Afternoon | High tea, Uncategorized

Éclair Affair High Tea

It’s been over 6 months since I last posted anything in this blog. I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t my nursing career or my busy social life that caused it… I just got lazy! 😞

A bit rusty… But here goes…

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It was a rainy winter’s afternoon when my sister and I, along with two of our friends met up at the Westin Melbourne for an Afternoon Tea. We were ushered to the Lobby Lounge where massive club leather chairs and a fireplace on a library wall awaited us and were enough to tantalise us.

Warm and comfortable, we started perusing the menu. I was giddy with excitement! I couldn’t wait for the éclairs. I was so used to having ribbon sandwiches, macarons or cupcakes that the idea of sweet and savoury éclairs tickled my tastebuds, and already made my day.

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For hot tea, I ordered the Vintage Cooked Puerh ~ echoes the taste, texture and colour of Japanese plums. And the Flowering Osmanthus ~ sweet and soothing flowering green tea hand tied around sweet Osmanthus blossoms and orange lily petals. I must say, I enjoyed the latter better. I prefer white tea than dark tea.

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The whole ambiance had a cozy feel about it. The pitter patter of the rain and the crackle of the fire were so comforting and made me feel I was right at Home.

Two three-tiered Art Deco trays arrived, decked with scones on top and two layers of éclairs at the bottom.

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I always start with scones now. The ones that I had was a traditional vanilla scone and a dried fruit one. Both were delicious (and still warm!) with generous amount of fresh cream and berry preserve.

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Next, were the savoury éclairs. My favourites were the mushroom pate with pickled enoki, and the prawn & avocado with sweet chilli jam.

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I also had the smoked duck, gorgonzola, pear, rocket & caramelised walnut, the ham, comte & confit tomato with grainy dijon mustard, and the goat’s cheese & pesto. All five were succulent and mouth watering.

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To complement the sweet éclairs, I ordered a cold drink instead of ordering a different flavoured hot tea. I chose the lychee red iced black tea. It was sweet and had a strong delicious scent of lychee. Yum!

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My favourite of the sweets was the pistachio & fig éclair. I love anything with pistachio especially gelato / ice cream. The strawberry & lime, passion fruit & white chocolate, and chocolate caramel éclairs were delectable too.

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By the time we ate the last crumb, sipped our tea cups for the nth time and caught our breaths from laughing too much, we were eager to go home and take our nana naps.

Both the food and service at the Westin Melbourne were impeccable. I will definitely go back for another afternoon tea and not éclairs, this time. Surprise me! 😊

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Price: 45 AUD

Place: Lobby Lounge, Westin Melbourne

Date: June 2014

Bookings recommended.

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Afternoon | High tea, Arts, Travel

Italian Masters High Tea

The themed high tea at the Tea Room in the National Gallery of Victoria is back. Last year, it was French. In conjunction with Claude Monet’s masterpieces. Now, it’s Italian-inspired. This year’s Melbourne Winter Masterpieces features the Italian Masterpieces from Spain’s Royal Court, Museo del Prado in Madrid.

Melburnians will be able to enjoy the world-first exhibition of magnificent and rich collection of paintings and drawings spanning 300 years of Italian art, from the early 16th to 18th centuries. Artists such as Raphael, Correggio, Titian, Tintoretto, the Carracchi, Poussin and Tiepolo are represented at this exhibit.

The exhibition is on display at the Gallery from May 16th until the 31st of August 2014.

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I was pretty excited when I found out about this particular high tea. As much as I love tasting food, I savour with my eyes too. I appreciate the aesthetics of the whole theme. It makes the experience a delight.

At the NGV, the ambiance was quite vibrant, infectious even. People milling around clutching notepads or pamphlets, conversing about paintings, contemplating which gallery to go in first while finishing their takeaway coffee cups, etc. Tourists, art enthusiasts, mums with kids in tow, ordinary people who just wanted a place to ponder, relax, and the like, were everywhere.

All these activities we saw from the balcony of the Tea Room while awaiting our welcome drinks of Prosecco – an Italian sparkling wine made from Glera grapes.

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To go along with the Italian theme, of course, we got an Italian server. Molto bello! But quite distracting! I couldn’t even remember half of what he said when he started describing each morsel. Lol!

