High Tea is for me one of the great indulgences in life. Traditionally served at 3pm, High Tea or Afternoon Tea most usually includes scones with jam and cream, dainty sandwiches and bite size cakes. As an avid traveller in a different era, and even more recently as a culinary travel writer, I've had the privilege to stay at luxury hotels around the world and tried the High Tea at many.
Top marks for the High Tea at MODE Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, which is truly the best that I've enjoyed. Move over Raffles Singapore and The Savoy London. And even High Tea at other Four Seasons Hotels. I really loved the Four Seasons Hotel in Alexandria Egypt (although I did have my best ever adult Christmas there thanks to the surprise Christmas stocking left on the front door of the room).
Yet this High Tea takes the cake!
3pm in Sydney has never tasted better.
First we had Champagne! Can you think of anything better when you've frocked up and headed into Circular Quay for a Sydney Sunday afternoon? Well indeed, it does get better. We were served my favourite, totally top favourite NV House Champagne - Louis Roederer.
Then sipping our Champagne, as our anticipation rose, the tiered stand arrived shortly afterward, with really lovely timing. Just enough time to take a little sip or three, and start our conversation, but not too long so that we were waiting hungrily.
The presentation on the MODE Kitchen & Bar tier was so beautiful. Three tiers of matching morsels, sweet on top and bottom, savoury in the middle. We considered the order carefully. Hot savoury first, then cold savoury, the lightest sweet desserts to heaviest. Then the scones arrived under glass and with superior fresh raspberry jam and clotted cream. So they slipped in near the end of our planned menu, just leaving chocolate cake for the last. Now that we had the plan, it was ready, set, EAT.
Our plan meant that we started with possibly the most luxurious if not decadent, first eating the vol au vent, delightful lemon and asparagus. Take a look at the precision of buttery layers. A totally record breaking towering stack of puff, yet light and ethereal, melt-in-your-mouth. That got even better when we added optional caviar. If you are going for indulgence, romantic or not, go the whole way, I reckon. SAVOUR.
Then to a different pastry with Leek, Gruyere and Salt Bush Tart which gave the first nod to location. The Australian flavours are one of the scorecards that took this High Tea into the lead internationally. This High Tea subtly offers its sense of place, without dominate the luxury. Again the pastry is melt-in-the-mouth. The filling unctious but still creamy smooth light. It was faultless in taste as well as aesthetic. Cucumber freshened us, and surprised us with its hidden treasure of kingfish tartare and burnt onion filling. The sandwiches were excellent too, quality smoked salmon with creamy eggs. Oh gosh the savouries were splendid. APPRECIATE.
Sweets, and we licked our way with sensory delight through the individual art works of Mode meringue pavlovas, cherry macarons, and creamy pastry pears. SWOON.
There is a friendly(?) debate Australia vs New Zealand about the origins of pavlova. Pavlovas here are uplifted, refined and created as a contemporary 21st century offering. Never mind the debate about country of origin, these winning pavlovas are designed for you - in Sydney!
The MODE Kitchen & Bar High Tea ticks all the boxes with the food. The pieces are two bite size, the easy-to-eat rule for finger food. So we did just that - used our fingers! Except for the scones which we split with our knife and spread with our jam and cream? Do you put your jam or your cream on the bottom? I did read somewhere that it depends on origin. Scones originate in the south west of England and two areas are famous for them. In the County of Cornwall, the jam goes down first. In the County of Devon, the cream is spooned on the bottom, and jam on top. I went for the latter, as the clotted cream at MODE was luscious and thick. DEVOUR.
Chocolate waited until last. More high quality ingredients with the delice composed from Valrhona dark chocolate, another favourite of mine. This Sunday session was certainly my lucky day. DREAM.
When considering what I look for in a top High Tea experience, yes there is taste first, and menu composition, which definitely needs to be delicate and refined and balanced. For top marks, I also prefer substantial thick white table cloths, the type that don't require an undercloth. Tiered plating please - no buffet High Teas for me! Cutlery, flatware and glasses of quality.
Underpinning all this quality, must be correct professional and yet friendly service. When I say professional, I don't mean asking how everything is just after I've taken a mouthful. Or feeling there is a right for front of house to interrupt a conversation. We've gotten so used to our Sydney cafe society that I sometimes feel we've forgotten what service is. Although this is the icing on the cake, this high level of service which is perfectly delivered at MODE Kitchen & Bar is a prerequisite for the perfect High Tea score.
Well what are you waiting for? Your five star experience awaits you...