Friday, July 17, 2015

Gluten Free Tea at Claridges

What could be more quintessentially British than Afternoon Tea?  I was worried that I would finally get to visit London, only to find that I couldn't partake of this delightful ritual.  Not so!  There are a significant number of establishments (mostly hotels) that offer a gluten free Afternoon Tea.

One of the most well-known is at Claridge's, a five star hotel in the Mayfair district, which is apparently visited regularly by members of the royal family.  We found it to be suitably posh, with a gorgeous art deco theme crowned by a white-frosted Chihuly chandelier.  (I often find his work to be too garish, but the pearly white color makes this one very elegant.)
Claridge's Hotel in London

We had three children with us, ages 12, 13, and 16, and they were warned ahead of time that this was Best Behavior Time.  They enjoyed getting dressed up and going out to dine "like the royals."  When we arrived, we were seated on little settees, with a low table.  I had mentioned that I was gluten free when I made the reservation, and they were prepared for me with no explanations needed.
The kids sat on a sofa
The Afternoon Tea is a set menu with a variety of sandwiches, scones, and pastries, all served on bone china and real silverware.  My daughter's recollection later was that it was all "really shiny!"  Each person got their own tray, but we traded around as we figured out which sandwiches each person liked best.  Colin (age 13) got all the salmon sandwiches, and was over the moon about them. My husband liked the chicken sandwiches best, and my 16 year old daughter liked the ham sandwiches.  They were also kind enough to provide some plain ham sandwiches for the youngest, who was not excited about the version that comes with watercress and tomato chutney.   My sandwiches were on gluten free bread, but like the standard version, it had several different varieties of bread, and it was so good I had one of those panic moments where I worried that it wasn't really gluten free!  Not to worry, it was gf and it was delicious.  My favorite was the duck egg.
Sandy at Claridge's Foyer for Afternoon Tea

The GF scones were incredible (one was plain and the other raisin) and they were served with clotted cream and jam.  For the pastries, I got a slightly different version than the others.  They substituted a tapioca pudding with tropical fruit, a coconut pound cake, and chocolate with fruit, and all were delicious.  The raspberry macaroon was the same on both trays and was already gluten free.

This was my gluten free version, with slightly different desserts. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the tea itself.  Claridge's actually has a tea sommelier!  I had Claridge's Blend, which is a traditional English Breakfast style tea.  My 13 year old had a cup of Second Flush Muscatel Darjeeling after interrogating the waitress about his options.  Like most waitstaff we encounter, she was unable to hide her amusement at the contrast between Colin's sophisticated palate and his tiny size. He pronounced it "amazing."  In the meantime the girls (12 and 16) were asking for hot chocolate instead of tea (which they provided).  The hot chocolate came in two pitchers -- one of chocolate sauce and the other steamed milk, which they poured together at the table to make your drink.  It even had a cute toasted marshmallow on a stick!  The 16 year old thought it was divine.  The 12 year old added sugar.  (It was definitely a bittersweet chocolate, but I only had a lick, as I wasn't sure if it was GF, and it seemed impolite to ask, as it wasn't even my drink.)

The total bill for 5 people with tip came to $440 in US dollars.  That was the most expensive meal we ate in Europe by far, but it was a once in a lifetime experience, and my son counts it as one of the best parts of the trip.


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