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The savouries, sweets and scones arrived, in that order, and not on the traditional three-tier tray, but separately. The savouries were placed on small panels of wood, like makeshift plates, and placed on small silver folding stands.

I enjoyed the Italian Croque Monsieur (pan-grilled focaccia with mozzarella and prosciutto). And the beef pie was yum too. The mini pizza with olive was a tad dry though.

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The second thing that caught my eye was the bell jar that contained the desserts. I loved the way it was presented. Each one of us had the glass dome which showcased interesting array of sweets.

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What was visually delectable was the small flowerpot with cherry tomato, mozzarella, chocolate soil and basil in it. To get the full taste, I had to dig my spoon all the way to the bottom. It tasted sweet but at the same time, savoury too. It left me confused. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s probably that my palate isn’t that well-developed yet, that, or it was an acquired taste.

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The rest of the sweets were A-OK. The lemon tart was something I could compare with as I had tried hundreds of them before. The other two, I’m not too sure. One was a cracker with Nutella on it, and the other was either two layers of cracker or flatbread with Nutella and mozzarella between them. I will have to consult my sister and friends about this. Blame it on the long-haired Italian eye candy, very distracting. Lol!

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I had the scone! Yep, one lonely scone for each of us. It was fluffy and delicious with the cream and jam, so I wouldn’t complain really.

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I wanted to order my favourites, Silver Needle and Buddha’s Tears, but decided otherwise. Instead, I chose something I haven’t tried before. Osmanthus tea. It was a powerful tea with a light sweet taste from the blooming red flowers.

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It was a fun day with loads of giggles and laughter. A perfect way to spend an afternoon with a company of friends.

There are times though that I prefer the company of myself, just because. One of these instances is my going back to NGV to see the Italian Masterpieces exhibition by myself. I don’t know… There’s something personal about looking at paintings and sculptures. It makes me more introspective. It’s the feeling of nostalgia, I guess.

I’ll update this post after I have been to the exhibition.

💋

Price: 55 AUD; 26 AUD for the exhibition ticket

Place: Tea Room, NGV

Date: May 2014

Bookings are essential. Tea Room closed on Tuesdays.

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Afternoon | High tea, Coffee

High… Coffee!?

Yes, indeed. Where else but in Melbourne, the coffee capital of Australia.

I wanted to try something different. And coffee as the main beverage instead of tea for the High Tea concept is definitely unconventional.

There’s one place here in Melbourne that serves just that. The Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto. It showcases the exotic aromas of blender Stefano Manfredi’s signature coffee, Espresso di Manfredi.

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The luxury 5-star hotel is located at the ‘New York end’ of the famous Collins Street, where the financial hub is situated. As oppose to the ‘Paris end’ of the same street, where prestigious boutiques and high-end retailers are nestled.

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The exterior of the hotel is a sight to behold. Magical, even. The heritage building is a 19th century Victorian Gothic architecture.

Before I proceed, I have to point out that the first picture above was only borrowed from the Internet. My one wasn’t that vivid. The weather that time was dark and gloomy, not to mention very wet.

The interior is the opposite. It was like stepping into another time. The light-filled glass atrium looked sleek and jazzy. The whole place is a fusion of classic and contemporary, old and new.

We were ushered to the Market Lane Bar where we were to have our high coffee experience. The lounge gave us a spectacular view of the whole dining area.

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As we sat comfortably and started chatting about, our friendly server, who rather looked a lot like Gwyneth Paltrow, presented us with an Espresso Martini each. I enjoyed it thoroughly, though as I took one sip at a time, I was calculating the few hours of sleep I would only be getting before I would wake up for work the following day.

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Our stands of goodies arrived. One downside of the service was we weren’t introduced to each of the component on the plates, and there
was no menu to describe each of the item. I guess we had to rely on our taste buds. My palate hasn’t reached that ‘Masterchef’ level yet so I had to Google the menu. I took bites while perusing my iPhone. Not so elegant, eh? 😉

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The sandwiches, savouries and sweets were chosen to complement the star of the show: Coffee. They did.

The bottom tier consisted of wagyu beef, cucumber relish and watercress panini; roasted chicken and avocado with bush tomato relish roll; and smoked salmon on rye with mascarpone and lemon myrtle. The wagyu beef was my favourite.

