Saturday, 12 October 2013

Experience something special...
My fondest childhood memories include many trips to our local tearoom with my favourite grandmother. I can still hear the chink of the silver teaspoons stirring sugar lumps into steaming hot tea poured from silver teapots, the hushed voices punctuated by laughter as friends and families exchanged stories over sandwiches and cakes, and the beautiful music playing quietly in the background.The highlight of this very special treat was always the arrival of the cake trolley creaking with an abundance of freshly baked cakes as it was wheeled over by kindly waitresses clad in black and white uniforms.

Well these precious memories were well and truly stirred on a recent visit to Gillian Wesley and the Catwalk Cafe in Knowle. This quaint business, sited in an old Victorian haberdashery shop, marries a fashion themed cafe with an in-house design studio and boutique.
This unique cafe, complete with sweeping red catwalk carpet, is just THE place to meet for coffee, catch up over lunch, or treat someone special to a divine afternoon tea.
Unfamiliar with Knowle, I investigated the website prior to my visit and was delighted to find six free car parks all within easy walking distance of the Catwalk Cafe.
Located just off the high street this unusual business was easy to identify by its corset image painted on the side of the cottage like building.

The shop windows were captivating with corset clad mannequins sporting skirts of cascading chiffon. Vintage... with a modern twist!
I bravely pushed open the shop door as an old fashioned tearoom bell announced my arrival. My hesitation was completely swept aside by a smiling waitress dressed in a traditional black and white uniform. Once inside the full impact of this jaw dropping venue hit me. The sweeping red catwalk carpet is complemented by vintage style black and white floor tiles. Exposed brickwork and vintage furniture complete the look.The cafe stood right infront of me, with an enticing boutique to the right.
The warm welcome continued as I was guided to my table and I immediately knew that this was going to be an enjoyable experience. I sat alongside what I can only describe as a Victorian style arcade shop. Peering through the glass into what must have been the original haberdashery shop, I could see a collection of wedding dresses that looked as if they had come straight off the set of Downton Abbey!

Something else caught my eye in the reflection of the glass... the cake trolley! Loaded with home baked cakes this extravaganza was a sight to behold! My eyes couldnʼt help butfollow it as it was wheeled from table to table. I noted with interest that it was even possible to have a little slice of everything! Oh boy!
I ordered a glass of Champagne and the daily special... Seafood Linguine, and continued to digest all that I saw around me.

A business meeting between two ladies was taking place on the table behind me. An elegant afternoon tea stood proudly in the centre of the table on a three tier cake stand. Mis matched vintage china and a silver teapot completed this very charming picture of British nostalgia.

The beautifully presented staff were discreetly attentive. I asked what type of customers frequented the Catwalk Cafe. “Anyone” the waitress said, “from couples, friends, family groups, business associates to groups of girls holding baby showers or upmarket pre wedding celebrations.We even hire the venue out on Sunday afternoons for Christenings and family gatherings”.
I should point out that whilst obviously being a popular choice for ladies, the men were well catered for too. At the time of my visit, several men, having no doubt secured considerable brownie points for their choice of lunch venue with their other halves, were now relaxing over a beer and the daily newspaper, while their ladies browsed the quirky boutique and gift shop. It struck me as the ultimate in stress free Christmas shopping!

At three oʼclock the background music and the black and white movies playing on the tv screen behind the counter were switched off, and a young lady dressed in forties attire stepped up to the microphone. An hour of 1940ʻs classics followed which was met by rapturous applause by those enjoying their afternoon teas. What a very special afternoon this was proving to be!

More questioning of the staff revealed that while the French trained chef produces all of the dishes and home baked cakes, upstairs in the studio seamstresses are creating unique one off Gillian Wesley designs to sell in the boutique.
As I poured my tea from the silver teapot into the vintage china cup, my thoughts returned to my grandmother and our weekly trips to the local tearoom. It struck me that this little gem of a business is the perfect antidote for those who are weary of our copycat high streets and manufactured or mass produced goods. I cannot wait to bring my own grandchildren here. I have a feeling that in fifty years time, people will be fondly reminiscing about happy times at the Catwalk Cafe...

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