TUCKED at the corner of Elder and Morehead Streets in Lambton Park is one of Newcastle’s best-kept secrets.
Lambton Park Tea Rooms is a little hideaway full of old-fashioned charm and offers a lovely spot to enjoy a cuppa in the outdoor garden. It opened 18 months ago after owner Nevine Adlam took over the historic building, which was previously the Lambton Memorial Baby Health Clinic, and spent six months restoring it.
“It is a really lovely spot and yet, even though Newcastle is so small, people still don’t know that we’re here,” Adlam says.
The space has been faithfully renovated and decorated by Adlam who has long had a passion for the bygone days. For 11 years, she has operated Memory Lane Antiques & Decor in Lambton, and used pieces from the shop to furnish the cafe – as well as her other business, the not-for-profit Vintage Rose Cafe, which is located further along Elder Street.
Lambton Park Tea Rooms sits directly opposite her antiques store. Originally built in 1935 as a war widows refuge, the building became the Lambton Memorial Baby Health Clinic in the ’70s and operated as such until September 2014. It then sat dormant for two years until Newcastle City Council called for expressions of interest. Adlam jumped at the opportunity.
“When I saw the building in its sad state – it was dilapidated and it was so bad – I could see the bones, I could see the potential,” Adlam says. “People are amazed at the transformation we have made.”
The building is edged by manicured hedges and in the cafe’s picture-perfect garden setting, tables and chairs are dotted around the lawn between magnolia trees.
There is plenty of seating inside, too, and it’s definitely worth a look if you’re feeling, well, a little bit fancy. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling, while the walls are decorated with classic paintings and antique gold mirrors. Adlam points out that some of the tables in the cafe are 140 years old.
“People come and they sit and they look at everything, and they are just delighted,” she says. “It’s a treat, I suppose, they can come here and sit and have a $4 cup of coffee and are just happy to sit in a place that looks a million dollars.”
Alongside the coffee, tea and milkshakes, food offerings are extensive and can be picked from the cabinet inside – ham and cheese croissants; pumpkin, brie and bacon quiche; vegetable empanadas; homemade lasagna and roast vegetable frittata are among the savoury options. Sweet tooths are catered for with patisserie-created cakes, slices and tarts including salted caramel fudge brownies, fig and honey tartlets, cherry cheese strudel, lemon pistachio tea cake and red velvet cupcakes.
A sumptuous high tea is available for $60 per person (bookings must be made in advance) and the venue can be hired for events and functions.
Opening the two cafes allowed Adlam to showcase her love of antiques and also to provide an opportunity for disadvantaged youth entering the workforce. Adlam worked as a registered nurse before she branched into hospitality.
“It has been difficult at times, but I am committed to training kids that haven’t had any opportunities,” Adlam says. “A lot of the restaurants and cafes want to employ the ones that have got experience, but I recognise that there’s a lot of kids that haven’t had experience – especially the ones that have mental health and medical issues – and because of my nursing background that has actually helped me to be able to facilitate the training of these kids.”
Many of her trainees have gone on to find full-time work elsewhere after their work placement. The cafe’s staff work alongside the trainees and mentor them through their shift.
“They double up with them and help them relax and see how they go. Even if it’s just taking a bottle of water to a table – for us it might be minuscule – but for them to achieve it, that’s a huge thing.”