I so wanted to write an absolutely glowing review as we’ve been looking forward to this exciting and special occasion for ages, so I’ll start with the good and then if you want to hear the negatives (there were some), you can read on…
We booked afternoon tea at The Orchid Lounge at Pan Pacific in London as the ultimate treat for big S’s 18th Birthday. Years ago we had a very successful afternoon tea at The Langham when Cherish Finden was head pastry chef there, so when we’d heard she’d joined the newly opened Pan Pacific as executive chef, it seemed like a wonderful choice for this very special occasion. I contacted Cherish on social media and the hotel directly, and was reassured that our dietary requirements (which I admit are tricky and numerous) could be catered for and the hotel would make sure it would be a very special occasion. We were so excited, we talked for weeks about what it would be like and checked and rechecked the menu!
The Good was very good: the dessert plate of patisserie was spectacular with interesting, thought-provoking flavours, contrasting textures and it really was picture perfect to look at.
Our table had two versions, the usual one and the 14 allergen-free one, and there were few differences. The Free-from selection was delicious, incredibly impressive and certainly worth seeking out if you’re hankering after particularly fine patisserie. As it was late November, the tea had a Christmas theme and was an entire story of walking through the forest, Father Christmas and the reindeer flying over the trees, then waking up and opening the Christmas presents. It was really special. The ‘forest tower’ was filed with Yuzu mousse that was light and perfumed. The Christmas tree shortbread seemed to have a passionfruit caramel centre which was totally delightful. The Christmas bauble contained an orange mousse and gel, and the gift was the richest chocolate of many contrasting layers. All spectacular, and exceptional that such fine patisserie could be made ’14 free’. I know that Cherish and the kitchen spent months developing that aspect.
Indeed, all the food was fabulous – maybe the sandwiches weren’t necessarily to our taste (I’m not sure anyone want a fat slice of tofu in a sandwich!) but they were interesting and presented beautifully, and they were trying to tick the boxes for us and our requirements.
Those of us who had the Kopi Tiam version (dim sum and Singaporean take on afternoon tea) found the offerings beautiful, delicate and very interesting. The curry puffs were a real highlight, and the dim sum a real flavour sensation and a step outside the comfort zone for the younger members of the family. Just what you want from an afternoon tea experience.
I’m impressed how the kitchen catered for our various dietary requirements and I feel they are extremely skilled and should receive massive praise for the beautiful food they create.
Before I say anymore, I have to say the hotel has been fantastic. They’ve been very communicative, extremely apologetic and are making changes to address all our issues. So please do consider Pan Pacific if you’d like a truly spectacular afternoon tea.
But here are the problems we had. Our issues mainly arose from the service and I have to say that sadly the special occasion was ruined, in fact it ruined the whole weekend. I could go on at length about the two hour wait for any food to arrive, the whole tea taking four hours (yes, 4 hours!), the offers of free drinks being swiftly denied by other staff, the constant need to ask for a tea cup or glass of water which took multiple requests and ages to come. Or the fact that Big S ended the meal with a small contact allergic reaction to some cross contamination (yes, we know and accept this is a risk of eating anywhere), or that the one member of our group who ate the prawn dim sum since came down with a nasty bout of food poisoning. But all those failures could have been forgiven, what really ruined the experience was the incompetent way the staff dealt with allergies, and the four occasions where we avoided an allergic reaction due to us (and mainly Little S) noticing something was not right about the plate in front of her. The kitchen knew about the food but not all the service staff did, meaning each time something arrived there was an air of (dangerous) confusion.
Firstly, we were all served an amuse bouche of a Calamansi jelly with a mango pearl served in a cleaned-out egg shell so it looked like an egg. Eye catching and interesting but also somewhat un-nerving as the start of a meal for a family with an egg allergy amongst them. We pointed out that it wasn’t right to serve an empty egg shell to someone who is seriously allergic to egg to which the waiter responded that it was fine because it had been thoroughly washed out (I don’t think this is safe!). We asked if Little S could have similar in a different container, but after a lengthy enquiry this apparently was not possible. So little S had to sit there with an eggshell in front of her – we all started to feel rather uncomfortable. What were they thinking? How can using an empty eggshell and serving it to an egg allergic child be acceptable? (For those who ate the amuse bouche it was delicious, but for Little S it was the start of feeling that they didn’t want her there, that she was a bother, which made us feel fairly sad.)
Next up came the sandwiches. The waiter proudly talked us through the fillings announcing that Little S had a cheddar cheese one. Eek! When told that wasn’t ok as she’s allergic to milk, he said, it’s ok just start eating the others and I’ll go and check. The head waitress came for a look and said it was turkey, finally it was confirmed to be tofu. A relief, but we were feeling increasingly ill at ease. Maybe we should have just left, but this was the special event, we had nothing else planned and surely it could go well from here, but no. Big S was given the wrong in between course biscuit and this was only noticed by Little S at the very last second.
Next the wrong scones were given to Little S, again a mistake noticed only by ourselves. As I say, I know we’re difficult to cater for but we’d only gone for this hugely expensive experience because it was confirmed that we could be looked after, and maybe we should have just left, but it’s hard when there are no other easy options and you’ve gone to such lengths to make this happen.
As I say, the meal ended on a high of wonderful 14-free patisserie, but we would have maybe enjoyed it more if we’d felt less anxious and it had been two hours earlier. To not be able to have your first bite of sandwich for two hours after arrival is excessive. And to be fair, once all the issues were pointed out the head waitress got involved and did all she could to turn the situation around. It was just sad that the occasion had been ruined, that special 18th birthday celebration which was meant to prove that yes you can have the same luxury experiences even with a food allergy just didn’t go to plan. Will we go for afternoon tea again soon? I’m not sure we will as it was just a stressful occasion and not the relaxed special occasion we’d hoped for….