Afternoon Tea at The Langham Hotel, London

children's afternoon tea menu at The Langham Hotel

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.

the Langham Hotel

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!
children's afternoon tea The Langham Hotel, dairy-free egg-free

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.

vegan afternoon tea at The Langham

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!

Palm Court at The Langham

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.

strawberry sorbet lolly dipped in sherbet, vegan

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!

vegetarian champagne jelly

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.

vegan sandwiches at The Langham

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.

vegan children's afternoon tea

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!

plain and fruit scones, vegan

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.

vegan afternoon tea at The Langham

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.

dairy-free, egg-free afternoon tea

Yorica! Exclusive Q & A with Director Monika Jagielo and my review of our visit.

Yorica! Soho

When word got out a couple of months ago about a new allergy-friendly ice cream, shake and Fro-yo parlour opening in London the allergy community on-line got rather excited, and not least us! Could it be true? Could there really be a safe destination that sold allergy-friendly iced treats? It was really rather unbelievable. Enquiries were promptly made – would it really be suitable and safe for us? And lo and behold, the wonderful reply of yes came back. Unbelievable. And so we duly made the pilgrimage.

freedom to be free-from sign

Now, we have once or twice eaten in the New Forest Ice Cream parlour in Lymington which makes some wonderful sorbets, but the choice is relatively limited and is accompanied by strict instructions over newly opened tubs, no scoop sharing etc etc. This was an entirely different matter – a shop where we could choose ANYTHING! Little S got a bit overexcited browsing the website and decided she’d have a Fro- yo and a shake – we knew she’d probably only get through about half one item as she’s not very used to rich foods, but it’s nice to dream about choice isn’t it?

free-from choice at Yorica!

I was intrigued though – what was the motivation? How did they make their lovely products and source the toppings – as we know it’s not easy to find allergen-free goodies. So I approached Yorica! and asked if they were interested in answering some of my questions. Here is what Monika Jagielo, Director at Yorica! had to say:

 

1) What was your motivation for setting up a free from ice cream parlour?

We wanted to set up a sweet treat cafe that those suffering from allergies could walk into and literally go wild! No worrying about what they can and can’t eat, we wanted them to be able to have choice: something that allergy sufferers often don’t have. All Yorica! treats are free from most of the 14 allergens including wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs and nuts – so it’s a free from haven for all!

2) Where do you source your ingredients, in particular all the yummy toppings!

We want all of our products to be deliciously healthy, natural and free from, so where we source our ingredients is really important. Everything we use is certified, sustainable and traced – from crop to cone! Our most popular topping is our delicious, chocolate biscuit topper which is sourced from Canada.

3) We loved the taste and texture of both the ice cream and Fro-yo – how did you develop the recipe and do you have any tips for others?

Thank you, we’re so pleased you like them :). The exact recipe is a bit of a Yorica! HQ secret but I can tell you that to make them free from and delicious we have used quite a few natural substitutes. We only use natural sugars, which stops our ice cream from going rock hard and helps keep them silky smooth. We’ve developed all of our recipes in house and are constantly experimenting to find new flavours – our latest is violet flavoured ice cream, which you can order with tasty edible flowers!
 
4) What are your plans for the future?
We’d love to see a whole raft of Yorica! cafes opening up nationwide, or even across the world. We think we have something really unique and special going on, so would love to share it with more people. Our customers have been so brilliant and can’t get enough of our free from goodness, so we couldn’t be happier. 

Yorica! Wardour St

And what about our visit? We had a lovely day out – a trip to the British museum for some Roman history which Little S is currently studying at school, a ‘light’ picnic ( well we had to have plenty of room for some ice cream!), a meet up with Uncle J and a trip to Yorica. Bliss.

And Yorica!? The shop is small, a little more space to sit and eat would be welcome but the design is lovely, fresh and inviting. Unfortunately there was a mechanical problem with the fro-yo machine when we visited so only vanilla and strawberry were on offer. Both girls opted for fro-yo having never eaten it before but were totally bamboozled by having toppings and a choice at that! So, they both panicked and just got one topping each, rather than a pile of goodies on top of their Fro-yos. The fro-yo was light and creamy but not rich in texture and taste and was very moreish. The vanilla had a slight coconut undertone, but that wasn’t apparent with the strawberry.

free-from vanilla fro-yo

D, Uncle J and I all opted for mixed ice cream with plentiful toppings. The flavours were delicious, particularly the blackcurrarnt and cookies and cream. We were one happy bunch. The ice cream is light enough to gobble down and the only difference with usual dairy ice cream is you don’t feel a bit queasy after such a rich, big bowlful.

blackcurrant and cookies and cream ice cream, dairy-free, egg-free

All in all, I couldn’t recommend Yorica! more highly as a safe treat destination. We’ll definitely return with regularity – fingers crossed they’re such a success that they expand all over the country.

