The State Library of Victoria is not a place you often associate with afternoon tea (more like invigilators saying ‘no food or drink in the library please’) so I was really interested to discover that they are holding high teas in the Red Rotunda of the Cowen Gallery. Never knew that the State Library had galleries? Neither did I.
The Red Rotunda is one of the function rooms that you can hire at the State Library. For the State Library High Tea the library’s caterers CNK Food Design had set up round tables and chairs in the centre of the ornate room as old beardy men in the 19th century paintings and plaster busts stared down at you. Together with the parquetry floors and high dome it was quite a regal setting to be sipping tea and nibbling cakes but the shared table format meant that there’s a lot of chatting with strangers (if you wanted to) so the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed.
I liked the styling of the tables, with lovely vintage floral tea sets and crockery and a literary touch with some old books tied up with a silk ribbon (I’m stealing that idea).
On arrival everyone was offered a glass of Tahbilk Coueslant Chardonnay Pinot Noir and surprisingly for a high tea top ups were offered throughout the 2 hours. Disappointingly there was no choice of tea (English Breakfast only) alongside coffee, sparkling or still mineral water.
In the centre of the tables were placed classic three tiered afternoon tea stands. On the bottom were double-decker finger sandwiches of egg and mayonaise and cucumber with lemon mayonnaise, all very fresh with soft white crustless bread. There was no sign of the promised poached chicken with herbed mayonnaise sandwiches but as Gourmet Chick and I arrived a little late we may have missed that plate. There were multiple serves of the other sandwiches though so I still ate my fill.
The other savoury offering was a smoked salmon roulade made with a spinach crepe and filled with with creme fraiche and salmon roe. They were just as fresh as the sandwiches and deliciously light.
Of the sweets the pastries – macarons, Belgian chocolate dipped strawberries and lemon meringue tarts – were more impressive than the scones. Sadly, the buttermilk scones were as hard as rock on the outside (and bizarrely we had to ask for knives to slice them open) although they were quite fluffy on the inside. Slathered with strawberry jam and King Island double cream they were still palatable but by no means the best scones I’ve had in Melbourne.
In contrast the miniature macarons were delectable, light as air but with no tell-tale air pockets inside the shell and a good proportion of ganache and macaron in each bite.
The pastry of the lemon tarts was buttery and thin with a soft, faintly bruleed meringue capping off a sweet lemon curd.
At the end of the high tea you could elect to join a guided tour of the State Library‘s current Mirror of the world: books and ideas exhibition which showcases rare and beautiful treasures in the Library’s collection as detailing the history of books, illustrations and ideas. I declined the opportunity as the tour crowd was looking to be quite large and I could visit the free exhibition in my own time.
Considering the fact that the State Library doesn’t specialise in serving food I was generally impressed by the quality of the food on offer, with a few exceptions. There was certainly a lot to go around, with generous top ups of sparkling wine and quite a few sweets left over at the end.
My only other comment is regarding the price. The high tea costs $80 ($70 for Foundation members) which puts it on the upper end of the afternoon tea prices I’ve seen around Melbourne, even taking into account the unique setting. Gourmet Chick and I managed to score a Facebook offer of 2 for 1 tickets which made it a very reasonable $40 each.
I think with a few improvements as to the catering and maybe a reconsideration of the pricing the State Library High Tea would be a lovely, unique space to indulge in afternoon tea.
The next dates for State Library High Tea are:
Saturday 12 October 2013, 2:00pm – 4:00pm
Saturday 9 November 2013, 2:00pm – 4:00pm
State Library High Tea, Cowen Gallery, State Library of Victoria, 328 Swanston St, Melbourne +61 3 8664 7099
View MEL: HOT OR NOT in a larger map