Tuesday 11 May 2010

A Tale of Two GF Teas: Part 1: The Ritz

We all know there are many many places that don't treat us well, and I would be here all day if I listed them. Besides - who wants to know where not to go?

I'm going to make one particular exception here as I have been asked about gluten free afternoon teas a fair bit recently, and I've had two very different experiences, and one helps shed light upon the other.

Let's start with the negative. Do not go to the gluten free tea at the Ritz. Unless you like being really disappointed. And being treated like a second class citizen. And feeling nauseous afterwards. Well, it was more greasy-mouthed. Either way. It was unpleasant. Don't go.

The "sandwiches" were not the delicate sandwiches of ye olde afternoon teas past; more tiny bits of gf bread with great lumps of (low quality) ingredients plopped on top, the ratio entirely off and quite frankly, bizarre. Who on earth wants to eat six slices of cheddar on top of one little piece of buttered bread? Or indeed, what seemed like an entire cucumber? Or several pieces of dry chicken on top, with no other ingredients to speak of?

It was appalling stuff - you would make far far better in your own home. In fact, after trying each one, odd dissapointment after odd disappointment, I stopped eating them. Not because I wasn't hungry, but because it was actively unpleasant to eat. Especially the plain (low quality) mound of smoked salmon on top of that poor defenseless scrap of bread. Please sir, may I have a lemon? A tiny bit of dill? A daub of cream cheese for the lady? Anything more than three measely ingredients?

There was the distinct air of "Aren't you lucky that we even have anything to feed you". Dreadful. My sister's vegetarian option contained lovely little sandwiches. And when she was presented with a selection of cakes I received...... A fruit plate! Oh yes, a fruit plate! Lucky me. How delightful to watch my sister stuffing scones with clotted cream into her mouth (sorry sis, just jealous) while I poke at my drab (unripe, tasteless) melon slices. Hey, I did get a macaroon (medicocre) and a cake (dry and tasteless). Again, lucky me.

It really is the epitome of what I detest in the restaurant world, when dealing with us gluten free folk. I was paying the £50 like everyone else, but I'm supposed to put up with merely "something I can eat". Yeah, that's fine on a plane. But not at the Ritz. I mean come on guys, seriously? Buck up.

And on another note; the service had the outward appearance of being smart, but was actually flawed - I was interrupted as I greeted my sister, and when I gave her her birthday gift. And they loitered. And were often confused about what food was mine and what was hers . In case you didn't have enough reasons not to go. It was a special occasion, thoroughly disappointing, and I hope that all of you avoid this fate.

Instead - may I suggest you go to Claridges!

A Tale of Two GF Teas: Part 2: Claridge's

I was invited to the new gluten free tea at Claridge's, using the delicious fresh baked Genius gluten free bread.

It couldn't have been more different than the truly dire Ritz situation.

Delicious, lovingly prepared sandwiches that were beautifully presented - chicken with lemon remoulade, smoked salmon with horseradish and dill, Dorrington ham, egg and watercress. Light and fluffy bread, with high end, well prepared and tasty fillings. Gluten-free delights.

Genius, the breadmakers who make the gluten free bread that Claridge's uses, have the motto "yummy.... hooray!" - the idea being that your first thought when eating something should be that it is scrumptious. The hooray bit comes because it's also gluten free. But the yum should always come first. I entirely agree with this principle.

Oh and boy was it a "yummy... hooray" situation with the gluten free scones. Scones! Pour moi? Oh, Claridge's, wiz all ze's gluten free treats you are really spoiling us (note to the Ritz: this is how you should feel). I haven't had a scone in 14 years. It was delightful. With strawberry jam and a delicate cornell of Devon's finest clotted cream. I very nearly melted at the taste.

The raspberry and rosewater macaroon was, ah, heavenly! Light, a deep raspberry flavour, with some sort of custard cream in the middle, and fresh raspberries around the edges. Weep. I finished my feast with a delicate fruit tart, and some devilish chocolate cake concoction.

Most of all I just felt delighted. And like it was really special. Everything was beautiful to look at, and beautiful to eat. You could tell it had been lovingly prepared. Someone cared.

When it comes to an occasion like Afternoon Tea, I want to be made to feel really special, and to have something any non-celiac would be jealous of.

Mission accomplished Claridge's.

Next time it's my sister's birthday I know exactly where I'm going to go to rub her gluten-eating face in it.