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While we were enjoying our sandwiches, we were given Cafè Freddo. Straight espresso kept in the freezer and served as icy slush. Or iced coffee. My thoughts went again to the already-dwindling hours of sleep I would be having. Nevertheless, the coffee was delish. So worth it!

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Before I could start with my scones, two plates of savouries arrived. I immediately tried the pie (Good ol’ Aussie pie!). The homemade beef and burgundy pie I nearly enjoyed, except for the burnt part at the bottom. The prosciutto and asparagus quiche was flavoursome but a bit rubbery. And the feta and olive mini muffin? The less attractive-looking among the three, was divine!

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The long-awaited scones! Fruit and plain scones served with double cream and homemade strawberry jam. I was quite disappointed! Taste-wise, very good, but they weren’t as fluffy as I expected them to be.

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To accompany the sweet morsels, I ordered a cup of Mochaccino, I completely abandoned the idea of ever sleeping at all that night.

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The one that best complemented my mochaccino was the vanilla and raspberry panna cotta, and my pick among the rest of the sweets. Then the pistachio macaron. Yum! The couveture chocolate and macadamia nut slice with Chantilly cream was delicious too. My mini pavlova didn’t have enough passion fruit sauce on top.

Overall, the gourmet experience was lovely as well as the company.

I did get to sleep that night, soundly, surprisingly. I guess I ate too much carbs that they counteracted the effects of caffeine in my system. I felt full and exhausted when I got home, skipped dinner, and just slept the rainy night away. 😊

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Price: 55 AUD

Place: Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto

Date: April 2014

Bookings are recommended.

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Afternoon | High tea

Melbourne Afternoon Tea with a New York twist

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It was my first Afternoon tea with friends from work. We decided to try one of Langham’s limited-time-only offers. As part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2014, Johnny Iuzzini, an award-winning Pastry Chef based in New York, had teamed up with the Hotel to incorporate some of his decadent dessert treats to the Langham traditional afternoon tea.

As excited as I was with the food, I was more excited to see the Chef himself. 2006 James Beard award winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef, named one of the “10 Best Pastry Chefs in America”, Author of Dessert FourPlay, Head Judge on Bravo’s Top Chef Just Desserts, and self-proclaimed “pastry bad ass”, he was someone I would love to meet! And his exclusive appearance was on the day we were scheduled to have our Afternoon tea. Perfect!

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As I arrived at The Langham Hotel, I climbed the beautiful stairs while admiring the fountains and glass chandeliers that served as centrepieces. The last time I was there was on my sister’s High Tea Wedding. But instead of having the Afternoon tea in one of the lovely private rooms, it was at Aria Bar & Lounge, which was as nice. The lounge was spacious with dividers and lamps to give the place a cosy feel.

I started perusing on the tea menu while I waited for my friends to arrive. When they did, we talked about work and shopping. More enthusiasm on the latter, of course! And I loved that we were wearing floral dresses! So afternoon tea-ish! 😉

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When it comes to tea selection, I have my favourites, but as much as possible, I’d like to try different infusions. I ordered Pomegranate Oolong. Premium Ti Quan Yin Oolong leaves infused with tangy pomegranate to create a sweet, fragrant and silky cup. I enjoyed it very much!

I loved the china! They had red roses on them… And I love red roses!

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Our silver tea stands arrived. The top and bottom plates consisted of Johnny Iuzzini’s sweet creations, and the middle one contained Langham’s signature scones with clotted cream, fruit jam, and butter. I much rather prefer Chantilly cream, being light and fluffy, than Devonshire cream which is clotted, much thicker.

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Another separate plate was served full of ribbon sandwiches. I’m ashamed to admit that I totally snobbed them. I ate one absent-mindedly, trying to get to my scones and then to the much-awaited desserts. I think I had the cream cheese and chive. Nothing much to say about it… Not that it was bad, but because I couldn’t remember. Sorry.

Backtracking a lil bit…

Even before we started to take our first bite, we noticed a man wearing a black Chef’s uniform stopping at each table. I felt giddy like a school girl! Ha-ha! It was Johhny Iuzzini himself! He came to our table. Said some pleasantries and started to describe each of the pastry. One word: Charming!

After he finished, I had to ask to have a picture taken with him. I just had to!

