Ten years ago, I came up to Sydney on a visit from Melbourne and spent a Sunday traipsing around town with three friends that I knew through various online forums. While we had all kept in touch in various degrees over the years, with one of them even attending my wedding last year, we hadn’t managed to all get together for ten years despite the fact that we all now live in the same city. Enough was enough, and given that I won’t be living in Sydney from September onwards, I decided that we were all four of us well overdue for a catch-up and thus organised a high tea lunch at The Tea Cosy in The Rocks.
The tearooms are a little hard to find as it’s well hidden behind a shopfront of a store selling Celtic goods. Once you walk in and through the hallway though, you find yourself in a little back kitchen area with an outdoor courtyard. The Tea Cosy are famous for their scones, and they regularly update their board with announcements of when the latest batch was baked so you can be sure of freshly baked scones throughout the day.
We’ve made a reservation for a full high tea though, so we’re shown upstairs to their formal dining room rather than sitting in the courtyard with the walk-ins. As you walk up the rickety old staircase, you see teapots arranged on every step all dressed in unique hand-knitted cosies. Designs range from elegant embroided floral designs to elaborate cartoonish teddy bears. They’re all available for purchase as well, so if one particularly strikes your fancy you can buy it and take it home.
The chinaware is particularly delicate and delightful, and I get the feeling that all the pieces have been thrifted over the years from granny collections that have been donated to opshops. At our table of four, we have four different sets of chinaware, and I see that the tableware elsewhere in the room is mismatched as well. It’s very quaint, and just that little bit whimsical in its mismatchedness.
After quite a wait, our tea orders are finally taken. The lag in service is largely due to the fact that our waitress for the day is brand new and still training, so some allowance must be made for that. However when you’re both hungry and thirsty, having to wait half an hour for your tea and your food seems an awful hardship. When my Turkish Apple Hot Herbal Tea arrived in its little tea cosy, I find myself surprised by how sweet the tea is and it tastes more like a hot drinkable dessert than a refreshing cup of tea. It’s a tea that you will want to order at the end of a meal, not one to be ordered at the start of a meal.
The still-warm freshly baked scones came out in a little basket – two per person. I had a plain scone and a fruit scone, and there were also spiced cinnamon scones. All three varieties had the essential elements of a perfect scone – a tad hard on the outside, crumbly and light on the inside, buttery and rich. The plain scones were definitely superior to the fruit scones though, and were a lot lighter and fluffier.
And here comes the full high-tea stand! I always get a little bit of a thrill whenever a fancy tiered stand of delicious high tea goodies like this comes out to the table, as there’s just so many goodies to try!
The top tier was just made up of jams and cream for the scones so it wasn’t terribly exciting. Apparently the fig and ginger jam was excellent, though I didn’t try it as I stuck with the traditional strawberry jam and cream on my plain scone. I did try the triple berry jam on the fruit scone though, which went quite well.
The second tier was made up of an assortment of little sweet pastries. The waitress didn’t specify whether or not they were homemade, so I have a sneaky suspicion that they may have been outsourced as the kitchen didn’t look quite large enough to churn out pastries like this as well as scones and sandwiches. The lemon meringue tart was probably a highlight (light and aerated sweet meringue with a really tart lemon curd), but none of the others were very memorable.
The ribbon sandwiches were surprisingly fresh. Quite often, high tea sandwiches suffer from the slightly stale dried-out edges of crust-less bread that’s been sitting out for too long. The Tea Cosy’s sandwiches were actually fresh though, with a mix of simple fillings that suits all tastes. I like the elegant simplicity of the cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, but others may prefer the more daring flavours of the curried egg and tomato.
Each high tea package comes with the option to order two drinks off the menu free of charge. Unfortunately our waitress-in-training was a bit harried that afternoon learning how to look after a few large tables and we found ourselves waiting quite a while to order our second drinks…at which point we were abruptly informed that we only had fifteen minutes left of the two hour booking meaning that we would need to gulp down our drinks quickly. If only we had gotten our drinks when we wanted them we could have had a full half hour to enjoy them.
Still, my Mint and Blackberry Iced Tea served with Frozen Berries proved to be a nice and refreshing palate-cleansing tea – the type of tea that would have served well if I had ordered it as my first drink. That’s one recommendation for you if you decide to have the high tea at the Tea Cosy – order an iced tea as your first drink, and a hot herbal tea as your second!
A full high tea at the Tea Cosy isn’t something I’d rush back for. The little sweet pastries didn’t grab my attention and while the sandwiches were nice, they’re still a sandwich at the end of the day! Those scones are another matter though, and well worth a second visit. I think I’ll go back to have a simpler Devonshire Tea – two scones with a cup of tea for only $14, instead of the $35 for the full high tea.