It's an age old question: which goes first on the scone? The jam or the cream? Sure you need good lashings of both - but the order in which you dress a scone inevitably crops up at every afternoon tea. All it takes is a raised eyebrow and a pointed look to spark a heated discussion that rarely leads to people switching sides.
The popularity of afternoon teas (often incorrectly called high teas) seemed to hit its peak a couple of years ago, but the ritual of cakes, tea and elegant china will never completely fall from favour.
Last year I received a media gift box sent out from the QVB. In among the package of chocolates, tea and hot cross buns was an Afternoon Tea for Two gift voucher to The Palace Tea Room.
Dining room seating
Perched on level one, the elegant cafe includes a large dining area as well as external seating that runs along the QVB gallery. Thick drapes, heavy chandeliers and Victorian grandfather chairs create an air of old world opulence. Victorian grandfather in style. The main service counter is lined with a rainbow of pastel teapots and gleaming tea canisters.
Spanish omelette $21
We're celebrating Miss Nine's birthday early but everyone else is in search of more savoury options. The breakfast menu runs all day, including a Spanish omelette that is heftier in size than we expect considering it's listed under the snack section. It's impressively fuffy, cooked to a golden brown on the outside and filled with chunks of potato, chorizo, roasted cherry tomatoes and feta.
Tomato, avocado, feta and basil on a soy and linseed toasted sourdough $14
with smoked salmon $5
The tomato, avocado, feta and basil toast is simple but delicious. We boost it with an extra side order of smoked salmon.
The breakfast menu also includes eggs benedict ($18), granola ($14) and bircher muesli ($12) but it's the buttermilk pancakes ($19), French toast ($16) and a croque monsieur ($17) that all catch my eye.
Smoked salmon open sandwich $25
There's a wide selection of open sandwiches on the lunch menu. We get the smoked salmon - generous if a little on the salty side - that comes with salad and a poached egg. There's a hefty layer of cream cheese spread onto the toasted sourdough.
You can also order open sandwiches with chicken, pulled pork, steak or grilled vegetables. More substantial options include potato gnocchi ($26), prawn linguini ($29) and a wagyu beef burger ($28).
Wedgwood fine china tea set
About a third of diners today are partaking in some form of afternoon tea and almost all of them are female. You can order sandwiches, scones and cakes on their own with tea, or combine them into a classic afternoon tea served on a tiered cake stand.
Afternoon tea plate and sugar bowl
The arrival of fancy crockery sets the scene. Who wants chopping boards and slate where you could be eating off gold rimmed fine china?
Traditional afternoon tea for two $80 ($40 per person)
Petit pastries, finger sandwiches, scones and tea or coffee
The traditional afternoon tea for two will set you back $80, not a cheap undertaking but then luxury always comes at a price. Although you can order coffee, it seems wrong not to sip from a pot of tea.
The tea list racks up 26 different choices. There's everything from darjeeling to dragon pearls to pomegranate oolong tea. Between us we try the Japanese sencha and the chocolate tea. The latter is the winner, a black tea heavily scented with dark chocolate that gives a sense of rich sweetness.
Scone, crab cornet, finger sandwiches and cheese shortbread
We start at the bottom. Surprisingly there isn't a standard doubling of every option. Although there are two chicken caesar finger sandwiches, there's only one each of the tuna and the egg salad.
The cheddar shortbread biscuit is short and buttery, sandwiched with red capsicum paste. There's a lovely sense of whimsy with the crab cornet, filleted with plenty of flaked crab but it's served without any mayonnaise dressing. On the upside it means our cone doesn't go soggy.
Cakes and tarts
The top two tiers afford an assortment of dainty cakes, slices and tarts. We end up sharing our cakes with the entire table, after dabbling in tastings of everyone's savoury dishes earlier. The white chocolate, raspberry and mango slice is light and tangy, and the meringue tart leaves everyone with a guilty trail of evidence across their lips.
Salted caramel maracon
A coconut-dusted chocolate slice has echoes of lamington about it and the salted caramel macaron is quite a beauty, filled with a thick layer of soft and salty caramel buttercream.
Scone with jam and cream
The scone is undoubtedly the highlight. One plain scone and one fruit scone necessitates rapid dibs or democratic sharing. These are spectacular specimens, baked so a gentle crust has formed on the outside without compromising its fluffy and pillow-like core.
I'm a keen advocate of jam first as evidenced above, maintaining it's much easier to spread jam on the base and then dollop on a thick layer of cream than attempting it the other way around. You can also surreptitiously add extra cream halfway through, because really, scones are just an excuse to indulge in bucketloads of cream.
Inside the Queen Victoria Building
What we do appreciate about the Palace Tea Room is the sense of peace and serenity. Although the dining room is large, there aren't a lot of tables inside, and most patrons are quiet and subdued in their conversation. It's an oasis of calm before we rejoin the weekend shoppers, blending into the crowd before the clock chimes above.
Grab Your Fork redeemed a complimentary gift voucher received from the QVB for an Afternoon Tea for Two. All other dishes on this visit were independently paid for. This visit was anonymous and unannounced.
The Palace Tea Room
Level 1, Shop L1 20-22
Queen Victoria Building, George Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9283 2222
Open daily 8am-6pm
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3/25/2015 06:05:00 pm