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Gold Leaf Afternoon Tea

3 Nov
My gluten and dairy free afternoon tea at the Lanesborough Hotel London © Jess Bruce 2015

My gluten and dairy free afternoon tea at the Lanesborough Hotel London © Jess Bruce 2015

Recently Mr B and I went for afternoon tea with his family at the Lanesborough Hotel in London. It was nice getting dressed up and living a decadent luxurious life for an afternoon. And of course consuming our weight in finger sandwiches, delicious and delicate pastries and a never ending supply of freshly brewed tea of any type you could imagine.

Afternoon tea is a beloved tradition in England, and especially in London with all the big hotels offering it. We chose the Lanesborough because it offers a gluten and dairy free afternoon tea option. Many of the other hotels, such as the Ritz and Claridges, offer gluten free but are slightly behind on the dairy free front (in my experience at least). So I was thrilled to discover the Lanesborough is super allergen aware and will happily accommodate gluten and dairy free diners with advance notice.

Celeste Winter Garden at the Lanesborough, venue for the afternoon tea © Jess Bruce 2015

Celeste Winter Garden at the Lanesborough, venue for the afternoon tea © Jess Bruce 2015

The tea was held in the Celeste Winter Garden, a gloriously rich room decorated in deep gold, creams, turquoise and pale blue. Crisp white linens, glistening chandeliers, china plates and weighty silver cutlery abound as you sink down into plump velvet chairs, of course pulled out for you by a smiling, ever so helpful waiter. No detail is overlooked from handbag rests (I mean who would put their bag on the floor?!) to thick padded hand protectors on the silver teapot handles.

A pianist plays a baby grand in one corner with the lilting music providing the perfect backdrop. What I liked most about the Lanesborough (after the food of course) was that the atmosphere was beautifully relaxed. I’ve had afternoon tea at a few of the big name London hotels and sometimes found them almost frantic with the amount of guests, verging on a factory production line like feeling to the dining room; not what you want when you’ve paid £50+ for an experience that is, by it’s very nature, meant to be relaxed and lingering.

Ok, enough waffle, time to get down to the important stuff, what did I eat?

Being gluten and dairy free I got my own stand filled with sandwiches, pastries, desserts and cakes. Having my own separate stand emphasized the hotel’s allergen awareness and specifically the risk of cross contamination and meant I didn’t have to share!

My sandwich selection © Jess Bruce 2015

My sandwich selection © Jess Bruce 2015

First up, delicate little finger sandwiches; crust free (naturally), all perfectly identical in shape and size with an exciting array of fillings (from left to right in the photo): tomato chutney and roast chicken, ham with aubergine pâté, smoked salmon with avocado, celeriac and apple and finally cucumber and olive tapenade. My favourite? The chicken and tomato and the cucumber and olive tapenade. The gluten free bread was soft, perhaps ever so slightly dry, and tasted good. As with everything on my special stand, you would barely have known it was lacking the twin pillars of modern cuisine, namely gluten and dairy.  The Lanesborough chefs did good.

The waiters replenish the selection as soon as you finish, but after two rounds of sandwiches it was time to move onto the sweeter treats.

Gluten and dairy free desserts and pastries © Jess Bruce 2015

Gluten and dairy free desserts and pastries © Jess Bruce 2015

Next up desserts and pastries. This was my favourite tier. I was blown away by the clever creations, attention to detail and delicious flavours. There was a pineapple panacotta made using almond milk and topped with perfectly tiny dice of fresh pineapple, a dark chocolate soup (AMAZING), a strawberry mousse, a blueberry macaroon, a pistachio macaroon and a chocolate raspberry cream sponge slice. They were all good, but boy the pistachio macaroon literally melted on my tongue. It was superb; as was the chocolate raspberry little ditty. I just wish that had been bigger! (Yes my name is Jess. Yes I am a cake-aholic).

Raspberry chocolate cream slice naturally topped with the ubiquitous gold leaf of course © Jess Bruce 2015

Raspberry chocolate cream slice naturally topped with the ubiquitous gold leaf of course © Jess Bruce 2015

Finally came the cakes. These were the least inventive but still incredibly tasty. A chocolate muffin and a lemon drizzle cake were the two offerings. I preferred the lemon, it was lighter. The chocolate muffin was a little dense.

