7 Atherden St
The Rocks, NSW 2000
Who doesn’t like high tea? Seriously, is there anything better than spending your afternoon drinking tea over cakes and pastries served on pretty plates, ideally whilst wearing something floral and floaty? But despite the myriad of high-end and extremely fancy places dotted around town, sometimes you just want a good old-fashioned afternoon tea of scones and sandwiches. That’s where The Tea Cosy comes in.
The Tea Cosy is located in a very tourist-heavy area in The Rocks, just adjacent to the harbour. Utilising the space adjacent to their building, they’ve set up a lovely garden-styled outdoor area. Combined with the ample number of crocheted throws draped over the chairs, as well as the colourful tea cosies adorning each table (go figure), the result is very eye-catching indeed. Unfortunately all that popularity comes at a price; despite seating over 100 people, the queue was about 20 deep when we showed up on one of the last sunny Sundays of the year. Thankfully we had planned in advance and booked a table. Bizarrely enough however, there was nothing indicating what we should do if we had a booking, and we ended up standing in line for about 10 minutes before giving up and going up directly to the counter to clear things up.
I took a gamble and decided to sit outside, which proved to be an excellent choice. Although there was indoor seating available, the brief peek I took inside proved underwhelming. It was basically a refurbished house in the classic late 1800s style, except instead of old-world elegance, the space just felt dark and stuffy. In contrast, not only was the outdoor area spacious and airy, I was even lucky enough to nab a rocking chair to sit in. With a colourful throw draped over my legs to keep them warm, I felt like an old granny in all the best ways.
There was a mix of sweet and savoury afternoon tea goodies on the menu, but I was here for one thing only: The Grand Stand ($28pp). Because if there’s one thing that makes scones and granny sandwiches better, it’s serving them on a three-tiered stand.
The Grand Stand also came with your drink of choice, but unfortunately my Crème Brûlée Black Tea was far from inspiring. Although the tea leaves themselves were of good quality – clean and fragrant without excessive bitterness from tannins – the added flavouring gave it a distinctly artificial quality that also happened to taste nothing like the dessert. If you’re going to claim to be a specialty tea house, then your teas should at least taste superior to what’s offered at T2, which incidentally does a much better version of crème brûlée tea. Bonus points for the delightful bone china crockery though.
But as ordinary as the tea was, at least it wasn’t downright bad like the Hot Chocolate. Once again, despite looking the part, this was bland and flavourless, probably on par with the stuff you get on a primary school camp. You’re definitely better off just saving the room for an extra scone.
Speaking of scones, these were definitely the highlight of our visit. Although not the best I’ve ever had by leaps and bounds, they were definitely up there with their moist, fluffy crumb and slightly crispy shell. Served still warm, I liked them best with generous lashings of cream and strawberry jam (is there really any other way to have scones?), but the sticky ginger and fig jam was also unexpectedly delicious, and a great choice if you’re tired of the usual marmalade and want something a little zestier.
Things dropped back down again with the sandwiches. First of all, let’s talk presentation. I’m usually not too fussed about how my food looks, but when the whole point of afternoon tea is to have pretty, delicious little morsels served on beautiful china, leftover bits of crust and uneven fillings really does impact the experience. Flavour-wise, this was also pretty ordinary. My favourite was the failsafe combination of smoked salmon and cream cheese; meanwhile, the curried egg was bland, and the creamy tuna tasted like something from a lunchbox. Though not bad by any means, these are not sandwiches I would go out of my way to pay for, as I can make the same (or rather, better) at home.
There were some good moments had at The Tea Cosy, but all up, the experience proved to be rather underwhelming. If you ask me, afternoon tea is equal parts about the ambience and the food, but beyond the beautiful setup, things actually felt quite patchy. The experience really suffered from the scale it operated at, and as a result things felt very mass-produced, rather than the quaintness you’d hope out of a traditional afternoon tea. It’s not a bad place to linger for an hour or so with a plate of scones on a nice day, but I would definitely advise against spending hours in line waiting for it.
Rating: 12/20 – bonus points for the rocking chair.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.