Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych, London

It’s rare that my girls get to go out for a real fancy treat, one that is food based but also worth getting dressed up for! We’ve previously had a wonderful Afternoon tea at The Langham and have often talked about some of the delicacies we came across. So, to have a repeat experience but in a new venue I did masses of research. There really aren’t that many choices, a fair few offer you a vegan tea option but once you’ve taken out all the nuts and seeds there are less options available, and whilst my girls may be dairy or dairy and egg free, that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to eat the vegan menu.

In my research I came across a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea at One Aldywch. This sounded both exciting and a possibility as they specifically stated that they could cater for any dietary requirement, if given notice. I contacted the hotel and was given a very welcoming contact, who checked with the chefs and confirmed we could be catered for. It sounded so exciting and we couldn’t wait for our tea featuring “fizzy lifting drinks, snowberry jam, chocolate milkshake mixed by waterfall”.

I have to say I’ve really struggled with whether to post this review as I don’t like to be negative, but honesty is the best way and we found the whole experience so deeply disappointing.

The hotel is lovely, with a modern feel and some elegant features like a checkerboard mirrored lift to get to the bathrooms – notably the bathrooms (always a giveaway) were nothing special, you didn’t feel like you were anywhere luxurious.

The service was okay, we were made to feel welcome but it was painfully slow, so slow in fact that we spent a lot of time looking over our shoulders for something to arrive. I know we are tricky as we all have different requirements but I’d given them 2 months notice and they were the ones who said they were happy to cater for us. Honestly, don’t say you can deliver if you can’t!

So onto the food… which was at best only ok, there was nothing that made you go wow.

For the standard vegetarian savouries (that I had and I’m mentioning first as these didn’t need to be tweaked to be made safe and should be the knock out dishes they wheel out daily) there was a relatively tasty cheesy tart, the driest brioche you have ever eaten filled with something unidentifiable and purple, a very earthy beetroot wrap and a rather nice coronation cauliflower in matcha bread. There were cheesy scones which were good, but I’ve had better. So one nice savoury.

For the girls they got avocado in bread – honestly I couldn’t believe the lack of imagination. There was also a very plain chicken sandwich and a rather challenging beetroot wrap. Big S got some nice hummus topped with a carrot puree but it came with a spoon rather than something to dip in. Who eats hummus with a spoon? Then there’s the scones. Oh my goodness they were bad, like hard biscuits you could hardly swallow, you really couldn’t imagine a worse scone (and vegan scones are so easy to make!)

The sweet course looked prettier, it had it’s own stand and came with some candy floss which did make everyone smile but the flavours and execution were nothing special.

The standard options were some tasty little lemon sponges, chocolate financiers and fairly good scones with jam, there was an Eton mess which would be nice if you liked cream (I don’t) and a very milky chocolate mousse and super minty chocolate drink. The there was a red velvet cake pop which was just unpleasant – sorry but when you’re charging £45 per head I think you need to do better than unpleasant.

The girls sweet course was far worse, I just don’t know how they made dairy and egg-free food so horrible. I know I’m probably far more experience in cooking free-from but I’m not saying I can cater or people and then charging them 5* prices for horrible food. On the plus side the little chocolate sponges were quite nice. But then the chocolate mousse was the most bitter chocolate I have ever tasted, the same awful scones appeared, the chocolate drink was again far too dark and worst of all both girls reacted to traces of milk and needed antihistamine. All that and they charged adult price for little S when she should have  been charged the child price.

Sorry One Aldwych but we came away so disappointed and underwhelmed; this special occasion was anything but special, cost a fortune and has put us off trying somewhere else new. Maybe we should have made a fuss on the day, but eating out with allergies is challenging and we try to make the experiences as pleasant as possible, and making a fuss in front of the girls just makes the whole thing worse.

So all in all I wouldn’t recommend afternoon tea at One Aldywch, even the standard version was anything but magical and only had a vague hint of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; save your money or save up and go somewhere like The Langham where you will have an experience to remember.

