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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:

Date Night @ Pure Taste Restaurant

13 Feb
Root Vegetable Cobbler  © Jess Bruce 2015

My Main Course: Root Vegetable Cobbler © Jess Bruce 2015

Last week marked 11 years since Mr B and I started dating. To celebrate our anniversary we went out for dinner at Pure Taste Restaurant in West London.

Pure Taste is no ordinary restaurant. It is a Jess friendly restaurant! Everything on their menu is gluten and dairy free as it is a paleo restaurant. They cater for all sorts of different diets from vegan to Whole 30, Specific Carbohydrate and Gaps, low Fodmaps and even one I’d never heard of – the Weston A. Price diet (advocates whole foods and fats from local unprocessed sources  – see this article to learn more – I learn something new everyday!) There is a key on their menu detailing for which diet each dish is suitable.

Pesto Crab Amuse Bouche © Jess Bruce 2015

Pesto Crab Amuse Bouche © Jess Bruce 2015

The restaurant opened late last year and we had been wanting to go ever since. Despite having read a few unfriendly reviews in the mainstream British press, I wanted to see for myself. In the healthy food world, Pure Taste had been celebrated as a new dawn in the London restaurant scene, causing quite the stir with its pictures of amazing light crunchy gluten free breads and creamy dairy free desserts. I am keen to try any restaurant where I can order anything from the menu and eat without the fear of ‘has this got gluten in it’,  ‘does the waiter actually know that the sauce is milk free’ and without having to cross examine the person taking our order with 20 questions about whether or not the menu item is safe for me to eat.

My Starter: Scallops and Apple Caviar © Jess Bruce 2015

My Starter: Scallops and Apple Caviar © Jess Bruce 2015

None of that at Pure Taste! On being seated the waitress asked if we were following any special diets and quickly explained the menu to us. Pure Taste calls itself a fine dining restaurant. The menu is selective with a choice of 6 starters, mains and desserts, spanning meat, fish and vegan options for all courses. As well as having bread and petit fours to perfectly top and tail your meal. See the menu in full here.

Mr B's Starter: Asian Pork © Jess Bruce 2015

Mr B’s Starter: Asian Pork © Jess Bruce 2015

I was in heaven. It was the best feeling knowing that I could safely order anything. I’m not used to going to restaurants and actually having much of a choice. Once you eliminate gluten and dairy you knock out half of most restaurant menu options. Add in trying to eat as little meat as possible, the list of possible options gets even smaller, especially as most veggie options seem to come slathered in cheese.

So what did we eat? The all important question! (Warning, we ate a lot!)

Gluten free focaccia!  © Jess Bruce 2015

Gluten free focaccia! © Jess Bruce 2015

We were first given a small spoonful of crab and pesto as an amuse bouche. This was utterly delicious. Creamy with the tang of basil just cutting through.

Basil Blood Orange Palette Cleanser © Jess Bruce 2015

Basil Blood Orange Palette Cleanser © Jess Bruce 2015

Then we enjoyed the garlic and rosemary focaccia with avocado butter and olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The bread was crunchy on the top and bottom and soft and squidgy (technical term..) in the middle. The garlic and rosemary flavour shone through and it was gorgeous dipped in the oil and vinegar. The avocado butter was good too, with a very mild avocado flavour. I haven’t had a ‘normal’ foccacia (or any bread for that matter) for years so it’s hard for me to compare it, but Mr B seemed to think the bread was good, perhaps just a bit more doughy or cake like in texture than a standard gluten full loaf. But it was very tasty.

Rib of Beef, Mr B's meaty main © Jess Bruce 2015

Rib of Beef, Mr B’s Meaty Main © Jess Bruce 2015

I had the scallops as my starter which were delicious, perfectly cooked and paired with a creamy parsnip puree and a refreshing apple caviar, the latter was the highlight. Who knew you could imitate the texture of caviar with apple? It worked really well to cut through the richness of the rest of the dish. Mr B had Asian pork with cabbage and crispy potatoes, must have been good as he polished it off in 30 seconds flat (or possibly the portion was small?!)

My Dessert, Chocolate Orange Ganache © Jess Bruce

Chocolate Orange Ganache © Jess Bruce

We were then treated to a blood orange basil palate cleanser that was really refreshing and flavorful. And then came the mains. Making the most of being able to order a non-cheese laden veggie option, I chose the root vegetable and mushroom cobbler. This was a medley of winter veg and mushrooms cooked in a satisfying (almost meaty in flavour) light broth type of sauce and topped with herbed scones. The veggie stew was really good and the scones soaked up the sauce juices perfectly. The scones were crisp on the outside and dense, yet still soft, in the middle. They were very tasty, if a little sweet. I suspect they were made with coconut flour. Mr B stayed true to his carnivorous roots and had the beef short rib. The meat fell off the bone, it was incredibly tender. He wanted a little more than just the kale, onion and and apple puree it came with. A side of mixed veg for the table might have been nice, though given how much other food we ate I’m not sure we really needed it.

Pure Taste Banoffee Pie © Jess Bruce 2015

Pure Taste Banoffee Pie © Jess Bruce 2015

And finally dessert. We ordered the chocolate orange ganache and the banoffee pie and shared them. The ganache was good, a lovely rich texture with a deep chocolate flavour with little bursts of orange curd on the plate. But the banoffee was the best. It was a deconstructed banoffee pie with a piece of baked banana, banana toffee ice cream, toffee sauce and a rich almond biscotti crumb.

As we clearly hadn’t eaten enough I ordered a peppermint tea which came with a choice of petits fours. We had the mini maple donuts. SOOO GOOD!

Mini Maple Donuts © Jess Bruce 2015

Mini Maple Donuts © Jess Bruce 2015

We washed all our food down with a bottle of Prosecco and marveled at how busy the restaurant was (no table was free), a clear sign of how London is embracing alternative healthy diets.

At £130 for dinner for two, even with the £30 bottle of wine and 4 courses, Pure Taste definitely has a fine dining price tag and is perhaps only for special occasions. But the best part of the whole thing? Not feeling bloated or sick from eating out. That was priceless 🙂

Pure Taste, we will be back but in the meantime if you’d care to open a restaurant in East London, we’d be very grateful. At 19 stops on the tube across London, it was worth the travel but we’d love it if it were closer!

Have you been to a paleo / health restaurant that you’ve enjoyed? Please comment and share your experience below.

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