Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson
t-Lounge by Dilmah is the only one of its kind in Australasia. On a blustery day in the city, my dad and I ducked in to the Willeston Street café to enjoy a decadent high tea to die for.
I should start by saying Andrew is a very fussy eater. In fact, when he was a kid, he only ate food beginning with the letter c – cheese, chips, chocolate, cake, and carrots. It was a constant source of anguish for his mother, I’m told! The fact that he demolished every morsel (bar the fish, which he hasn’t eaten in over 30 years) is probably the highest praise I can give. Nevertheless, I’ll try to do the experience justice myself.
Front of house manager Senuka kicked off the afternoon by talking us through the tea menu. The premium high tea comes with bottomless hot options, served in sophisticated glass strainers with a timer to tell you how long to let your cup steep. Offerings range from rose with French vanilla to Italian almond, with green, black, and oolong tea available alongside infusions like pure chamomile flowers.
I tried the Mediterranean mandarin to start. This was a bit too strong for me, but I enjoyed the zing and zest of it. Dad only likes strong tea, so his earl grey was spot on. He then ordered the Ceylon cinnamon spice (a wickedly spicy brew that sung of winter nights by a roaring fire) while I sampled the cinnamon t-kitsch. A mix of condensed milk and tea served in an authentic Sri Lankan t-kitsch jug, this sweet, frothy drink would be an ideal after-dinner treat.
Then it was onto the high tea, which looked divine when it landed on the table. Not for long! Cleverly organised over three tiers of ascending sweetness, I started writing down highlights and realised I was noting every single item.
Starting at the bottom on the savoury plate, my favourites were the Malabar tamarind cured salmon crepe roulades, adorned with the special touch of fish roe, and the unique Ceylon spiced chicken and cheese vol au vents. The bruschetta topped with jackfruit amazingly tasted just like chicken, and the cheese and curry leaf scones definitely top the best-of list in Wellington. I felt the lentil bites were a little dry, but it was nothing a sip of tea couldn’t fix.
From the middle semi-sweet plate, we both adored the Dilmah Ceylon cinnamon t-kitsch tres leches (effectively cake dipped in the drink I was telling you about before, making it incredibly moist), and the sugar-crusted kimbula, a Sri Lankan-style Vienna roll. Special mention must go to the buffalo curd with treacle macadamia nougatine. This dish is traditional and readily available in Sri Lanka, but not in New Zealand. With the curd coming from operations manager Chamila’s brother and sister-in-law’s farm in Christchurch, head chef Srimal designed the most enticing, maple-like syrup to drizzle on top alongside a sprinkling of candied nuts. The sweet and sour flavours and crunchy and creamy textures worked in seamless harmony, creating an explosion of intrigue for the tastebuds.
Finally, the top plate. A dangerously rich raspberry and milk chocolate cake (can you say death by chocolate?) was the highlight here, while the passionfruit macaroon balanced out the sweetness with a fresh, fruity tang. After the last bite we realised we’d overindulged – the premium high tea is definitely enough for a big lunch for two!
We finished with an iced tea each – I had a sparkling Prince of Kandy lemonade, which genuinely tasted like lemonade – and an extra treat, nitro tea. The nitrogen gas infuses tea with tiny bubbles, creating a silky, velvety texture and changing the flavour profile entirely. We tried a regular iced and nitro peppermint tea and really enjoyed the latter, which was so refreshing. This was the perfect conclusion to a perfect afternoon of five-star food, service, and of course, tea.