As every Coeliac knows, afternoon tea is an absolute nightmare. There’s pretty much nothing you can eat. High tea? More like low tea.
Yesterday, I had the absolute honour of taking my sister for an entirely gluten-free afternoon tea at The Mandarin Oriental in London.
I don’t know about you but my memories of high tea as a child were ones where we’d enjoy sandwiches and cake. The Mandarin Oriental takes this to a whole new level.
For a start, The Rosebery is stunning. It may have helped that there were flowers there to honour the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, but even without them the place would still be impressive.
Then there’s the china. Each piece is hand-painted in a design bespoke to The Mandarin Oriental. No wonder it’s often sought out as a wedding gift!
But let’s move on to the tea itself.
menuIt began with an amazing menu of fine teas to accompany the food. Given my relatively slender knowledge of tea blends, I deferred to our wonderful waitress, Eleonora, who was able to recommend particular teas for different parts of the tea.
We were told the black teas were the ones to go for with sandwiches, so I plumped for the Staunton Earl Grey, and wasn’t disappointed.
It turns out I’ve managed to spend nearly 40 years of my life without properly appreciating tea. I ended up having 4 in total, including ones with amazing names like ‘Custard Apple’ and an Afternoon Blend with (wait for it) ‘Golden Monkey Leaf’!
But tea, you may argue, is suitable for most diets, and any Coeliacs reading this may be desperate to learn about the food, so we’ll move on.
Ali & friend
It began with us being presented our very own tree. On the end of the main branch was hung a beautiful silver birdcage full of goodies.
Ali & sandwichesNo fewer than 6 different types of brown and white sandwiches were presented before us.
And the bread – oh, the bread! It was the most sumptuous looking bread I’ve ever seen. I really couldn’t believe it was gluten-free. For the sceptics among you, my sister has a most discerning palate, and she couldn’t tell, either.
But then came my biggest surprise of the day: I had presumed that the delicious plate of sandwiches and sweets was the whole tea. How wrong I was! It turned out there wasn’t just one or two but THREE courses!
A waiter even asked us if we’d like more sandwiches – what service!
After a tea change to Green Tea with Jasmine (delish!), we moved on to the sweets.
There were five to choose from and, naturally, I tried them all. A miniature cheesecake even had its own tiny macaron on the side. Every attention to detail had been given, including edible flowers and the most beautiful presentation.
I think my favourites were the white chocolate-filled macaron and the cheesecake, although fans of dark chocolate and coconut would be thrilled with the others.
And then it was the turn of the scones. Oh, what a long time it is since I’ve had a buttery, crumbly scone!
Each was accompanied by 4 pots: one of clotted cream, one of lemon curd, and two different jams – strawberry and rose petal.
I was eager to start with something I’d not had before so I went straight for the rose petal.
A good scone with a dollop of rose petal jam on top of cream is pretty much a little piece of Heaven. The curd and the strawberry jam didn’t disappoint, either.
curd & jams
If you’re wondering what the final course was, it was cake. Two types: ginger and mocha.
I must admit, by this time I was extremely full and rather glad I’d worn a loose-fitting dress. But after a few sips of the tea with the Golden Monkey Leaf I was ready to try a piece of both cakes. For those who like ginger, it had the most wonderful flavour, and for anyone who has a passion for chocolate, the mocha will hit the spot.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been at a place where I could indulge in everything, and my goodness, did I indulge! After a three course high tea, there was definitely no need for supper (and those who know me know I’m always eating).
My only disappointment was in myself. When the staff kindly wrapped up the cakes we couldn’t finish, it was only when we boarded the train home that we realised we had left them behind. How foolish of me!
That said, the memory of this wonderful day at The Mandarin Oriental will be one that stays with me forever. It marks the start of something I hope all restaurants and cafes will follow: the ability to wow customers with freefrom needs without them missing out on anything. Now that’s something to look forward to.
For more information on The Mandarin Oriental’s afternoon teas, please click here. Remember that you’ll need to let them know in advance if you need gluten-free.
Have you been to a lovely gluten-free afternoon tea lately? Share your thoughts below!