in-the-mouth texture, were fully flavoursome morsels, and made us yearn for the whole plate.
The lightness of the afternoon tea meant that the food did not eclipse one’s chance to truly admire and appreciate the eight neo-classical murals panelling the perimeter walls of Myer Mural Hall. The founder of the Myer department store, Sidney Myer, commissioned these eight murals to be painted by Inter-War artist, Napier Waller (1893-1972). It was a magnifcent feat of achievement by an artist who lost his right arm in the First World War and re-learnt his forte and craft with his left. A rather bold display of female power and presence, the murals were graced by notable female figures from the arts, opera, literature, sport, dance and fashion. It was also an acknowledgement of female influence in the world of shopping — the past, present and future of Myer. At the afternoon tea, a short historical commentary was provided by art curator and historian, Mr. K. Parks.
Overall, imagine what a guided tour with Insight Vacations or Abercrombie & Kent would be, and the afternoon tea experience at Myer Mural Hall is analogous. It isn’t a mass-market boozy Contiki thing. Indeed, one would not be advised to visit if one was an incorrigible hippy (the dining crowd is of a certain maturity). One would also not be advised to attend if food was one’s only concern (it rates poorly in tangible value-for-money terms). Myer Mural Hall is also not for the person seeking an intimate, private afternoon tea affair (unless you manage to fill a table of 10, you will be seated with strangers). Rather and nonetheless, afternoon tea at Myer Mural Hall is an opportunity to re-discover a long-lost dimension of going-out and dining-out — where food wasn’t the centre of everything, but rather, it was the polished service, well-versed company, an ambience of exclusivity, and a venue of sheer architectural grandeur that made for an all the more dazzling, memorable experience in a forgotten, beautiful, rarefied realm of old Melbourne.
- Dessert adventure checklist
- Dessert destination: Myer Mural Hall, Level 6, Myer Melbourne, 314-336 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD, Vic 3000.
- Budget: $$$-$$$$ ($70 pp)
- Sweet irresistibles: High Tea.
- Must-eat: On one Sunday every month.
- The short and sweet story: In a historical art deco venue, be serenaded by orchestral performances, a quasi-museum lecture and food parsimony.