Indulge in globe-trotting nibbles in a veritable jewel box of a bygone era.
Opposite a swanky colonnaded lobby where guests often drive up in Rolls Royce, deposit luggage emblazoned with designer signage and strut across a marbled floor to drop the cash in the glitzy gambling, shopping or restaurant precinct of Crown Casino, the Waiting Room is a world away from Melbourne’s brooding laneway bar culture. Its frontage is somewhat unassuming — a scattering of low lounge chairs and a series of high perches. Beyond this front area, wave goodbye to conservatism and hipster grunge. It’s a veritable jewel box of a bygone era, with all the accoutrement of LA bling-bling, overlaid with the more refined air of New York glam. A dazzling wall of tessellated glass cascades over a bar that conjures some very fine cocktails inspired by the grand hotels of US, Europe and old Asia. The drinks are complemented by an equally excellent and extensive food menu canvassing a Spanish-influenced tapas brief, as well as heavier fare (see suggestions below). Since its opening in late 2010, the Waiting Room has been a steadfast nightspot favourite of MoMo & Coco. And just one year after its opening, the Waiting Room now offers a spectacular daily afternoon tea.
In MoMo & Coco’s good opinion, the best seats in the Waiting Room are at the far end of a left swivel from the entrance. Seated here on a crescent-moon array of creamy modular sofas, one has a vertically panoramic view of a cavernous venue. The same striking mirrored glass tessellations from the front bar embellish the cathedral-high walls, unfurling like glittering scrolls. Embedded into a ceiling that flaunts a square honeycomb aesthetic, the overhead art deco cylindrical lights and the table candles reflects it all like a facet in an iridescent princess-cut diamond. It’s opulent, lavish, sumptuous, yet without the pretension and hedonism that these adjectives often connote.
Afternoon tea at the Waiting Room is interpreted in one way, with the option of tea ($42pp), sparkling wine ($55), or champagne ($65). The table setting was de rigeur unadorned white. However, by contrast to the very limited teas on offer at the vast majority of Melbourne high tea institutions (see a few of our previous high teas here), the Waiting Room’s tea menu was a treatise of very fine teas, narrating the traditional blends of Earl Grey and English Breakfast, a handful of herbal infusions, as well as a few more exotic blends. In particular, MoMo & Coco would highly recommend sampling the Silver Needle (a gentle Chinese white tea with melon tones, a long-standing, rarely-seen afternoon tea favourite of ours), and the Yunnan Gold (a robust malty Chinese black tea). No tea-bag faux pas was committed here, with tea arriving in loose-leaf form in clear, heavy glass pots. Tea was brewed individually and poured by the consistently exceptional staff of the Waiting Room, who double as tea and cocktail sommeliers too. Perhaps however, a detractor was that one could only sample one type of tea, a contrast to traditional afternoon teas taken in London where one is encouraged to sample an assortment. It’s a minor point though.
Served as a traditional 3-tiered service, the Waiting Room’s afternoon tea arrived as a glimmering silver citadel. Departing from the English tradition of savouries stationed at the lower tier and sweet irresistibles as the crowning glory, the Waiting Room’s afternoon tea proceeded in a top-down fashion. Reflecting both the alluringly New York-esque cosmopolitanism of the Waiting Room’s decor, and its signature hotel-inspired cocktails, each component of the afternoon tea was a destination stop-over on a round-a-world trip.
From the top tier of the tower, evocative of taking a small cafe-side nibble or pre-dinner aperitivo appetizer in Milan, the biscotti and grissini were replaced by de-Italianised names of a round terracotta medallion of a parmesan biscuit and a short splinter of an anchovy cracker.
Moving to the second tier was to teleport oneself from Milan to London, London as it was in the past and London as it is today. Contrasted to the hard dry appetisers, four ribbon sandwiches were alternately cut from soft white and multigrain bread. There were the genteel old days invoked by the cool cucumber & chive; the contemporary additions of smoked salmon & cream cheese, and the creamy chicken & walnut; and lastly, an acknowledgement of London’s love for all things Indian sub-continent, the curried eggs ribbon sandwich with a flicker of spice.
An afternoon tea is not one without scones, of course. MoMo & Coco will show you first the beautiful bowls of Chantilly cream and strawberry preserve. One would be tempted to simply and completely devour the latter especially, from its elegant crystal holding bowl.
The scones were baked here with the Australian predilection for a nuggety, crumbly texture, rather than the pillowy, almost cake-like fluffy ball found in most English afternoon teas (eg. as at the renowned Huffkins). Sprinkled with topaz cubes of brown sugar, it could be draped at your discretion in light Chantilly cream and that seriously exquisite strawberry jam. Although definitively one of the most scrumptious scone sampled in our Melbourne afternoon tea experiences, it was a pity that only one of these golden Ruben-esque beauties were served to each patron (the kitchen did deliver an extra each at the end of the afternoon tea, but only because there had been a no-show). Two scones are always perfect. Well-aware that we are starting to sound impertinently officious, it might be another consideration to swaddle them in white napkins as the good London establishments do to keep their just-baked baby warmth (eg, as at the Langham and the Athenaeum). Further, the inclusion of the more indulgent clotted cream and/or a dish of lemon curd as an alternative spread would have been lovely also.
