Vintage Afternoon Teas, Bowdon

PUBLISHED: 15:14 13 October 2014 | UPDATED: 15:14 13 October 2014

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Who can resist watching the contestants bake under pressure on Great British Bake Off? Indeed, eight million of us are already avid viewers after the first episode aired on BBC1 in August.

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It’s something Gwyneth Brock has known the appeal of since she set up her Vintage Afternoon Teas business in Bowdon three years ago.

“The focus is on a traditional afternoon tea, all homemade, served on vintage china and table linens. Some of the guests wear vintage, others just come as they are. We pride ourselves on a warm Cheshire welcome,’ says Gwyneth.

It seems that Bake Off is responsible for the resurgence of the Great British Afternoon Tea. Gwyneth agrees: “So many people are baking and watching Bake Off; a lot of people who come to my teas are bakers and that ups the ante…but sometimes people have been inspired to have a go and realises some of the things are not quite as simple as they look!”

One nice twist to Gwyneth’s approach is that guests don’t know the exact location of her 18th century home in Bowdon until 48 hours before the event; then they are welcomed in to enjoy sandwiches, homemade cakes, gateaux and tarts.

Gwyneth’s teas attract afternoon tea afficionados, groups of mums and friends, Manchester foodies, single people and others who simply love eating in people’s homes – something Gwyneth refers to as the ‘Come Dine With Me’ effect! She’s found that many people still like the traditional cakes like Battenburg and Victoria Sponge, although she puts her own twist on them, for example creating a lemon Victoria Sponge with homemade lemon curd. The guests, up to 20 at any one sitting, then leave with a doggy bag, much to Gwyneth’s children’s consternation, as she says they are always on the lookout for leftovers.

She likes to inject a bit of fun into the tea parties and recently put her collection of vintage china to good effect by holding a 1970’s themed party, but with a twenty-first century spin. “It was a hoot!” she says. “Instead of things like cheese and pineapple on sticks I did cheddar cheese sandwiches and pineapple chutney, that sort of thing.” She’s also done a strawberry afternoon tea to coincide with Wimbledon, a vegan/vegetarian party and often holds craft events where people can sew and then eat delicious cakes afterwards.

Gwyneth’s business happened by sheer accident after she left her management job to spend more time with her three children. “I did an afternoon tea for a school auction and it was a lightbulb moment,” she explains. “I have always baked since I was young so I got some business cards and it took off from there.” She had also eaten quite a few afternoon teas by then but never come across the idea of a secret tea room so decided it would be nice to offer guests something a little different. Gwyneth’s growing reputation led to the opportunity to appear with Patissier to the stars, Eric Lanlard, on his TV show ‘Baking Mad’, where he selected her lemon, almond and pistachio cake as the winner, which led to a masterclass with the celebrity chef. Now her recipe for that cake is set to appear in a new book, Secret Tea Parties.

So after spending her days making cake does she still enjoy eating it? “I do still eat cake, but rarely...I now often eat cheese instead!”

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