926-930 High Street Armadale, Victoria 314303 9508 8888
|Opening hours||Daily 8am-5pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||Mastercard, Visa, eftpos|
My little finger told me things were different at Mossgreen Tearooms. As I picked up my Wedgewood teacup the digit extended of its own accord, like a fern unfurling, all ladylike and posh. I experimented with this new configuration. It's actually very comfortable to eat a cucumber sandwich with finger No. 5 testing the breeze and so delightfully apropos to let the little finger point skyward while jamming a scone between lips.
The difference is that the tearooms are romantic and elegant; urban grit begone. They adjoin a handsome gallery where the exhibition when we visit is ''important ceramics''. Artworks decorate the walls of the spacious, terraced tearooms, most notably Kate Bergin's wry, absurd still-life paintings, which also feature on the menus.
Armadale's lovely lunching ladies are lively tableaux too (and just wait for the champagne laughter when the liquor licence kicks in).
Caterer Peter Rowland runs the show, which makes the tearooms feel at once capable and strait-jacketed. I had a vision of crustless chicken sandwiches reaching to the moon and back while eating them here. Nevertheless, the dishes are created on site, apart from the pies and petit fours, which are brought in from Rowland HQ and an off-site patisserie.
Breakfast channels European luxury hotels with continental platters and such dishes as coddled eggs with soft herbs and asparagus. Lunch evokes a London club: there's nicoise salad with seared tuna, classic club sandwich with proper sliced bread, and pot pie with delicious braised lamb and potato crisps. High tea is served any time. Dainty nibbles include sandwiches of smoked salmon and butter, Waldorf-style chicken sandwiches with celery and apple, posh party pies, scones, and bite-sized sweets such as lemon meringue pie, macarons and teeny salted caramel eclairs. The food is fine but the graceful experience is the real triumph.
The floral teasets are gorgeous but loose leaves would be preferable to T2 bags and, in a related complaint, $48 for high tea is expensive and out of whack with the rest of the menu, which is reasonably priced. Still, it's remarkably pleasant to hang out in the 2014 version of 1920, which balances antique virtues with modern concerns about ethical meat, espresso coffee and, of course, what exactly one does with one's little finger.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)