Who doesn't love a good tea party?
Here at the Cyprus Mail, there's always something happening. But here's the thing: in such a fast-paced, 24/7 environment, we rarely get the chance to stop and chat. Until now, that is. Because for a brief moment on this otherwise mundane Thursday afternoon, the whole office has come together for the first time since I can remember. And it's all thanks to Louise Rance, founder of Ooh la la Vintage Tea Parties, who has managed the impossible… she's stopped the press.
Instead of heaving with press releases, faxes and page proofs, the tables in Reception are swathed in lace and linen; windows curtained in floral bunting, baskets of roses and hydrangeas scenting the air. It's as if we've stepped into a film set, a Downton Abbey tea party: a banquet of bakes, cakes and teas transforming our clinical front office into a fabulous forties' feast. Which means, long before Louise and daughter Izzy (who's lending a hand) have completed their capable preparations, every member of staff is standing, salivating, by the entrance.
By the time we're all tucking into slices of scrumptious lemon drizzle and the daintiest of cucumber sandwiches, Accounts are discussing weekend plans with Features. By the tea urn, hardened hacks are bonding with upper management over sporting ethics, and front office and back office are reaching middle ground over their love of homemade jam; the entire workforce, it seems, brought together by coffee walnut cake, cream scones and cupcakes. All washed down by copious amounts of Earl Grey -- served in the exquisite mismatched vintage china that was, I'm told, a large part of the inspiration behind Ooh la la.
"I've been in catering for quite some time," explains Louise, in between handing round elegant cups and saucers decorated with blush-pink rosebuds, Danish blue and willow pattern. "And I was helping a friend who does weddings in the Paphos area when the idea crept up on me. It wasn't a eureka moment as such, more a combination of circumstance and serendipity…"
Currently based in Limassol, Louise has lived most of her life on the island. But a two-year stint in the UK ("so cold! The weather -- it's hard to go back when you've been brought up in the Mediterranean") was, in many ways, the catalyst for Ooh la la: "My mother had a wonderful vintage shop in Folkestone which, a few years ago, she had to close. So I returned to the island with boxes of her beautiful china," -- a few breakages en route notwithstanding -- "and decided to put it to good use… I mean, who doesn't love a good tea party? Especially when it will come to you!" she laughs.
A lover of baking -- "not cooking, just baking all the yummy treats I myself adore" -- Louise started Ooh la la just over two years ago, sensing a gap in the market that could be filled by a quirky, quality mobile catering venture. So, coupling her skills in the kitchen with her organisational capabilities, she set out to build a name for her new business.
"The first thing I did was rent the church hall at St Barnabus in Limassol," she recalls. "I needed feedback, so I tried to get as many people as possible to attend. And that's how it began really: a once-a-month tea party. Sometimes there were only a few guests, at others quite a lot showed up. And then, through word of mouth, my clientele started to grow…"
Willing to travel anywhere on the island, Louise has found her novel venture greatly in demand: "lots of baby showers and birthdays for the most part." And while she's frequently on call for garden parties and girly get-togethers, we're all surprised to hear that this is her first corporate event.
"It's such a great idea for offices!" enthuses our editor, as she pounces on the sole remaining scone (pronouncing it "a proper scone -- just like my Mum made, with clotted cream and homemade jam!"). "Not only have we had some of the best cakes I've ever tasted, but it's given us something completely different from the standard celebratory fare: I mean, for office birthdays or leaving dos, no-one's going to stand round a cheese pie and chat, are they? And we're usually so busy; a quick break like this is the perfect antidote to the stresses of the job. In fact, I think every company should have an afternoon tea party at least once a month!" she nods, heading back to her office balancing cup, saucer and laden plate with the dexterity of a constant multi-tasker.
The other staff agree; one even booking Louise on the spot for his anniversary do, so impressed is he by the ease and efficiency with which she's provided such excellent edibles: "It's much simpler than caterers, with their endless decisions and menus and fuss. This is definitely the way forward for private parties." And he's right: all it took to arrange this glorious event was a brief phone call. The setting up took less than an hour and the venue will be left, I'm assured, exactly as it was found. With the exception, that is, of the staff…
We end the afternoon calmer, rounder, and vastly more companionable towards, not only each other, but the entire world (an impact you probably felt in our Friday paper!). Well, just feast your eyes on the photos… wouldn't you feel utterly blissful after such a repast? Let's hope the editor's serious about going Ooh la la every month!
Ooh la laVintage Tea Parties provides the perfect pop-up afternoon tea experience for between 10 and 50 guests. The party lasts approximately two hours (with an hour for preparation and clean-up) and can be set up anywhere you wish. For more information, visit www.oohlalalimassol.com or the Facebook page 'Ooh la la Vintage Tea Parties', email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Louise directly on 97 689062
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