Addendum: Please note that management of Peninsula Tea Gardens changed around May 2010 which may account for the increase in dissatisfied patrons since then. I suggest keeping an eye on urbanspoon.com for updates.
I don’t like being overly critical of restaurants and cafes based on just one visit but when my expectations have been raised beforehand by glowing reviews and a higher than average price, I think it’s only natural to feel disappointed when an establishment falls short of those expectations. This was sadly the case with the Peninsula Tea Gardens in Maylands, which I finally got around to visiting with the Bestie after a number of false starts.
Before I go on, I must state that our afternoon at the Peninsula Tea Gardens was not horrible. Taking tea and scones in the lush green lawned area of historic Tranby House while overlooking the Swan River is probably as close to an English idyll as you’re going to get in metropolitan Perth. This gorgeous location alone is always going to set the Peninsula Tea Gardens apart from the mediocre but dare I say, therein lies the problem.
As I said, my expectations were quite high. The lovely people at High Tea Society gave the Peninsula Tea Gardens a promising review with even more promising photos of their high tea offerings. I should add here however that the review was written almost a year ago (closer to when the Gardens opened) and unfortunately that is more than sufficient time for the ball to get dropped in the game of maintaining quality.
Other than the impressive photos included in the above review, I was also led to believe we were in for a high end experience just purely based on how hard it was to get in. The Bestie was sternly informed that she should try and book at least a week in advance (which is probably fair to say of weekend bookings) and when I finally picked up the phone to book us in for the mid-week Parisian Afternoon Tea ($33 as opposed to $38 on weekends) and got advised that I would need to give 48 hours notice to alter or cancel my booking (or forfeit my deposit of $10 pp), I couldn’t help but think I was in for a seriously bespoke afternoon of gorgeous treats and attentive service. Silly me.
On advising the wait staff of our arrival, they casually pointed out our table to us. Just as well there was a ‘Reserved’ sign on it or we probably would have sat at another empty table; it was not a busy day by any stretch of the imagination. I would have though it a good idea to already have the table set for two but instead a waitress brought out the fine bone china tea service after we sat down and then took our order.
Our three-tiered stand of high tea goodness soon arrived along with our pots of tea. On first glance, we said nothing. On the second, we realised that we weren’t being wowed. Later, on comparing my photos with those of High Tea Society’s I could see why. What we were served was rather lacklustre and bordered on pedestrian. I now feel remiss for suggesting that the high tea items at the Duxton were safe!
The sandwiches sounded great on the menu but what I saw and tasted was no different to your average cafeteria sangers, minus the crusts. I am pretty sure the ham and beef were regular pressed meat you can buy by the gram at Coles. I didn’t really pick up on any of the horseradish or Dijon mustard which might have otherwise elevated the pressed meat into something more palatable. Rather bland bites overall and no mini quiche or the like to seek savoury solace in.
We moved on to the second tier which carried a couple of scones. Yes, one each. Must be a mid-week thing… The accompanying cream (regular whipped) and jam (fairly sure it was Cottee’s) also irked me, particularly as our last high tea at the Duxton indulged us with gorgeous King Island double cream and jam packed with fruit and flavour to lavish on our scones. At least the scones themselves were much nicer to eat than the sandwiches.
The top tier (or the princess tier, as I call it) should have been amazing but it was not. A couple of standard chocolate eclairs, standard petit fours and cupcakes which were decorated to appeal more to the Big Red Car set than us 30-somethings. I suspect a lot of these things were brought in from cake suppliers and massive apologies if that is not the case, but nothing felt particularly special.
I can’t say that I found comfort in my pot of tea either. I guess once I started picking out the flaws and offset them against my earlier expectations, I was left feeling a little flat and even Sri Lanka’s finest wasn’t going to help. The staff seemed to exist only to serve (surely we can be more personable on a Tuesday) and at times seemed too keen to clear things away or do things to facilitate their closing up process. An umbrella next to us got taken down which we wondered if we were meant to take as a sign to move on.
The Bestie was ironically most impressed by the cupcakes but I chose to take mine home to Master Seven. I can’t say that there was anything that made me feel like I had a high tea experience. Elsewhere, I always felt a bit posh afterwards. Still, I’m by no means going to discourage people from taking high tea at the Peninsula Tea Gardens. If anything, the location makes things worthwhile and I’d indeed like to know if perhaps we’d gone on a ‘bad’ day or if they simply save their A-Game for the weekends (if I paid the full price for what we got on a Tuesday, I’d be less than gracious here!). I’m also curious as to whether the business changed hands since the beginning.
I think the most apt metaphor for the Peninsula Tea Gardens is in their fine bone china tea set and silverware: in need of attention! (the silverware needed polishing and someone really took to the cups’ gilded rims with a scourer!).
Value: At $33 per head, I would expect more :( Glad to have gone mid-week!
Peninsula Tea Gardens Tranby (Peninsula Farm), Johnson Road, Maylands, (Perth) WA 6051 – 089 272 8894 www.peninsulateagardens.com