Once upon a time there was a food technology teacher who dreamed of another life, a vintage kind of life spent making cakes and pouring tea into vintage, flowery china cups.
Well, some teachers make dreams come true, even for themselves. Carole Sharp opened the Exclusive Cake Shop and Vintage Tea Room in Midhurst followed by a replica in Chichester in 2015.
She’s cleverly roped in her university student daughter to help, their joint co-operation, term-time permitting, a generational impact of excellence in hospitality such is their appeal and work ethic.
The newest ‘branch’ is a tiny space at the top of the city’s North Street, a vision of über trowel-laden vintage tea room which many others take on and fail at because of lack of quality, not least just old-fashioned hospitality. This is a well-chosen fashion-led route which is often missed on many counts. Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth and other towns are awash with the genre, and mostly with a dubious outcome.
So how does this newest edition of the tried-and-tested fare?
First are the pastel colours, not only on the walls, teacups, saucers, curtains and tablecloths, but on the vast numbers of icings on cakes, cupcakes and slices. The counter offers a rainbow of cake-y choices.
The menu is equally large for such a tiny place with toasted sandwiches (breads by local top baker Hungry Guest); Coronation Chicken with rice and green salads; afternoon tea sandwiches (cucumber and cheese, roast chicken, houmous, egg and cress); Sussex Cream Tea at £5.50, Sweet Afternoon Tea (£9) or Cowdray with dainty sandwiches, scones, lemon meringue cupcake plus tea or coffee (£12). Fourteen types of cupcakes join Bakewell tart; chocolate éclairs and 17 teas including Ceylon and Assam. There are gluten-free choices too. All food is made in the larger Midhurst kitchens. Prices from £2.50.
Specials included an excellent warm croissant filled with roasted vegetables and oozy brie. This came with broad bean, lettuce, cherry tomato and coleslaw salads, an utterly moreish light lunch.
A splendid, warm, equally light lemon raspberry tart followed, the flavours beautifully balanced, showing a real pastry chef at work.
There is also terrific single estate Ceylon tea from Winchester’s Char company, its rich, golden flavour enhanced by the china tea cup, the loose tea brewed in, yes, a delicate china pot.
Many people have dreams but, without dedication, research, and an understanding of the art of hospitality – and a sixth sense of what works in our era – the dreamers perish.
It’s the opposite for Carole Sharp, a sharp woman with vision, service ethos, charm and flair. My bill came to less than £14.
Exclusive Cake Shop and Vintage Tea Rooms, 47 North Street, Chichester, PO19 1NF 01243 774127 Open from 9.30 – 5 pm Mon, Sat, Sun 10 – 4 pm.
Disabled access: small area downstairs, but steep stairs to main area.
How to get there: follow the A27 to Chichester then signs to the Chichester Festival Theatre, North Street off Northgate roundabout with large car park, the tea rooms near the top of the street.