It all began when I was looking at old vegetarian cookbooks online and discovered a Vintage Cookbooks store at Kallista in the Dandenong Ranges. This is the edge of the other side of Melbourne for us but a pretty tourist destination with cosy tea rooms and impressive bush scenery. So E and I decided to make a day of it. When I told my sister Fran, she said there is a shop with hundreds of types of tea we should visit.
A quick search on the internet turned up Miss Marple’s Tea Room. Not Fran’s tea shop but right up E’s alley. Let me explain. Both his parents are ex-librarians and have read every crime novel and watched every crime television show that has ever existed. Honestly! Agatha Christie’s detective, Miss Marple, is almost like a family friend. So although E’s folks live too far away to take them along, we had to visit.
We arrived in the small town of Sassafras at 12.45 and decided we would lunch at Miss Marple’s first. We were told there was a 45 minute wait. There are lots of little shops selling soaps, candles, teatowels, toys and gifts so we were happy to browse. We were less pleased to get back to Miss Marple’s and wait another half hour before being seated. But the service and the food were so good that we didn’t mind. This is just as well because I got the impression they are used to people waiting. Besides, the wait gave us time to take in the tea room’s charms.
Miss Marple’s is a quaint little timber-framed cottage that looks like it would be more at home in ye olde English village than in the middle of the Australia bush. Inside it feels exactly like a small village tea room. Small windows are hung with frilly curtains, the timber frames can be seen inside, a fire burns in the large fireplace and flowery tablecloths cover the tables. The sort of place you would take your great-aunt. Actually a few of the diners looked like extras off an Agatha Christie movie.
The waitresses are friendly and attentive. They fit right into the period drama with their long black dresses and white bib aprons. While we waited we marvelled at the food they carried to the tables, especially the magnificent sundaes. On the walls are black and white photos from the 1960s Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford. Of course, there are some Agatha Christie paperbacks on display but most of the shelves are dedicated to an amazing collection of teapots.
While we had strolled around Sassafras we had spotted a few Christmas displays. The friendly man in Bluestone Candles had explained that Sassafras celebrated Christmas in July all month long. Miss Marple’s really got into the spirit. Carols played and the ceiling beams were hung with large wreaths of holly and pinecones. Stockings even hung from the fireplace just in case St Nick made an appearance.
Even the menu had yuletide specials. The food is not fancy nor terribly expensive. It is mainly soup, cheese on toast, pies, cakes and Devonshire teas. But it is good quality and is served with style. I found there were enough vegetarian options to keep me happy: pasties, ploughman’s lunch, welsh rarebit, cauliflower soup. E chose the festive fingers for his lunch – toast fingers with turkey, cranberry and melted cheese. With an eye to the dessert menu, I had the ploughman’s lunch.
My ploughman’s lunch came piled on a huge plate. There were two chunks of mature cheese – one yellow and one orange – which crumbled at the touch of a knife but melted in the mouth. Beside these were two fresh white bread rolls. In the middles was a small bowl of pickles and olives and a smaller dish of Branston-style pickle. Surrounding it was a forest of salad – tomatoes, cucumber, shavings of carrot, alfalfa sprouts and masses of lettuce. My complaints are really a matter of personal taste – I am not a huge fan of white bread or lettuce. But I did enjoy my lunch and E was pleased to have a bit of my salad with his festive fingers which had him swooning.
Most importantly, I had room for dessert. I had already decided on Christmas Pudding with brandy custard. E swithered between Mr Stringer’s Sticky Toffee Pudding and the Vicar’s Folly but he went with the pudding. The Christmas pudding was pleasingly dark and rich. I liked the festive plate it was served on which revealed a picture of St Nick himself as I mopped up the pool of custard. I didn’t quite finish mine and nor did E but we were both very satisfied.
On the way back to the car we visited the next door shop called Tea Leaves which had over 300 varieties of tea, as well as many coffees, mugs, tea pots and other tea paraphernalia. No doubt, this is the place Fran had originally mentioned. We were tempted but didn’t buy. Unlike Vintage Books in Kallista which had a fine range of older cookbooks and a friendly manager who keeps a good stock of vegetarian books. Next time we are passing, we will be sure to drop in.
Miss Marple's Tea Room
382 Mt. Dandenong-Tourist Road
Sassafras Victoria 3787
(Melways Reference: 66F9)
Telephone: (03) 9755-1610
Facsimile: (03) 9755-3601
Open 11am – 4.30pm every day