I seem to have a life now where I can drink posh tea in a cosmopolitan array of posh places. Tea at the Four Seasons in Istanbul? Very good. At the Four Seasons in Geneva? Ditto. The Four Seasons in Paris is good. The Ritz in London is good. The Hilton in Manchester (accompanied by a great view of the city) good. The Bar Americano in Seville is good.
But the best by far, utterly true to the classic notion of English tea, is The Windsor in Melbourne.
One would have thought that it isn’t rocket science – good quality service, good china, extra hot water, the best leaves, of course. Not that they can’t do other sorts of tea perfectly in the right way too:
It isn’t like you have to send somebody to tea barrista school. And yet most places, even highend establishments get some of it wrong. I accept that they don’t care because they don’t know better. What amazes me is that they don’t care even when they are told. Take Cecconis – now, I have to say, this story is years old, so maybe things are different these days. Expensive, but everything Cecconis does is terrific, based on best quality ingredients. So when I ordered tea at the end and a teabag came out, I was put out. Enough to write and complain. Yes, Italian places can’t do tea, but if you are charging top restaurant prices things should be top. Even the things you only have on the menu grudgingly. So, I wrote to Cecconis and got back a chirpy ‘thank you for writing to us, can we put you on our mailing list’. That was it! Not a single word of reference to my letter which also mentioned one other slip on their part, serving as part of the cheese platter Turkish apricots instead of the manifestly superior Australian ones.
Most places, however posh, get some of serving tea wrong. But to get it all wrong, every bit of it, that really takes some doing. In fact it takes the most expensive place I’ve drunk tea. The most expensive and by far the worst by any measure and let me set the bar low – tea in Geneva is commonly a Lipton tea bag (ugh) in a glass (UGH) with UHT milk or even worse a plastic container of coffee cream stuff (UUGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH) and it costs about $4. Let’s say the bar can’t be much lower.
Enter the Lui Bar, as we did the same trip in January that saw us at the Windsor. When we asked for tea, our American waiter could not have been more enthusiastic. Not only did they have a tea menu as long as your arm, but they even had a tea consultant if we were finding the choices difficult. Not that difficult, we thought, as we opened the menu. Let’s just pick the one we can afford. The cheapest one was $10.
Here is our tea:
I’m sorry if you fail the Lui Bar’s test – the teapots ARE there, more or less hidden by the teacups which are about twice the size of the pot. I don’t mean by this to say that the cups are bizarrely huge. They are normal size, if the most horrible pieces of pottery I have ever thought to drink tea from. The teapots come from a 5 year old’s tea party set. There is no other explanation possible. Here is a shot of the pot where it isn’t obscured by an ordinary sized tea-cup:
The tea was undrinkable (though we drank it) – luke warm probably because the pots were so tiny they couldn’t retain the heat. We couldn’t get extra hot water WITH the tea – because they had no facility to provide it. Now, I’m quoting the staff when I say that, completely impossible as it is to believe. And it happened to me there on two separate occasions, so it wasn’t just a waiter out to lunch (so to speak). When we took 12 seconds to down the contents of our teapots, they were refilled for us. Still luke warm.
Why did I go to a place that serves the worst AND most expensive tea in the world TWICE? Well, partly it is because of what the tea comes with. Believe it or not, it is automatically accompanied by an exquisite selection of goodies presented in a splendidly Australiany touristy way:
Partly I came back for more tea to check that the first experience I had was actually really and truly how the Lui Bar does tea.
And partly I came back because it was so hilariously bad that it was almost worth it. It makes me laugh even now. For those who aren’t aware of it, the Lui Bar is attached to the Vue de Monde. So when you write to discuss the Lui Bar, you get a reply from the Vue De Monde and mine included the following gem from the Marketing Manager (I would love to start going to restaurants who don’t have such staff, but I’d starve to death in Australia):
The Lui Bar is first and foremost a cocktail bar and for that reason the staff it attracts are very much cocktail focused (finding staff that are passionate about tea is no mean feat!)
I’m wondering if I ever wrote to complain about the chocolate mousse at the Vue De Monde if I might get back a reply along the lines ‘We’re really sorry, but we just can’t get any of our staff interested in making the darn stuff’. ???? !!!!! The funny thing is, you probably do have to be interested to make chocolate mousse, but not tea. Honestly. A few basic rules, it isn’t rocket science. Surely. It. Isn’t. Rocket. Science.
I have a theory now. Remember those dudes who did the escape thing from the Vue De Monde last year? Had drinks and then before paying, parachuted their way from the 55th level of the Rialto. I reckon they must have ordered the tea. And frankly, I don’t blame them for not wanting to pay for it. I will return to talk about the rest of the Lui Bar, which is WONDERFUL, in another post soon.
I have to finish on a high note. This is how I wish every cup of tea I ever have could be served. Please Hotel Windsor. Come and move to Geneva!