Decorating all of the cakes, pastries and desserts were slivers of gold leaf. This was such a nice touch and summed up the decadent nature of the whole of experience. It was the icing on the cake so to speak.

My sorbet selection © Jess Bruce 2015

My sorbet selection © Jess Bruce 2015

The only slight criticism I have is that they do not provide scones with the gluten and dairy free afternoon tea. Instead I was given two scoops of sorbet; one mango and passion-fruit, the second raspberry. As delightful as the sorbet was, and it did taste delicious with a deep fruity flavour, I feel this is a bit of a let down, scones piled high with clotted cream and jam are after all the quintessential element to a traditional English afternoon tea.

When asked why they do not provide gluten and dairy free scones, the staff told me that it is too difficult to make a good scone without butter. The omission of gluten they said is not the problem. It is that without butter they can not replicate the rich buttery flavour they want. Agreed, a scone without a high butter content is not perfect, but they made an almond milk panacotta for goodness sake, surely they can master a scone using a dairy free olive oil spread or coconut oil as the fat? We have made both at home and whilst they will never exactly echo the flavours and texture of a ‘normal’ scone, they are delicious and moreish. Perhaps I can get a gig as a gluten and dairy free scone consultant…

To be honest though, I did not really miss the scone from my afternoon tea. It was not like I was lacking in mouthwatering food and I definitely didn’t go home hungry. I even felt quite virtuous tucking into my sorbet as my fellow diners piled super fattening clotted cream onto carbohydrate heavy scones!

To wash down the copious amounts of food, the Lanesborough offers a highly extensive tea menu with a vast choice of black, green, red, white and herbal teas; as well as coffee and hot chocolate for non tea lovers (crazy people). I had a very enjoyable apricot white tea followed by a jasmine green tea. In addition you can add a glass of champagne to your afternoon tea to truly celebrate a special occasion.

At £65 a head, it is not a cheap afternoon out. One best to be treasured and saved for a special occasion I think – we went on Mr B’s birthday. But I do think it’s decent value for money. Overall with such ingenuity in their gluten and dairy free offerings with the chocolate soup and almond milk panacotta, originality of sandwich fillings and mile long tea menu, I was very impressed. They refill your cake stands and tea pots as often as you like (within reason I guess) and our leftovers were boxed up and went home with us. So it genuinely is fairly good value, all things being relative of course.

I was too busy stuffing my face  delicately sampling the divine offerings of the gluten and dairy free afternoon tea to pay much attention to the ‘normal’ teas around me. Suffice to say, Mr B was very impressed and went home stuffed. And that is coming from a savoury, ‘don’t do cake’ kinda guy. High praise indeed.

Would I go again? You bet! Just perhaps need to leave it until a time when I’m not meant to be on my pre-honeymoon diet!

You can check out the full Lanesborough afternoon tea menu here.

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An Awesome Amsterdam Adventure of Food!

30 Sep
Amsterdam Canal and Bikes © Jess Bruce 2015

Amsterdam Canal and Bikes © Jess Bruce 2015

Last week my sister and I spent a few days in Amsterdam. A city-break had been on my recovery bucket list ever since I did the Lightning Process seminar back in October 2013. My sister’s 30th birthday seemed the perfect opportunity to tick it off my list. With lots of walking, sightseeing and general busy-ness condensed into just a few days, never mind the travel, a city-break is a fairly high energy activity. I’ve come back with a cold and pretty exhausted, but with time saved for rest naps each afternoon, I coped pretty well whilst we were there and had a fantastic time.

It was my first visit to Amsterdam and it is a lovely city, with a great bustling, yet laid back, atmosphere. The canals make for beautiful scenery with the tall, narrow buildings rising up along each side, lots of green spaces and enough cultural pursuits to keep you occupied for much more than the few days we had.

And then there’s the food! Pretty much the first thing I google when we book a trip is ‘gluten free [insert destination]’, ‘gluten free vegan [….]’, ‘gluten free dairy free [….]’. My searches in this vain for Amsterdam were very fruitful. We had more than enough possible eateries that would cater for Jess Friendly Food. The trouble was picking which to try. Thanks to the European Allergen Directive, restaurants are obligated to have an allergen menu and in Amsterdam most restaurants seem to have embraced this wholeheartedly, with clearly labelled menus and/or separate gluten and dairy free menus.

