It’s not a coincidence that the Cones Au Chocolats above look slightly like devil’s horns. The Lenotre High Tea is sin on a multi-tiered stand. It’s hilarious that high teas are meant to be dainty, lady-like affairs given that they really are just a classy way to be a pig. And how great is it to be a cake-hog in the name of etiquette?
The reason for our elevated pastry-scoffing was to say cheers (or Tally Ho, I suppose?) to the year’s end. It was our Writers Group Christmas do, and we even had a High Tea expert in our midst – Adeline makes it a point to do a high tea in every country she visits (Raffles in Singapore was her favourite high tea hit).
I’m not as fixated with nibbling on cucumber-sandwiches and mini-gateaux, but I do find the Lenotre experience a lot of fun. It’s tiers above the so-so quiches and tartlets you get at other places, and the sugary delights are so exquisitely crafted you feel guilty for vandalising them with fork assaults and mouth bites. It only costs a fraction more than the tea at the The Victoria Room in Darlinghurst but is much grander in scope. You feel your Nan could pull off the cakes and nibbles at the V-Room, whereas the Sofitel Wentworth offerings definitely seem like they were made by a pastry chef who had to train in Paris before being granted Lenotre baking honours (it’s compulsory critera before they’re allowed to drop the brand on their cakes).
They take their confections really seriously at Lenotre – if you look at their current website, the first thing you’ll see is fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld (sporting a collar so stiff and high it looks like a neck brace) posing with their top patisserie chef, Guy Krenzer; Lagerfeld has just signed off on a Christmas log dessert for Lenotre; it’s got flourishes of orange, ginger and cinnamon topped with chocolate and will come in packaging the designer has created. If you’re super-ritzy, you can order one for a mere 170 euros.
The problem with such good-looking confections is the What-To-Eat-first indecision. Everyone else worked their way up the cake stand: the smart and methodical way which concluded with the prize catch – the Cone Au Chocolat, a dark choc cone topped with cream swirls and strawberry devil horns (OK, so I’m over-interpreting here), and a surprise stash of syrupy, lush berries that ooze out once you crack the choc with your knife.
I went in eyes-ruling-stomach order instead. Being a rosy-eyed kind of girl, I opted first for the Raspberry Macaroon (or, as Will would call them, Raspberry Burger) and the Ambiance slice. Macaroons always look better than they taste (if anything, they seem to have a crumbly non-taste), but the Ambiance was layers of wobbly goodness: Vanilla Bavarin cream sitting on top of fruit of the forest jelly and caramelised hazelnuts. The jelly was a slab of swoony berry gel, perfectly sandwiched by the crunch and cream. It tasted like a super-gourmet version of an Iced Vo-Vo. (C’mon, you know you loved them as a kid.)
I also loved the coffee butter cream hit of the Opera cakelet – this rich choc pastry concoction was as lavish as a major production, with lots of soprano-high sugar notes. And of course, you know it’s opulent because it’s got gold leaf making a fancy cameo on the choc topping. The Camaieu was just as choc-heavy, with chocolate sponge laced with milk and dark chocolate mousse, Chantilly cream and marzipan. I tried to balance out the cloying choc-centric taste of everything with strategic bites of the finger sandwiches, but given how unrelentingly sweet high tea is, it’s a pointless battle. The Tarte Au Citron added a citrus cream contrast, but that was also intense too. This is where the long gulps of Mariage Freres peppermint tea come in.
Speaking of the drinks menu, there was an odd tea drought at our end of the table, with staff taking a strangely long time to refill cups for Wendy and Nicky. They had to ask for tea updates, just to make sure they weren’t forgotten by the keepers of the brew. It took such an unfathomable time for them to get served (weird, as dunking tea into hot water isn’t the world’s most slowcoach activity) that we speculated that they must have run out of teapots. This idea seemed so amusing to me, especially for a place serving high tea (next, pizzerias run out of dough!), that I had to dismiss it out of outright silliness. But the moment I tipped the final drop out of my pot, it was swooped upon by a waitress who took it away to re-use for someone else’s tea fix – which suggested perhaps our conspiracy theory wasn’t so grassy-knoll-crazy after all.
When Wendy and Nicky got their long-awaited tea, they were served the wrong one. Oops. Now I’ve had the high tea at the Sofitel before and the service was much better then – probably because we’d gone at a much less busier period. There certainly was no teapot shortage that day. (It IS odd that a high tea joint wouldn’t have an emergency supply of these ceramic spouts on standby.) I guess the beautifully-designed cakes gives them some bargaining power – these pastries transcend any service that is slightly out of tune. And though you get sandwiches and (over-dry) scones, the menu staggers heavily into the rich zone. It’s delicious and though you don’t want to stop the gorging on all these creamy sponges and tarts, it can be a bit much if you don’t have a mega-sweet-tooth. The Queen Victoria Building Tea Room has a better balanced mix, rounding the confections with more savoury nibbles. But Lenotre does provide the biggest wow factor when it comes to high tea.
If you can’t stomach bolting down so much sugar, you can have lunch at the Sofitel and order Lenotre cake as dessert – the Venus Framboisier is a gorgeous rasperry sponge with that comes crowned with a halo of raspberry caramel, while the Concerto is a dark choc extravaganza which comes topped with a carefully-made chocolate violin. It’s true, Lenotre is too good to eat.
Lenotre Afternoon Tea ($38 per person) at the Sofitel Wentworth, 61-101 Phillip Street, Sydney (02) 9230 0700 www.sofitelsydney.com.au