When afternoon tea is in full flight under the lofty ceiling of The Charles, it’s a beautiful sight. A trolley roams the room, groaning with cakes, chocolate and macarons, and guests sip artisan tea from fine china as they load up scones with preserves and cream. In many ways, The Charles offers a very traditional take on the afternoon tea, a concept masterminded in the mid-19th century by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, who would get peckish between lunch and her 8pm dinner. But in other ways, what head pastry chef Rhiann Mead and her team is doing is quite radical.

First, let’s backtrack – here in Australia we typically call this meal ‘high tea’. Yet in the UK, this betwixt-lunch-and-dinner feast is known as ‘afternoon tea’. So, what’s the difference? Traditionally, high tea was what the working classes in England might call dinner or supper (and it’s not unusual for many Australians to have grown up calling this meal ‘tea’). It was a filling meal of meat, carbs and, yes, tea, served after a long day of work. Still, scones, sandwiches and cakes scream ‘high tea’ to many down under.

“We didn’t want to restrict ourselves to the limited options of a standard high tea menu,” Mead says of The Charles’ decision to call the service afternoon tea. “Being a European brasserie, we have a much broader range to choose from, and we wanted the menu to reflect that.”

And Mead’s menu has a few items one definitely wouldn’t have seen on a Victorian-era high tea stand: unique takes on Kit-Kats, gummy bears and chocolate Flakes. “They’re beautifully refined and elegant, but also bring a sense of nostalgia,” she says. “They’re something you’d never see on an afternoon tea menu elsewhere.”

You probably also wouldn’t catch The Charles’ truly impressive honey cake on any other afternoon tea menus: it involves layer after layer (28 in total) of dulce de leche and honeycomb cake, making a spectacular crown for the dessert trolley.

Speaking of the dessert trolley: it’s a flourish you won’t see at any other afternoon (or high) tea in Sydney. It comes by each table after they’re served their scones and savouries, with diners invited to select from a bounty of sweets: the honey cake, tiramisu tarte, chocolates and macarons.

Some traditions, though, are never worth overthrowing. “You can’t have afternoon tea without scones!” says Mead, whose team bakes the classic every day. She also offers a practical answer to that old-age question: does the jam go first, or the cream?

“I’m a jam-first girl,” she says. “A scone will absorb more jam than it will cream, so it makes sense to do it in that order if you want to maximise your toppings!”

Afternoon Tea is available 12-5pm, 7 Days a week in The Charles Brasserie. Visit www.thecharles.sydney for more information

“Brandy is any spirit made from a distilled wine, but not all brandy is Cognac,” says Alex Zanarini, brand ambassador for Hennessy, one of the world’s leading Cognac producers. “This is because of appellation – just as Champagne must come from the Champagne region, Cognac must come from the Cognac region in France. Not only must the grapes (the ugni-blanc varietal) be grown here, but the Cognac must be distilled twice in copper stills and aged for a minimum of two years in French oak from the forests of Troncais or Limousin.”

For a long time, this variety of brandy, made from distilled white wine grapes, has been misunderstood (despite constant shoutouts from rappers like Jay Z and Busta Rhymes) – from how it’s produced to how to drink it. An upcoming collaborative dinner at The Charles with Hennessy will break down the barriers to drinking this old-world spirit, making it more approachable and proving that it can pair as brilliantly with food as any other beverage.

Guests will be served a Hennessy Cognac-based cocktail and tastings of four Hennessy Cognacs – including a rare make only available in certain airports. Perhaps most excitingly, Hennessy Paradis – one of the world’s rarest Cognacs – will also be on the pour. Each Cognac will be paired with a dish designed by The Charles’ executive chef Billy Hannigan.

“Pairing food and Cognac is a lost art that we are hoping to revive with dinners like these,” says Zanarini, who will host a presentation during the dinner to give diners a better grounding in this grape-based drink. “Dating back to the days of King George IV [the 18th and 19th centuries] it was quite common to enjoy Hennessy before, during and after meals. These days, a popular pairing is XO Cognac with desserts, as the chocolate notes and long finish match so effortlessly with petits fours. The subtle spice in XO and VSOP work well with rich meats such as duck, pate and charcuterie, while younger Cognacs are the perfect companion for cheeses.”

If you can’t make it to the dinner, Zanarini and Etymon’s Director of Bars Jonothan Carr have a few tips for enjoying this classic spirit at home or at a bar.

Zanarini reckons Cognac will go well in your favourite cocktail (for example, it’ll add depth and nuance to an espresso martini) or simply with ginger ale and fresh lime for something light and breezy.

“I love to make a sidecar cocktail with Hennessy VSOP or enjoy it neat, as it is very well balanced and light on the palate. Such an approachable style is great for enjoying with food,” he says.

Meanwhile, Carr says you should tweak how you serve your Cognac depending on its age.

“A VS Cognac [aged a minimum of two years] is wonderful in cocktails, VSOP [aged for a minimum of four years] and up you would be wanting to savour the unique flavours, so ice or neat is suggested. However, go wild, I’m sure an XO Cognac old fashioned would be delicious. I may need to make one soon to test the theory.”

The Charles Hennessy Cognac Dinner is on Thursday 3rd of August at 6:30pm. Join us for an extraordinary evening of dining and exceptional cognac pairings, celebrating the artistry of culinary craftsmanship and the unparalleled excellence of Hennessy Cognacs – Find out more