I’m always astounded by my girls that they have never made a fuss, never whined and whinged about having food allergies. They’ve always just taken the whole thing in their stride, but for the first time at the age of 12 Big S has voiced a complaint. We were on holiday and the children’s menu came with ice cream – clearly a no go, but the nice waiter claimed there was a dairy-free sorbet. Having searched extensively in France for a safe sorbet and never having found one, we were sceptical, and there was no possibility to check the label ourselves. Besides, we were on a lovely day out on a beautiful beach and had to factor in scoops with ice cream traces having been used in the sorbet tub (happened more than once before), so we erred on the side of caution and said no. For the first time she voiced how unfair it is. We felt awful, it’s such a little thing, but being able to eat an icy dessert on a hot day can make have a big impact on your enjoyment, especially if you’re young.
Anyway, it gave me the push to make plans that I’ve been harbouring for a little while come true. We’re massive fans of the Great British Bake Off Creme de la Creme (you may not know but the wonderful Claire Clark taught me patisserie when I studied at Le Cordon Bleu) and I’d heard that Cherish Findan, one of the other judges, serves a vegan afternoon tea at The Langham Hotel in London. Maybe, just maybe, they’d be able to make a fancy 5* tea for us too?? So I contacted Cherish and the hospitality team at the Langham, and yes they’d be delighted to cater for us and give us a memorable afternoon. Wow, exciting! The sorbet incident was long forgotten, luxury tea here we come!
The hospitality and bookings team were most helpful (no doubt they always are in such a luxurious hotel, sadly I’m not so familiar with such surroundings 😦 … Yet!) I went through our multiple requirements many times and was reassured that we’d be admirably catered for. The only caveat was that nuts are used in the kitchen. How could they not be in a kitchen serving fine patisserie? So they couldn’t guaranteed no traces of nuts. Little S is ok with most nuts; peanuts and sesame are our problems, so we took the decision that just this once for an ultimate treat we’d go with a nut warning. I also wanted the discussions over and done with in advance – the girls have to always put up with conversations with waiting staff who then to and fro to the kitchen, ferrying labels and often knocking choices off the limited menu as they go. Just for once, I wanted us to go to a restaurant and eat wonderful food with no fuss. We were also all going to have dairy-free, egg-free and nut-free versions so we could taste each other’s delights.
We booked it for the 1st September just before the shock of the start of Autumn and the return to school after a long, magical summer. Yes, you bet were we excited! We talked of the forthcoming treat daily, and planned what to wear, guessed what we might eat. Little S had high hopes of vegan macarons but I kind of knew that it wouldn’t be that experimental, there’s no reason for a usual pastry chef to have worked out the magic of aquafaba just yet!
So what was it like? It was totally magical. Expensive yes, but we felt like true VIPs for the afternoon, and that is priceless when you’re used to multiple long conversations with catering staff, limited choice on menus and indeed limited destinations to eat out.
We entered through the marble lined entrance hall, waited on by top hatted doormen and the first impression was, wow, what is that divine smell? It wasn’t food or perfume, it was just a delightful aroma. If this is what top hotels are like, I’d love to visit more often! Of course you have to check the bathrooms in these places, no? Gilded features, soft music, freshly laundered individual hand towels and beautifully scented soap and hand cream. Check!
The actual dining room of Palm Court is stunning. The epitome of luxury, with stunning chandeliers, softly played piano, extremely comfortable squidgy chairs and wonderful Art Deco features. This was going to be special. The girls were having the Hamleys children’s tea so were greeted by wonderful cuddly complimentary teddy bears holding their menu.
We were first offered drinks. The girls had a choice of strawberry and kiwi tea, fruit juice or hot chocolate. They chose fruit juice with was refreshed at regular intervals in our two hour sitting. Now neither D nor I drink tea, but were persuaded to try the drink of choice. I sampled the Langham blend which was without doubt the nicest tea I have ever tasted – taken black it had a light, delicate and flavourful with none of the bitter tannins I associate with tea. I wonder if they sell this blend anywhere as I could develop a serious habit with this one. The waiting staff were attentive and discreet which is probably perfect as waiting staff go.
Then the food started to arrive – wow! The girls began with a strawberry sorbet lolly dipped in strawberry sorbet which was probably the most strawberry tasting thing we have ever eaten. The looks on their faces were priceless as they savoured every last morsel. This was far better than a sorbet on holiday. D and I were served vegetarian champagne jellies flecked with gold flakes. I don’t make this kind of thing at home!
Next up were the sandwiches – the girls’ were cut like interlocking jigsaw pieces and contained ham, smoked salmon, red pepper and cucumber. There was an uncomfortable moment when we were told the red pepper also contained hummus which is obviously a no-go due to sesame, but thankfully it was a slip of the tongue, hummus had been kept out of our sandwiches. The adult vegetarian range included sweet red pepper, guacamole, cucumber and tapenade. And they kept coming, we had to refuse the multiple rounds which kept on being offered after a while.
The girls then had their teddy bears picnic pastries – a vanilla carousel cake, a chocolate and raspberry cake, mango pate des fruits and a mango and pomegranate jelly all served with a rich chocolate drink and a bag of sweets. The highlights were certainly the cupcake and sweeties. The chocolate drink was actually too intense and the chocolate cake not as stunning as I hoped for, but overall we were mightily happy.
For the adults tea we had plain and fruit scones which were out of this world delicious. I think I make good scones but these had a wonderful glazed top and finer texture – they were heaven on a plate served with wonderful soft set strawberry jam. Honestly we’d have been happy to finish there, but next came the cakes! We had thought before that we might be hungry when we left, it was only afternoon tea after all, but we certainly didn’t need to worry at all!
Our vegan/vegetarian version contained three sponges of which the raspberry was my favourite, along with a chopped pineapple cocktail and the most wonderful light and crispy shortbread. I cannot fault the food in any way, it was wonderful especially if you take into account our various difficult requirements.
Just two negatives soured the occasion – we didn’t mention anything as we didn’t want to make a fuss and it was overall amazing and they’d gone to so much trouble. But, my vegetarian sandwich had a bit of ham stuck to the bottom – not nice! And worse for us was the waiter who came to chat about our requirements and started asking if any of us were ‘normal’ or we all had allergies – I’d just wanted to avoid that ‘oh you’re not normal’ attitude for once. He meant well certainly, but it was just a bit clumsy.
All in all I salute you the catering team at Palm Court, our requirements aren’t easy to cater for, especially when you’re also producing world class patisserie for other clientele. The whole occasion was an ultimate luxury treat and we were admirably catered for.
At one point one of the chefs came out to chat and offered a tour of the kitchen to our girls, but sadly we had to leave before he reappeared. We also saw Cherish herself on our way out, managing to thank her for the wonderful experience but I was not bold enough to have a proper conversation! But if you’re reading this Cherish, thank you so much you really made our day a very special occasion. We very much hope to return one day.
Disclaimer: I was not paid in any way for this review.