Vegan High Tea, Lobby Bar, Hector’s, Heritage Hotel 5

WHAT BETTER DAY than an anniversary to indulge in a vegan high tea at Hector’s at Auckland’s Heritage Hotel?
This is what you get for $32 per head:
The bottom layer consisted of two sets of club sandwiches, while the second layer featured lamingtons, a little pottle of chocolate-dipped nuts and apricots, chocolate cupcake and an unidentified coconut-laced square. The top layer, as you can see, is reserved for scones, and that’s jam and soy-yoghurt to go with them.
As well, you get to have either filtered coffee, or a wide range of very nice teas in a small teapot.
So, let’s start at the bottom for a more detailed description/appraisal.
The sandwiches were typical English style strips. One contained cucumber and avocado, and the other tomato and basil. Both were smeared with hummus. They were fresh and perfectly tasty, but we both felt that they could have been elevated out of the ordinary by including fresh asparagus, which is currently in season, and a tasty whole grain bread, rather than white bread.
At the top of the stack are the scones, and let’s face it, you’d be shocked if a High Tea didn’t include the humble scone with jam and cream. They were still warm, and again quite acceptable without being exceptional. The scones were quite small, which is okay, but lacked some indefinable extra taste – perhaps the two of us, who still use eggs from our kind flock of chickens, are too used to that particular ingredient in baking. While the strawberry jam and strawberry soy-yoghurt were both okay, what would have elevated the scones beyond average is a real cream substitute. But we’ll come back to that in a minute.
The middle tray contained the tastiest little treasures, so let’s spend a little time with each of them. First of all, the lamington. They were quite delicious, and as you can see, they’re bathed in a rich, almost crimson colour, which also permeates within. The texture was very soft and slightly moist and really, just right. But… because strawberries are now in season, it would have made sense to have half a strawberry on top, rather than half a grape. The other, and more important consideration: lamingtons are only really a truly wonderful thing when they’ve got a big splotch of cream wedged between their flanks, cream that was noticeable by its absence. Pity.
Next up is possibly the most inconsequential-looking item on the High Tea selection, but it turns out to be a taste-bomb, and easily the highlight. The master stroke was filling it with thick, tasty coconut cream, and this is where I must return to the scones, and the lamingtons. It might have been just too much to have rich coconut cream used on three different items, but they needed the lift that a creamy texture can give, and suffered for not having it… and as pleasant as soy-yoghurt can be, it just doesn’t quite cut it at a high tea.
In this last photo you can see the pottle with the chocolate-dipped nuts and apricots, and these were incredibly morish. It seems like a slight entry into the high tea stakes, but the nuts were fresh and the chocolate dark and lingering on the tastebuds. Similarly, the chocolate cupcake was spectacular, especially for chocolate lovers. Right on top is a couple of small globs of dried strawberry, thick chocolate icing, and the guts of the cupcake was spectacularly moist; amazingly, the sweetness wasn’t overwhelming, because dark chocolate has that slightly bitter edge, and currants were also added to the moist mixture, which in a sense added another layer of sweetness, but also more complexity, and a little piquancy, to the flavour.
I don’t know what the last item was, but it had a crispy bottom and its emulsive compound was laced with coconut flakes. It resembled an Indian sweet, but of course, minus the milk powder. All told, delicious.
Ultimately, high tea at the Heritage was bitter-sweet; enjoyable without being drop-dead fantastic. The venue itself is very pleasant, but perhaps lacks the air of sophistication that some will be looking for as an accompaniment to their high teas. It’s great that someone has gone to the effort of creating a vegan high tea, and in the ways described above, there are definitely some brilliant touches. But it would be nice to see more creamy stuff, and more genuinely seasonal elements, and ultimately, just a little more panache.
A slightly naff moment was experience early on when the waitress tried to give us cow milk with our tea, and then had to go away and find out what the vegan replacement was for cow milk. We thought there might be something a little more exciting then soy milk, but were disappointed to find this is the de facto replacement. In any case, we drank ours black. GARY STEEL

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