The Boulevard Restaurant, East Wittering

 

Perhaps wrongly, we don’t often frequent independent cafes or restaurants, and instead opt for the reliability of chain restaurants with their meticulous allergen folders and by-the-book trained staff with strict procedures when handling customers like us. It is quite simply easier. It is a shame as you do want to support small independent and family run businesses over large corporates. So we are really happy when we do come across somewhere independent that can suit our needs without trouble.

We came across The Boulevard Restaurant in East Wittering, West Sussex by chance. We had originally pinpointed a positively reviewed and recommended nearby pub (for allergies) but received such a terrible response from the management when we enquired about allergens – real rudeness in fact that we left pretty rapidly. Having made the unusual move of leaving the house for a day out without a full packed lunch ‘just in case’, we had to find an alternative place to eat. Luckily, we didn’t have to go far before we stumbled across this little gem of a family restaurant.

The Boulevard is family run and has I believe served since 1979. It’s a relatively ‘simple’ cafe restaurant with the kind of menu you would expect but with daily specials, very generous portions and crucially the staff have been without fail so helpful, efficient and friendly. There’s a full range of safe (or adaptable) favourites on the children’s menu, and the main menu has plenty of veggie and vegan choices – so we’re one happy family! So much so, we’ve now visited three times even though we live quite a way away.

Another highlight for us is they sell a full range of New Forest Ices, and as I’ve mentioned before their sorbet is dairy-free, egg-free and totally nut-free too. When we visited they had three flavours of sorbet. A choice of pudding for the girls when eating out is a rare luxury for us, and again outside of a chain, the girls would be offered a piece of fruit usually.

Then to the girls’ delight, the bill comes with a little tub of jelly beans rather than the ubiquitous chocolates. Happy bunnies all round!

So, if you’re near the Witterings (the beach at West Wittering is vast at low tide and well worth a trek) I’d really recommend a stop off at The Boulevard Restaurant – we might even see you there!

The Bran Tub, Petersfield

Health Shops, worth taking a detour for:

The Bran Tub, Petersfield, Hampshire, UK

This lovely, cavernous health food shop has been a regular pilgrimage for us – a true well stocked treasure trove which is always buzzing with customers. I’ve found some real hard to find gems here, from soya condensed milk to real dairy-free choc ices. Definitely well worth a visit!

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Tabasco sauces and marinades review

I’ve started being sent products to review which is a welcome little bonus to writing a blog! I haven’t been paid to write this article and only received the free products I mention. All the opinions are my own, based on tasting the products.

Most products offered just aren’t suitable – I’m talking to you Mr PR person who asked me to feature a poster of how to best cook eggs! I don’t think he’d even looked at my blog, in fact I know he hadn’t. I just happened to appear on some list of foodie bloggers. How lazy. And this happens a lot. It’s very much one-way product featuring from the companies’ marketing departments on the whole, and while I may accept their product, I often don’t write about it.

Anyway, I was delighted with this offering – 4 spicy marinades/sauces from the Tabasco brand – or should I say D was especially happy as he loves spicy sauces and is always looking to grow the collection. All four are free from any ingredients that would cause us difficulty and we took great delight in having a taste testing session.

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Starting at the mild end of the scale:

Sweet chipotle and cola – this was a sauce to appeal to the whole family. Predominantly sweet with smokey undertones, I would say this is reminiscent of barbecue sauce. Pretty similar really. The heat factor is mild and I would happily use it as a sauce as well as a marinade – in fact a dollop on beans on toast was a rather nice addition.

Next up: chipotle and smokey bourbon – again this is a mild sauce but definitely one for the grown ups. The bourbon flavour is quite pronounced and the smokeyness is a little more intense. I see this one as working more as a marinade for a barbecue.

Moving onto the medium spicy peppery Deep South creole – the heat has been cranked up a notch, but it’s a pleasant and fresh chilli flavour that shines through. Fresh, fruity and spicy is how we rated this one and it worked equally well as a sauce or a marinade. It was too hot for my children though!