I’ll post about what we did (other than eat) during our time Amsterdam in a later post, but for now I want to concentrate on the most important thing – what we ate!

Haese Klaesje Restaurant Amsterdam © Jess Bruce 2015

Haese Klaesje Restaurant Amsterdam © Jess Bruce 2015

Haesje Claes

The first night we ate traditional dutch at Haesje Claes. The little tavern was bursting at the seams, it was a good job we’d booked as they were turning people away. It is a maze of 9 separate dining rooms all interconnected with lots of wooden paneling and hearty Dutch fare.

Pickled Herring Salad © Jess Bruce 2015

Pickled Herring Salad © Jess Bruce 2015

They had a separate gluten free menu and were able to advise me which of the dishes were also dairy free. They even brought warm gluten free bread.  We decided to embrace the traditional offerings. I had pickled herring salad to start followed by cod with baked potatoes and vegetables. The herring salad ordinarily came with a dairy full potato salad so they adapted the dish and I got a whole of plate of pickled goodness – think herring, onion, beetroot and gherkin! Good job I like pickles!

Hotch Potch, sadly not dairy free © Jess Bruce 2015

Hotch Potch, sadly not dairy free © Jess Bruce 2015

I wanted to try the Hotch Potch, a traditional Dutch dish of mashed potato and carrot with sausage and gravy. But whilst this was available gluten free, it wasn’t dairy free. My sister had cheese croquettes and then the Hotch Potch with pork sausage, meatball and smoked bacon. We were a bit nervous that the food was going to be less than good given how busy and touristy the restaurant seemed, but we were pleasantly surprised. The food was hearty and tasty; exactly what we wanted and surpassed our expectations. Our Dutch eating experience had got off to a great start!

Alchemist Garden

Rainbow Salad at The Alchemist Garden © Jess Bruce 2015

Rainbow Salad at The Alchemist Garden © Jess Bruce 2015

After a morning at the Van Gogh Museum, we ate lunch at the Alchemist Garden, an entirely raw gluten free vegan food cafe. Not everyone visiting Amsterdam would seek out this place, but we’re very glad we did. The food was delicious and it is such a novelty for me to be able order literally anything of a menu knowing it is all safe for me to eat.

Cashew Cream Quiche, gluten, dairy, egg free, vegan and raw! © Jess Bruce 2015

Cashew Cream Quiche, gluten, dairy and egg free, vegan and raw! © Jess Bruce 2015

We shared the Rainbow Salad plate (a tangy mustard greens salad topped with spirulina, a beetroot based salad, herby flaxseed crackers and a potent tahini mayo), a tomato and onion quiche whose creamy cashew filling was utterly delicious and a sour apple green smoothie that reminded us of Tangtastic Haribo sweets!! (We’re not always so virtuous in our eating…!)

Chocolate slice and the amazing lime cheesecake, again all gluten, dairy, egg free, vegan and raw! © Jess Bruce 2015

Chocolate slice and the amazing lime cheesecake © Jess Bruce 2015

And then there was dessert – a rich decadent chocolate slice made from dates and cacao and the most amazing lime ‘cheesecake’ made from avocado with a coconut and walnut base. The latter was literally amazing and something I am determined to recreate at home, so watch this space for a recipe. Given my sister and I are both usually chocolate fiends, it goes to show just how good the lime cheesecake was.

Kantjil & de Tijger

After our raw lunch, a restful afternoon and drinks at the Hilton Sky Lounge, we were ready to eat again! We went to Kantjil & de Tijger, an Indonesian (Indonesian is big in Holland due to their colonial past) restaurant we had spotted on the same street as Haesje Claes. Again, we were very glad we had booked as it was incredibly busy.

My sister's amazing special of the day © Jess Bruce 2015

My sister’s amazing Indonesian special of the day © Jess Bruce 2015

Our waitress was super helpful and explained the allergen menu to me. Many dishes were naturally gluten free whilst others could be adapted. Deciphering a Dutch allergen menu for Indonesian titled dishes was interesting! But that didn’t stop us from eating an Indonesian Banquet! We started with the lamb satay (safe other than the soya sauce dipping sauce which came on the side to be gluten free), vegetable omelette with a sweet tomato and ginger sauce and prawn crackers (safe as made from tapioca flour and fried separately). My sister then had the special of the day, which was a selection of 4 or 5 dishes all served on a long rectangular platter and included a chicken curry, vegetable side dish, cuecumber pickle, rice and spicy egg. I had beef rendang and rice, it literally melted in my mouth the meat was so tender.