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As he went to the next table, excitement abated, we were able to concentrate on our food. The scones were freshly baked – warm and fluffy. Paired with my tea, they were delicious!

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I, then, turned my attention to the pastries. I savoured each one of them trying to pick a favourite. The winner: Corn Panna Cotta with Madeleine. I enjoyed its sweetness and saltiness (and it’s “corniness”, as we kiddingly described it). We commented on each pastry trying to sound like professional judges in a cooking / baking competition. What fun!

My next favourite was the Chocolate Peanut Cake (tasted like peanut butter… Yum!), then the Chili Chocolate Cake, the Chestnut Tart, my least favourite one was the Pumpkin and Pine Nut (the combination didn’t work for me).

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The recipe of each pastry is on his cookbook, Dessert FourPlay. Copies of it were on sale that day. Added bonus: signed by him personally! One of my friends bought one…. I regretted not buying it. Oh well…

The service was fast, the staff were professional, the ambiance was good, the food were delectable, the tea was soothing, the company was fun, and… Johnny Iuzzini visited our table a few times, checking, if we were happy with his pastries. Which I was.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience!

😃

Price: 65 AUD

Place: Aria Bar & Lounge, The Langham Hotel

Date: March 2014

Bookings recommended.

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Afternoon | High tea

High Tea at the Parliament

We wanted different. So during the non-sitting days (days on which one or both Houses of Parliament does / do not meet), we booked for High tea at the Strangers Corridor in the Parliament of Victoria. On sitting days, only the members and guests of the Parliament are allowed to dine at the Corridor.

Of course, we dressed up for the occasion too. We muted down colours. No bright flowered prints. We sticked to black except for a coloured clutch and pumps. We wanted to look dignified as if we were passing a bill ourselves. Lol.

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We arrived and admired one of the oldest public buildings in Australia, dating back to 1856, with it’s classical lamps, sweeping steps, imposing columns and distinguished architecture. Security was tight. People attending the Parliament House tour were queuing orderly and silently at the sideline. My sisters and I were ushered to go through a scanner and had our bags scanned too. We were each given a pass to be presented at the reception where we signed our names and again, were each given a visitor sticker.

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We passed the majestic pillarless Queen’s Hall. The statue of Queen Victoria stood in a silent vigil invoking awe from passerbys and adding to the grandness of the space. We saw heavily framed paintings and busts of political figures, past and present. Furnitures, various things on display cases and the furnishings of the building all caught our attention.

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We entered a narrow and elongated corridor with tables and chairs on either side. Appropriately named. Fully carpeted, dark timbered panels, red velvet chairs, white linen covered tables, stain glass windows, and artworks, the Stranger Corridor oozed elegance. It has been serving traditional afternoon tea since 1924.

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We ordered tea first. I had Peppermint. Refreshing. What I loved about their crockery was the Parliament’s coat of arms on them! Our three-tiered tray full of decadent-looking food arrived. Each plate had the signature logo of the Parliament on it.

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I enjoyed the finger sandwiches than the pastries. I liked best the Croque monsieur, gypsy ham, gruyere cheese, grain mustard. The Olive baguette, Greek salad, Persian fetta, and the Wholemeal high tin red gum smoked salmon, cream cheese & cucumber were both exquisite too.

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The scones! Warm succulent scones! Always been my favourite. The ones we had at the Parliament were freshly baked and uh oh so delicious!!! Especially, when paired with jam and cream. What was unfortunate was the size of them. We only had two scones each (one plain and one muscatel), but they were small, smaller than the ones I had before. Couldn’t complain though… They were mouth-watering!

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Unfortunately, by the time we came to the pastries, I was ready to burst! As tantalizing as they were, I only managed a bite or two. Gluttony is not my favourite sin afterall.

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There were other people there but we were the only ones having the High tea. The rest (directly or indirectly, affiliated with the Parliament) were sipping their tea or coffee while perusing some documents and jotting down some notes. We paid and left the Corridor. The staff were lovely, by the way.

We went to the lobby to join the 20-minute free guided tour. Again, for security purposes, our handbags were stashed inside a locker. Our guide, Martin, was both funny and informative. We started from the Queen’s Hall then proceeded to the Library, the Westminster-inspired forest green Legislative Assembly (Lower House), and the Legislative Council (Upper House) with its burgundy carpets and seating.

