I learned that England has long been a food hub, but what blew me away were the variety of gluten free venues. At first I expected one or two places to serve tea with gluten free options, then was overwhelmed when I had a list of five locations doing a simple search. Upon further digging, there were over a dozen such places, which really blew my socks off! We only had so many days to enjoy proper tea – how could we choose among all these fabulous options? I felt the barriers of food intolerance disappear with such a dilemma and I tip my hat to the great kingdom of England for accommodating guests like myself. I’m exceedingly grateful that everything is transparent through website menus and blog reviews from fellow gluten free eaters, technology can be such a blessing.
Q: When is the optimal time to book for January?
It’s really quite mad, but thanks to OpenTable all the best rooms were saving our spots in advance. All of them required confirmation emails or calls the week of the reservation, which goes to show that flaking out of appointments is a universal plague. Of note, please bear in mind I only go for the white or green teas. I could not speak for any of the royal blends or black teas offered by the following establishments.
Side note: expect to shell out 70 to 90 for these afternoon tea services, bon appetit!
Fortnum and Mason at Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon
Although the business opened in 1705, the tea salon was actually established by Her Majesty in 2012. There was a clean elegance to the decor and china sets, and their selection of teas is quite extensive. This being my first formal tea service, I wasn’t used to the individual strainers for the loose leaf or the option of switching teas as often as I chose. Also a pleasant surprise was that we could reorder anything we liked from the set menu. This particular service gives you the option of choosing a cake from their table to package and take away. They had a gluten free apple option, which was nothing to write home about. My friends said their choices of Battenberg and chocolate weren’t exciting either. The gluten free sandwiches had tasty filling and soft bread. Their desserts and scones were unfortunately on the tough side. The other floors of the building are dedicated to boutiques as well as tea products. I was very well pleased with the quality of the teas and took a tin of the Fujian White Silver Needle Pekoe home, as well as the Pistachio Clotted Cream.
Hotel Cafe Royal
Anticipating the elaborate decor for this venue, I just had to dress to the nines topped with a tiara (trust me, it enhances the experience) . The walls were heavily adorned with gilded Roccoco accents. The server was helpful and attentive and the piano player near us was on point with his selections (ranging from Beauty and the Beast to the Game of Thrones theme). Though the sandwiches were unbelievably bland and the tea was average, they more than made up for the loss with the iced tea palate cleanser and array of gorgeous French desserts. My favorite was their version of the opera cake, which had a sumptuous layer of gianduja and featured a crunchy layer on the espresso cake. Also, the rich dark taste and texture of their jam and silky clotted cream were so marvelous I was almost moved me to tears.
Last but certainly not least. we checked our coats into a hotel met with art deco surroundings. Claridge’s is a name I came across in Crazy Rich Asians and comes up frequently in top lists for afternoon tea. My friends loved their Marco Polo gelee which seems to me like a bland marmalade jelly in lieu of any jam. Their clotted cream was flavorful as were their sandwiches. I have to concur their famous fresh baked soft gluten free scones earns favor as the best gluten free tea service I’ve encountered so far. Their regular flour scones were crisp on the outside and buttery on the inside, I envy those who can have them. My favorite tea was the Japanese Hojicha and could not get enough of the duck egg sandwiches. Also, I was quite impressed with the chia seed yogurt with diced fruit, an innovative offering to gluten free guests. Bravo, Claridge’s, I am eager to visit again.