Here comes spring, all aflutter with deep pink cherry blossoms on nearly every street in Canberra, and sunshine on Lake Burley Griffin. And with spring comes socialising - picnics (if the weather holds) and the promise of garden parties (well, until it gets to high summer and the mozzies launch their annual offensive). Prepare to break out your floral dresses, pastel cardigans and wedge heels.
It's also a perfect time of year to catch up over high tea, or afternoon tea. But what has fuelled our love affair with the high tea? Perhaps it's the formal setting - usually in posh hotels, or cafes filled with vintage bric a brac, or in restaurants with lovely views out towards the lake or over leafy trees. Something about the idea of tea often leads us to dress up for the occasion in those floral dresses and pastel-coloured cardigans, or put on a flowy summer dress.
There's also the food itself. There's something incredibly appealing about the little pastries and the cakes and sandwiches all laid out on pretty vintage plates or presented in neat circles on tiered silver cake stands. The best high tea venues have mastered the art of making the slices, cakes and petits fours utterly beautiful and delicately tiny. And the mix of sandwiches, mini quiches and tiny tarts means you can move from sweet to savoury and back without feeling like you've eaten too much of a good thing.
The only problem with high tea is that it's extremely feminine - all the florals, the tiny sweets, the vintage plateware. It's also been co-opted as the party of choice for baby showers, birthdays and engagement parties. Would many men go to a high tea by themselves? Unlikely.
But they'll still happily tag along as a friend or as arm candy - it's still a damn fine meal after all. And the beauty of high tea is that you can sit for hours, picking at miniature cakes and sandwiches, talking and catching up and relaxing. Unlike brunch, high tea does not have a defined end and it can meander all afternoon if you want it to, filling the hours with good company and good food.
Let's not beat around the bush - the grand Hyatt Hotel is the doyenne of high tea venues in Canberra. The tea lounge is comforting and plush, the sound of champagne glasses and the clink of teacups rising above the murmur of conversation. Sink into a deep Chesterfield or gather round a polished table for afternoon tea. And there's the vast, elliptical buffet table loaded with immaculate row upon row of cakes, pastries and sandwiches cut with military precision. It's also an interesting place to people watch as ladies of leisure swan past, business travellers hurry in and out and the occasional politician hoves into view.
$55. Friday from 2.30pm-5pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am-1.30pm, and 2.30pm-5pm. Bookings on 6269 8815 or canberra.park.hyatt.com.
This is a high tea that's totally focused on the tea rather than the food. It's all about the ritual and the infusions at Adore Tea in Gold Creek. It's described as a "Tea-gustation" with sparkling wine, tiny savouries and little sweets all matched to teas from the shelves at Adore, such as a fruity, minty Arctic Fire tea matched with chocolate treats and tiny tarts. Pick up some tea to take home and carry on the tradition.
$48. Every Saturday, 11.30am or 2pm. Every second Sunday, 11.30am or 2pm. Adore Tea, Gold Creek, Nicholls. Bookings on 6230 9962.
If you're going to sit outside in a garden for your high tea, it might as well be a garden overlooked by the corridors of power. This year, for the first time, Parliament House offers visitors the chance to have a "spring tea" in courtyards of democracy on two special Saturdays - September 13 and October 4. You'll get a glass of bubbly on arrival, savoury sandwiches, and plates of pretty decorated cakes and scones. It's a glimpse into the world of Parliament in a very pretty setting on the hill.
$55. Saturday, September 13, and Saturday October 14. 2pm-4pm.
Come up to the Burbury Hotel's rooftop terrace with sweeping views across the city and the lake in the Parliamentary triangle. It's modern, sleek and filled with sunshine, fresh air and floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Nestle in a lounge seat with a view and look out over Parliament House and the hill. And then take in some tiny tartlets, sliders and miniature eclairs, all served up on gleaming tiered stands. The high teas at the Burbury are on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so you can get your fix even if you manage to bunk off work early on a Friday.
$39-$49. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 1pm-4pm. Bookings 6163 1818 or burburyhotel.com.au
Of course the popular, unconventional northside bakery would have its own version of high tea. It's served on funky metal cake stands, filled with the signature Ricardo's pastries, everything from peanut-butter-and-jelly mousse cakes covered in gold dusted peanuts to multicoloured slices in icecream pastels and perfect, colourful macarons. It's also pretty affordable at $35 a person, and isn't limited to weekends - you can pick your time and day when you book.
$35. Ricardo's, Jamison Centre, Macquarie. Bookings on ricardoscafe.com
Tea and a Movie
There's something rather indulgent about the idea of taking high tea while watching a movie. Dendy in Civic regularly offers a high tea service in the premium lounge cinema - glasses of sparkling wine, cucumber sandwiches and cupcakes, followed by Devonshire scones when the movie begins and a pot of tea, and finished with chocolate-covered strawberries. It's not fine dining but it's a very relaxing way to catch a movie. And don't expect to see Transformers while nibbling on a scone covered in jam and cream - the previous high tea movies have included the Woody Allen romantic flick Magic in the Moonlight and richly costumed period drama Belle. Look out for new high tea offerings on the Dendy website.
$50 for Club Dendy members, $58 for non-members. Dendy, Canberra Centre, Civic.