Can we tempt you with a cucumber sandwich? How about a mini-cupcake while you decide from a list of 20 different varieties of tea? One of the best things about taking high tea is the undeniable feeling of old-world luxury – not to mention justifying a meal of comprised mainly of cakes.
The Windsor’s waitstaff will have you know that a spread of sandwiches, scones and pastries should be known as afternoon, not high tea, if you please.
Best for: The trad treatment
Speciality: Having served afternoon tea every day since 1883, the Windsor has perfected the traditional offerings of ribbon sandwiches, warm scones and an ever-changing array of pastries. Be sure to try the Grey De Luxe tea, enjoyed by members of high society since the 1880s after it was made famous by British Prime Minister Earl Grey himself. On the weekends afternoon tea includes the Windsor's famed dessert buffet, with an eye-popping array of cakes, tarts, mousses, petit fours and sweets of all types. The highlight might well be the dark and light chocolate fountains, into which you can dip strawberries, cookies, brownies or artisan marshmallows.
Dietary requirements: Because the Windsor has nine pastry chefs and an army of waitstaff, fructose, dairy and gluten free tea-makers have nothing to worry about.
Ambience: Candelabra, classical music and fresh orchids imbue this 1920s dining room with a refreshing elegance. If you stir the tea in your china cup just right, you might find yourself in Downton Abbey.
Wear: You’re given a booklet on afternoon tea etiquette (“gently fold the tea towards the 12 o’clock point two or three times”), so we recommend your Sunday best.
Take: Mum, to show her that you remember those table manners she taught you.
Good for Mother's Day? Mother’s Day is like Christmas for the Windsor – with a special cake. Can’t refuse that.
111 Spring St, Melbourne. Mon-Tues noon-2pm, Wed-Fri noon-2pm & 2.30-4.30pm, Sat-Sun noon-2pm & 3-5pm. Mon-Fri $69-$89pp. Sat, Sun $89-109pp.
This funky space offers a scone-free high tea that's full of delicious surprises.
Best for: Young and edgy
Speciality: Seven sweets and seven savouries make for a deceptively filling experience. Every miniature delight was perfectly crafted to be a two-bite taste explosion. But for those who want their high tea traditional, this ain't it – there are no scones here, and the service is definitely not obsequious.
Dietary requirements: Those who are gluten free and vegetarians can be catered for if you let them know in advance.
Ambience: The room is moody and funky, with a jazz soundtrack and sleek furniture. It smells beautiful, and there is lots of interesting art on the walls.
Wear: The Adelphi is a classy hotel, but you don't need your white gloves and pearls. Go full Melbourne and wear black.
Take: Your bridesmaids or a group of friends for someone's birthday.
Good for Mother’s Day? If your mother is not of the 'a high tea must contain scones' variety, then definitely.
187 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000. Sat-Sun noon & 2.30pm. From $69.
This olde-worlde tearoom in the Block Arcade offers a cosy retreat from the bustle of Collins Street.
Best for: Prim and proper
Speciality: On top of the most popular sandwich and cake items, you’ll be presented with warm scones. There’s fruit to cleanse the palate, and we recommend the Dahl House tea.
Dietary requirements: Those who are gluten free can be catered for, along with vegetarians.
Ambience: Emerald drapes hang above floral wallpaper and golden-framed mirrors. Couple that with soft jazz and some sconce lighting, and you’re in for a serene experience.
Wear: Something with an elastic waistband – we actually couldn’t believe how much there was to eat.
Take: Your grandmother couldn’t fault it, but there are all ages here today.
Good for Mother’s Day? This one has ‘Mum treat’ written all over it.
282 Collins St, Melbourne. Daily 10am-2.30pm. $55pp.
This grand hotel offers a very traditional high tea every weekday.
Best for: A midweek treat
Speciality: This is traditional with a twist, with warm, fluffy scones (one with fruit, one fruit-free) with jam, cream and lemon curd, bite-sized sandwiches, mini-pies and miniature bagels, plus creative, perfectly portioned bite-sized sweets. The pink Champagne macaron comes with its own Champagne-and-vanilla syrup pipette for you to inject, and the little pot of raspberry crunch with wild berry noodles, yoghurt semifreddo and almond crumble is sweet and beautiful.
Dietary requirements: Let the team know when booking if you are gluten free, dairy free or fructose free, and you'll be accommodated. There's also a vegetarian and nut-free option.
Ambience: Pass the massive marble water fountain in the lobby and be seated in the Aria Bar’s plush leather chairs, surrounded by black and gold furnishings.
