Afternoon tea, anyone? Patricia Maunder suggests 10 favourites.
Perhaps 10 - certainly 20 - years ago, you could count on one hand the places in Victoria that offered afternoon tea (not including grandma's house). Now, it's so popular the difficulty is choosing, so here are some of the best for travellers who don't just want to eat but have an experience.
We walk up and up the stairs but it's worth it as the terrace is a picture of merry customers supping in the sunshine, some holding colourful Chinese parasols provided by staff in vintage tennis attire - think frilly knickers and short shorts. Strictly speaking, this is a Madame Brussels garden party, not afternoon tea, because refreshment begins with your choice of punch (Pimm's, please!) by the jug. This cheeky affair's retro-vintage garden furniture and china is matched by old-fashioned treats including sausage rolls and cupcakes.
Level 3, 59-63 Bourke Street, city; $38 a person; see madamebrussels.com.
Collingwood's a long way from Budapest, especially at Johnston Street's uncool eastern end, until you step inside this intimate "Hungarian szalon". Ornate gilt mouldings, antique furniture and scarlet walls immediately transport us to Old Europe, as does the exotic accent of chocolatier and welcoming hostess Hanna. Vintage china is laden with traditional Hungarian treats such as chicken-liver pate and pogacsa (moreish savoury potato scones) and amazing handmade chocolate truffles, including plum slivovitz and rosemary sea-salt flavours.
153 Johnston Street, Collingwood; weekends $45 a person; weekdays $38 or $12 Chocolate Mini High Tea; see mamorchocolates.com.
The Hotel Windsor
Afternoon tea at Melbourne's grand old dame is a tourist staple as the heritage surrounds are charming and the traditional spread, including a large selection of leaf teas, is nicely done. Service is generally excellent, though occasionally disappoints (while we are still eating, and far from the last diners, waiters leave the bill, then twice try to settle it). After conquering the three-tiered stand's bounty, how many of the enormous weekend buffet's sweet creations can you sample? There's glory in defeat.
111 Spring Street, city; weekends $79 a person, weekdays $59 (no dessert buffet); see thehotelwindsor.com.au.
Afternoon tea can make you feel posh but this one makes you feel positively glamorous (if you wear some decent clobber). Professional make-up artists give ladies a makeover and gents a dab of powder, then the photographer applies his irresistible powers of persuasion in various nooks of this sharp, 1950s-inspired space. Who knew I would enjoy having my photo taken for an hour? My beau and I then enjoy afternoon tea in the vintage-style cafeteria while a highlights package of us looking glam is prepared. The substantial spread includes such yummy surprises as a mousse of avocado and cocoa.
690 Elizabeth Street, city, Vintage Glamour High Tea described above is $169 for two people; other packages available; see www.imagesuperstore.com.
Myer Mural Hall
Since Myer's Bourke Street store reopened in March, this long-neglected art deco delight is partying again. The elegant double staircase and Napier Waller's splendid 1932 murals are the design highlights of this grand space and the food's classy, too - including colourful macarons and superb finger sandwiches. The many large, round tables means this is a lively affair, whether you arrive as a group of one, two or 10, so it can be a challenge for entertainers playing live music.
Myer Bourke Street, city; last Sunday of the month, $70 a person; see muralhall.net.au.
We wend our way to the masculine, wood-panelled dining room usually reserved for parliamentarians (don't be deterred by the "Members Only" sign painted above the door). There's no music, few other diners and quietly friendly waiters serve rather than perform, so this enclave is remarkably hushed as we enjoy a repast that errs on the conservative side, though the scones are huge and the waiter would have filled my flute of bubbly a third time had I not decided it was tea time.
Parliament House, Spring Street, city; non-sitting weeks only, 2.30pm, $38 a person, or $42 with sparkling wine; see www.parliament.vic.gov.au.
It might be tarted-up cafeteria fare (think mini-eclairs and single-layered finger sandwiches) but it's pleasant enough for several people on my crossing to take their leftovers in napkins. The drinks are genuinely good, including a Bellarine Peninsula sparkling but it's the novelty of having High Tea on the High Seas (as it's promoted), with panoramic views across the bay, that makes this worthwhile. Designed for foot-passenger return trips but there's ample time to eat if you want to go one way (add $48 for your car).
Queenscliff-Sorrento ferry; last Sunday of the month, February to November, $35 adults, $10 children (including return passage); see searoad.com.au.
Craig's Royal Hotel
This is one of Australia's grand Victorian-era hotels, so there's nothing more fitting than afternoon tea among the recently refurbished dining room's antique tapestries and crystal chandeliers. The three-tiered stand is slightly understocked for the price but the petits fours in particular are scrumptious. Afterwards, there's a tour of the hotel — an enjoyable and effective spruik, as I can't wait to go back and stay in one of those opulent suites.
10 Lydiard Street South, Ballarat; Sundays, 3pm, $49.50 a person; see craigsroyal.com.au.
Archies on the Creek
On a narrow country road near some ornery old buildings, this new restaurant and function centre stands out with its big fountain and smart, contemporary decor. The cosy restaurant is best for a quiet afternoon tea, which starts with an amuse bouche of spiced carrot and pear soup. And it just gets better, with fresh, local ingredients being transformed into divine bites such as wagyu shepherd's pie and the most perfect mini lemon tart I've had.
81 Archies Creek Road, Archies Creek; second Saturday of the month, 3pm, $40 a person; see archiesonthecreek.com.au
It's difficult to believe the hushed, heritage graciousness of this restaurant and accommodation is just a few secluded metres from the property's Yering Station complex of food, shopping and wine tastings, which is often overrun on weekends. Lingering amid this 1854 mansion's restrained antique opulence is a pleasure, especially when the French sparkling and artfully crafted fare arrives (though arguably too focused on sweet treats).
42 Melba Highway, Yering; Sundays, 2.30pm, $45 a person; see chateauyering.com.au.
Patricia Maunder was a guest of the venues and Tourism Victoria.