Pop-up tearooms: secret events
Catherine hosts relaxed and intimate afternoon tea for small groups of people at her home in Nottinghamshire
Catherine Swift runs My Secret Tearoom from her home in Nottinghamshire. As the name suggests, the underground nature of her events is key, with partygoers discovering the location only after they have booked. Theres no phone number on the website; all enquiries are via e-mail, Catherine explains. Even her identity is secret: Catherine Swift is actually her grandmothers name. It adds to the mystery, she explains. Most people like and respect the clandestine nature of it. I dont make them sign the official secrets act when they leave!
A passionate baker, Catherine began hosting tea parties in May 2011 and now typically holds one a week, except during the summer holidays, when her daughters are at home. In common with many other underground tearooms, Catherines allows her to flex her culinary muscles, without the responsibility of running a business. I considered offering cream teas from my home, she says, but there arent enough passers-by to sustain a full-time café. Plus, this way, Catherine stays in control. I know exactly how many people are coming, she says. If theres no booking, theres no baking!
Although she contacted a local magazine to publicise her first party, Catherine now relies on word of mouth. She caters for groups of six friends, who are invited to pay £17-£20 each. Its a guideline, she says. What they pay should reflect their enjoyment. She uses local ingredients, including beef from herds reared in the fields around her home for the sandwiches, then guests enjoy a warm tartlet or, in winter, a shot of soup with some feta and herb loaf. Teacups are then refilled before the cakes come out. Mini Victoria sponges are always popular, Catherine says. My granny, who was a great baker, used to serve these, too.
Catherine sees her role as providing a relaxed, intimate event. I might chat with customers initially, then I dont get involved, she says. She focuses instead on brilliant baking and immaculate presentation, with the table set with a white cloth and antique china, including pieces from her great grandparents tea service. To guarantee success, though, Catherine believes every underground tearoom must have a unique quality. Mine is the location, she says. Im in a hamlet of 13 houses and it means people can leave their busy lives behind and relax with friends in a calm, tranquil environment. I love to see how much they enjoy being here it makes me feel proud.
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