Monday, November 8, 2010

Darlinghurst: Food: The Victoria Room

My dear friend, Teddy, calls me up.
''Violet, meet me around the corner at the Victoria Room,'' he says.
''Teddy! Are you bonkers? The Victoria Room?''
''Yes, the Victoria Room,'' he says.
''Be there as quick as you can!''.
Then he hangs up.
Bloody hell. Now I need to put on a posh frock and some ridiculous heels and swing on down to that swanky place.
For all the years I have lived in Darlinghurst, I have never been to The Victoria Room.
But I've heard plenty about it and seen the pictures in the local press.
It's all kitted out in faux Victorian Empire furnishings and serves high tea on a Sunday.
And I've seen the sheilas that loiter outside, puffing gaspers in-between cups of Earl Grey. Bottom grazing skirts, high heels, spray-on tans and blow dries.
Not my kind of place.
But it's Teddy and he is such a darling bear, so I pull out the frock I wore to the last wedding and the heels I bought in a moment of madness but have never worn, and teeter on down the street to the Victoria Room.

It's lunchtime on a sunny, blue sky Sunday but when I enter the Victoria Room and make my way to the top of the stairs, I find the room is quite dark, cosily lit. 
I'm greeted by a woman in a striking floor-grazing, halter-neck dress, made of crisp cotton with wide red and white stripes. She looks just like that underwear model with the face like a meerkat, Miranda Kerr. The pretty meerkat hostess gives me a warm, genuine smile and leads me to a far corner of the large room.

We pass plenty of empty booths, until we reach a small, private area that is separated from the rest of the room by a bamboo curtain, and there is Teddy, perched on an antique chair with carved wooden armrests, looking mightily pleased with himself for having commandeered such a wonderful spot.
A ceiling fan turns overheard, moving around the humid air, and a 1940s chanteuse's voice sings foggily from a hidden speaker. Teddy rises from his chair to greet me.
''Oh, Violet, I'm so pleased you came to meet me,'' he says.
''I have a very important proposition to make. But first, some tea.''
I give him a kiss and sit down on a high-backed, grandly-designed chair.
I feel Queen-like, judging all that come before me.

A dashing, dark-haired waiter appears and hands me a tea menu. So much to choose from; there are about ten teas listed and the descriptions make them all sound divine.
I feel as if I am in some Indian mountain town during the servant and gin and tonic days. So I order Darjeeling. And Teddy orders a bottle of Champagne.

The tea arrives in a clutter of cups and saucers and soon after, our high tea lands on the table too.

I nibble on a sandwich and then a scone, as Teddy tells me about his week.
Teddy works as a court reporter for The Daily Beast, a Sydney tabloid that publishes spectacular beat-ups, yet still manages to land all the scoops.
''So I am sitting there in the court room on the first day of the trial, checking out the jurors. I've told you about juror-love, haven't I?'' asks Teddy.
''Sometimes jurors, having spent so much time together over a long trial, end up falling in love.
''On that Brent Steward trial, you know, the sports-chap who was accused and then acquitted of molesting a neighbour?
''Well, apparently two of the jurors ended up together. All the reporters could see that love was blossoming.
''Anyway, as a trial drags on, it's not unusual either, for reporters' attention to wander to that beautiful female juror sitting amongst the riff-raff . . . she sits there, occasionally chewing her pen, or posing a look of concentration to prove she is paying attention to proceedings and to be in the judge's good books,'' Teddy continues.
''Once there was this juror who was absolutely stunning and as she left the courthouse, a couple of camera-men took her picture, even though that's highly illegal - dirty bastards.
''Although I have fancied a number of jurors over the years, I would never dare approach them.
''Last Wednesday, after court was adjourned, I found myself standing on the train platform at Museum - near the Downing Centre court building - with six jurors from the trial I had just been covering.
''It was only the first day of the trial and the Crown had made some gruesome allegations during their opening address.
''It was disturbing stuff and there I was, right next to half the jury, wondering if they were as shocked as I was, but unable to say a single word.''
Teddy carries on like this for a long while, until I just have to distract him for a brief moment.
''Hey, Teddy, see that picture on the wall - the hunting party - it's just like a series of place-mats my grandparents used to own,'' I say.
''Why do artists like hunting parties so much?''

Teddy glances at the picture, and then rants on for the next 30 minutes about how artists probably initially began capturing such scenes because they liked painting the huntsman's red coat and then later, they maybe became interested in themes of death, man versus beast, that kind of thing.
I have another scone as he carries on. During this discourse a sweet-looking young woman from a nearby table, moves in and pinches a sandwich from one of our plates. Teddy and I just shrug and continue on with our hunting-themed conversation.

The scones are delicious - still warm from the oven - and the crust-less sandwiches, which include fillings of cucumber or chicken, cream-cheese and watercress, are surprisingly substantial. There's also an array of miniature sweets, including cups of chocolate with ganache and little cheesecakes.
I am happy with my endless pot of Darjeeling too and Teddy appears very smiley indeed with his bottle of Champagne that is moving ever closer to its last drop.
He is also starting to look a little flushed and blurry-eyed and I start dreading the ''important proposition'' he brought me here to make, so I excuse myself to check out the bathrooms.
You can always judge a place on its bathrooms and while the Victoria Room's rooms do not meet my grand expectations, they are suitable.

I particularly like this hand painted mirror:

I also like the Aesop brand liquid soap. So I wash my hands twice. And then one more time, just for the hell of it, before making my way back to our nook.
As I pass the long bar I have a good view of the restaurant room where I notice the customers are an eclectic bunch. There are the young bronzed women, but also loads of older ladies, wearing pearl necklaces and their best skirt and cardigan combo, all sipping tea and Champagne and looking like they are having a marvellous time. I am really starting to like this place.
But when I arrive back at our table, Teddy is lying comatose from too much Champagne.

Good grief, I think. So I call for the bill and when it arrives, I slide it under Teddy's arm and then I slip downstairs and out the door. Out in to reality and the blazing daylight.

The Victoria Room
235 Victoria Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
02 9357 4488

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