I'll admit I've been looking forward for an excuse to go to the Hopetoun Tea Rooms
for some time. Located in the genteel Block Arcade, I'd passed it with many a longing glance.
My main problem with the Tea Rooms is that they're not really very interested in serving tea. They have three types listed on the menu: English Breakfast, Earl Gray, and "herbal". Presumably I could inquire as to what herbal entailed, but I was here for old-fashioned English tea
, and tea I was going to have. My companion, Ben, was quite disappointed that they didn't have Lady Gray, a tea that is reportedly difficult to find in the cafés of Melbourne. The Tea Rooms, I feel, have an opportunity to stock a range of actual teas
, like Russian Caravan and the ilk, to distinguish them from many cafés, which will stock a wide range (well, a range anyway) of herbal teas.
The arrival of my tea came with two small metal "teapots" – the sort that look like the result of a sordid affair with a café milk-frothing jug, and the sort of heavy, thick, white china that one expects to see in a truck stop, or an airport waiting lounge. The fingerloop was too small to fit more than a finger and a half in comfortably, and the cup was too heavy to drink from delicately. It was definitely at odds with the décor. I felt that I was not being trusted not to break something and were Lady Hopetoun around, she would be outraged. I've been to several Asian-run tea rooms in Melbourne now, and they all trust me with a proper teapot and cup. In their favour, they at least used leaf tea instead of bags, and I don't think they were using Tea2, which use flavourings in their tea (chemicals; as opposed to infusing tea leaves with jasmine or bergamot, or adding whole cinnamon).
I also, in the interest of having something to eat (I could see no vegan options besides salad on the menu, and I'd already had lunch), I tried one of their cakes. It was supposed to be a flourless almond and orange chocolate cake, but it bore no resemblance to the either of the fabulous mudcakes I've made in the last while (I made one flourless with hazelnut meal, the other orange and spice flavoured). It resembled the packet mix cakes my sister makes – certainly not what I expected. They had drizzled chocolate syrup, and one taste sent me right back to my childhood – they'd used Cottee's chocolate topping. Another strike. The ganache was passable, though there was rather a lot of it (about a centimetre and a half – trying to make up for the cake?), and I wasn't really interested in eating chocolate-flavoured lard. I would have liked to be asked whether I wanted cream (undoubtably from a can) with my cake, so I could decline. I suppose that's too much to expect – many places only ask if they have the option of giving you ice cream instead. And – THEY WERE OUT OF SCONES
. What is a tea room without scones‽ This must be a one-off, you say. But no, last time Ben was there they were out of scones too. Disappointed, Hopetoun. You're letting the side down.
On another point, I really hated the uniform the waiters wore. They wore collarless dark-green blazers as you might expect a bellboy to wear at the Highett, and they were shabby and looked as though they'd been kept at the back of the cupboard for years. Were I to take over the Hopetoun Tea Rooms (a fantasy that became more insistent the longer it dwelled) I'm not sure what uniform I would institute, but Highett Bellboy really isn't what I expected.
Overall, I am disappointed. I don't know why all the reviews I see online are so effusive. They all talk about "indulging in the whims of a more mannered era" (not actual quote) and similar nonsense, but as an anachronist*, they really don't do this. The staff don't show any of what Wooster would call "the feudal spirit", and they don't make you feel at home. Clearly the reviewers have never visited any similar tea rooms elsewhere – particularly in England, where they do quaint so much better than Hopetoun ever could.* Word made up on the spot to mean "someone who indulges in anachronicity in dress or behaviour"