December 03, 2014

L'heure du Thé

It was famously written in The Portrait of a Lady that "there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea" and who am I to argue with the literary greatness of Henry James? Perhaps one day when I am cited over one thousand times in the Oxford English Dictionary I will be in a position to do so, but even then why would I argue with someone who evidently enjoys the ritual of afternoon tea as much as I do?

The simple pleasure of a well brewed pot of tea and small delights to please the taste buds is something that does wonders for the soul, even more so when shared with a dear friend. I don't think you can underestimate the wonderfully restorative and calming properties of a beautiful cup of tea and there's surely nothing better than an afternoon spent with a special friend who is as sweet as the treats on offer and with whom the conversation flows as freely as the dainty tea pot.

Upon learning that afternoon tea had made its way to Bistro Guillaume at Crown Perth, there was no question that I had to partake and in fact, indulge, in this much loved past time of mine. I say indulge as it is billed as an "indulgent" and "decadent" afternoon tea complete with a glass of Perrier-Jouët champagne for the price of $65 per person. Served only on Saturday and Sunday from 2pm, the dining room of Bistro Guillaume was teeming with tables of women (surprisingly, only women) navigating their way through tiers of sweet and savoury treats.

The glass of champagne is served upon being seated and we are given some time to view the menu to make our tea selection. The tea of choice at Bistro Guillaume is none other than the exquisite Mariage Frères. Our tiered stand of goodies is delivered to the table along with a separate slate tray upon which are the spanner crab sandwiches. Reaching for the small square of sandwich first, there's a very positive but incoherent noise that makes its way out of both of our mouths. The crab was flaky and sweet, mixed up deliciously with the creamy mayonnaise and was a good choice to start off with.

When it comes to afternoon and high tea, I thoroughly enjoy the savoury component and always am left desiring just one or two pieces more of savoury items. The savoury treats help to balance out the sweetness that follows and I often find them much smaller in size that so though there may be an equal number of savoury to sweet pieces, there's just not quite enough savoury. This is what I felt of the composition of the food that day and my friend agreed.  We loved every savoury piece so much and just wanted a little bit more.

In addition to the spanner crab sandwich, we were served a small slice of a chicken waldorf champagne baguette, rare roast beef on a crouton disc, smoked salmon and dill creme blini, veal sausage roll and a mini quiche. Each was happily consumed with approving nods and grunts shared between the two of us.

The sweet situation consisted of mini scones sandwiched with raspberry coulis and creme chantilly, white and milk chocolate mousse, lemon tartlets, vanilla creme mille-feuille and two macarons, one being pistachio and the other salted caramel. We broke each macaron in half so we could both try the two flavours and of the two my favourite was salted caramel which thankfully was not sickly sweet as anything made of caramel can sometimes be.

The scones were less cake and bread like and more like small rounds of shortbread. Upon biting into one, it broke up like a cookie and had more crunch to it than a scone ordinarily would. The tangy filling of the lemon tartlets was really quite smooth with the sweetness and the acidity balanced perfectly. 

Upon seeing the chocolate mousse covered in ganache I thought to myself that I had eaten this before. It looked so very familiar. I attend a number of conferences and professional events held at the Crown complex each year and one of the best things about these events are our meals. I have been served a white and milk chocolate mousse covered in chocolate ganache more than a few times and sure enough when I took a small forkful of the mousse there were the familiar white and brown layers. I thought this was interesting although I'm sure the catering for events and conferences probably does borrow heavily from the various restaurants.

I can't complain about the quality or the taste of everything we consumed that afternoon. My favourite savory item would be the spanner crab sandwich and of the sweet items I would pick the vanilla creme mille-feuille filled with the luscious creme patisserie that oozed out from between the flaky layers of puff pastry. If there is something I would like to see though is more of a French feel to the menu. Although everything served has taken some cue from French food, whether it be the raspberry coulis and creme chantilly in the scones or the blinis and baguettes in place of more English style savouries, I feel that Bistro Guillaume could serve an afternoon tea which is distinct from all the other afternoon teas available in Perth by giving more of a nod toward traditional French treats and those that are less commonly found in Perth. I would love to see the likes of madeleines and caneles, which would definitely set Bistro Guillaume apart as I don't often see these offered by many cafes in Perth and on a personal note, I miss eating caneles so nothing would make me happier. Although quiches and macarons are undoubtedly of French origin, they've now been adopted as part of our Australian diets and feature in most afternoon tea menus. There's no reason to not continue serving them, but if there's one thing that could set Bistro Guillaume's afternoon tea apart from the rest would be taking full advantage of its French roots.

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