so it’s not just outside trendy cafes and mexican cantinas that you have to queue; friday afternoon at the olde time hopetoun tea rooms in the block arcade, we waited behind the red velvet ropes for 15 minutes or so before a table became available. nevermind — the bejeweled waitress was kind enough to give us frequent updates on the table situation (“there should be people leaving soon, but they are just sitting there sipping at their tea.”), and we had ample time to consider our choices from the two cake-laden shelves in the window. on top: fruit crumbles, tarts of lemon or lime or pecans, teacakes and, yes, macarons…
down below: a spectrum of technicolor cheesecakes, and a couple of sponges layered with cream and festooned with berries and flaked almonds. inside, perched atop the counter, above a display of antique silver and heavy crystal, sticky date puddings with a towering jug of toffee sauce, caramel slices, and chocolate and strawberry swiss rolls. it really was quite overwhelming.
i’d been working myself up to a simple afternoon tea of scones and cream and jam, but as we approached the front of the queue, the thought of two lumps of breadiness sitting in my belly so close to dinnertime saw me veer towards a slice of the sunny orb of passionfruit tart in the corner of the window.
at our cosy table in the small and tightly packed dining room, i found that the filling was, as i had hoped, bright and tangy, but the pastry, though a fetching shade of golden brown, was much less crisp than i would have liked. it had a lovely buttery taste, but its texture lacked any real distinction from that of the passionfruit curd.
both my tart and the slice of pavlova that the kid picked to celebrate the last day of term were thoughtfully plated up with artful puddles of passionfruit and/or raspberry coulis, dollops of thick cream and extra bits of fruit. but i must say that the attention to detail might have extended, if not to removing the skin from the kiwifruit, then at least to removing the stickers from the kiwifruit skin. gah!
the tea service, when it first arrived, looked promising despite the splodge of red jam on the strainer. alas, my dahl house tea — black, flavoured with ginger and peach — was served with a litter of leaves on the floor of the pot, so while the first cup was light and fragrant, by the third cup, it had brewed itself bitter.
i’d really like to like this place. i mean, i’d like to like it more. i mean, i think, i like it fine. the waitresses are friendly, and will not rush you on even though a queue is forming outside. the decor, with the marble table tops, emerald green wallpaper and swathes of stripy fabric hanging from the rafters, is not without its charm. when you look closely though, at the lingering produce stickers, and the just-short-of-soggy pastry, and the endlessly steeping tea, and the torn and peeling wallpaper, you get a sad little feeling that this is not so much the grande dame of tea rooms as it is the slightly doddery aunt.
(which is not to say i wouldn’t visit again. because after all, who doesn’t like a homely tea-and-cake sit down with a doddery aunt in her well-worn sitting room? it’s just a little bit of pomp and some tired splendour. perhaps next time, i will have the scones.)