Sunday 15 January 2012

An Art Deco Delight

I really love the idea of pop-up restaurants. The chance to visit someone's home and have them cook for you is exciting and definitely satisfies the nosey-parker in me. Although I'd only been to one pop-up afternoon tea before I have been keeping my eyes open for any others that looked appealing. Then, out of the blue, I got an email from my lovely friend B who told me about an Art Deco inspired tea party that her and her partner S were going to. Frankly, the words Art Deco and tea put together in a sentence are enough to make me go just about anywhere but when she told me it was in Peckham - just up the road from me - I was beyond excited.

When I first requested a couple of places for myself and Coffee Boy I was told we were too late; but I kept the date free in my diary just in case of any drop-outs. And in the final week I was rewarded! We were sent the address and told to dress up if we wanted to (we didn't as I don't really have anything appropriate) and I awaited the tea party with baited breath.

When Sunday afternoon rolled around we battled the idiosyncrasies of the London transport system (it was the weekend: of course the train that would have taken us there in 6 minutes wasn't working; so much more enjoyable to catch a bus that gets stuck in traffic and then walk for 20 minutes) and made our way to the splendid 1930s Pioneer Centre in Peckham. It's a really unusual set of apartment buildings that looks more like an office complex than a series of homes and during the course of our tea we found out why.

Our glamorous host Helena showed us the most fantastic film made in the 1940s about the centre, and The Peckham Experiment that took place there. It explained, in the most hilarious way, how it was designed as a health centre for "ordinary working people" in an attempt to study and improve their health. It had a faint whiff of eugenics about it but at its heart it was actually a fairly modern idea: exercise, happiness and illness prevention as a means to long-term health. As such the centre had various classes, clubs and a rather wonderful swimming pool which is still available for residents to use today: serious flat-envy alert!!

The tea party that we were at certainly didn't have too much to do with health or exercise (although we were offered a swim in vintage swimming costumes) but it had plenty to do with happiness. We started the afternoon with a glass of champagne mixed with a violet liqueur that I'd never had before. As I think I may have mentioned, violet creams are my absolute favourites (even the roll of Parma Violets my mum put in my Christmas stocking brought joy to my heart) so you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover this little tipple. Let's just say it won't be the last time it passes my lips... And then, the avalanche of deliciousness began.

We started with lovely little triangle sandwiches - all the faves were there, smoked salmon, cucumber, and some sort of meat for the meat-eating folk (sorry wasn't paying attention). And then, after our stomachs were prepared, the sweet-fest began. And what a sweet-fest it was. The cakes that Helena makes are absolutely divine. There was everything from chocolate loaves to a rich Dundee cake; the most divine meringues I think I've ever had; and a beautiful lemon gateaux. And on top of all of that were scones with jam and clotted cream and even more cakes and biscuits. It was completely overwhelming and delicious. There wasn't a single thing I ate that didn't make me want to go back for more.

The delicious food was only one aspect of what made the afternoon so enjoyable, though. I loved the way the room was set out with one larger dining table, a small table for two, and a couple of seating areas for two or three. It was so relaxed and although we had friends there it wouldn't have been the least bit stiff or intimidating if we hadn't. There were "waitresses" decked out in vintage clothes who were always on hand to make sure we had enough tea or cake, and Helena's partner played their wonderful grand piano for us. It all just felt so decadent and glorious and the fact that everything was served on beautiful vintage china certainly didn't hurt. But if you're thinking this sounds a bit too grand you couldn't be more wrong. Some people dressed up, and some didn't; some (like me) had loose leaf tea in a beautiful teapot, and some chose a nice strong cup of builder's; some people mingled and chatted with other people and some didn't. It was all so laid-back and fun.

In fact, everyone had such a smile of their face a few hours later when it was time to leave; no one was even moaning about the fact that they were going to have to face that very worst that London transport could throw as them - even our friends who had to make their way right across town to Chiswick. Of course, it could have been the fact we were all carrying away a little goody bag full of cakes that Helena had forced on us (okay, there was no real forcing involved) but I think it was largely because it had just been the most wonderful afternoon. And all for only £20: surely a bargain in any tea-aficionado's book.

Helena runs these tea parties regularly, each with a different theme and with the proceeds going to different charities. But on top of that she has her own cake making business; so if you need something for a special occasion that both tastes delicious and looks absolutely beautiful you should definitely check out her website.

First image The Peckham Experiment

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