Where high tea meets high fashion.
If you were to ask one part of MoMo & Coco what she preferred if she were a “lady of leisure,” her PG-rated answer would be reading high-brow literature while dressed in high-couture fashion and nibbling on highly diabetic desserts. Late last year 2011, we heard that an events/media company specialising in all things French style, Le Style, were organising a Parisian-themed fashion high tea event. Most unfortunately, your Dessert Correspondents were unable to attend, incidentally because we were in Milan/London, shopping ourselves to the brink of financial ruin rivalling the scale of the Eurozone crisis. However, keeping our beady eyes open and ears unblocked, we booked ourselves in at once at this year’s L’heure du Thé (lit trans: tea hour). Held on Saturday 21 July 2012 on Level 35 of the Sofitel Melbourne, it proved to be one of the most magical high teas that we have had in Melbourne.
Divided into two sessions (1pm and 4pm) and held over the course of an afternoon, the L’heure du Thé event comprised of a sit-down afternoon tea and a “Petite Emporium,” being a corridor of little stalls selling a variety of French-oriented and French-inspired (rather than French-made) wares. More on this below. The afternoon tea component was held in a function room that afforded spectacular views of the Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay. Guests were seated around tables of 10, which was the one arrangement that detracted from the afternoon — there was no privacy nor intimacy and we had the greatest misfortune of being on a table housing the presence of a particularly avaricious/obnoxiously loud person. At the centre of the room, a crowd of mannequins dressed in Prada, Versace, Chanel, Gucci stood in a burst of colour and luxury. Most of the guests followed the Parisian-chic dress code. Indeed, the general care taken in dress reminded us of the reverence properly given to the occasion overseas but rarely evident in Melbourne.
Following a Chanel-esque monochrome theme, the tables were overlaid with black linen and set with plain white dining ware. Similar to almost every other high tea that we have had in Melbourne (see previous reviews here), the tea selection at the L’heure du Thé event was rather sadly limited to English Breakfast, Early Grey, Green Tea, and coffee. Although it arrived in soft gauze bags from tea company, Jing Tea, MoMo & Coco do prefer our afternoon teas to be served loose-leaf. Each guest was also offered a glass of pre-mixed cocktail.
Each table was set out with a veritable buffet of food, ranging from traditional ribbon sandwiches, the widest array of warm savouries MoMo & Coco have ever encountered, scones, and a solitary platter of sweet irresistibles. We actually believe that most of the food is similar to that offered by the Sofitel establishment itself during its own afternoon teas (which we attended last year, see our previous review). Of the ribbon sandwiches at the L’heure du Thé event, there were chicken, cucumber, scrambled egg, salmon sandwiches. The warm savouries were definitive highlights of the afternoon tea and included squares of quiche, shallow pots of shepherds’ pies, a puff pastry chicken pie and wraps.
When lashed with tangy lemon curd, the bite-sized scones (of a plain and raisin variety) were especially good. Soft but not overly crumbly. Whipped cream and strawberry jam was also available, but we love lemon curd the most.
The sweet irresistibles appeared to be identical to what we remember sampling at the Sofitel’s afternoon tea (see previous review here). There was a palate cleanser in the form of a creamy pannacotta, light infused with mango. Miniature chocolate opera cakes, coconut-lime mousse slices, strawberry tarts, carrot cakes and elegant choux pastry swans made a carousel spin. Because of the table arrangement though, each guest could only avail herself to one of the pastries…a most terrible thing for the insatiable sweet-tooths writing this dessert-only journal blog.
Comfortable but not nauseatingly full, and certainly not sated with sweets, MoMo & Coco proceeded to the Petit Emporium. We examined a stall selling recovered designer fashion not limited to French labels, and discovered that a friend and one of us held different philosophies on new vs second-hand/vintage clothing. We gave a moment’s consideration to enrolment in French souffle-making classes, and sampled a dainty macaron painted in colours of the French flag. We gazed at wooden racks of French wine and contemplated our lack of vino appreciation. We bypassed the horror of 18th century whale-bone corsetry resurrected as 21st century shapewear, wondering why the more sensual icons of French lingerie were not present. We basked in heavy lavender spun from a gleaming candle and debated the appeal of Chanel No 5 vis-a-vis Coco Mademoiselle. We dreamed of the Loire Valley chateau we would need to acquire to properly exhibit faded tapestries and heavily embellished rococo furniture, and found some solace that we already have a trifold dressing mirror beset with jewellery. We then undertook the internal reasoning of justification for frivolous purchases such as the carefree tumble of romantic pinwheel cushions for that finishing touch, and that adorable beret for the upcoming Spring Racing season. But then we remembered our lovely Perth-based milliner. We then chatted with the flamboyant representatives of fashion-house Madame Virtue, and let drapes of tartan, lace, velvet and silk, in shades of rouge, blanc and noir drape over our grazing fingers restrained only by unnerving mental rationality. And finally, just around the corner, the last boutique store…the piece-de-resistance, a stunning La Tour Eiffel fondant tiered cake sculpted by One Sweet Girl that was more pink-hued Laura Ashley than the monochrome, neutral or earthier tones favoured by French designers (and patissiers). Apart from South Melbourne’s Let Them Eat Cake, we believe we have another contender on our list for fabulous event cakes!
MoMo & Coco love high tea, but we love themed afternoon teas more. Perhaps the most excellent fashion-themed high tea that we have been to was London’s Berkeley Afternoon Tea. By way of suggestion, Le Style could do a French version of it for next year perhaps? In any event, these lovers of fashion, also known as your Dessert Correspondents, are looking forward to next year’s L’heure du Thé.
At Le Style’s L’heure du Thé event, one could forget that outside, somewhere in the real world, Melbourne was intermittently blue sky then cloaked in dreary wintry chills, that France was suffering in a political, economic, social quagmire…and to some extent, the broader Australian conscience too. No, from the sing-song “bonjour” on arrival, the opportunity to embrace the finest of fashion and style, the generous afternoon tea (detracted only by the seating arrangement and sweets we have seen before), and concluding with a nostalgic Petite Emporium featuring the most desirable motifs of French materialism, the L’heure du Thé event evoked what in French we would say: a notre grand plaisir, c’etait une expérience inoubliable. But in English, no other word describes L’heure du Thé better than serendipity.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Le Style L’heure du Thé (The 2012 event was held at the Sofitel, Level 35, 25 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD, Vic 3000).
- ☑ Budget: $$$$ ($90 pp, $65 early bird).
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: High Tea.
- ☑ Must-eat: An annual event held at leading hotels.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Where high tea meets high fashion.