Afternoon tea is one of those things you can describe as truly delightful. Gorgeous, miniature cakes, charming little sandwiches and scones slathered thick with cream THEN jam (the Devonshire way, I will accept nothing less). In short, it sounds like a coeliac's worst nightmare - but find a gluten free version? Heaven.
The Kensington in the South Kensington area of London has just launched two afternoon teas, a classic and a gluten free one. These are served in the beautiful drawing rooms of the hotel, which sits in Queen's Gate, a short walk from the V&A and Natural History Museum.
The hotel itself is beautiful - cosy and refined - and I have to say I felt a little out of place when I turned up with my rucksack! I'm more of a eat-out-of-Tupperware type than a sit down with fine china and tiny cake forks (seriously, how do you use those?) so take my country-bumpkin derrière and sit me in a posh hotel and I crumble.
But the hotel itself was so beautiful and the staff so welcoming, I quickly dropped those inhibitions and focussed on the important stuff: food.
The gluten free afternoon tea comes with a selection of teas - my friend Lauren and I chose green tea - and is started with appetisers of a superfood salad served in a red chicory leaf, and red pepper hummus feta on grilled gluten free flat bread.
Now, you may have guessed I am not the sort of person who opts for the kind of cuisine which looks like it was put together with a pair of tweezers. But when the appetisers came out they looked stunning. They were so pretty and precisely put together, and the flavour combination was fantastic. I couldn't wait for the afternoon tea to be served!
When it came out, it did not disappoint! Beautifully presented in a china stand, the gluten free afternooon tea consists of the following:
Gluten free sandwiches
- Dorset crab and avocado with lemon puree
- Wiltshire ham and tarragon mustard and pea shoots
- Braised salt beef with English mustard and cornichons
- Cucumber and cream cheese with baby watercress
Gluten free sweets
- Carrot and walnut gluten free cake with cucumber and cream cheese icing
- Vanilla and raspberry macaroon
- Dark chocolate and cherry panacotta with sea salt caramel
- Pâté de fruit
- Date & almond balls, dipped in chocolate and grated coconut
Gluten free buttermilk scones served with strawberry jam and Devonshire (woop!) clotted cream.
The whole thing was presented so beautifully, and paired with a glass of Prosecco you could imagine just sitting chatting away with your girl friends and nibbling on these delicious treats.
The sandwiches were impressive - I don't know which gluten free bread they used but it was not dry at all like some breads can be. The crab and avocado and the ham and mustard sandwiches were my favourite. I was not too keen on the cream cheese one - I am not a huge cucumber fan anyway - and the beef one definitely had the strongest flavour which I enjoyed.
The sandwiches also came with these amazing micro leaves on top - I forgot to ask what they were, but they were amazing!
The cakes were beautifully presented, with edible flowers - you could tell a lot of effort and care had gone into making this afternoon tea a visual delight as well as a tasty feast. The Pâté de fruit was my favourite - it has a really strong burst of passionfruit flavour and was amazing.
The panacotta was also very creamy and sweet - I liked how the cherry added a hint of tang against the light, chocolate flavours. The macaroon was quite crunchy but the fresh raspberries and vanilla cream helped to balance this and surprisingly it was not too sweet. I think it can be difficult to not be overpowered with too many sweet treats but I found the balance here was just right.
The date and almond ball was nice - and again not too sweet - though it was not chocolate covered as stated in the menu. The only thing I did find disappointing was the carrot cake. It was surprisingly very dry, but I enjoyed the twist on the frosting.
The scones were the real show-piece - these were still warm and you got one fruit and one plain scone. I thought their texture was lovely and I loved the jam that came with it too - and of course the taste of Devon in the cream!
Overall, the afternoon tea costs £35 per person and it was a lovely experience. The hotel was gorgeous, the food was delicious and the staff were very accommodating. I would definitely recommend it if you're in the area.
One bugbear - it is marketed as a 'healthy' afternoon tea (since when was cake healthy?) which does annoy me when people market gluten free products as more of a trend than a health concern. I hope this doesn't mean it will just be a phase as I think there is definitely a market for this sort of thing.
To celebrate the launch of it's new afternoon tea, The Kensington is giving away a limited number of tickets of a first come, first serve basis to the Botticelli Reimagined exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum to every paying customer. Find out more at townhousekensington.com.