Irrespective of the history, Bilby Blue and I were delighted to be invited to a modern High Tea at the heritage-listed Intercontinental Melbourne – The Rialto. The Intercontinental provides the perfect setting for an indulgent social event from centuries past: it is housed in a beautiful reinvention of two heritage listed buildings from the 1890s – the Wool Exchange and the Rialto Building, both products of the post-gold rush era when Melbourne was the richest city in the world. You enter directly over the bluestone cobbled laneway that runs between the buildings, now transformed into a stunning multistorey atrium that bathes the hotel interior in natural light. The décor is as refined as you would expect from an international class hotel, and the Market Lane Bar (at street level, just inside the Wool Exchange) is a comfortable modern bar. Tables are laid with cloth napery, white crockery and fine, old-fashioned tea cups with a pastel pearlescent glaze.
The inspiration for the High Tea is Mrs D’Ebro, a society lady who was renowned for her lavish afternoon teas, and whose husband Charles was the architect that designed the Wool Exchange. A collaboration with the Genealogical Society of Victoria lends some authenticity to the experience. Historical afternoon tea menus were reimagined to cater for modern tastes (the tongue sandwiches are no more, and jam doughnuts have been added) and the champagne is Perrier-Jouët (which was available in Melbourne in the 1890s).
On arrival guests were offered a flute of champagne or an espresso martini. We tested the bartender’s non-alcoholic skills and received an excellent mocktail of cranberry and grapefruit juice with a squeeze of lime juice. Being an invitational event, we also sipped some champagne, but decided that adding an espresso martini would be just a bit too much (although it looked spectacular).
On being seated only one further decision was required: to choose from a selection of fine traditional and herbal teas. A very good fruit scone with a touch of spice, served with jam and clotted cream arrived with the tea, soon to be followed by a three-tiered stand of delicacies.
The tier of hot savouries was a panko crumbed prawn with sweet chilli sauce (although the menu described it as a tempura prawn), a petite short-crusted beef and red wine pie, and an asparagus and ricotta quiche tartlet. The prawn was particularly crisp and tasty; the pie and tartlet good examples of the baking arts.
A tier of sandwich fingers was refined and imaginative: ham tomato and rocket on tomato bread; cucumber and cream cheese and dill on spinach bread; and turkey, cranberry jelly and mesclun leaves on whole grain bread – all freshly made with good flavour combinations. The different coloured breads gave the plate an extra fillip.
And the top tier of sweet treats rounded out the high tea, with a Belgian chocolate brownie topped with whipped cream, a fruit macaron, chocolate praline, blackberry sponge cake, and a raspberry filled mini doughnut. All were first-rate, with the chocolate brownie being especially notable.
We spent a leisurely, and dare I say it, decadent afternoon lounging around, sipping champagne and grazing on a generous selection of excellent savoury and sweet delicacies. Service was excellent.
OverallMrs D’Ebro’s High Tea is perfect for just about any special celebration amongst close friends. If I am being very picky, I would have preferred a bit more savoury and a bit less sweet (Bilby did not agree with me).
High Tea is served on Wednesdays through to Sundays. The cost is $65 per person, which includes a glass of champagne or an espresso martini. Bookings are recommended.
Find it atMarket Lane Bar, Intercontinental Melbourne – The Rialto
495 Collins Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Phone: 1800 593 932