When Ann Parsons from South Oxfordshire first heard about the underground tea rooms that were popping up all over the UK, she knew she was more than qualified to open one of her own.

Having been made redundant recently, Pam was confident that a venture such as this would prove the perfect way to continue using her considerable cooking skills and add a much-needed challenge to her life.

The secret underground dining movement differs from pop-up restaurants in that they are usually staged by budding foodies, such as Ann, at a secret location which is only revealed to those who have booked a place. Pop-up restaurants, on the other hand, do just that, they spontaneously ‘pop up’ for a limited period of time, are often run by professionals who stage them in empty shop premises, warehouses and other public spaces. Their location is certainly not secret.

The attraction of these underground dining experiences is that customers get a chance to sample delicious home-cooked foods, often at a low cost, and can bring their own wine to lunch and dinner events, which is a considerable saving. These events have grown so much in popularity that you can now find social networks dedicated entirely to underground dining. Ann’s venture begins on Saturday when she will transform her conservatory into The Secret Teapot Tea Rooms and open it to visitors who will be served afternoon tea with all the trimmings. Her guests will have been informed of the event after visiting her website, www.thesecretteapot.co.uk, where she operates under the pseudonym of Vicky Sponge. You will find mention of her forthcoming events on Facebook too, though she also relies on word of mouth. Ann’s tea menu will begin with a glass of a home-made elderflower cordial to cleanse the palate, followed by dainty little savouries and finger sandwiches, home-made scones, jam and cream, then loads of simply scrumptious creamy cakes and oodles of tea or coffee. She might even include buttered slices of ginger bread (see recipe, left).

As her tea will all be served on delicate vintage china, she is confident that it will equal teas being served in the top hotels.

All the food will have been freshly prepared in Ann’s kitchen, which has been inspected and found legally compliant by an environmental health officer from the South Oxfordshire food and safety team. She says she has always loved baking and feeding people. “I find cooking a real joy. I don’t understand people who don’t like cooking. I did think of opening a secret tea room some time again. It was being made redundant that eventually pushed me to have a go, particularly as I knew I had enough space in the conservatory to serve a dozen people.”

One of the fun things about an event like this is that participants will probably meet as strangers and leave as friends. Being a convivial host is essential — if Ann is slightly nervous or ill at ease her guests will be too. She must not be too precious about it all and extend a real welcome to all her guests. Ann must also remember that whilst she may know a few of her first guests, they are coming as customers.

This means they could make unexpected demands on her service, so a professional approach is necessary. This shouldn’t prove a problem as Ann has worked in the catering trade all her life and loves meeting people. This was something she missed when she lost her job.

One of the secrets of serving a meal such as this is not to be too ambitious, or attempt dishes that you have never cooked before, particularly if you are serving an evening meal. Serving food without delay is essential. Guests do not want to hear the host struggling with pots and pans in the kitchen while facing an empty plate. Practice is necessary if you are not used to catering for reasonably large numbers. Finding somewhere to store the cooked food is essential too. Domestic kitchens do not always allow enough space to store several large cakes. Ann will solve this problem by laying them out on a little hostess trolley and the sideboard.

You must also cater for all tastes, which is why Ann is serving savouries and sandwiches as well as scrumptious creamy cakes and sweet biscuits.

What one pays for the privilege of sitting at Ann’s table is up to you; that is the joy of a secret venue. No price is ever set. She will suggest a price, but will leave her visitors to decide exactly what they want to pay, which means she has to adopt a professional approach to her costings. If you would like to learn more about The Secret Teapot you can go to Ann’s website: www.thesecretteapot.co.uk or you can meet Ann at the Thame Food Festival which takes place at Thame town centre, Saturday September 29, from 9am to 5pm.

Some of the dates for the Thames Valley Farmers’ Markets mentioned last week were incorrect. The correct dates are: Abingdon, July 20; Chipping Norton’ July 21; Witney, July 27 and Woodstock, August 4.