Tag Archives: London

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.

Leaving London Town

26 Mar
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament at dusk. © Jess Bruce 2015. All rights reserved.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament at dusk. © Jess Bruce 2015. All rights reserved.

All being well, this will be the last post I write from our flat in London. Tomorrow is scheduled to be the day we complete on our flat sale and house purchase. It is the long awaited moving day!

I have lived in central London since July 2006 when I graduated from Uni and moved here to go to Law School. Mr B joined me a year later.

For the last 4 years we have lived in our flat in East London. Tomorrow we move 11 miles south from here to Chislehurst, a small town just on the border between the outskirts of Greater London and the county of Kent. It is definitely the suburbs with bigger houses and lots more greenery than we have here. Although we are not moving geographically that far, it is going to be quite a life change with a whole new lifestyle opened for us. I’m so excited about it, not least because the kitchen at the new house is huge and we will have our own garden. We have loved our time in London, but now we are looking to the future and ready for the next step.

I also see this move as another big step forward in my recovery from ME/CFS. I was severely ill when we moved here back in 2011, totally confused, lost and scared by my diagnosis of ME/CFS. It has been our home as we have charted my journey thru ME/CFS. And although, my illness is still a part of our lives, it feels like we are a drawing a line in the sand in leaving here. The worst years are over and the best is yet to come!

I hope to be able to keep blogging in the next few weeks but with unpacking and getting internet connected at the house, that may not be possible. But I will be back as soon as I can! For now I will leave you with a few pictures of London. I took these last year when we went for a ride on the London Eye. Enjoy.

The London Eye, River Thames and Big Ben © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved

The London Eye, River Thames and Big Ben © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved

The Shard, London's tallest building © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved

The Shard, London’s tallest building with the towers of Canary Wharf in the background © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved

Big Ben clock face © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved

Big Ben clock face © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved

Big Ben and Westminster Abbey © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved

Big Ben and Westminster Abbey © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved

Buckingham Palace in the distance. © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved

Buckingham Palace in the distance. © Jess Bruce 2015. All Rights Reserved

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.

%d bloggers like this: