Sydney is obsessed with high tea, and with good reason – we know how to bake a good scone. Once you pair them with beautiful harbour views, like at the Mosman Barracks, or cultivated gardens at historic Vaucluse House and throw in a cheeky glass of Champagne you've got yourself an aspirational afternoon of leisure.
Here's our hotlist of the best high teas Sydney has to offer for when you have a hankering for tea, scones, petits fours and civilised conversation.
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The best high teas Sydney has to offer
Go for: Jawdropping, 180-degree harbour views.
What’s for tea? The tea selection goes beyond the standard black blends (though the Earl Grey is excellent) to include seasonal green teas and a delicate peach flavoured white tea. They can accommodate vegetarians with no notice and no fuss, swapping roast beef and salmon sandwiches for fresh salad and pesto. There are crisp golden samosas and warm scones with gratifyingly short pastry. The creamy mango pudding with tapioca tastes of summer and a thin sliver of opera cake is as light as a chocolate cloud.
How much? $40-$70.
Go for: Unbeatable views of Sydney Opera House.
What’s for tea? Bite-sized buttery puffs of olive madeleines, light fluffy quiche Lorraines, a swirl of smoked salmon with scrambled egg on rye – the savoury plate is five-star delicious, but save space for the sugar-gem topped scones with house-made strawberry jam and whipped cream. Wash it down with an Ovvio Paddington tea – lemongrass, liquorice and ginger – it’s like a hot toddy without the booze.
How much? $65-$80.
Go for: A taste of the country club life.
What’s for tea? Three-tiers of sweets, savouries and scones, plus tea, coffee and sparkling wine is a lot to fit in so the key here is to clear out your schedule and graze slowly. Start with chicken sandwiches and move onto little Italian doughnuts, then back to a crisp cone filled with salmon and cream cheese (it’s like a tiny Cornetto) before turning your full attention to the scones. It is our opinion that it’s the scones that make or break a high tea, and here they are fresh, short and crumbly with a crisp outer shell – top marks.
How much? $55-$73.
Go for: Hotel swankiness with non-judgemental gluttony.
What's for tea? Start with a warm flaky pie filled with chicken and mushroom before moving onto beetroot arancini and smoked salmon wraps with lemon cream cheese. The sweets selection – including a macaron bar and candy station! – is huge. Gorge on unlimited fluffy buttermilk scones, warm orange crepes and the chocolate praline cake that tastes like a Ferrero Rocher. The jasmin and hazelnut crème brulee is silky smooth.
How much: $68-$83.
Go for: Old world glamour under the chandeliers.
What’s for tea? There are three pages of tea on offer at this QVB classic. That’s a whopping 29 teas including their ‘splendid Earl Grey’ blend and a stand-your-spoon-up-in-it assam bari. You’ll sit up nice and straight on your little velour chair while making short work of chestnut and dark fruit slice, and hazelnut choux buns. Chubby scones with jars of mixed berry preserves and clotted cream, and soft little finger sandwiches filled with the likes of cucumber, egg, salmon and ham round out the experience.
How much? $55-$80.
Go for: A high tea tradition going back to 1865.
What’s for tea? This famous line of hotel afternoon teas involves soft little finger sandwiches of salmon, ham and cucumber and tiny little chicken and leek pies. Sweets-wise, there are scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, squares of chocolate fudge, tiny banoffee pies and miniature layer cakes. The tea selection is modest, but nicely curated – many of the blends made specifically for the Langham. There are also the Tiffin Prince and Princess teas for kids and mystic afternoon teas with fortune-telling.
How much? $70-$100.
Go for: Vintage leisure with added shopping.
What’s for tea? On the top tier of your tea tower, a light Moroccan orange-and-almond cake is full of citrus bite while a salted caramel and chocolate tart is salty enough to skew savoury. We'd have preferred plain cream rather than the too-sweet vanilla bean-infused stuff, but it’s a small niggle when you’re sitting on a grand old wooden balcony and casting your eyes over Middle Harbour below this café and gift shop, where you can take a copy of the crockery home with you.
How much? $50.
Go for: One of the most affordable teas in town.
