Most people who grew up in Sydney and are from my generation will have memories of visiting the very pink Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains.
Perhaps as early as 1901, Mark Foy, of Mark Foy’s Department Stores, sold shares in his business to finance what was to become Australia’s first health retreat.
The hotel opened during a snowstorm in 1904 and included accommodation, a restaurant, the Casino Ballroom (that was never used for gambling), and an art gallery several hundred feet long with art from all around the world. From the moment it opened, the Hydro Majestic attracted both local and international guests. Many famous people stayed at the hotel and Australia’s first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton, actually died while staying at the hotel in 1920.
The hotel generated its own electricity, had its own water supply, contained a steam laundry, freezing works, sewerage treatment works and a telephone system connected to the Sydney exchange. Guests enjoyed a program of diets and some weird, interesting and wonderful health treatments.
In 1922 fire destroyed parts of the hotel including the gallery. Mr Foy immediately commenced work on restoring the hotel that took a further 14 years to complete. In 1942 the Hydro was taken over by the US Defence Department and turned into a hospital for American casualties.
Mr Foy died in 1950 and as time marched on, the hotel was miraculously spared being given a ‘make-over’ with dire consequences for the unique architecture and interior design the hotel is known for.
Recently the hotel was sold and bought by the Lilianfels Group. Taking into account the historical significance of the hotel along with the grand period features and everyone’s nostalgic feelings towards the building, the hotel has been sympathetically renovated and is once again open for business. Although it’s no longer pink!
The magnificent dome that was built in Chicago and sat above the Casino Ballroom still remains. The former ballroom is now the Wintergarden Restaurant that has panoramic views over the Megalong Valley. Amongst other things, (including a traditional Christmas dinner during ‘Christmas in July’), the restaurant serves a traditional high tea. Recently, I, (along with around 20 others), was fortunate to be invited to a high tea by a very close friend to help her a celebrate a very special birthday. Yeah!
The high tea is very popular so you do need to book. Walking into the restaurant through the reception you are immediately struck by the beauty, elegance and grandeur of your surroundings. The restaurant is large but not cavernous and there are enormous windows spanning the length of the former ballroom showing the stunning view of the valley.
The restaurant is warm and cosy and classical music plays live from one corner of the room. The tables are covered in highly starched linen and the upholstered green chairs are extremely comfortable. There is a very adequate number of wait-staff who work very quietly, and are attentive without being intrusive.
The high tea on a weekend costs $65.00. If you’d like a glass of sparkling wine with your high tea the cost becomes $79.00 or $85.00 with a glass of champagne.
There is a gluten-free option for $65.00 and also an Asian-inspired option for $70.00. Children have not been forgotten and they can also enjoy a series of sandwiches, sweet treats and pikelets for $35.00.
Our high tea included the Australian sparkling although we may have had more than just one glass. Tea and coffee is included and the range of teas offered is extensive.
We started the high tea with a selection of sandwiches including rare roast beef, chicken and curried egg. The sandwiches were extremely fresh and for me, it was a shame there was just one of each to try. The savoury selection also included a bite-sized seafood tasting and a tiny goat’s cheese tart.
The scones were a generous size and broke open easily without the need of a knife. The centre was soft and light and these were delightful topped with strawberry jam and clotted cream.
The top tier of the high tea was a selection of sweet morsels including a lemon tart, a dark chocolate slice with nuts, and and apple tart.
I found the high tea experience very leisurely and relaxing. Sitting in a high-backed very comfortable upholstered chair while sipping sparkling wine, eating scones with jam and cream, looking out at the spectacular view, and all while listening to classical music being played on a grand piano was a thoroughly enjoyable and therapeutic way to spend an afternoon in the mountains.
If I have one observation to make regarding the high tea is that I would have preferred a few more savoury options. I realise this is a very traditional high tea and traditionally they do include more sweet options, however, for my palate, a few more ribbon sandwiches and perhaps a little quiche or a tomato tart would have been a lovely addition.
Verdict: A great experience
The Hydro Majestic: 52-88 Great Western Highway, Medlow Bath, NSW 2780
Ph: +612 4782 6885