Seated at one of the finely dressed round tables where we were again welcomed, our afternoon of indulgence commenced. A 19th century practice imported from England to Australia, afternoon teas are a celebration of high-quality reinterpretations of the basics – tea, finger sandwiches, sweet and savoury tarts, and a selection of deserts. Windsor Hotel – or The Windsor, as it currently calls itself – has been the place in Melbourne to experience afternoon tea for over 130 years.
Served by the highly attentive staff with a fine attention to detail, our experience unrolled as smoothly as the gentle apple notes of the French sparkling wine gave way to a rounded wood finish and we worked our way through each tier. We were presented with petite savoury pastries on the upper tier: Cornish pasties and confit onion tart. The balance of organic vegetables in the Cornish pasties were encased in utterly buttery pastry that reflected the season’s change to autumn. The slow-cooked caremelised onions were a perfect match with the goat’s milk cheese and orange reduction, served with a half-slice of cherry tomato for an acid bite and visual appeal.
The middle tier we kept for last to finish on a sweet note. The three desserts were simply too beautiful to eat, but we did anyway, to our delight. The shining sphere of almond sponge and basil mousse covered in strawberry lacquer was a triumph. Caroline and Stéphanie Tatin would have approved of the apple tarte tatin whose walnut sablé crumbled delicately in the mouth, the perfect foil for the apples and classic vanilla cream. The buckwheat and dark chocolate tart gave us a taste both of Bretagne in the west of France and South-East Asia, the former through the buckwheat sablé and the latter through the tart gelée of the kalamansi citrus fruit, joined by a delectable dollop of 65% dark chocolate cremeux.
Of course, the afternoon tea wouldn’t be an afternoon tea without the tea! Our server helped us to choose teas that would most suit our preferences, giving information that supplemented the brief descriptions given in the tea menu. The aromatic tea, after being brewed at the correct temperature, was served into porcelain cups. For those who had room, the scones – plain or with plump sultanas – were just as they should be: buttery with a giving crumb, light and well-risen. They were served with the hotel’s eponymous jam and thick clotted cream.