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We sat on the seats where Parliament members sit to pass, debate and approve bills / laws. This brought me back when I was studying Political Science… The political arena could have been my niche instead of the Operating suites. Hmmm…

The classical decorations which featured gold-leaf columns, intricate mosaic of Minton floor tiles, statues and paintings satisfied the artist in me, while the food satisfied my palette very much.

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Price: The Corridor High Tea 38 AUD

Place: Strangers Corridor, Parliament House, Melbourne

Date: February 2014

Bookings recommended. Non-sitting days only.

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Afternoon | High tea

First Afternoon Tea in 2014

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Where to have my first Afternoon tea for this new year? Of course, in one of the sophisticated venues here in Melbourne, The Waiting Room in Crown. So on a weekday, braving the scorching summer heat of 43 degrees, my sisters and I met up with two of our girlfriends for some tea ( I know what you’re thinking! HOT tea in a VERY HOT weather!? Air-conditioning was the answer! Thanks to modern technology!), pastries, sandwiches and scones – warm, fluffy scones!

The place had a 1940s atmosphere with its jazzy feel of dim lightning and candles which reflected on the mirrors, silverwares and crystals that surrounded the bar. Just looking around felt like I was opening a jewellery box with a candlelight in the middle of the night. Everything glittered!

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I was actually tempted to order iced tea instead of hot tea because of the weather. Although the air was cooler inside, I was parched! But I opted against it. I just gulped in a glassful of water or two from a beautiful carafe. And ordered Silver needle, one of my favourites. It’s white tea, its flavour light, fresh and sweet.

Our server arrived carrying two three-tiered silver stands. The former wearing suspenders and necktie on a white shirt gave off a mid-1900s vibe. I liked it. The tiers were square rather than the round ones I normally see. I liked it more. It looked more elegant.

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The contents were such eye candies, especially the bottom tier! But I’ll start at the top first. I enjoyed all three – the chicken and leek pie, the truffle puff twist and especially, the roast chicken and walnut tortilla wrap. On the second tier, I had two of the marinated salmon croissant, and a tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella on olive sour dough. Sadly, I skipped the cucumber and cream cheese on white bread to make room for the pastries and the much-awaited scones!

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For the sweets… I had all four! The best one for me was the coconut dacquoise with mango and pistachios. I loved all the elements of the pastry. I liked the lemon meringue tart with orange and strawberries. I think due to the hot weather, I wanted something fruity and refreshing. The other two, espresso eclair with caramel glaze, and crispy chocolate, praline and Tonka bean mousse, delicious as they were, were too heavy for my present state (or palette, at that time).

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Now, the scones, the raisin and butter-milk scones were lovely! They didn’t disappoint. The warm and fluffy scone buttered first with whipped cream and then the homemade jam, was the star of that afternoon sitting.

To cleanse the palette, we were served raspberry sorbet with Grand Marnier syrup and walnut praline base. Yep… With a cognac liqueur! The place is a bar, after all. Two were specially requested to be alcohol-free as one of our companions was expecting, the other one, breast feeding. Same reason why we had to forego the Louis Roederer Champagne.

The only downside was we had to wait for the staff to top up our teacups. It took them a while to come back with the teapot. Once, he had to return to get the right pot. It should have been more convenient if we were given our own teapot.

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I must say, it was the only time I ever had that much to eat in all of my afternoon | high tea adventures. Again, I blamed the weather, the sumptuous food and mostly, the great company I had (too much talking and laughing can really work out an appetite)!

Price: 39 AUD (without champagne)

Place: The Waiting Room, Crown

Date: January 2014

Bookings recommended.

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Afternoon | High tea, Travel

Of hot chocolates, teas and everything nice in Paris

Bonjour!

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I can go on and on about how romantic and wonderful the city of Paris is… But I would probably sound like a broken record. A lot has been (and continually to be) said and heard about Paree… “I fell in love in Paree”, “She is going to Paree for Fashion Week”, “You have to go up the Eiffel Tower in Paree”, “The food in Paree is to die for”…. And so on and so forth! I will leave the colourful narrations to the professionals. Lol!

