Afternoon tea or the classic high tea is increasingly fashionable in Melbourne with most of the city's 5-star hotels vying for a delicious slice of the market. Couples and groups of ladies frolicking with tiers of sandwiches, cakes and petit fours are common sights these days in the lobby lounges of Hotel Windsor known for its traditional afternoon tea and Westin Melbourne, Sofitel on Collins and Grand Hyatt with their modern twists on the traditional.
Not to be left behind, Stamford Plaza has also jumped on the high tea bandwagon armed with signature recipes from its executive chef Ketan Seth. Instead of the lobby lounge, the hotel's afternoon tea takes place in its Harry's Restaurant, where an atmosphere of understated elegance is complemented by natural light.
The simple logic is hotel guests and diners spend the morning perusing the shops and boutiques on the city's Parisian end, before unwinding over a 3-tier stand of seasonal assortment of savoury sandwiches, fluffy homemade scones with jam and cream, tantalising petit fours and sweet delights in the relaxed dining room.
I managed to catch up with chef Ketan to taste his new creations. While not everything on the tiers suited my palate, I found 12 reasons to return and spend a delicious afternoon in Stamford Plaza Melbourne.
To differentiate itself from the competition, executive chef Ketan Seth has orchestrated a high tea that pays tribute to the elegance of a traditional English afternoon tea, but with a cosmopolitan mix of European, Asian and Middle Eastern influences that reflect his career with some of the most renowned hotels including The Atlantis, Raffles hotels, Langham Melbourne and Crown Melbourne.
Chef Ketan does all the pastry and most of the items served in his seasonal and revolving menu are his signature creations such as the Pineapple & Black Pepper Macaroon, Chocolate Chip Scones, Banana & Marshmellow Kebabs, Walnut Fudge Brownie and Passionfruit Short Biscuits just to name a few. He has set out to provide his diners with unique textures and flavours uncommon to the traditional afternoon tea. His combination of colours and textures on all 3 tiers are a visual delight that gets you salivating and reaching out to sample.
Most high teas focus on the cute and dainty but chef Ketan has constructed 3 levels of generous servings that may reflect his tenure in Dubai. Weightier than the versions I had in London and New York, the bottom tier offers larger-than-usual finger sandwiches that lay the foundation of your afternoon indulgence with portions getting "lighter" towards the top. With an average of 5 to 7 items on each tier, you may want to consider combining lunch and this afternoon tea together.
The Saffron and Yoghurt Pannacotta with Seasonal Berries and Gold Leaf was not only a stunning visual piece but I enjoyed the blend of sweet and tart flavours on the palate.
Scones often play a lead role on the decades old stages of traditional afternoon teas and chef Ketan delivered a wide array of actors and actresses to please the discerning audience. While the plain scones do not churn up fond memories of grandma's baking, the smaller refined versions were soft, fluffy and delicious when paired with Ketan's home made berry preserve, double whipped cream and some butter. The date and walnut scones held their own.
While the Coffee and Chocolate Ganache Macaroon (or Macaron in French) served its dense and sweet purpose well, my personal favourite was the Pistachio Macaroon with its lighter than usual sweetness. It was well made like any proper traditional French Macaron with a crisp outer shell, moist and chewy innards along but with a rich ganache filling of fragrant and nutty pistachio. Ketan has certainly presented a superior product to the popular version at the famed Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong.
I'm not a big fan of the overtly sweet desserts so Ketan's Marbled Raspberry Petit Gateux with its soft mousse texture infused with berry tartness was refreshing to the palate and offered a gentle way to balance the sweetness from the other desserts.
While Smoked salmon, Cream Cheese & Capers sandwiches are commonly found in majority of the afternoon menus, many are either too thick with salty, fishy salmon or an overload of creaminess. Ketan served up a balanced finger sandwich that remind me of the same in Raffles Hotel in Singapore. His choice of smoked salmon and the appropriate portioning of the fish slices to the cream cheese and capers mixture to the sandwich bread and the addition of thin slices of cucumber left me wanting more.
Tea leaves are a must in a refined high tea. Fortunately you can choose from a reasonable variety by Dilmah that arrives rich and fragrant in a plunger. Definitely no tea bags from Ketan.
While the Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial was not a creation of Ketan's kitchen but the choice of champagne was excellent. The perfect balance of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier reveals subtle pear, citrus and brioche notes. In addition to being one of the food of love, I enjoyed the fresh crispiness, smooth fruitiness and elegant maturity of the champagne paired with the sweet and savoury overtones on the tiers.
Often than not, a good product is destroyed by poor service as seen and experienced in many of the best restaurants in Melbourne. It was important to me that the staff were polite, attentive and could hold a conversation with guests. They were all of that and more. They knew when to appear and refill my beverages without being intrusive and when to leave me to enjoy my afternoon and conversations with friends.
Afternoon tea is often about the quality of the food and service delivered in a venue with simple elegance that never goes out of style. If you're looking to sit back, relax and enjoy yourself while the kitchen and waiting staff take care of the rest, then Ketan has the high tea for you.
Stamford Plaza's high tea is only available every Saturday and Sunday from 1pm to 4pm and priced at AUD49 per adult or AUD59 per adult accompanied by a glass of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial. Children aged between 5 to 12 receive 50 percent off the adult price and those 4 years and below are free. For Easter, chef Ketan is featuring a decadent Easter Chocoholic High Tea on Saturday 30 and Sunday 31 March. In addition to his meticulously crafted savoury bites, diners can indulge in sweet delicacies from the chocolate buffet. For the kids, a visit from the Easter bunny and a host of activities will delight and entertain them. Prices are AUD69 per adult including a glass of Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial, AUD34.50 for kids 5 to 12 years and those 4 years and below are free. To reserve simply call 03 9659 1592 or email firstname.lastname@example.org