What's for tea? The lobby café mightn't be the most lavish space at the Hilton, but it's a slick set-up. You get a lot of bang for your buck with a mix of sweet and savoury treats – think scampi served with finger lime in choux pastry, chicken and cucumber roulades, kiwi fruit tarts, pistachio mousse cakes – and unlimited tea or coffee. And of course there are scones, served with clotted cream and a tarty Australian plum and rosella jam. Just be warned that you'll need to book two days in advance.
How much: $40.
Go for: 34 tea blends drunk in grand, historic surrounds.
What’s for tea? The resident chef at this grand old mansion diligently talks guests through the savoury and sweet selections, most of which nod towards high tea classics. On our visit, it’s little mouthfuls of truffled risotto and mini smoked salmon brioche. Cucumber sandwiches get an update with a light layer crème fraîche spread thinly on house-baked rye bread. The scones are light and fluffy with a hint of vanilla bean and the sweets including a passionfruit and chocolate mousse, macaroons and fruit tarts.
How much? $55-$80.
Go for: A smooth, luxurious time out from your life.
What’s for tea? Staff will walk you through the system here: a three-tiered stand will arrive, eat from bottom to top, tea is served once the savoury plate is cleared. The tea list is extensive, from light, aromatic flavours to the usual suspects. The savoury plate includes artistic canapés, a bite-sized pastry filled with spicy potato, and arty sandwiches – like curried tuna, wrapped in a swirl of green bread and topped with purple flowers. There’s a generous sweet selection: white chocolate and pomegranate mousse, mini macarons, and fluffy scones.
How much? $42-$79.
Go for: An inclusive, accessible tea.
What’s for tea? One of the ten, traditional Twinings loose-leaf blends brews in silver pots on will be served at your table. Dietary restrictions are easy as all the cakelets on the top tier of the slate tea stand are gluten-free. That means tart raspberry jelly, lemon curd tarts and chocolate beetroot cake are all fair game. Sandwich triangles come with cucumber or roast beef and salmon roses arrive on soft white bread. It’s familiar, rich and filling fare. You’ll only feel the gluten-free pinch with the flat, crumbly scones that are not a match for their tall, golden, wheat-based counterparts.
How much? $49-$79.
Go for: Tea that can turn into drinks.
What’s for tea? Down in the lobby bar, you might be in danger of finishing your pink pomegranate or Turkish apple tea before your tiered tray arrives. Consider the option to add a whole bottle of Champagne to your tea if you want to keep your fluids up. It’s a late afternoon tea only here, which can easily run into after-work drinks as the bar fills up. Scones are golden and short with lots of cream and sharp rhubarb and strawberry jam, and the fresh oysters are a classy touch to the savouries.
How much? $45-$250.
Go for: Tea down by the Quay.
What’s for tea? Go with the traditional afternoon tea and tackle the three-tiered cold snack tower from the bottom up. The scones are relatively fresh and come with cool clotted cream and raspberry compote. For savouries, there’s your typical cucumber sandwich on thick white bread, and your not so typical (what we think is) rice paper topped with tomato and basil. This is accompanied by small squidgy syringe of balsamic, which leaves us slightly perplexed but is a fun addition.
How much? $55-$65.
Go for: The buffet.
What’s for tea? A Bellini on arrival is a fine touch, and there's a novelty in seeing all the staple goodies laid out at the buffet – one table holds cold savouries like the cucumber sandwich with almost petal-like cucumber slices between soft, fresh bread; another has hot food, including a mini samosa and quiche. The desserts table spilling over with meringue tarts and cheesecake slices, but scones are a little dry.
How much? $59-$79.
Go for: High tea inside the Parliament of New South Wales.
What's for tea? Overlooking the gorgeous greenery of the Botanic Gardens, each Friday a high tea is put on for the public. There are lemonade scones with strawberry gel (aka jam) and whipped cream, mini lemon meringue pies and tiny, delicious smoked salmon roulades with dill cream cheese, amongst two other tiers of treats. Go traditional with tea and coffee, or start your weekend early with a sparkling wine or rosé.
How much? $50-$60.
Go for: A minibreak tea.
What’s for tea? This famous Blue Mountains hotel is back in action and serving the highest (altitudinally speaking) of teas. They also do a gluten-free high tea, as well as one specifically designed for children. If you’re some sort of renegade who refuses to play by the terribly British rules, there’s an Eastern tea that features dumplings, barbecue duck pancakes, vegetarian rice paper rolls and twice-cooked pork belly.
How much? $55-$79.