Having descended the silver citadel, the sweet irresistibles patiently awaited like five little sentinel soldiers. It was at this final stage of the afternoon tea that the Waiting Room’s rendition truly distinguished itself from other Melbourne offerings. Reminding us of our benchmark 3-tiered afternoon tea at the Langham London, there were no generic sweet offerings here — no hastily-iced dry cupcake, no “I-see-it-everywhere-now” macaron, no sweet slice carelessly chopped from a massive baked slab, and no lemon meringue tartlet to smash into that lazy uncreative pastry chef’s face. Like Xian’s terracotta warriors, it was all (seemingly) exquisitely and individually crafted. Just beautiful.
Start light with the all-American, cheery miniature Caramelised Apple Tart, its surface beautifully tanned, with a desirably thin pastry bowl encasing a generous ratio of apple filling. It would have made that Southern belle or Stepford housewife beam with approval, y’all know. A memorable opening cadence of deliciousness.
Leap onwards to South America with the Alfajor, with its striated cross-section of layered honey, hazelnut, almond biscuit and sensual dulce de leche, topped with a little fondant flower crown. Unless we are very much mistaken, MoMo & Coco would note that the traditional Alfajor has a Brazilian-in-a-barely-there-bikini covering of coconut flecks. The more accurate name for an Alfajor with a white meringue chador such as that worn by the Waiting Room’s “alfajor,” is the Chilenitos. Possible mis-labelling aside, it was MoMo & Coco’s favourite sweet irresistible of that afternoon, demonstrating the finesse and further finer potential of the Waiting Room’s pastry chefs.
Take a break, sip tea and leisurely cruise the Atlantic to France. Disembark at the Côte d’Azur for a diamond slice of the light Passionfruit Miroir, with as bright a glaze as though it had soaked up all that sun while basking on the French Riviera, and with its mousseline body possessing as subtle a flavour as the je ne sais quoi sartorial style of the French. Swirled into a frothy ballerina tutu, the last mouthful of the cream topping transported one to Paris’ L’Opera arrondissement. Apologies for the below photo: when we attempted to transfer the miroirs from the 3-tiered silver service to our plates, a part of one slice slidded off like the eroding cliffs of Dover over the English Channel.
If the English and French had discovered profiteroles earlier, they might not have quarrelled against each other for centuries. The evidence of an eventual union (culinary at least), the Profiterole was a marriage of the French love for chocolate and excess, and the English love for custard and restraint. Captured here in a scintillating choux pastry ball, the just-pralinised nut crusting, rich chocolate-dipped surface, and full luscious custard interior culminated in a sweet dream…a cheeky dream of balls and nuts…
The final sweet irresistible returned us back to the US. American desserts are so under-rated and most often much-maligned, but in MoMo & Coco’s opinion, because they lack utter restraint, exuberantly fusing everything and anything together, they are such wonderfully delectable delicacies. Described as featuring typical American dessert flavours, the Peanut Butter, Caramel and Chocolate Ganache Tart could have been the devastatingly beautiful finale to the symphonic quintet of irresistibles proffered by the Waiting Room’s afternoon tea. As a rich silky chocolate tartlet, it was perfection. However, unfortunately…so very unfortunately, too much and too dark a chocolate ganache filling had been used. Consequently, the peanut and the caramel elements were muted into a bare murmuring undertone. It was somewhat of an anti-climax — one of our most memorable irresistibles at the Waiting Room (and indeed, a dessert anywhere) possessed similar components — a richly-flavoured peanut butter parfait, half-dipped and half-iced in chocolate, and placed as a large round island in a salted caramel pool, where all three similar elements intensely and unforgettably manifested.
In a dining landscape flooded with mass-produced, carelessly-executed, exorbitantly-priced cubic zirconias of afternoon teas, the Waiting Room’s interpretation is a sparkling diamond. Indeed, it’s a well-packaged, well-priced jewellery box of an experience — a glamorous yet intimate venue, complemented by staff who are of a consistently, very polished service standard, and who deliver a gem of an afternoon tea, the highlights being a carefully-considered tea menu and some very exquisite sweet irresistibles. Overlooking a few early-day black-spotted inclusions in the facets (being admittedly, mostly personal pedantries of ours), the Waiting Room’s afternoon tea is comparable to those offered at fine establishments in London. Forgoing the proverbial “patience is a virtue,” damn patience and damn virtue. Shimmy into that dress, slide on those heels, drape those necklaces, bypass all those run-of-the-mill, timed-seating, chronically-claustrophobic afternoon teas at other Melbourne establishments. In most elegant style, impatiently hurry to the Waiting Room. It’s arguably, the afternoon tea that Melbourne has been waiting for.
- Dessert adventure checklist
- Dessert destination: The Waiting Room, Crown Entertainment Complex, Southbank, Melbourne, Vic 3006.
- Budget: $$$ ($42 pp)
- Sweet irresistibles: High Tea.
- Must-eat: Available daily.
- The short and sweet story: Indulge in globe-trotting nibbles in a veritable jewel box of a bygone era.
*Other times to visit: Aside from afternoon tea, MoMo & Coco highly recommends a visit in the evening for a pre-dinner drink or a night-cap. The Waiting Room offers what a night-out should be — a place to dress up for, to have a drink or two, a nibble here and there, to debate all manner of topics from politics, history, literature, food, fashion, boys vs men vs animals distinction — without god helps us, being chatted up by sleaze, deafened by noise, blinded in strobe lights or in laneway gloom, or ending up as inebriated as a christmas pudding (although you might, as the bar does some very potent cocktails). MoMo & Coco would recommend that you focus on the less-potent hotel-inspired cocktails, and that you do not go pass the montaditos and pinchos board, croquettes, wholesome juicy American burgers and the restaurant-worthy desserts.