Favourite table: Leanne Wickham

Leanne Wickham with the three-tiered plate at Petone's Sweet Pea.
Leanne Wickham with the three-tiered plate at Petone's Sweet Pea.

Dowse curator of programmes and events Leanne Wickham on Petone's Sweet Pea cafe:

Sweet Pea is very sweet, the whole place. It's a traditional high tea establishment and it's all done up very prettily, very 1950s. The waitresses have vintage hair and vintage aprons and even the old makeup with bright lipstick. They're always like that, just lovely. I don't know their names. I kind of discovered Sweet Pea looking for a place to take three generations of family members, four to 65. A friend suggested Sweet Pea and it was just so lovely with a sense of formality and an old-fashioned sense of occasion, but a relaxed atmosphere, too. You feel at home. The food and service are just lovely, the ladies doing the serving with their lovely aprons.

Sweet Pea is so beautiful inside. The lights are made of jam jars and they always have lovely flowers. The first thing you do is to choose tea from a tea menu - I don't know how many kinds but more than 20, from Ceylon tea to fun teas with beautiful names. It comes with a three-tiered plate you share, with savories on the bottom, things like little sandwiches and asparagus rolls, and little toasts with pate and horseradish sauce, all very lovely. On the next tier you get scones and jam and cream and on the top one beautiful sweets, like custard tarts and very sweet things. It's all a meal in itself. I never go out hungry. You feel you're being pampered. As part of it you get a cupcake as well, lots of different ones. They decorate them so imaginatively. If you can't eat it you get to take it home.

Sometimes I go with my daughter. She's nine and she loves it. I don't take my 11-year-old son. He wouldn't sit still long enough. My husband hasn't been yet, but he wants to. We recently had a milestone birthday and tried to reproduce the Sweet Pea experience in our own home. Our house is a replica of Plimmer House in Bolton St, so appropriate for a sort of Edwardian, turn of the century experience. We created a high tea environment for a day with cupcakes, and I got my friends to bring their teacups over. My husband did cold duck pate from ducks from home. Everyone went home really full. It wasn't as good as Sweet Pea.

I think tea's very fashionable these days. Apparently in Britain tea is second only to beer.

I was talking to a colleague here wondering why I like Sweet Pea and I think partly because it has a relationship to my role as a curator. There's an intersection between formal proceedings and creativity and that sense of giving someone an experience. An exhibition takes someone to a new place. At the moment we have Arcade, the video exhibition and Play, the design show, is coming up. The elements are the same, you're creating an experience. Arcade transports you to a different place. I love the way Sweet Pea transports you to a different place and time.

I've enjoyed baby showers and birthdays there. I don't go every week. I'm not a person who eats out a lot. We live in the Akatarawas so going out is for special occasions. I suppose I've been there about six times in the past year. They've only been there about a year. You do have to book for high tea but you can pop in any time for a cupcake and tea. I've been there for morning tea or at lunchtime or later on for a glass of bubbles and a cupcake.

It's my most recent favourite place for a memorable eating experience. It's something special you can do with a daughter or granddaughter. In the 1950s you might have taken them for a milkshake. It's really good for taking someone out and making them feel special. You feel like you're the queen for an hour.

Petone has so many wonderful cafes. We tend to eat out there because it's closer than going into town.

Arcade: Homegrown Video Games is at The Dowse until March 13 next year. Play: International design for children opens at The Dowse on December 1 and runs to April 1.


Sweet Pea, 263 Jackson St, Petone.

Phone: 04 589 7755.

Hours: 10am to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday.

The Dominion Post