As forward-thinking a city as Melbourne is, its also a city that proudly conserves its institutions. Established in 1892 and located in the historic Block Arcade on Collins St, Hopetoun Tea Rooms is a link to Melbourne's booming turn of the century Victorian past. Being mad for all things vintage*, tea and sweet, its long been a culinary destination on Alissa's wishlist, so when our tram stop conveniently dropped us off outside the Block Arcade, our quest for a cup of coffee turned into tea, scones and tarts. Just look at that incredible display!
Its not everyday one gets to dine in an establishment that has been around for over 100 years (especially in Australia), and the place is so insanely popular that there seems to be a constant line out the front. We were fortunate enough to arrive during a brief lull, however even with our good fortune we had to wait for almost half an hour looking in at dinner's enjoying the restaurant's old world charm - complete with vintage tea paraphernalia, chandeliers and that incredible wall paper. By the time we got to the front of the queue, it had stretched almost to the front of the arcade!
Finally we were seated inside, and surrounded by the most stunning Victorian-era decor...
... including this huge, imposing mirror along the back wall.
Needless to say, Alissa was very excited.
Our experience of High Tea at the Raffles in Singapore suggests that its pretty easy for such historic places to get by on their colonial charm alone, with little effort put into keeping up with the times and actually presenting a good product. Conversely, the Metropole in Hanoi set an exceptionally high stand with their Chocolate Buffet while still being able to trade on the hotel's history. Thankfully, Hopetoun Tea Rooms is more like the latter, and their selection of organic tea was very impressive. I love the naturally sweet flavour and calming effect of white tea, and was very happy with the Snow White; a blend of Pai Mu Dan and Apple. Alissa is more of an English tea classicist than I am and ordered the Mademoiselle Grey, an Earl Grey tea with rose petals. I'm not big on black tea, but the floral notes from the petals made this a perfect tea for the surrounds and the sweet treats to come.
Tea and Scones is a classic afternoon tea combination, and an assertive Alissa was adamant that this was a necessary part of the experience.
Fresh baked, presumably in-house, the scones came accompanied with triple berry jam and double cream for extra indulgence. While the scones and the jam were about the level of quality I would expect from a very good high tea, the double cream made all the difference, being far nicer that the usual whipped single cream.
After finishing our scones it was time to sample some of the sweet tarts from their impressive front window display. Worried that it might be overly rich and wanting a fruitier tart for my palate to finish on, I sampled the Chocolate Fig Tart first. Thankfully, I needn't have worried, as the chocolate's richness level was just about perfect for me, and the juiciness of the raw fig slices on top of the tart gave it a lovely fresh touch. I find chocolate tarts can be a little one note in their pursuit of 'that than which nothing is more chocolate', but this was definitely not one of those. I liked it all the more for it.
I'm more into fruity desserts so you're mileage may vary, but the Passion Fruit and Meringue Tart was even better. Having baked a lemon and passion fruit tarts in the past, I know getting the consistency just right actually requires a bit of skill and knowledge. These would have definitely passed the wobble or the temperature test, as the filling was setting firm enough to maintain its form without being overcooked. The sweet and sour combination of anything passionfruit is a favourite of mine, and this tart was just about perfect in the balance of sweetness and tartness. To top it all off, the mini torched meringues were a welcome, delicious and airy addition. I would definitely consider this a must-try.
The Verdict: Excellent
We've become a little suspicious of venues trading on historic reputation after our disappointing meal at the Raffles, however Alissa and I left Hopetoun Tea Rooms satisfied with the quality of our meal. The tea selection offered a range from classic to modern, and the cakes and pastry range impressed us with its sheer scale and quality. My only caveat; while I can't remember what we actually paid for the meal, I remember thinking it was a bit overpriced for the amount of food we actually ate. Since Hopetoun Tea Rooms is as much about the rarified atmosphere as it is the food I can kind of understand their pricing, however Alissa and I agreed that for the price paid its the kind of place that we were very happy to have tried once for the experience, but we're unlikely to return again and again.
*This was technically antique; see here for the differences.