I could hardly believe it when I realised that it has been a whole year since the launch of Chez Shamwari. It’s been a wonderful twelve months and a little celebratory birthday party to acknowledge this landmark was in order. So it was with much excitement I scheduled and prepared for a very special afternoon tea on Sunday 1 July for my guests.
But before more detail on the said birthday party, how has the past year been?
Well, it’s been everything I had hoped and more. I’ve met some lovely people and have had the opportunity to while away the hours in my kitchen preparing and experimenting with lots of delicious food. Each event has been a memorable occasion for me from putting the menus together to advertising the event and delivering the goods to the table. I’ve loved welcoming everyone into my home and ensuring that they’ve left feeling ‘richer’ for the experience and hospitality at Chez Shamwari.
I’ve delivered a combination of lunches and afternoon teas and have no particular preference for doing either. They both are both equally enjoyable and challenging to present. An afternoon tea looks simple enough but because of the number of items on the menu, it is very time consuming to put together. A lunch on the other hand doesn’t have so many items on the menu so preparation (generally!) tends to be less time consuming.
I started out theming my menus such as ‘A Taste of South Africa’ and ‘A Taste of Christmas’ but have most recently rather gone with menus with no particular theme but where the food items still complement each other. I also did one gluten free afternoon tea which was so enjoyable and rewarding – for one of my guests, since being diagnosed in 1992 with coeliac disease, this was her first afternoon tea.
I’ve certainly learnt a great deal since the first ‘dress rehearsal’ event I had with a group of very willing and understanding friends a year ago. I initially was doing most, if not all, my events on a Saturday. I soon found this to be too much whilst working in a full time job as I would be up till all hours of Friday night (and morning) preparing for the next day. It was all a bit too much. So I made a conscious decision that, whilst still working fulltime, I would only be able to do events on a Sunday. This has proved a good decision as I was able to take as much time as needed on the Saturday to prepare everything to the exacting standards I required.
I’ve made adjustments to the booking process too. Initially I was using a third party reservation website to facilitate this but soon realised that this wasn’t necessary and I now manage all the bookings myself. It means it’s all just a bit more personal. Also, using feedback from my guests, I’ve learnt what people like to see on the menu and what will give them a very unique, enjoyable and memorable experience.
And so on to the first year celebrations. I very much wanted to ensure my guests experienced something special on 1 July, putting into practise all that I had learnt. The guest list included someone who, on a previous visit, had said to me “I’m not going to any more tea rooms; I’m only going to come back here”! All the other guests on this occasion were visiting for the first time. As on every other occasion, the conversation and laughter flowed as easily as the tea being poured from the very first moment. What has touched me throughout this past year is seeing complete strangers so enjoying each other’s company at my table as if they had known each other for years. I have strived to ensure everyone has felt welcome and relaxed in my home and this has been validated in seeing my guests enjoying themselves so much and being reluctant to leave at the end of the afternoon.
I had a few dietary requirements to consider for my guests which was not a problem. The same level of planning and attention to detail went into the menu as usual.
To start with, the savouries were sundried tomato, feta & olive filo parcels and caramelised onion tortilla. There was also a selection of finger sandwiches on white and brown bread from my local bakery: homemade hummus & carrot, cucumber, and tuna & dill & lemon mayonnaise.
Then the pièce de resistance was the birthday cake (complete with candle!): courgette, lemon & lime cake decorated with roasted pistachios.
After the birthday party, I received the following feedback from some of my guests which sums up all the other comments I’ve received this past year:
“The food was delicious and the company warm and friendly. A lovely time all round.”
“Thank you so much for a lovely afternoon tea. Your food was amazing and so enjoyable, your home is beautiful and the company super! You are an inspiration and I will be sure to visit again.”
“I just wanted to say a huge thank you for today. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and left feeling quite euphoric! The food you served was absolutely delicious; I especially enjoyed the filo pastry parcels and the courgette cake. It was a great pleasure to spend time in your home – I found you to be quite an inspiration … Your other guests were also a delight to be with.”
“Thank you very much for today’s Chez Shamwari. Food and company were both great and a lot of effort had clearly gone into the event. It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Hopefully I shall be attending another!”
If the past year is anything to go by, I look forward to more of the same and have every intention of continuing. Recent events will enable me to extend the unique experience that is Chez Shamwari. Saltaire’s best kept secret … but maybe a secret for not much longer …