Afternoon Tea at Melissa Leong’s House

Tea and cake with the Dessert Masters judge calls for sculptural blooms, fermented oolong and a bombolone worthy of long-term commitment. The food media trailblazer also shares her tips for foolproof baking and her favourite Melbourne pastries.

Published on 08 November 2023

Entertaining and catching up with friends are not things Melissa Leong’s superstar schedule always allows for, but she’s working on it. “I really do try to make the time – because I realised if I don’t make the time, I won’t find the time,” she tells Broadsheet over the phone, days before we visit her at home.

We’d have come over sooner, but Leong’s “Barbie Dream Starter Home” wasn’t guest-ready at the time of our first chat. “I would be mortified if people dropped over right now because there are books all over the sofa, the laundry’s hanging out, the floor probably needs a vacuum,” she says. “I know that my friends will tell me everything is perfectly fine. But, to me, it’s not quite right … Guests in my home deserve to see my home at its best.”

If you are lucky enough to be invited to Melissa Leong’s house for afternoon tea, three things will probably be true. The house will be immaculately clean (“I mean, classic Asian person”), there will be flowers on full display (“I am very florally obsessed”) and Leong will probably offer you a slice of her staple cake (“the easiest cake you’ll ever make”).

Melissa Leong at home | Photography: Hilary Walker. Styling: Heather Nette King

The “literally foolproof” recipe? Weigh out equal parts flour, butter, sugar and eggs. Cream the butter and the sugar. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Then pop it in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius until a skewer comes out clean. (Leong also recommends adding frozen berries, Nutella or jam to the batter – or anything else you might have lying around – before baking.)

“This is not an elegant thing. This is a delicious, soulful thing,” she says of the bake. “It is something that you don’t have to think about. And you could literally have a conversation with your friends while putting it all together.”


During our visit, Leong instead opts for an array of goodies from favourite local bakeries, all laid out on eclectic crockery atop her jade-green and black dining table.

Among the treats are petit gateau from Bibelot in South Melbourne and a lemon tart from Gareth Whitton’s Tarts Anon in Cremorne. “This kind of precision … everything about this is so pleasing,” Leong says while admiring a perfectly cut slice.

But the pastries that really get her waxing lyrical are the bomboloni from Daniel Chirico’s Baker D. Chirico. They’re the only food Leong allows herself the distinct pleasure of eating in the car whenever she’s picked one up from the Carlton bakery and can’t wait to drive home before tucking in.

“It’s the thing that I would consider marrying if that was an option,” she laughs. “It’s this almost impossibly light cloud of doughnut-like pastry that is encrusted in just the lightest amount of sugar – and inside it is a lemony custard that’s just sharp enough and just sweet enough and it lends every bite that generous richness that you expect from a great custard. It disappears and it becomes a dream in seconds.”

Leong’s rise to Aussie food media fame remains unprecedented. After running a food blog called Fooderati and working on cookbooks (including Dan Hong’s 2014 release Mr Hong and 2015’s The Great Australian Cookbook with Helen Greenwood) she co-hosted two seasons – or 116 episodes – of the SBS culinary competition show The Chefs’ Line.

Then came Masterchef Australia in 2020, where she was cast as part of a trio of then-new judges, alongside the late chef Jock Zonfrillo and season-four winner Andy Allen.

The reality cooking competition propelled Leong – the season’s undeniable breakout – into the Aussie media stratosphere. Three years later, she’s left the original format behind and is now host and judge of a new spin-off show, Dessert Masters, due to premiere on Channel 10 on Sunday November 12. In it, a cast of 10 professionals – including fan-favourite alum Reynold Poernomo, pastry chef Kay-Lene Tan and self-professed “chocolate queen” Kirsten Tibballs – compete for the Dessert Master title.

Helming the new show illustrates just how much Leong has solidified her place in the Aussie media landscape since her first Masterchef season aired – and how her broader cultural significance transcends the show.

She is an important figure among Asian Australians and a trailblazer in the industry.

Leong’s ability to speak frankly about what it means to be an Asian person in a predominantly white media industry has made her an icon, hero and “dream best friend” to many. But we also fell hard for Leong simply because of her approachable cool. (She’s the ultimate #relatablequeen, if you will.)

Right now, that queen is boiling a kettle in her warm minimalist kitchen. The gadget is neatly hidden in the pantry when not in use, but it’s time for tea. Leong says she prefers something with a little bit of fermentation, like oolong, but will match what she’s drinking with what’s on the table. Traditional French pastries demand an Earl Grey, for example. Instead of the delicate porcelain you might expect, tea is presented in a choice of hefty handcrafted mugs. Big and cosy, rather than elegant and petite.


In Leong’s eyes, if you’re entertaining, serving simple things you know how to do well is of as much benefit to you as a host as it is to your guests. “You want to enjoy the company of the people that you’re having over. You don’t want them to feel stressed that you’re faffing about and things haven’t turned out.”

Still, if Leong’s mates ever did have to wait out an extended period of faffing, they’d have plenty to look at in and around her dining space. Sculptural blooms from Fitzroy florist Flowers Vasette (“I think flowers really bring a sense of luxury and life into a home”) and an array of (chic, naturally) cat statues sit alongside pieces made by her creative friends.

One of these – a pearlescent blown-sugar rose that co-judge Amaury Guichon made on the set of Dessert Masters – sits delicately inside a bell jar, perched on a wallaby skull Leong collected while foraging in Canberra years ago.

“It takes pride of place because I loved working with Amaury. He’s become a really good mate and I think of it fondly,” she says. “It did, however, kind of fall off the skull at some point, so the petals aren’t as perfect as he would have them be! But I think therein lies the story of the fragility of beauty.”

Blown-sugar rose by Amaury Guichon

Somehow, these delicate tchotchkes survive being displayed in the same house as Ghost and Ghoul, the two cats Leong shares her home with. Ghost is named for the Swedish rock outfit, while Ghoul’s moniker comes from the Nameless Ghouls – the anonymous instrumentalists who accompany the band. Ghoul is a shy boy, Leong explains, but Ghost rules the kingdom. “This is his home. I’m just paying rent.”

Despite the new show and the media spotlight, Leong knows she has to make time for things that bring her joy. Whether that means a chunky mug of tea, a seductive bombolone, or entertaining and spending time with loved ones.

“I’ll block out free time or I’ll make an appointment to see someone, even if it’s a couple of weeks in advance,” Leong says. “I know there are so many memes about ‘I’m sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to be here’ or making appointments with close friends and then cancelling and everybody’s relieved. And I get that. But when I do keep appointments with friends, I never regret it.

“So I remind myself not to cancel things, as tired as I am. Being so lucky to have such amazing friends, they give me energy. I know that spending time with people who are important to me, that’s a gift to me as well."

Flowers and vases thanks to Flowers Vasette. Ceramics thanks to Kirsten Perry and Theodosius Ng from Craft Victoria and Robert Gordon Australia. Baked goods thanks to Tarts Anon, Baker D. Chirico, Monforte Viennoiserie and Bibelot.
This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.