Presentez-vous, an edible garden that casts a spell of enchantment.
What’s the most beautiful garden that you have visited? Looking back at our own travels, the most tranquil and elegant garden has to be private palace courtyard gardens in Suzhou, the most romantic being rose gardens in country England, and the most ostentatious being one set against Versailles. We have never been to Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France, though we have seen his paintings at the Boston Museum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Washington DC’s Phillips Collection, and in France, the Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie. Undoubtedly, one of the most fabulous things to do during winter in Melbourne is to visit the NGV’s Winter Masterpieces Collection. This year, the NGV is hosting a dedicated Monet exhibition, direct from the Musée Marmottan. And when we heard that the NGV was also putting up a Monet-themed high tea, we knew we had discovered at least one way to escape this dreary, wet Melbourne winter.
The Monet’s Garden High Tea may be booked at the NGV’s Tea Room on a daily basis, or otherwise for an additional charge and on selected dates at the Grand Hall. Having experienced afternoon tea at the Grand Hall before (and a rather dismal experience at that, see previous review here), we booked ourselves in at the Tea Room. The Tea Room is not a fancy tea parlour, so do not expect pretty porcelain or lace doilies. Instead, it’s a simple modern cafe with bright halogen lights and an array of different seating options. Take our lead and book for two or three persons to be seated on posterior-friendly black leather armchairs.
The tea setting was simple — plain, white, boring. The tea menu however was superb — a long list of about 20 different types of loose-leaf teas. It included even two of our favourite afternoon tea teas, the White Needle and Tie Guan Yin. Each patron was provided with her own little glass tea pot, and a complimentary flute of sparkling wine.
Afternoon tea at the NGV’s Tea Room was served as a traditional three-tiered affair. There were three types of small rectangle sandwiches (coronation chicken, cucumber and dill, and scrambled egg) and two types of warm savoury items (a quiche and a meat pie). To make this tier more “Monet-inspired,” it would have been lovely to see mini-French baguettes perhaps.
On the middle tier, there was one scone per person (slightly warm, soft though a little too crumbly on the outside for our personal preference). It was accompanied by darling little terracotta pots of cream and jam. We epsecially loved the chocolate-studded, French-style pastry that also featured on the middle tier level.
Without further ado, let us show you the top-tier of the NGV’s afternoon tea. The lighting was rather harsh in the Tea Room and as we reserve our SLR for non-food photography, please excuse the glaring pictures. However, have you seen anything quite like it? The number of poses that these Dessert Correspondents took, the NGV staff were probably considering to contact site security. Incorrigible “dessert paparazzi” is what our dining companion called us. Do you agree? 😛
We will describe the set-up of the top sweet layer from the outside in. First to be eaten were two little, pillowy vanilla cupcakes, each generously iced with startling coloured cream. We took a nibble of the icing only, being averse to cream. A marzipan caterpillar reclined on one of the cupcakes, while a hard candy sunflower was wedged into another. Notwithstanding our love for French food, we have never eaten l’escargots before, but we fell head over heels in love with the NGV’s rendition of garden snails. Essentially macarons (raspberry and blueberry-flavoured) stuck onto a slick of chocolate ganache and adorned with little beady eyes, we have to say we like these escargots sucres. The macarons themselves were good macarons — a slightly crisp, airy shell with a well-flavoured ganache centre. Venturing further into the edible garden, we clambered onto two small buttery lemon curd tartlets, tiptoed over a slightly strange, tea-tasting jelly encased in white chocolate creation and hopped from one delicious chocolate fudge truffle rock to another (the latter component was especially addictive!). We then reached the centre — an unfortunate dry sponge base dappled with a fluttering of green and brown-tinged desiccated coconut and embedded with magical meringue mushrooms and rabbit-shaped tempered chocolate pieces. Melbourne pastry-chefs, this is what we call a fabulous sweet epilogue to an afternoon tea!!
Overlooking a dismal afternoon tea two years ago held in conjunction with a previous Winter Masterpieces exhibition, it is fair to say that afternoon tea at the NGV has greatly improved, and indeed, proved in this instance, to be one of the most memorable afternoon teas that we have had in Melbourne. We would recommend, without hesitation, that you schedule a weekend this Winter at the NGV, to satisfy your intellectual development (by viewing the Monet exhibition)…and the all-important, sugar cravings. 😛
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Southbank, Vic 3004.
- ☑ Budget: $$$ ($55pp).
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Afternoon tea.
- ☑ Must-eat: A themed afternoon tea, repeated annually in correlation with key museum exhibitions
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Presentez-vous, an edible garden that casts a spell of enchantment.