Our journey of the arts began on a fine afternoon as we walked across the kaleidoscopic floor of the National Gallery of Australia. The Tom Roberts exhibition was on display and we were eager to experience the work of a legendary Australian artist, who is renowned to work on most of his masterpieces, not in a studio but outdoors. We decided to pair our artsy quest with food and the whole experience was highly satiating.
While Roberts’ made a profound impact on Australian art with his use of impressionistic techniques which can be viewed in this simply breath-taking exhibition, this post is more about how the Wedgwood Tea Room at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) is inspired by the era and themes of the Tom Roberts exhibition.
I am no art connoisseur. I have no expert comments to make. You won’t even find me standing in front of a painting deeply analysing the mind of the artist or the work on display. I associate with colours and patterns and find them inspiring. So, my association with the paintings in the gallery and the design of the tableware and teaware at the restaurant, was the colour connection. I noticed that the paintings and our tableware were along the similar colour scheme, they were pastel. Pastel colours provide a soothing and milky feel and it’s a lovely pattern to dine on. Pastels have been used by artists since the Renaissance, and gained considerable popularity in the 18th century.
“The flavours of the Wedgwood Tea Room are inspired by the Australian colours and flavours that Roberts’ works evoke. Roberts works also capture 19th and 20th century Australians at leisure, so a relaxing High Tea is the perfect fit when seeing this exhibition”, said NGA when asked about the connection between the exhibit and high tea.
While our table was being laid, we could see why it was going to be a special event. A wondrous Butterfly Bloom teapot and a Cuckoo 2-tier cake stand were set in front of us. They were accompanied by plates, cups and saucers from various other collections from the Daisy and Dynasty range. Every single piece harmoniously blended together even though they were from a wider and disparate array of Wedgwood collections. Our table looked fabulous and the gorgeous food-bites beckoned tantalisingly.
My favourite was the lemon and yoghurt curd tart with toasted meringue. The tangy lemon flavour was beautifully balanced with curd. It was such a delightful morsel that I was secretly hoping Joseph would let me have his share too, but he didn’t! The Dame Nellie Melba’s sublime opera cake with ganache in between the layers was simply divine and was Joseph’s favourite. He even tried stealing mine!
The bottom tier hold savoury bites and the top tier are filled with sweet treats. Start from the bottom-up or the top-down, or just alternate! It doesn’t stop there; high tea also includes a plate of piping hot buttermilk scones accompanied with local berry preserve and double cream. An all-day high tea cost $43 per person for the whole aforementioned spread.
While Joseph had hot chocolate and grunted his approval, I went traditional and chose tea. Wedgwood and tea are intrinsically linked, starting with the use of Wedgwood teaware by Queen Charlotte of England in the mid-18th century. The trend of tea drinking spread to the Aristocrats and Upper Classes of England with the Duchess of Bedford starting the Afternoon Tea craze.
If nibbling on tableware fit for queens was not enough, the view from the Wedgwood Tea Room was halcyon to say the least. We could behold the eucalyptus tree tops that dot the Sculpture Garden below and their leaves were twirling in the strong summer breeze. It was a very hot day outside and we were glad to be indoors pampering ourselves to such an elaborate affair.
If high tea doesn’t float your boat, why not try their lunch instead? The Tea Room introduces a contemporary interpretation of the classic elements of an Australian bush lunch, just like the various bush landscapes depicted in Tom Roberts’ paintings.
My choice, the Farmhouse Board from the menu, appealed to me almost immediately. It had me at salmon! At $25 per person, you could choose between slow roast beef or salt baked salmon which is accompanied by five other elements. The Piccalilli relish was addictive. Made with cauliflower, mustard and turmeric, it reminded me of South Asian pickles. Did you know that the Piccalilli relish was once called Indian Pickle? I found it absolutely delectable when paired with salmon.
At $20 per person, the Bushman’s Plate, the other choice on the menu, featured ham sliced off the bone served with salmon rillettes; cloth bound cheddar, old fashioned malt vinegar pickles, Piccalilli relish pot and rosemary salt damper and butter. The cloth bound cheddar was a smashing combo with ham. Joseph paired the Bushman’s Plate with a glass of 2013 Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley and I paired the Farmhouse Board with a glass of 2010 Terrazas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina. Wine can be purchased separately.
Looking for something different to do? Friends or relatives visiting Canberra? Treat yourself or your guests this summer to an array of Australian flavours inspired by Tom Roberts in the NGA’s Wedgwood Tea Room. With breath-taking views, elegant white and teal decor and Wedgwood teaware, this sanctuary should definitely be on your ‘to-do’ list.
And remember, you still have that absolutely amazing gallery of art to enjoy. You can rest assured that the art and food experience would be a wonderful and memorable day out in the capital.
The National Gallery of Australia’s Wedgwood Tea Room located on Level 2 Mezzanine is open daily from 10.00am – 4.30pm. When purchasing your ticket to Tom Roberts via Ticketek, try a High Tea or Lunch package. Call (02) 6240 6711 or email for more information.
* Travel and Beyond were invited to sample the lunch and high tea offerings in line with the Tom Roberts exhibition. All opinions are our own.