If I were to tell you that you had three months to plan a wedding, what would you do?
I would probably hear you laugh in disbelief, scoff, shriek, roll your eyes – any one of them, or a combination of all of them; which was exactly my reaction when The Sister told me that she had that amount of time to plan her wedding for May this year.
Now before you stop reading, convinced that such a short amount of time to plan a wedding would have to mean making some major compromises (i.e. paying a lot more for a rush order or paying a lot less because the registry would be the only ceremony to have), I will point out that many places do specials during the middle of the year for winter – a time of the year where considerably less lovebirds decide to tie the knot due to the lesser chance of warm weather…but hey, this is Australia 😉 Your chances of having a blue sky mid-winter is more likely than anywhere else in the world!
So it was during our research for potential venues that The Sister invited me to The Tea Room Gunners’ Barracks for afternoon tea on the weekend for a multitude of purposes: to scope out the place as a potential ceremonial/reception venue, to farewell her mother-in-law-to-be as she had been down in Sydney visiting for the week, to have lunch, and also for me to have another place to blog and review about of course 😉
Gunners’ Barracks is nestled in the bushland of Georges Head, Mosman, and sitting on a hill, overlooks the breathtaking view of Middle Head and Chowder Bay. Designed by colonial architect James Barnet and constructed in 1873, the building had many uses over the 130 years in which the military occupied the precinct. With the sprawling, open views of the Harbour and its shipping channels – it’s easy to see why.
Afternoon tea is served starting from 10.00am, and seating is both available inside and outside. The interior is furnished in a proper English manner – pretty chandeliers, drapes, thick carpet, and doors out to the terrace that allowed the natural daylight to stream inside. We had made a booking for the outdoor terrace earlier in the week, and we were happy we had as the weather was beautiful that day. Little did we know that this would be a rather perilous option, but more on that later…
Afternoon tea is priced at $44 per person on the weekend, for the traditional afternoon tea. This includes a set selection of cakes and pastries, finger sandwiches, scones and preserve, and tea or coffee. There are also gluten-free, sparkling, or champagne afternoon tea options.
After us four Asians were done snapping away at the view with our cameras and phones, the very patient waitstaff came over to take our orders for tea. An English Breakfast, Earl Grey, a Green tea blend and I selected a black tea lightly scented with pieces of vanilla bean, which was both fragrant and subtly sweet.
We observed that there must be a significant amount of polishing to do for all the silverware there was. The black teas were perfect and flavoursome, however I noted that with The Sister’s green tea, they had used boiling water and as a result it was rather bitter – not quite achieving its characteristic delicate aroma. They do use a generous amount of tea leaves, so if you do find your tea to be a tad too strong, flip the top up for the universal symbol of a complimentary hot water top up.
But it was time for the food to arrive….
Let’s start from the savouries, shall we? I shall review them as they are introduced.
There were three types of finger sandwiches: salmon, cream cheese and cucumber, rare roast beef with watercress and horseradish, and egg salad. We began tucking into our sandwiches, happily chattering away, when a kookaburra of all things swooped over our table, narrowly missing the top of the tier, just as the Sister had her beef sandwich to her mouth, flying right in front of her face. She screamed and dropped the sandwich, and the kookaburra flapped off, unsuccessful. A few members of the waitstaff hurried over to ask if we were all right, and assured us that they would replace her sandwich.
As we waited for her replacement sandwich to arrive, the mother-in-law-to-be was re-telling an anecdote, and left half a beef sandwich on her plate in front of her. The kookaburra (or its mate), then chose that time to make its second attempt, physically landing on her plate and snatching up the sandwich. We all shrieked and carried on, shooing the bird away, and off it went – beef sandwich in beak. The waitstaff were very accomodating, assuring us that this happened almost every day, replacing her plate and the two sandwiches, and also putting a napkin over the tier, obscuring the view of it from the trees overlooking the Bay.
While certainly an exciting start to the afternoon tea, the napkins strewn over the table and hanging off the tier did detract from the experience of it a little. Napkins were also draped around the tiers of all the tables around us. We were a little edgy for fifteen minutes or so after the incidents, but eventually relaxed as it seemed the kookaburras had eaten their fill or merely were no longer tempted without the food easily visible. We did wonder, if this was such a regular occurrence, why the cafe didn’t just leave food out for the birds, so that they were not hungry enough to join us for afternoon tea.
The other savouries were some little leek and gruyere tarts, and samosas. I was intrigued by their presence, but reasoned with myself that with the British occupation of India, I shouldn’t be surprised if the British included more than merely tea into their afternoon snacks.
The scones were significantly huge and fluffy, and perfect with lashings of blueberry jam and cream. I couldn’t help but admire the perfect presentation of the cream – it almost made me wonder if it was real, as it was such a smooth quenelle it actually looked like an egg in the bowl.
Time to start on the cakes and pastries. I started with the strawberry and champagne cheesecake – a beautifully delicate little slice with the strawberry and champagne jelly on top set so perfectly it mystifies me to this day as to how the cake was sliced. The cheesecake part was light and delicate; not having the cloying, thick consistency usually associated with cheesecakes. The biscuit base was deliciously crumbly and buttery.
The orange and poppy seed macarons were a burst of citrus flavour and crunch, and gone in one bite.
The scones had been absolutely huge, so it was with a fair bit of struggle that I started on the tiramisu-like slice of cake. Dark chocolate glaze, coffee cream, sponge and chocolate ganache. Rich, decadent and the ideal size for a dense morsel. In contrast, the orange flourless cake next to it was quite light for its flourless composition, fragrant with zest and almonds.
The top-most tier, the mango and lychee panna cotta with tapioca pearls, was probably the most interesting component of the tea. The Sister and I have both made panna cotta a number of times, but could not call this a panna cotta, having more the consistency of a custard. But the exotic flavours were heady and strong, and with the smooth, silken custard contrasting with the pop of the pearls, it was an unusual little morsel – something I would expect more from an Asian sweets chain.
Overall, it was an extremely satisfying afternoon tea, which would have been perfect without the sandwich drama. With such a stunning location and with the quality of the food, ambience, service, and variety of loose leaf teas available to you, it’s not difficult to see why this is one of Sydney’s favourite spots for afternoon tea.
The Tea Room Gunners’ Barracks
End of Suakin Drive,
Georges Heights NSW 2088
(02) 8962 5900