Finally at the hot end I’d the scale was fruity and fiery habenero – wow this was hot! Or should I say hot, hot, hot! Far too hot for me I’m afraid. I found it fruity but with the bitter twang you can get from very spicy foods. I can see it appealing to real heat fans, but still probably best as a marinade. But maybe Tabasco should have one that’s up there in the heat scale, as that is their roots. It’s going to last a while.

Are they worth buying? Well, I’d say yes, they have really tried to evolve the spicy flavours and I can see a lot of uses. I’m not sure I’d buy all 4 but it would be well worth having one in the fridge to enliven a plain dish.Perhaps one of the two more mild ones would be enough and one of the hotter ones.

 

 

Paris and Disneyland with allergies

Well we’re back from a lovely but very busy weekend in Paris. It was a bit of a mission for just 4 days – basically 2 days travelling (driving and ferry), 1 day in Disneyland Paris and 1 day in Paris. We had a lovely time, with no allergy-related incidents, but it did highlight some of the difficulties of travelling with food allergies.

On the ferry there was no option for food for the girls other than crisps or apples. The info on board kindly mentioned that they were happy to give the ingredients for all dishes sold on board, but they couldn’t guarantee than any dish didn’t include other ingredients than those listed. Covering their backs basically. Since a cross-channel ferry isn’t really the best place to take risks – this means all food is out of bounds, even usually safe basics like baked beans and toast.

I had obviously packed plenty of food for the trip and the rest of the weekend, including a cinnamon swirl cake, homemade cookies, dairy-free spread, soya-cheese, dairy-free chocolate spread… If you are catering for allergies and travelling you just have to be prepared. For the rest of the journey, again any stops in service stations etc can only really provide crisps (all packs need to be thoroughly checked as lots contain milk) and sweets. Healthy huh!!

We didn’t get time to visit a large supermarket this time, but they do, on the whole, have a great range of soya products – milks, a fantastic range of yogurts and even soya-steaks. However, you must be cautious of some other products – pasta and hummus often contain egg, there is no chance of dairy/egg free biscuits and even tomato ketchup brands often contain milk. However, fresh baguettes are fine – no egg, milk, nuts or sesame – yippee! There are certainly worse things to live off for a few days, than fine French baguettes 🙂

We were self-catering (almost a necessity for us) and managed to get by with taking lots of food, unexciting meals and small grocery stores and bakeries. I’m not sure how we’d manage in a hotel with no cooking facilities!

We again ate a picnic at Disneyland Paris, but having done prior research I was mightily impressed by the allergen-free food available. As I say, we didn’t eat any so I can’t comment on price or quality – but the information suggests there are 3 starters, 4 main courses and 3 puddings which are guaranteed free of the top 25 allergens. Most impressive – well done Disney!

On our day in Paris we ate yet another picnic which was certainly the sensible and cheaper option. We could have eaten out, but for the (non-veggie) girls this would have been ham/steak served with chips and no veg (you never seem to get vegetables served in France, despite seeing the most beautiful ones in markets). Food was fine for big S as she loves chips, but little S won’t eat them and also isn’t very keen on big quantities of meat – so she would have basically only eaten some of the baguette which is served with any meal. Not exactly value for money!

There are wonderful and extremely tempting snacks for sale in France (crepes, patisserie, viennoiserie, gorgeous ice cream, waffles, pizzas, sandwiches), but none are dairy and egg-free. Again our only options are crisps, chips, sweets if we are on the go – absolutely nothing healthy or even vaguely nutritious.

So what am I saying? Well, certainly not ‘don’t go’ – travel is such an enriching thing and especially so for those who may feel fearful of new things. Besides, Paris is so stunning and cool – how could you not want to go? I guess my biggest bit of advice is to be prepared, research in advance, make sure you can get your point across (we’re lucky because D is half French and most French people would be surprised that English is his most natural language, so no situation is a problem) and take lots of suitable and nutritious snacks to keep you going. Most of all, enjoy!

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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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