Tea at The Orchid Lounge, Pan Pacific, London

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.

14 allergen free patisserie plate
The traditional patisserie plate

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.

Vegan sandwich selection

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.

Dim Sum
Mushroom Bao

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.)

Amuse bouche

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.

Between course freefrom biscuit

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. 

14 free scones
Traditional scones

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….

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.

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