 

I did not get paid for this review, I just wanted to spread the word to the allergy community about a fab new foodie destination (and I’m really looking forward to trying the violet flavour!).

plenty of safe sprinkles!

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Holidays: Center Parcs

center parcs crystal tree

It was only after we had children that people around us started talking about Center Parcs (although, I now know it’s a destination that appeals to all demographics!) and by the time Big S started school it seemed that everyone we came across either had or was going to a Center Parcs. I have to say that we were a bit snooty to begin with – somehow (although we’re happy to go to European campsites) Centre Parcs just didn’t seem like it would be our kind of thing. It had the sound of forced jollity in a fenced in camp, a hark back to Hi De Hi!

How wrong were we! A few years ago, looking for a last minute break before Christmas we took the plunge – surely all the glowing reports from our friends meant that it had to be quite good? Besides, it seemed a good option in the cold winter months and the fact that the lodges are self-catering is an absolute must for us – dealing with food allergies effectively rules out catered holidays, not only through lack of availability but also fear and stress on our part.

So we went and had the most fabulous time – those glowing reports made sense, it really is a fantastic family destination topped off by the most fun, exciting swimming pool one could hope for. Picture if you can, bobbing around in a deliciously warm outdoor pool, beautifully lit, under the icy cold night sky – it is blissful. It was so good we’ve now been three times with another already booked for next weekend – and i seriously cannot wait!! I think I’ll have to admit that we should eat our words over it not being for us!!

So why did we enjoy it so much? Well, the whole place is very cleverly designed – it’s apparently always full ( we went to the Longleat one) but somehow it doesn’t feel too busy. The lodges are orienteered in such a way that you don’t feel hemmed in, you really do have a sense of peace and tranquility in the middle of a forest -clever huh? There are obviously activities for everyone and every age to enjoy, all topped off with the stunning subtropical swimming paradise (and it really is!)

But for us one of the aspects that really makes it for us, as a family with food allergies, are provided for. The accommodation is of a great standard making self-catering easy. The ‘parc market’ on site supermarket amazingly sells dairy-free milks and yogurt; the sweet store even sells our beloved Kinnerton chocolate, which was a really welcome surprise.

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We have even found numerous safe eating out options. All the restaurants we’ve tried have gone out of their way to accommodate our fairly extensive requirements. Our needs have been taken seriously and with respect and as such the meals we’ve eaten out have been a bit less stressful than often is the case. The Grand Cafe in particular went out of their way to produce a safe meal for my daughters.

One big highlight was eating at the Pancake house – as you can imagine our eating out options are limited and being dairy and egg free, pancakes never feature in the options, but at Centre Parcs the pancake house serves light and fluffy American style vegan pancakes – how cool is that!

So if you’re like us with restricted diets, or just someone who fancies a really fun holiday, do do think about Center Parcs, I would thoroughly recommend it – in fact we may even see you there 😉

center parcs crystal owl

 

Pizza Express (actually a reasonable option for the dairy and egg-free)

It may seem strange that I’m writing a review of a very well-known pizza chain – doesn’t pizza rely on cheese? However, we’ve eaten at a LOT of Pizza Express branches as a family and the girls have always been able to eat a safe and tasty meal, one that is almost completely on the kids menu (very unusual for us, we normally end up having to eat ‘off menu’ and always lose out financially for it).

At Pizza Express the waiting staff have always seemed friendly and well trained. They have unfailingly listened to our requirements and made no fuss…. And we’ve never had any food mistakes in any of the branches we’ve visited.

On the bambino menu the girls can start with dough balls and side salad (dairy, egg and nut free). This is followed by a pizza (minus the cheese)…. A cheese-less pizza might sound a bit substandard, but since the bases are unfailingly delicious and the tomato sauce good too, it is still a surprisingly satisfying main course. It’s all rather dough-based, but hey, it is a pizza restaurant!