My Indonesian Feast Take 2! Coconut Egg, Beef Rendang and sesame vegetables © Jess Bruce 2015

My Indonesian Feast Take 2! Coconut Egg, Beef Rendang and sesame vegetables © Jess Bruce 2015

The food and service was so good we actually went back the next night! Boring perhaps, but given how tasty the food was and having deciphered the menu and not having suffered any ill effects from the food, it made sense for us. This time I had egg in a spicy coconut sauce (may sound odd but was really good), sesame vegetable stir fry and beef rendang again! My sister had a rice plate, an Indonesian specialty, which came with so much food of so many differing varieites it was hard to decipher what was on it! It was all topped with a giant prawn cracker and sweet potato chips. The allergen awareness wasn’t as great the second time around, we had to send the satay back as it came drenched in soya sauce but overall the food was really delicious and I didn’t suffer ill effect so all good.

Bagel & Beans

My gluten and dairy free bagel © Jess Bruce 2015

My gluten and dairy free bagel © Jess Bruce 2015

Bagel & Beans is a Dutch chain with numerous outlets across Amsterdam. They have an extensive bagel menu, including a gluten and dairy free bagel, to which you can add your chosen your topping. Despite a plethora of cheeses on offer (what do you expect in a nation home to Edam and Gouda?!), there was lots of dairy free fillings available. I had smoked chicken, avocado and pine nuts with a basil dressing. The bagel was slightly too dense and chewy but the filling was delicious. With a wide array of teas, freshly pressed vegetable juices and even soya milk matcha lattes, I was in heaven. It was a great lunch stop.

My breakfast supplies © Jess Bruce 2015

Some of my breakfast supplies © Jess Bruce 2015

We breakfasted each morning at our hotel – Grand Hotel Amrath. It was an extensive hot and cold buffet. I had taken my own rice milk (there are fridges in the rooms), granola and bread so I can’t particularly comment on the allergen friendly provisions of the breakfast. But I supplemented my own supplies with fruit, juice, tea, jams, bacon and eggs from the buffet. I will say that the gluten full offerings looked fantastic and my sister can confirm that the cereals bar, donuts and chocolate croissants were excellent!

So that concludes my little foodie tour of Amsterdam, we were only there for 3 nights, we wish we had longer as there was so much to do and eat! I want to go back already, reliving our meals is making me hungry!

If you’re planning a trip to Holland, then I hope you find this post useful. Links that we found useful in planning our foodie adventure were:

Cookbook Joy

11 Mar
 © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved.

A few of new recruits! © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved.

We’ve exchanged! At long last we have finally exchanged on our new house! I am so happy! And more than that I am incredibly relieved. It got very touch and go towards the end and looked many times like the whole deal was going to fall through. Thankfully that did not happen and now we have exchanged. Yippee!

For anyone not used to the idiosyncrasies of the British house buying system, exchanged means we have exchanged contracts, paid our deposit and are now legally bound to the transaction. Most importantly, our buyer is, at long last, legally bound to buy our flat. Hurrahhh!!! Completion is set for 27th March so we have a few weeks to get everything organised and packed.

The last few months have been very stressful and my health has taken a bit of hit as a result (things are improving again now thankfully). One of my coping mechanisms was to surround myself with interesting books to keep me occupied and distracted. This for me means one thing….cookbooks. I have a confession to make. I have a pretty large huge GIGANTIC cookbook collection. It is my pride and joy. I read them like novels, even taking them to bed to read before lights out. I dread to think how many boxes it’s going to take to pack them all up to move!

 © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Bed time reading © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Despite already having more than enough cookbooks to be able to cook something new every night of the week for the next year decade, the last couple of months I have purchased a few more…. all in the name of keeping me calm, sane and distracted through the house buying nonsense you understand 🙂 I thought I would share some of my new finds with you today.

Deliciously Ella Granola  © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Deliciously Ella Granola © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved.

