How to make the ultimate Sydney high tea (no cooking required)

How to create the ultimate high tea

Create the ultimate high tea spread with these iconic Sydney pastries and treats - no cooking required.

Forget brunch and linner, high tea is the original in-betweensies, the smorgasbord of pastries, snacks and beverages often classed as "light refreshments". 

Somewhere around the time when "unlimited mimosas" entered our vocabulary, high tea started to fade into the background. Is it too prim and proper? A hesitancy to carb load at 3pm?  

Reasons aside, there's no denying that high tea comes into its own on Mother's Day, when purveyors of pastries and slingers of sweets battle to serve mum best. Our suggestion? Go one step down from DIY, and take a round trip to some of the city's best pastry stores to build the ultimate high tea, that's all killer, no fillers (looking at you, doughy old scones). 

First up, you need to nail your drinks selection. 

Ditch the boxed tea bags, and source some premium loose leaf. Do it properly; you will immediately taste the difference, and you get to dust off your lovely teapot. 

T Totaler (Newtown and Sydney CBD) has a great selection. We've kept it classic and used their Australian black tea ($25), grown in the rainforests of Queensland's Daintree, but you can use it as a base and customise with herbs for a personalised treat. The beautiful glass apothecary jars also set the tea apart from supermarket stuff. 

For bubbles, we asked Banjo Harris Plane, one of Australia's best sommeliers and co-founder of personalised wine subscription service The Wine Gallery, for his recommendations. 

"Harvest Blanc de Blancs NV (Adelaide Hills, South Australia) is a crisp, dry yet generous sparkling winner, perfect for afternoon sipping. The long seam of citrussy acidity is clean and refreshing," he said. 


If you don't fancy fizz, a rosé is also up to the task. His recommendation is Fighting Gully Rd Sangiovese Rosé 2016 (Beechworth, Victoria). 

"This is dry and extremely savoury, while delivering a taut fruit spectrum of sour cherry and rhubarb, balanced by racy acidity and the faintest whiff of white pepper and ginger." 

Both wines retail for $23, plus postage, from (get mum a subscription for bonus points). 

T Totaler tea (in rear) and savoury pastries (L-R: Rockpool finger sandwiches, Flour and Stone quiche, Bourke Street Bakery sausage roll).

T Totaler tea (at rear) and savoury pastries (from left to right: Rockpool finger sandwiches, Flour and Stone quiche, Bourke Street Bakery sausage roll).

On to the snackage situation: Bourke Street Bakery (various locations) is an obvious choice for savouries. The pork and fennel sausage roll ($5.50) is one of Sydney's most loved and most delicious savoury pastries, and re-heats a treat. Slice into bite-size pieces for your tea spread. 

The ginger creme brulee is a solid sweet choice, but for something different, go with the orange curd coconut meringue pie ($5.50). 

In Woolloomooloo, Flour and Stone's panna cotta lamington ($7.50) is an easy choice. Light but dense and fudgy, with a rich chocolate coating and ribbon of jam, it's a worthy take on the original (and lasts for more than a day in the fridge). Grab a rich gruyere and leek quiche ($6), with flaky buttery pastry, to keep the aforementioned sausage roll company, too. 

Saga's maple brulee tart.

Saga's maple brulee tart. Photo: Neela Shearer

Next, head to Enmore, where pastry whiz Andy Bowdy (AKA Andrew Bowden) has set up Saga, a tiny cafe serving up miniature versions of his Insta-famous cakes such as Grace, a tower of carrot cake, salted caramel mousse, baked cheesecake and more ($15, serves two hungry people). You'll also be wanting a pastry; the maple brulee ($8.50) sees an ultra-thick maple syrup flavoured creme patissiere set on a bed of plum jam in a basket of rough puff pastry, torched and topped with fresh peach and "ginger fluff".  

A handful of handmade Kakawa chocolates ($2.30 each; Darlinghurst and Chippendale), with delicate fillings such as matcha truffle and orange jelly, are the perfect way to round out your sweet selection, with a bitter edge of cocoa to counter any sugar overloads. 

Finally, you're going to need finger sandwiches. Go straight for the best: Rockpool Bar and Grill's Harry's Bar finger sandwiches. You can't get them to take way, but Neil Perry and his gang have kindly shared the recipe below. 

One final note: the beautiful plates in our photographs are hand-made by Fahey Folk (various prices).

Rockpool's Harry's Bar roast chicken and walnut finger sandwiches 


4 slices Wonder White bread

150g roast chicken, shredded

20g shredded lettuce

20g walnuts, toasted and crushed 

20g celery, diced 

50g homemade mayonnaise (recipe here

Juice of ½ lemon

Butter, to spread 


Spread the softened butter onto the bread.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the chicken, walnuts, celery, lettuce and mayonnaise.

Mix well and adjust seasoning with salt, white pepper and lemon juice.

Assemble the sandwich by spreading the mixture across two slices of white bread.

Put the other two slices of bread on top to close the sandwich

Trim off all of the crusts and then cut each sandwich into three even fingers. 

Makes six ribbon sandwiches