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. For more special occasion dining ideas, try our guides to Melbourne's best long lunches and pre-packed gourmet picnics.
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: Those who are gluten-free can be catered for, along with vegetarians and vegans. 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. $45-65pp including film admission. Sat, Sun afternoons.
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. $50pp.
This grand hotel offers a contemporary twist for raging chocaholics.
Best for: Obeying cravings
Speciality: Sure, you get the usual three-tiered stand of sandwiches, fluffy scones and savoury quiches, but it’s the chocolate buffet on a central table that we’re drawing up chairs for. On offer are chocolate rocks, panna cotta, opera tortes, tarts, popcorn fudge, moose and even a chocolate fountain.
Dietary requirements: Most desserts are already gluten-free but if you let them know of any requirements when you book, dishes can be made just for you.
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. A pianist tinkles the ivories between noon and 4pm.
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: Given the modern menu, it’s a great place for a younger group of mates. Or anyone who thinks chocolate should be a food group.
Good for Mother’s Day? If she loves chocolate, she'll be in paradise.
1 Southgate Ave, Southbank. Sat noon-2pm & 2.30-4.30pm, Sun 10am-noon & 12.30-2.30pm. From $65pp.
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. $57pp.
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 an espresso éclair with caramel glaze and a Tonka bean mousse.
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. $55-$75pp.
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.
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 $69pp. Sat, Sun $89pp.
Get a serving of childhood nostalgia in Brunswick.
Best for: Getting messy
Speciality: Crafternoon is a café that offers crafting for kids and adults alike, so unsurprisingly their high tea is a fun one. It’s a cool take on kids’ party food – flower-shaped sandwiches of cucumber and mint; sausage rolls; mini vegie quiches; and flourless beetroot and dark chocolate cakes – dense, sweet and packed with a rich chocolatey flavour.
Dietary requirements: Catering is provided for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-intolerant diets.
Ambience: Vibrant pops of colour fill the café from floor to ceiling, with the artwork of customers on display. It is a jubilant trip down memory lane to the time of fairy bread and musical chairs.
Wear: Overalls, sundresses – whatever takes you. Just leave your lace gloves at home, as you’re going to get glue and glitter all over them.
Take: Kids who want to treat Mummy... and who get bored easily.
Good for Mother’s Day? Yes, but get Mum’s mates on board, as bookings are for groups only.
718 Sydney Rd, Brunswick. High teas booked for a minimum of eight. $25pp.
This is quite the grand affair, with doormen and attentive staff. Tables are filled with business people flogging the corporate credit card, tourists and locals alike.
Best for: A stylish afternoon
Speciality: It’s a caffeine addict’s delight. The Espresso Martini to kick off proceedings is made by an expert hand and sets an upbeat mood.
Dietary requirements: Gluten-free, vegetarian and dairy-free options are readily available.
Ambience: Surrounded by local, modern sculptures against the backdrop of Victorian elegance of the old Rialto, you can pick a sunny spot under the atrium with a view or a more low-key position in the Market Lane bar.
Take: Someone to be wicked with. Jerry Hall would love it – take her.
Good for Mother’s Day? We should coco.
495 Collins St, Melbourne. Weds-Sun 2-5pm (last bookings 3.30pm). $55pp.
This glamorous salon, run by Hungarian hostess and food chemist Dr Hanna Frederick, has a chocolate factory out the back and a whole lot of front.
Best for: Glamour, pussycat
Speciality: While the Mámor husband-and-wife duo are chocolate boffins (they’ve even invented a kangaroo and venison salami chocolate), their scones are outrageous. Part croissant, part gnocchi, they’re made with cream and served with more cream and tangy homemade jam. Best drink in the house is the koko Samoa: cocoa beans fermented into a light chocolate/coffee brew, served in a plunger.
Dietary requirements: They once catered to nine yoga instructors with ten different requirements, so whether you’re celiac, paleo or vegan, they can cope so long as you give them 48 hours warning. Oh, and vegans, once a month they do a vegan feast with next-door restaurant Shoo: “dinner in China and dessert in Hungary”.
Ambience: We enjoyed the Cats cast album. The ornate furniture and red velvet upholstery turns the frou up to 11.
Wear: Anywhere run by a “Hungarian drama queen” that offers regular burlesque nights can’t be too prim. Dress up to please yourself.
Take: Your most frou-frou friends. Mámor caters to 5,000 women a year.
Good for Mother's Day? Great for fun mums, but hurry – Mother’s Day usually books out.
153 Johnston St, Collingwood. 10am-5pm. Wed-Fri $65; Sat, Sun $75.
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 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 $48pp. Sat, Sun noon-3pm (weekdays by appointment).