Queen of High Tea4 November 2013
When I was invited to high tea at the Shangri-La, Sydney, I couldn’t say no. To sweeten the deal (pun intended), it was high tea by pastry chef Anna Polyviou. Anna and I met a while ago through social media. Our mutual affinity for each other was fuelled by the fact that I have a weakness for sweet treats and hers was Asian food. It’s a match made in heaven.
In the wake of MasterChef and the Zumbo-era, the (sugar) rush for elaborate desserts is palpable. So when there was an opportunity to sample Anna’s desserts, my sugar sense tingled with anticipation.
Back in the days where her only interest was flashing lights at dance clubs, Anna kick started her career at Hotel Sofitel Melbourne. When she was thrown into a competition in pastry, her competitive spirit made sure she learnt all she knew about pastry. The more she got involved, the more she loved it. Through her cooking career, she had the chance to work with the godfather of macarons, Pierre Herme. She has also worked at Claridges Hotel in London and is the founder of the Sydney Pastry Club. Her new kitchen is now at the Shangri-La, Sydney.
Extensive resume aside, Anna is down to earth and has a wicked personality. With a smile that could light up a room, bleached Mohawk, lip and nose piercing, it is difficult not to pick her out from the crowd. Anna’s philosophy with her desserts is to create a playful dish giving the patron a lasting impression of her creations, long after they’ve been consumed. As a tip to home bakers, she also suggest the use of seasonal Australian fruit to break down the sweetness of the dessert, or herbs to add colour and freshness.
As I dived into the Tropical Shot of passionfruit posset, mango gel, tropical popping pearls and micro basil, Anna was fussing about with the plating of her dish. The eternal perfectionist in her cannot help but criticise her own work. “When I plate up, I always look at the glassware and colour”, she says. “25% of the palette is enhanced by what we see.” She’s not wrong. Her French vanilla and rosewater mousseline macaron with a rose petal looks so good, it’s hard to resist.
“I like to stand out from the rest and that doesn’t mean creating things that are complex”. Anna likes to play with the classics and turn them into modern dishes. Her milk and milo éclair is a good example. These miniaturised golden choux pastry is filled with smooth milk and milo Chantilly.
I’ve always believed that desserts should be showstoppers, a chance to show off your skills. Anna takes it to the next level by showing off different techniques in her dishes. Her signature, Tropic-anna is a textural delight, consisting of Malibu crème, coconut biscuit crunch and tropical compote.
At the end of the session, we were well into our sugar coma. Passers-by were gawking with either judgment or envy. Being the eternal feeder, Anna’s asked if we wanted more. We resisted. I walked away, promising her dinner at my place next.
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Photo Credit: Brian Long