But most exciting of all, there’s a new addition on the menu, a dairy, egg and nut-free raspberry sorbet. My girls hardly ever get to eat a pudding in a restaurant so this new development is hugely exciting, and the sorbet tastes gorgeous too! Although must admit we only actually ate it on third attempt as it had sold out the first two times we went, but that’s another story.

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The Cornish Arms, St Merryn, North Cornwall

During our wet holiday last week we did manage to eat out at a Rick Stein establishment. I’ve always wanted to eat at a  Rick Stein restaurant (odd maybe for a confirmed non-fish eating vegetarian!) as he’s always seemed like a nice, fairly laid back chap who cooks some great honest, flavoursome food. Since we were staying near Padstow and Rick Stein seems to own half the place it seemed the perfect opportunity.

We had wanted to take the ferry from Rock, have an early evening wander around Padstow and then possibly eat at The Rick Stein Cafe – we were en famille after all and didn’t want a too fancy (or expensive) restaurant. But, due to some rather bad organisation we got the timing wrong and missed the last ferry – d’oh! So we decided on a drive to Rick’s pub The Cornish Arms in fairly nearby St Merryn.

The pub was modern, welcoming and full of families on a Thursday evening. The seafood looked great and everyone seemed to be really enjoying it. We must have been the only table with two non-fish eaters and a further one who’d rather not!!

The vegetarian options were extremely limited (it is a British pub after all), with a choice between a Ploughman’s or a blue cheese, tomato and rocket tart. For me a Ploughman’s is a lunch-time dish so I opted for the tart, and I have to say it was a big disappointment, even by pub standards. It consisted of a square of puff pastry topped with some blue cheese, four very undercooked and low-on-flavour tomato halves (not peeled) and a little pile of rocket leaves – that was it! Not impressed…

D had the special of pork chops with mash and gravy. It was a huge portion and he said the gravy was lovely and the mash ‘fine’ but one pork chop was frazzled and tough and the other more on the pink side than you want to go with pork. It was the very last portion which may explain it, but again, not hugely impressed.

However, everything was much better for the girls. The waiter took our food concerns most seriously, retreated to the kitchen and came back saying they could have four out of the six options available – an amazing amount of choice for us! He even made sure he personally notified the chefs when our order went through to be extra careful. We hadn’t asked for this level of attention by the way.

Big S had her favourite of sausage and chips – not exactly haute cuisine but eating out is about having what you really want isn’t it? Little S had a wholesome slab of grilled cod with chips – certainly the best dish on the table and much enjoyed. Also, much to our delight there was egg-free sorbet on the pudding menu – so for once (almost a first for us!) we managed to all have pudding too.

Both girls ate safely and enjoyed the meal out. It was really the excellent service that made it a good evening out (plus we’d probably have loved the food if we were fish eaters). On that basis alone I would say it was a successful meal and we left a happy family :-).

The Oyster Catcher Pub, Polzeath, North Cornwall

So last Monday night we ate out at The Oyster Catcher pub in Polzeath, Cornwall. It’s a St Austell Brewery pub in a stunning cliff top location in North Cornwall. To be honest it was our choice simply because it was incredibly convenient to where we were staying. The menu is basic pub fare with an emphasis on burgers – I guess that’s what surfers like to eat after a day catching waves.

Since The Oyster Catcher is a standard UK pub the veggie options were limited. Either a blue cheese, walnut and pear salad or a butter bean and chickpea burger. I opted for the burger which was tasty enough but suffered from the pub tendency of serving portions that are far too big.

The kids menu is short and consists of exactly what you would expect. However, it was the staff’s treatment of us, as a family with allergies, that really stands out. The barman was lovely and took all our concerns seriously, getting back up from the chef at every opportunity. Little S was very happy with her (safe) freshly battered fish, chips and peas (classic British seaside fare after all!). Big S was rather disappointed that she couldn’t have a burger or chicken goujons, but relented to having fish too. The barman must have noticed Big S’s disappointment and came back a few minutes later with the offer that the chef could batter the chicken instead of using breadcrumbs to make if safe for us – how nice is that? The food wasn’t amazing but both girls loved having supper out in a pub, and we felt comfortable and relaxed thanks to the the staff’s sympathetic treatment of us.

So all in all a successful family meal out for all of us.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that should you be on holiday in Polzeath with a dairy allergy, the small local Spar sells Provamel soya puddings, yogurts and ‘milks’ – a godsend if you’re holidaying in the area.