A Spot of Tea in Sassafras

I’m kinda digging Autumn. A lot. I seriously have to resist the urge to stop and Instagram every gorgeous, fiery tree I see. The incredible colours creeping into the canopies of Melbourne are just magical. I’m not even so bothered by the fall in temperature (though that may have something to do with the semi-smug knowledge that I’ll be in sunny Europe climes for half of winter).  Yes, there’s definitely something about this change of season that actually has me excited to explore the cooler months of Melbourne this year.

My first tip for Wintersome wandering? Sassafras, in the Dandenong Ranges.

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It was an overcast, drizzly Saturday when Mat and I decided to make the trip out to Sassafras. The kind of day you’d not be faulted if entirely spent under a blanket on the couch marathoning Orphan Black. It was a long weekend, however, and we were determined to get and out do at least a little adventuring. We left around noon and within just forty-five minutes the forest of the Dandenong Ranges had closed around us. An incredible mist had settled over the forest; the way the trees sloped away and disappeared into a white fog just metres from the winding mountain road was almost otherworldly. The rain had also given everything the most stunning saturation of colour. I started to think that a trip to this part of greater Melbourne was perhaps even best done on such drizzly days.

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Once arriving in the little town, we beelined for a Sassafras icon: the cutesy Miss Marple’s Tea Room. The old-fashioned English tea house, styled after Agatha Christie’s beloved Marple and her crime-solving exploits, was packed to the rafters and had a lengthy line to wait – so we popped our names on a list and were told to return in an hour.

Turns out an hour goes by very fast in the gorgeous tea shop just next door, Tea Leaves.

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With over 300 tea varieties and blends, coffee beans ground to order and all manners of brewing devices and implements, Tea Leaves is a bounty for hot cuppa folk.  From Black Chilli Cinnamon to Sticky Toffee Pudding, Australia Billy Tea to Gunpowder Mint – we had a blast smelling our way through a heck of a lot of teas. We ended up settling on ‘Blue Mountain’, a China and Ceylon tea blend with a subtle fruity flavour and sprinkled with blue cornflowers. After many a pot of Blue Mountain since, I can confirm it both smells and tastes delightful. With some ground coffee beans and a couple of chocolate freckles to go, our Tea Leaves trip was a fun and fruitful one.

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And so – back to Miss Marple’s. The tea house is quaint and perhaps a little out-dated beyond the theme, but we found it a cosy enough retreat from the weather anyway. To be totally truthful, the lunch items we chose – the fresh chicken, cheese and asparagus fingers, and Welsh rarebit fingers – were ordinary. It would be ‘Miss Marple’s Sundae Best’ that won us over in the end. The tower of vanilla ice-cream, berry sauce, chocolate fudge, whipped cream, toasted almond flakes, strawberries and biscotti that arrived at our table actually prompted an audible gasp from every table around us. It was delicious in a simple, childhood-esque way, and (thanks mostly to Mat) we managed to polish off the whole thing!

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And that was our little Sassafras sojourn. A meandering afternoon trip on a rainy day – and it was kinda perfect. There were no true gourmet finds – perhaps those will come upon return visits. Miss Marple’s was fun to experience, though it would certainly only be that wondrous sundae that would draw us back again. Even their Devonshire scones (strictly no tea included) looked far from the norm (moreso cakey squares cut from a large baked slab) – so next time I look forward to hunting around somewhere new for the famous Sassafras Devonshire tea. This trip was a truly wandersome day – no expectations, just exploring – and we had the best time because of it. It makes me incredibly excited to do more little adventures in and around Melbourne! Not to mention that sunny Europe trip…

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Miss Marple’s Tea Room | 382 Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd, Sassafras, VIC 3787
http://www.missmarples.com.au/
Open | 
Mon – Fri : 11.00am – 4.00pm, Sat – Sun : 11.00am – 4.30pm
No Bookings.

Miss Marple's Tearoom on Urbanspoon

Tea Leaves | 380 Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd, Sassafras, VIC 3787
http://www.tealeaves.com.au/tea-leaves-sassafras/w1/i1004328/
Open | Mon – Sun : 10.ooam – 5.30pm

Beatrix: The Return of Cake Weather

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an advocate for the consumption of cake at almost any given time. As I settled into a little window spot at North Melbourne’s Beatrix last week, however, I had to agree with the lovely lass serving up a hefty piece of Coconut Shagg to a customer: it’s officially cake weather. So long to the sweaty days of an all-too-hot summer – Melbourne’s autumn has finally kicked in. And whilst I’m not a huge fan of the impending cold, it’s at least a comfort to remember that wonderful ability to warm up from the inside out. A cup of tea and a bit of cake from Beatrix is a pretty splendid way to do just that.

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Loved by locals and one of the North-side’s greatest sweet spots (though I’d venture to say all of Melbourne!), Beatrix is a tiny café on the corner of Queensberry and Lothian Streets in North Melbourne. It’s cute and quaint, though be warned that the cosy size might make for a wait to sit, particularly on Saturdays. If you’re pressed for time, however, don’t think you’ll be alone in swinging by to pick up a take-away treat or two. Speaking from delicious, passionfruit-frosted experience – the Saturday-only Vanilla Slice is cause enough to make a trip totally worth it.

