Vicki's brewing up a perfect vintage cup
THE only way to enjoy a good cuppa is in a china cup, according to Vicki Parks, whose extensive collection of china is finally being used for the purpose it was designed.
Having enjoyed a successful career as a singing teacher in London for the last 10 years, Vicki has returned to her Exeter roots to open a vintage tea room. The Hidden Treasure Tea Room opened in July, and the premises in New Bridge Street – at the bottom of Fore Street next to Otto Retro – is unrecognisable from the curtain shop that previously stood there.
Vicki has used her love of all things vintage to create a tea room that not only looks beautiful and authentic, but is also inviting and relaxed.
Much of what is either on show or is being used to serve her delicious teas, coffees, cakes and lunches, has been built up from years of trawling through second hand shops, fairs and markets.
The decision to bring a vintage tea room to Exeter was obvious to Vicki because not only was the city her home until she was a teenager, it has also witnessed a vintage boom with many shops offering nostalgic clothing, good and services.
"I'm not a very modern person," laughs Vicki. "I like the idea of things having a second life and I've always shopped in second-hand shops or markets. I'm a right magpie!
"I find it such a shame when people buy something new, have something for a while and then put it in the bin. It's desperately sad when there's so many treasures that already exist.
"What's nice is to get those 'treasures' out and use them. I meet a lot of people who have china like I use in the cafe but they say they are afraid to use their own as it's so special.
"People comment that they like seeing my china out and used for its original purpose. It brings back a lot of good memories for people such as when they used to have tea at their grandmother's house on a Sunday afternoon.
"The china I use started off as a personal collection as I like tea from a china cup. People then began asking to borrow things so I realised it was worth having a larger collection.
"I have one or two pieces I wouldn't put in the tea room because I want to save them for my house, but the rest gets used.
"I just find china so beautiful and even at the end of the day when I'm tired and stood at the sink deep to the elbow in washing up, I still enjoy looking at how pretty it is.
"And I'm not the only one because I recently had a couple come in who were having a tattoo done nearby and they wanted to look at my tea cups for inspiration for their tattoo design!"
The idea of turning her love of vintage into a career came to Vicki when she was living in Brixton, London.
Vicki recalls: "For a long time I was a singer and actress and organised various parties and special events from my house, but after a while it started getting too big for my home.
"People kept saying I should start selling tickets or do events at other places, or I'd get asked if I was available to do things for weddings. That's how it began.
"There is so much going on in Exeter in terms of vintage things, but the one thing it was lacking was an old-fashioned tea room. It seemed a natural progression, especially as I was selling cakes at vintage events."
The perfect venue ended up being in New Bridge Street and its name The Hidden Treasure Tearoom couldn't be more fitting.
It serves a selection of high quality loose leaf teas as well as locally roasted organic Fairtrade coffee, and iced tea and coffee.
Its menu of light lunches changes every day and includes specials like soup, a cheese board, and quiches. There is also a separate cake menu which also regularly changes.
In keeping with the vintage theme, everything is made on the premises – except the bread – and, where possible, ingredients are sourced locally. Even Vicki's mum's allotment and garden gets regularly raided.
"The fig, apple and ginger chutney is made 500 metres from here by a friend who is a chef," reveals Vicki. "Our jam is homemade by my mum using blackcurrants from her allotment. We offer cheese, olive and rosemary scones to give people a savoury choice.
"The rosemary we use is grown in my mum's garden!"
Returning to Exeter means Vicki now gets to enjoy living closer to her family again, but she hasn't completely left her old life behind.
A nod to Vicki's musical past is reflected in the interior which includes a piano. Far too busy to tinkle the ivories herself, a gentlemen plays in the tea room every Sunday afternoon.
"I hope to provide lots more entertainment in the tea room, but that's phase two," explains Vicki. "My long-term vision is to host ticketed events with different music and themes because that's my background.
"We're already getting a lot of bookings for private parties. Although we're not licensed, people can bring their own alcohol."
Since opening the tea rooms, Vicki says she has enjoyed welcoming and meeting people from all different walks of lives.
"It's so lovely the range of people we get in here who tell me their stories and ask about what I'm doing," says Vicki. "It's a relaxed environment, rather than stuffy and formal like some tea rooms can be. Everyone comes in and smiles because it's so relaxed.
"I love it when people come in and sit down with their cuppa for an hour and have a chat, rather than leaving after 30 seconds with a paper cup in their hand."
The Hidden Treasure Tearoom is open Tuesday to Friday, noon to 7pm, Saturday from 11am to 6pm, and Sunday from 11am to 4pm. For more details visit www.hiddentreasure.biz