The first I have to mention is Deliciously Ella, the debut book by food blogger Ella Woodward. Ella had POTs and when conventional medicine didn’t work she changed her diet, cutting out gluten, dairy, sugar, eggs and meat. She has been a huge source of inspiration and her blog a great resource for me in navigating my own recovery from chronic illness. I was very excited for the release of her book – so excited that when I discovered my Amazon pre-order wasn’t going to arrive until a week after the launch date, I cancelled the hard copy order and got the Kindle e-book instead! Instant gratification! Dangerous… As I said, I may have a small problem where cookbooks are concerned…. Ella’s book lived up to expectations and I have already made numerous things from it – coconut thai chickpea curry with miso was delicious, as was the pea and mint cannellini soup (cannellini beans are used to thicken the soup and provide a good solid dose of plant protein) and the giant hash brown was a big hit with my dad and Mr B. Her cinnamon granola has been my go-to breakfast in recent weeks. I am keen to make the scones and carrot cake with creamy frosting next.

Chocolate – Covered Katie, the first book by Katie Higgins, the healthy dessert queen, is another new favourite. Again I have been a fan of Katie’s blog for a long time and love her healthified version of cakes, sweets and desserts. Whilst not all of Katie’s recipes are gluten and dairy free, the majority are, and when they are not, Katie is good at suggesting substitutions to adapt the recipe for particular dietary needs. I am head over heals in love with her deep dish cookie pie (secret ingredient chickpeas!) and her chocolate banana bread cupcakes were a big hit with my friend and her toddler! Whenever I bake something for friends and family they always ask, what’s the hidden vegetable or ingredient, so used are they to me making sweet goods with hidden healthy ingredients. Chocolate Covered Katie is my inspiration! Next up I want to make her Lemon Meltaway Pie – secret ingredient…frozen cauliflower! I have several cauliflower hating friends so I may have to keep very quiet about what’s in that pie until they’ve taken a bite and fallen in love!

© Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved.

© Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved.

I know my body works better when I eat minimal meat and as I can’t tolerate dairy, several of my new books are mainstream vegan. Isa Does It by Isa Chandra Mokowitz is a vegan bible jam packed with easy vegan meals from around the world. The photography is stunning and it is a beautiful book. I haven’t yet made anything from it but I’m very excited about trying out some of Isa’s recipes in my new kitchen in a few weeks, Dragoon Noodle Salad with its spicy peanut butter sauce and Red Lentil Thai Chilli  are vying for first spot on my to make list.

But I could never go vegan! Debut book by Keepin It Kind blogger Kristy Turner  © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved

But I could never go vegan! Debut book by Keepin It Kind blogger Kristy Turner © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved

As you’ve probably guessed, I love food and everything to do with it. Discovering a new food blog is to me what Christmas morning is like to a young child. I love it as it means I can spend hours losing myself perusing the recipe back catalogs. One such blog that I discovered recently was Keepin It Kind by Kristy Turner. I have to say I have no idea how I hadn’t come across it sooner! Once I’d perused the archive I obviously then had to buy myself the book (in Kindle format to save trees and reduce the packing load!)

My love of food and cookbooks also extends to recipe apps. Green Kitchen Stories have two apps, one healthy desserts and the other full of savoury goodness. Mr B and I had a delicious brunch using their shakshuka baked egg recipe and their banana granola is so good. The photography is literally stunning and makes you want to make everything immediately!

I could go on and on talking about this topic! But I’ll restrain myself and leave you with a final few loves of mine: Oh She Glows blog and book by Angela Liddon (literally AMAZING, have made hundreds of things from these and they always work perfectly), Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi (shows you new and inventive, yet simple, ways of making vegetables the star of the meal) and Yum Universe (another recent food blog discovery that had me lost for hours!).

Do you love cookbooks too? What are your favourites?

As a final note, it seems very fitting that I am writing this post today, 11th March, as it would have been my dearly beloved Nan’s birthday today. Nan, my maternal grandmother, passed away nearly 8 years ago. She was a wonderful cook and inspired a love of food in my Mum which has been passed onto both myself and my sister. So lots of love goes out to my Nan (who was also called Jess and who I’m named after), thank you for inspiring me. I love and miss you everyday.

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