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What I love about Beatrix, and what makes it the perfect chilly day comfort, is that everything is freshly homemade – in the warmest, fuzziest sense of the word. I’m talking unabashed CWA-style, Grandma’s kitchen baking. Last week I fell prey to a piece of Beatrix’s Carrot Cake (pictured above). It’s probably not winning any beauty contests, but I was at once reminded of the chocolate sponge cakes my Nana used to make for every family birthday growing up, and so couldn’t resist. Wonderfully moist and light, a divine white chocolate cream cheese buttercream frosting and a hint of wintery spice – it was just superb.

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I’m still on my way to conquering most of Beatrix’s baked fare, but I can say that the Rhubarb and Custard Crumble Tart, Ginger Crème Brûlée Tart, Potato Brioche Doughnut, Vanilla Slice and Salted Caramel Slice are all magnificent. I’ve not sampled one of Beatrix’s famous ciabattas yet, but I do believe that needs to be rectified very, very soon. The ciabattas maintain somewhat of a cult-like following – only a couple of varieties are available each day, and they disappear fast. Luckily, Beatrix updates Facebook every morning with the day’s offerings: ciabattas, cakes and cakeish things alike. So if you’re hanging out for that Sydney Road ciabatta or Devil’s Food Cake, Beatrix makes for easy stalkage.

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Beatrix is the sort of place I’d make sure to take an overseas visitor; it’s cosy, welcoming and embraces old-school Aussie baking (I was not surprised, but very impressed to find that owner Nat Paull apprenticed for Maggie Beer!) with a little vintage America and a whole lotta love. In absence of foreign callers, however, I’ll be hopping over to Beatrix to continue my own personal pilgrimage. These are the days of cake weather, my friends, and I know where I’ll be taking shelter from the cold.

Beatrix | 688 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne, VIC 3051
https://www.facebook.com/BeatrixBakes
Open | 
Tue – Sat : 9.00am – 4.00pm

Beatrix on Urbanspoon

The Chocolate Bar High Tea at The Langham

‘Twas a glorious, sunshiny Melbourne day last month when my mum, sisters and I indulged in a spot of High Tea at The Langham. As my Christmas present to the lovely ladies of my family (including myself, obviously), we fancied up for The Chocolate Bar High Tea. This is the only high tea experience available at The Langham on weekends – the Tiffin High Tea and Chocolate Indulgence High Teas are regular weekday fare – but that was by all means fine with us.

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Arriving for the first High Tea sitting at midday, we were warmly greeted and whisked to our plush seats in the glamourous Aria Lounge of The Langham’s Melba Restaurant. En route, our jaws dropped and salivary glands kicked into overdrive as we passed the most incredibly lavish chocolate bar and chocolate fountain station. It was all we could do to actually pay attention as our waiter explained that we would soon receive a three-tiered tea stand with all the regular High Tea finishings, to take advantage of the tea, coffee and hot chocolate menu and otherwise go nuts at the chocolate bar.

And so we did.

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Dominican white chocolate vanilla pannacotta with framboise coulis & mango jelly | Chewy banana & Costa Rica milk chocolate fudge top with salted caramel popcorn | The Garden – Callebaut white chocolate, coconut mousse, Kensington mango jelly dome, macaron base, green dessicated coconut and fresh edible flower

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La Ceries – Belgian dark chocolate mousse, Morelo cherries, macaron base and red glaze

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Assorted chocolate truffles and chocolate-dipped biscotti

It was a wicked and wonderful delight to raid the chocolate bar, and dip marshmallows and strawberries into a waterfall of fresh liquid chocolate. I’ll admit, though, I think I was just as captivated by the traditional High Tea tier stand and the beautiful teas on offer! Delivered to our table was a mix of little sandwiches: smoked salmon with capers and cream cheese, brie and prosciutto, cucumber and cream cheese, and egg mayonnaise and cress. We also had some little prawn pastries and of course, scones with strawberry jam, butter and clotted cream.

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This was actually my first high tea, and I think the real pleasure came in simply sitting down with some of my favourite people and indulging in a good bit of luxury. Once we’d done our first few excited sweeps of the chocolate bar it was lovely to just relax, chat and sip tea (we had an inordinate amount of fun making our way through at least half of the gorgeous tea menu!) for two hours in the most pampered of settings. We were thoroughly charmed. I intend on a good many future High Teas – and I think this was a marvelous start to that venture!

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The Chocolate Bar High Tea | $75pp
Aria Bar and Lounge, Melba Resturant | The Langham, 1 Southgate Avenue, Southbank, Melbourne, VIC 3006
www.melbarestaurant.com.au/aria
Open | Sat – Sun, 12.00pm – 2.oopm & 2.30pm – 4.30pm
Bookings | 1800 641 107, or book online here.

Aria Bar & Lounge on Urbanspoon

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