As you surely all know by now, I am *very* enamoured of Josephine’s amazing food, particularly her delicate touch with flavour. In fact, I am so enamoured of her work that having had this beautiful floral High Tea less than two weeks ago, I was back again for her standard High Tea yesterday for a work function. (I didn’t actually organise this particular function, I’ve just done a fine job of sharing my addiction.)
So you can imagine that when I saw that Josephine was doing a special floral High Tea for Good Food Month, my immediate thought was ‘sign me up!’. My best friend was visiting from Darwin, and needed to leave for the airport at 4pm, so we booked in our fancy High Tea for two at two, and sat inside where it was warm while Melbourne expressed its feelings about visitors who always complain that its weather is cold and rainy.
(ask and you shall receive – I can’t remember the last time my friend’s visit did *not* herald a sudden cool change.)
We arrived a few minutes early, laden with bags and suitcases, which Josephine kindly let us hide out the back so that we could enjoy our lunch/tea unencumbered. Friday at 2pm is a good time for High Tea – the lunch crowd has left, and it’s a work day, so not too many people are coming in for an afternoon snack. We didn’t quite have the shop to ourselves, but it was a lovely, quiet space for delicate food and a last round of chatting before my friend had to catch her plane.
I can’t remember if I’ve talked about Josephine’s decor before (I know, I know, you are not here for the decor – I promise I’ll get to the food shortly), but it is extremely pretty and extremely French. I don’t know how it is French, but I’d know it was French anywhere. Lots of white wood, and an aubergine feature wall with pretty plates on it. Our table was laid with a cloth and a vase of flowers, and plates with a rose pattern on them, and we were asked for our drink order.
We eyed the high tea menu, noting the high proportion of rose-flavoured sweets on it, and decided to go for refreshing rather than sweet – home made raspberry and mint iced tea seemed like the way to go.
It was a beautiful drink, as you can see – ruby red in colour, a little tart but not sour, and tasted like a mix of mint tea and crushed raspberries. The raspberries kept getting stuck in the straw. Somehow, this made the drink even better.
Our high tea arrived and we discussed our strategy. My feeling was that the sweet portion of the meal definitely outweighed the savoury, and the path of actually managing to eat all this food (and this was a generous high tea) was to alternate. And to save the brulée until last, because Josephine does the most incredible crême brulée and it will always, always be my favourite thing on a platter of hers.
My friend, less confident in her ability to eat her way through all the goodies, and mindful of a journey ahead, chose the strategy of eating the least portable things first. (And also of starting with all the savouries, which I still maintain was a mistake…)
We both started with the herb frittata, which was a generous three-piece serving each (conveniently furthering my strategy of having something savoury in between each lot of sweet stuff). This was lovely and fresh tasting, a bit like a spanakopita, actually, and not as rich as I’d feared. Sadly, I wasn’t paying enough attention to distinguish the herbs – the general flavour I took away from the fritata was Green. Nothing wrong with that at all!
I then decided to try one of the slices of rosewater and raspberry tea cake, which turned out to be a very light, pleasing raspberry cake with a rose-scented buttercream. Very nice indeed, and again, not too rich.
Next I tried the watercress soup, which was just a wow moment – for some reason, I had expected it to be a cold soup, but in fact it was delightfully hot, and had a rich, slightly peppery green taste, and just the right amount of saltiness to counteract all the sweetness around it. I was torn between drinking it all immediately, while it was hot, and saving sips for later.
There was a lot of rose on the menu, so after refreshing my palate with a few sips of delectable soup, I went back to investigate the rosewater meringue, which was exactly what it said on the box – a nice, crisp meringue, a bit chewy in the middle, with a decisively rose flavour to it.
Next on my list of things to try was the blackcurrant and violet marshmallow. I adore all things with violet flavour, and this was no exception. The marshmallow was incredibly soft and fluffy, and very tangy from the blackcurrant – almost fizzy, in fact. I suspect a liberal hand with citric acid… I really did love the contrast of the soft texture and the sharp, fizzy, floral and fruity taste of the meringue. And the colour was just stunning.
Josephine is known for her macarons, of course, and for this occasion, she had brought out her three floral flavours – rose, of course, violet, and orange flower water. So many macarons. Incidentally, this was my third High Tea at Josephine’s, and it was by far the most lavish to date – so very much food! (Of course, at the time of writing this, it is still Tuesday, and so I don’t know whether Josephine will have escalated further when we have high tea there tomorrow….)
I am not the world’s biggest fan of macarons, but Josephine’s are exceptional. They are small enough to be eaten in two bites, delicately flavoured, and not too sweet. This last is particularly notable to me – I find most macarons overwhelmingly sugary. All three macarons were beautiful – gently perfumed, but not overwhelmingly so, which is hard to do with flower waters, where the distance between ‘flavourless’ and ‘oh God I just drank a bottle of perfume’ can be a matter of a few drops. Josephine nailed it, but this was not unexpected.
Back to the savouries, and the chicken and nasturtium pain au lait, which was really ridiculously cute and the photo that drove me to this High Tea in particular. This was just a nice little roll with chicken, a pickly sort of mayonnaise and peppery nasturtium leaves. Oh yes, and a great big nasturtium flower on top that I attempted to eat with the roll, but it really wasn’t designed for that. Good lunch food.
By this point, my friend had conceded defeat, and I was eyeing the platter with calculation, trying to work out what I wanted to save until last. Usually the answer is obvious – Josephine’s crème brûlée is really unsurpassed – but I still had another of those glorious marshmallows, and that tea cake was really *quite* appealing, and of course the freshness of the strawberry sablé had a lot of appeal at this point too.
The sablé was great – just a nice, simple, tart of sablé biscuit, a very subtle rose-scented buttercream, and fresh strawberries. Exactly what one needed at this point in the meal!
Last of all was the rose-geranium brûlée. Have I written enough odes yet to Josephine’s brûlées? They are silken in texture, with just the right amount of burned sugar on top that you can crack with your spoon. Happiness in dessert form. The rose geranium flavour was interesting. At first, I thought it was too subtle – that I had here a perfect brûlée, but a very plain one, but after a few tastes, the herb flavour began to come through, and in the end was just right. Rose geranium is a subtler flavour than rose – it is the leaf of a plant, not a petal, and has a little bitterness, a little freshness, almost a little citrus note to it, as well as the rose perfume that gives it its name. It worked beautifully here.
By this point, Melbourne was expressing its feelings about Spring and what sort of weather it was entitled to have if it felt like it in quite an enthusiastic fashion, and it was about half an hour before we needed a taxi, so we decided to sit inside in the warm for a bit longer, looking sadly at the last few nibbles of our sweets, and enjoying the quiet setting. And pondering doggy bags and whether they would be feasible on a flight to Darwin (they were not. Andrew was the beneficiary of this.)
Altogether a delicious tea – well balanced, delicate and very beautiful to look at. A lovely way to spend a rainy afternoon.