Wear: No need to dress fancy; just bear in mind you’re in a five-star hotel. On that note, you may want to throw in a spa treatment, so pack swimmers.
Take: Anyone who can get out of work on a weekday and appreciates a traditional afternoon tea.
Good for Mother’s Day? This one's not available on weekends, but the Langham is putting on a special Greatest Showman-themed high tea on the day.
1 Southgate Ave, Southbank. Mon-Fri 10.30am-8pm. From $59pp.
The National Gallery of Victoria themes its high tea menus to its major exhibitions. Excitement ensues…
Best for: Highbrow tea
Speciality: The NGV's team of talented pastry chefs serve up the usual mix of macarons, éclairs, cakes and savouries, but with a twist – the menu changes to reflect the gallery's latest major exhibition.
Dietary requirements: Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available.
Ambience: Befitting the rest of the NGV's fitout, the scene in the Tea Room is minimalist. While you can get incredible teas (like the slowly unfurling chrysanthemum), it’s a fitting setting for cocktails, too. Coffee and sparkling wine are also available.
Wear: Comfortable, gallery-apt clothes.
Take: Your favourite art hag.
Good for Mother’s Day? Obviously.
Lvl 1, National Gallery of Victoria, 180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne. 10am-5pm. Wed-Mon. $65pp or $58pp for NGV members.
Consider taking high tea in the well-padded comfort of Nova Deluxe cinema lounge. It’s like Gold Class but with a Pimm’s cocktail.
Best for: Multi-tasking
Speciality: On top of two sandwiches and four desserts in a special high tea box, you will be offered such bite-sized delicacies as a gooey chocolate tart and warm feta-flecked frittata, all while watching a movie. The Pimm’s cocktail takes the old English staple and serves it with two cherries sunk deep inside a highball glass. It tastes like summer and comes garnished with the compulsory cucumber slice.
Dietary requirements: Vegan and gluten-free options aren't available for high tea, but vegetarians can be catered for. Just be sure to email staff within 24 hours of your selected booking time.
Ambience: Nova’s boutique lounges are smaller and more luxurious than its regular cinemas, inspired by the golden era of film and cinema construction of the 1930s-1940s. Each recliner chair has its own little table, and staff move discreetly between patrons with their platters.
Wear: Something that you don’t mind getting crumbs on – all those little cakes and brioche rolls may be designed to be low-mess, but trust us, you will create crumbs.
Take: Someone who has already tried all the flavours of Choc Tops and doesn’t mind forgoing popcorn for once. You can also privately hire the cinema for 20 people or more – choosing any movie in their catalogue.
Good for Mother’s Day? Naturally.
380 Lygon St Carlton. $45pp including film admission. Sat, Sun afternoons.
A glitzy hotel bar with chandeliers and candles, populated by waitstaff in maroon uniforms – and you.
Best for: Making a day of it – the casino’s next door!
Speciality: This is the grown-up, sophisto-choice. Spend a little more and you'll get a glass of sparkling wine, and quite apart from the savouries you’ll get a passionfruit and blueberry tart and a strawberry and rhubarb layer cake.
Dietary requirements: You’re dealing with professionals here – give them a few days warning and they can work around your curious needs.
Ambience: It’s intimate and chic, with modern table settings, brown suede seats and light jazz standards playing in the background.
Wear: Anywhere from smart casual to cocktail finery.
Take: It’s a little bit sexy, so take your lover or somebody who would appreciate the elegance. The message is you think of them very highly.
Good for Mother's Day? What a treat.
The Waiting Room, Crown Entertainment Complex, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank. Daily noon-5pm. $65-$85pp.
Enjoy high tea with a different live act every month.
Best for: Those who like high tea with musical accompaniment.
Speciality: On the first Sunday of the month Arts Centre Melbourne host High Tea Live, a traditional high tea with a different live act every month, ranging from opera to jazz. Your three-tiered stand of sweets and savouries is delivered swiftly before the performance starts, but don’t fill up too fast. The real treat is the basket of rich, fluffy scones that come fresh from the oven.
Dietary requirements: You can opt for vegetarian or gluten-free high tea when booking, and most other dietary requirements can be catered for on request.
Ambience: High Tea Live is set in Arts Centre Melbourne’s fancy-ish upstairs space, the Pavilion. The gold-accented ceiling and sparkling wine on arrival are classy, and the service is impeccable. But this is a function-style high tea, so if you want something boutique and intimate look elsewhere.
