fancy plans and pants to match: high tea degustation at hippopotamus

Well hello there, and welcome to another instalment of Fancy Plans and Pants to Match, where I acknowledge that okay, sometimes nice things happen to me because I am a food blogger and author, and I try to write about them in a way that’s cool and not too irritating. This segment is named for a quote by the wry and spry Jimmy James from cruelly overlooked 90s sitcom NewsRadio. And now that I’ve done some self-deprecation and explained some things; I shall actually tell you about the nice thing that happened.

So here’s the thing: I was invited to Hippopotamus, the Museum Hotel restaurant, to attend a six-course degustation-style High Tea. Centred around literal tea.

The pitch: Hippopotamus executive head chef Laurent Loudeac and Cocktail/tea maker Camille Furminieux competed against 20 teams from 13 countries in the Dilmah Real High Tea Global Challenge and only went and won the whole thing! Their six course menu both paired and incorporated Dilmah teas and had the theme of ‘The Meeting of the Senses’. Once back in New Zealand, they did a one-time recreation of the entire thing for us at Hippopotamus. Turns out, victory is delicious.  

What happened: Dry ice, tea and gin cocktails, crepes suzettes flamed on the spot in front of us…I really had no idea what to expect going in but should have known that since Hippopotamus is all effortlessly spectacular on a daily basis, that it would’ve been impressive. It was so impressive. 

The food included…

Confit duck leg tortellini in Silver Jubilee Ceylon Ginger, Honey and Mint tea consomme The broth was crystal clear and so delicately flavoured while the duck was so meaty and tender. The sweetness of the duck was brought out by the tea, but also the slight breath of mint and absolute lightness of the dish kept it all in check. Basically: so lush.

Clevedon Buffalo milk Feta Espuma, macadamia nougatine and cucumber with a Vivid Gentle Minty Green Lady cocktail The espuma was a kind of aerated feta mousse that I could’ve comfortably hoofed down buckets of – so creamy and yet feather-light, tangy from the feta but sweetly crunchy from the macadamias – it was incredibly dreamy stuff. The cocktail was glorious – love a bit of mid-morning gin – using Lighthouse gin, tea, and a little Ch’i fizzy water to create something so delicious I wanted to dive into it and swim around. (It seems this course in particular provoked some hyperbole within me.)

Poire Belle-Helene with Medda Watte Single Region Ceylon Mulled Tea the weather was reliably awful on this particular day and so the genius idea of using tea in a mulled mocktail was incredibly well-received by my bedraggled self. The drink included black doris plum juice, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, blackcurrant syrup and of course, this particularly fancy tea. It was glorious. The food itself was both delicious and adorable which is one of my top five food genres – diminutive baby pears poached till tender and snugly blanketed in chocolate sauce. A classic and classically beautiful dessert.   

the best bit: each course was stunning, both in terms of taste and presentation, and it was fun to hear the affable and extremely talented Laurent and Melanie talk about their time in Sri Lanka and their decisions around each dish and drink. Honestly the coolest bit though, was when our tables were flooded with dry ice. I am never not impressed by dry ice, it seems, but it did also tie into the whole theme of The Meeting of the Senses. And looked so cool. Also, the whole thing really did make me appreciate the complexities of tea and made me want to use it a lot more in my cooking.

on a scale of 1 to “is this the real life, is this just fantasy”: it was so unlike anything I’d experienced before and am unlikely to be surrounded by that much tea-related excitement ever again. On top of that the food was utterly wondrous and the staff were confidently capable and charming. So yeah, it’s up there close to ten.   

Would I do this again for not-free: I mean, this was a one-off event and I am constantly piteously broke so I literally couldn’t do this if I wasn’t invited along, but if I was more flush I would be at Hippopotamus all the time.

Earnest thanks for making me feel fancy to: Hippopotamus, at the Museum Hotel, 90 Cable Street, Wellington 04 802 8935/ hippo@museumhotel.co.nz. Also thanks hugely to the photographer on the day whose wonderful photos you see here. And here’s the Fancy Plans and Pants to Match archive if you wish to read more things like this (it’s really good, okay.)

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