Alrighty then!
While we admired and visited famous landmarks in Paris (e.g. Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Louvre, Pont de l’Archeveche, etc.), we also had to tick our food bucket list. In the purpose of this blog, I would only write the one about Afternoon tea, though I have to include the two iconic places where we had hot chocolates that were “too die for”! Ha-Ha!

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Café de Flore. One of the oldest and most prestigious cafés in Paris. Located at the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue St. Benoit. Often, associated with the famous writer Ernest Hemingway who used to hang out in that place, and more often, compared to its rival Les Deux Magots.

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We chose to have breakfast al fresco instead of being seated at the cafe’s Art Deco interior. While we waited for our order of hot chocolates and croissants, we people-watched, listened to the French talk around us, enjoyed the crisp morning air, and continuously admired the Parisian buildings.

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Our waiter arrived, said our merci beaucoups, and started savouring the succulent croissant. The hot chocolate was rich but the cream and the glass of water balanced it. I must say, one of the tastiest croissants and yummiest hot chocolates I ever had!

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Now, when you say, “hot chocolate”, it’s almost synonymous to Angelina. No one should visit Paris without trying out their famous Le Chocolat Chaud À L’Ancienne Dit “L’Africain” (old-fashioned hot chocolate “L’Africain”). We did just that! But we were out of luck the first time. While we were having a tour in the Palace of Versailles, we decided to go to Angelina for an early dinner then have the hot chocolate afterwards. I had the Foie gras and artichoke salad… Délicieux! We were about to order the hot chocolates when we were told that they were closing and that they would not be making any hot drinks anymore. So disappointed!

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Second time’s a charm. So back in Paris, we went to Rue de Rivoli, where the main Angelina teahouse is situated. The place was packed. While waiting to be seated, we browsed through the decadent-looking pastries and chocolates. The whole place looked and smelled delicious! There was an air of elegance to the place with its marble-topped tables, mirrors, decorations and architecture. Even the servers were wearing fashionable uniforms.

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We got a table next to the mirror where we could watch people in a different, more interesting perspective. Coco Chanel used to be a frequent customer there just for the hot chocolate. Table #10 (I hope it was where we were seated!) was her favourite place to be. It is said that she liked mirrors and loved looking at the world through them. I agree. I saw, when we visited the Chanel flagship store in Rue Cambon, how the mirror at the top of her apartment stairs gave a heart-shaped illusion. I loved it! Ooppps! Sidetracked again! Lol!

The hot chocolate was thick and creamy. It came with whipped cream and a glass of water. Can a hot chocolate be dreamy? Because that is what I first thought of when I sipped le chocolat chaud. And their signature mouthwatering pastry, Mont Blanc… Yum!!! It’s made up of meringue, cream cheese and chestnut cream. The verdict: I want more, more, more!

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One fine day in the city of Paris, after a fun-filled day of retail therapy along the most expensive and popular avenue in the world, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, we decided to have afternoon tea at Ladurée. Another famous patisserie in Paris, if not, the world. And one that I had been looking forward to visiting.

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As much as I wanted to describe in detail the interior of the place, my senses which had been overstimulated by wonderful things that is Paris, they finally succumbed to impassiveness… Or indifference? Or maybe, I was just too hungry to mind my surroundings! Ha! Anyway, I ordered a pot of tea called Thé Marie-Antoinette (to commemorate my visit at the Palace of Versailles). The tea is described as “a delicious marriage of Chinese and Indian black teas combined with rose petals, citrus fruit and honey. A bucolic walk at the Petit Trianon”.

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For the pastry, I had Saint-Honoré Rose-Framboise ~ puff pastry, cream puff pastry, light rose petal custard cream, raspberry compote, rose-flavoured Chantilly whipped cream, rose syrup fondant, raspberries. Three letters and an exclamation point, W-O-W! But it was only my second choice. First place went to my sister’s pick, Ispahan ~ rose flavoured soft macaron biscuit, rose petal cream, raspberries and lychees. Because I craved anything macarony (if there’s a word). He-He!

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Sadly, I forgot to purchase a box of macarons from Ladurée which I intended even before coming to Paris. Oh well… But I did buy Pierre Hermé macarons! Yay!

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I could never get enough of what Paris has to offer…. Food, Fashion, Culture, to name a few. I will, definitely, be back!

But, for now…

Au revoir!

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