Wear: It’s the Arts Centre, so dress as you would for a matinee performance.
Take: This is the sort of high tea you treat your mum or grandma to, but beware that it’s eight to a table. If you’re not in the mood for making new friends be sure to bring seven guests along with you.
Good for Mother's Day? Yes, especially if mum is a fan of classic Broadway musicals (the May 2018 High Tea Live will feature Melissa Langton singing old-school Broadway hits).
The Pavilion, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne 3004. Noon and 4pm. First Sunday of every month. $97.50 or $89 for Arts Centre Melbourne members.
Your own Mad Hatter’s tea party, overlooking the Melbourne skyline.
Best for: A laugh with the girls
Speciality: It’s a “daggy high tea” – sangers include curried egg and ham and pickles, and you’ve got to fit in a sausage roll before your scone. Wash this down with jugs of cocktails like the DD Cup filled with Maidenii: a vermouth sourced from Central Victoria oozing native botanicals.
Dietary requirements: Those who go gluten-free can be catered for, along with vegetarians.
Ambience: The garden theme is taken to the extreme here with the indoor hedged bar decked out in gaudy floral arrangements, glass tables and AstroTurf while the outdoor terrace is made up of white garden outdoor settings complete with large brollies.
Wear: Anything goes, from pearls to jeans.
Take: Your rowdiest girls. It’s perfect for your last hurrah as a single lady or a frivolous feminine birthday bash.
Primness factor: If your mum likes a laugh with the girls, this is a great, less formal idea.
Lvl 3, 59-63 Bourke St, Melbourne. Garden Party $55pp. Sat, Sun noon-3pm (weekdays by appointment).
Trade the scones for chocolate treats and pralines, macarons, French style patisserie goods, chocolate cocktails and hot chocolates destined to lull you into a sugar coma.
Best for: Chocoholics, duh.
Speciality: Available on request any day in Gânache’s South Yarra store for a nice price point ($39pp), this high tea delivers both sweet and savoury goodies without the airs and graces. The hazelnut fan slice and brownie mousse slice are standouts, as are the honeycomb sticks made with honey harvested on the store’s rooftop. Toasties and quiche help with the sugar overload, but save room for a hot chocolate – it’s rich but very tasty.
Dietary requirements: Gânache is well versed at catering for gluten-free and vegetarian guests. Those adverse to dairy, however, might find it a little difficult – but master chocolatier Arno Backes promises he is working on it, so sit tight.
Ambience: Gânache recently underwent a refreshing reno at their South Yarra store, and these days it's all about ‘50s mod styling. While it’s lacking the extravagance of traditional high teas, it makes up for in relaxed, treat-yo’-self vibes.
Wear: It’s likely the most casual of all the high teas in Melbourne, you won’t need to pre-plan this one too far in advance. Just wear something you can stuff your face in.
Take: Your best friend or Chapel Street shopping pal.
Good for Mother’s Day? Yes. Especially if Mum shares your chocolate obsession.
250 Toorak Road, South Yarra. Daily noon-5pm. $39pp or $49pp with a cocktail.
Settle into the Sheraton’s glorious sunroom for an unpretentious afternoon tea with all the fixings.
Best for: Introducing a newbie
Speciality: While the menu changes seasonally, our three-tiered stand came fresh from the kitchen with petit pesto chicken brioche sliders, smoked salmon and dill finger sandwiches, porcini mushroom quiches and crunchy olive bread with marinated artichokes and feta. The middle tier was a real sugar kick – expect anything from housemade blueberry macarons and mini fig cheesecake to yuzu meringue tart and chocolate and passionfruit slice. Scones are a hit – and you’re given a hefty serve of cream and raspberry jam so you can reapply after every bite.
Dietary requirements: The Sheraton is happy to accommodate all dietary needs, and staff will get in touch after you book to confirm any requirements.
Ambience: If you score a spot beside the huge north-facing windows, you’ll be treated to a nice afternoon glow. It’s quiet too, which is great if you like attentive service, but maybe a little tricky if you’re in the mood for a serious D&M.
Wear: No need to go all out – a neat and casual weekend outfit will do.
Take: As it’s on the medium-to-low end of fancy, it’s a great introductory high tea for youngins, or those who’ve miraculously missed the boat on high teas thus far.
Good for Mother’s Day? Definitely. Pair it with a session at the Sheraton’s in-house spa and you’ve got a gift made in Mum heaven.
27 Little Collins St, Melbourne. Mon-Sat 1-3pm. From $49pp (and includes a glass of sparkling on arrival).