There are many questions in life destined to remain unanswered.
Was it the chicken or the egg?
When did time begin?
What happens after you die?
Do penguins have knees?
But for the moment, my attention is focused on a small dilemma involving a pot of strawberry jam, some perfectly whipped cream and a freshly made scone.
It’s a wet and wild Canberra day and my husband and I have finally made good on a comment uttered more times than I can remember: “We must do a high tea at the Hyatt Hotel one of these days.”
And so here we are, ensconced on a Sunday afternoon amidst the art deco splendour of the Hyatt Hotel Canberra’s Tea Lounge, three tiers deep into our traditional high tea, when the debate that has split the English for centuries rears its head.
“Does the jam go on first, or the cream?,” I ask my other half with an evil glint in the eye as I halve one of the scones.
He knows full well his answer could mean the difference between ongoing harmony and a rush for the divorce court. He takes a moment to respond.
“I think the way the Cornish do it, spreading the jam first, and then putting the cream on top, is obviously the way to go,” he says with an air of confidence only a bloke born in the ‘Motherland’ could muster, as he drops a dollop of cream on top of his neatly spread strawberry jam with a satisfying ‘thwack’.
It’s exactly the right answer. It would have been challenging to continue life’s journey with a man who feels the Devonshire approach – adding the cream first and THEN the jam – is anything other than totes inappropes.
Even taking into consideration the English preference for the sturdier clotted over whipped cream, the chance of accidentally getting the entire portion of jam in a single mouthful due to an uneven spread over peaks of cream is too high a probability.
Things, I realise, wiping some stray cream off my shirt, are on a perfectly even keel. And this appears to be the case for those around us who’ve also decided to spend their Sunday afternoon in the warm embrace of one of Canberra’s most iconic hotels.
No longer just the preserve of the blue rinse set, our fellow high tea participants include a mum and her young daughter, aged no more than about 10, enjoying some quality time together.
Two tables away a group of four 50-something men exchange birthday gifts and laughs as they knock back the complimentary glass of sparkling wine and make their way through hot savouries including pumpkin and ricotta quiche and chicken teriyaki skewers, followed by delicate finger sandwiches filled with cucumber and cream cheese, tuna and capers.
Just behind us, three generations of one family, their perfectly behaved toddler taking pride of place in her high-chair, are making short order of the sweets – cherry macarons almost too beautiful to bite into, mini caramel chestnut cheesecakes, tiny pavs topped with blueberries, orange friands and more.
A couple of couples and a foursome of 20-something women complete the cosy picture, as attentive but unobtrusive staff move between tables topping up teas and coffees, or offering something a little stronger.
The hot drinks list runs the gamut of traditional black loose leaf teas as well as a more eclectic selection that veers into the likes of sticky date pudding and Turkish delight flavours. I order a Canberra Breeze, which seems fitting given it’s blowing a gale outside, and it turns out to be a lovely blend of fruity and floral characteristics.
Tea and coffee is bottomless as part of the High Tea deal, and those who aren’t keen on the whole shebang can order from the a la carte menu which includes cake and coffee, Devonshire tea (the horror!) with just the scones and a hot drink, or small and large plates including laksa, burgers and sandwiches, fish and chips and a variety of steaks (Tasmania’s fantastic Cape Grim beef gets a guernsey and I’ll be coming back for that another time).
In the summer, when the doors can be opened on to the pretty gardens and high tea aficionados can eat outdoors as well as in, I imagine this heritage-listed space takes on a thoroughly different flavour.
But on a dark and dreary winter’s day, settling in for an unhurried afternoon in a charming room and meandering through a beautifully curated selection of sweet and savoury treats is pretty hard to beat.
I’m so happy we’ve finally ticked this off the bucket list that I can’t bear to ruin the mood by asking my husband whether he thinks the best way to crack the top of his crème brulee is via a swift smack with the back of a teaspoon, or by piercing it with the pointy end.
Simply another reason to come back here for round two quick smart.
Details: The Tea Lounge afternoon tea stand is $68 for adults, $45 for children. Reservations are recommended and can be made online at the Hyatt.
Have you had a fantastic high tea in the ACT? Tell us about it.