I never turn down food. Especially cake.
So one rainy day late in May saw us strolling into the beautiful Wellington Lounge in the Intercontinental London Park Lane with beady eyes and empty stomachs, ready to meet our match. And that we certainly did.
I’m here to take you through the experience, alphabetically.
A is for atmosphere, which I would beat describe as chilled sophistication. This is a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously- it’s all about the food. You can dress up if you want, come in business gear or show up in your everyday clothes and you won’t feel out of place.
B is for bread. As you can see in the image above, we had a few different types of bread to help the sandwich fillings along their way. I have to say, it’s quite unusual to have such a variety of breads as a gluten free diner, especially ones baked on-site (and not just a bought in loaf). For more on those there sandwiches, scroll on down to S…
C is for cake. This’ll be a long one. Just feast your eyes on these beauties:
I know it’s not the done thing to start with pudding (what would your mother say) but really, this is what we’re all here for. In this selection we had a very gooey chocolate cake with a little bit of mango sauce and a white chocolate shard, a carrot cake with a strawberry, a white chocolate baseless cheesecake with a strawberry and blueberry topping, and a gooseberry confection which involved jelly, a fool, and a meringue on top.
I inhaled the chocolate cake first (obvi), which was delicious. Everything a good chocolate cake should be. The cheesecake was light and airy and not at all sickly. I only ate a forkful of the carrot cake as I’m not typically a fan of it, but I found it moist and full of flavour. By the time I got to the gooseberry situation it was all getting a bit much, and I managed the meringue, a bit of fool and the tiniest taste of jelly (for research purposes of course) before having to give up. Not a reflection on the quality of the pudding but the expandability of the waistline of my dress!
D is for drinks. Pre-afternoon tea we were served a deadly cocktail of champagne and Pimms which went down far too easily. I really, really liked this cocktail as you may be able to tell.
I think Kelly and I were having a chin-off at this point. The jury is still out as to who’s won, but personally I think I’ve got it in the bag.
E is for expectations. I’ve had a few gluten free afternoon teas before, and the experience has been a mixed bag to put it mildly. I am pleased to report that I’d score this particular afternoon tea in my Top Two Ultimate Afternoon Teas – I can’t quite decide whether I prefer this afternoon tea over the afternoon tea at Gunners Barracks in Sydney. However, I do know which one I can get to in less than 24 hours.
F is for free from gluten, which the entire tea was. Kelly is gluten free as well, and it was really nice to dine with someone who had the same dietary needs as me, and be able to share the same food!
All ours, and all gluten free!
G is for great service. There wasn’t a hint of snobbishness about any of the staff and they even stored the frozen pizza I had with me in their freezers (long story- Kelly and I went to a free from festival prior to out afternoon tea and I’d made a purchase or two. I don’t tend to walk around with frozen pizzas regularly. Yet.).
H is for Hyde Park, which is just around the corner. You don’t have a view of the park from the dining room, but I’d recommend going for a walk before your tea if you have time. Or perhaps for a postprandial stroll, but if you’re anything like me then you’ll have eaten far too much for that to be a realistic option.
I is for InterContinental Hotels Group, of which this hotel is their main flagship location in the UK. I’m fairly familiar with their hotels and I do find that they are generally one of the better chains when it comes to gluten free provision.
J is for jam which was served with cream to go on our scones. I really liked the jam, because it was a very subtle strawberry jam. This suited me because I’m not so keen on strawberry jam in general, as I find your average strawberry jam a bit too sweet. This was just right for me.
Oh and the scones were pretty good too. Small, so they didn’t fall apart, and I detected a decent egg content, which meant they actually tasted of something.
Shoutout to those eating their afternoon teas Devonshire style – cream first, then jam for those not in the know. Cornish style is jam first, then cream but that’s sheer madness if you ask me. What kind of hooligan chooses to put the jam first??
K is for Kelly, my afternoon tea buddy. I couldn’t have asked for a better companion, we spent a full four hours there laughing, sharing stories and brainstorming our next great new blogging idea. Watch this space. You can see her review of the day here.
L is for Luigi, our very own tea ninja. They seek him here, they seek him there…
Wait, that’s not right…
And of course, we hardly had to seek him at all before Luigi was right there at our elbows, suggesting a new type of tea to try, bringing us a fresh selection of treats or helpfully refilling our water.
M is for money. Let’s cut to the chase here – this whole afternoon tea experience will set you back £36 per person. Personally, having tried the tea for myself, I think that represents good value for the quality of food you receive and, as a coeliac, the peace of mind that I’m not about to get glutened.
N is for no panna cotta, crème brûlée, crema catalana or any of the custard based dessert family. I have nothing against them as puddings, but I’ve had almost as much of them as I’ve had fruit salad. Especially in afternoon teas, where they really can’t get away with serving you a giant stack of fruit – as much as they might want to. Personally I find it a bit of a let down when everyone else has delicious cake and pastries and I have 101 variations of flabbyness.
O is for olive tea. Yes, tea made from olive leaves. You wouldn’t think it would be good, and I maintain it tastes a bit like smoked mackerel, but it works. Trust me on this one. I even tried a blend of olive and peppermint tea and that was absolutely delicious, too. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!
P: the bathrooms are very nice indeed
Q is for quintessentially British. If you’re a visitor to our country I highly recommend going for an afternoon tea to get a sense of what our country is about. When I was in New York recently, I was bemoaning the fact that we’re very behind the US in the brunch stakes. But, pointed out our server, you have afternoon tea! Quite.
R is for raspberry, which I think was one of the main flavours in the delicious iced fruit tea we were served at the end of our meal. Honestly it was difficult to pick out individual flavours because to me it just tasted like actual heaven.
In general, I wish there had been more raspberries in the afternoon tea instead of strawberries, but that’s just a personal preference.
S is for sandwiches. They were each served on a different type of bread, which was a nice touch. I enjoyed the variety, and on the whole they were very good – but the bread on the ham and mustard sandwich was a little on the solid side.. Personally I prefer that to overly crumbly, but I did have to leave some in the end as it was beginning to sit a little heavily on the stomach.The fillings were prawn and caviar, salmon and cream cheese, ham and mustard, egg mayonnaise, and Coronation chicken and mango.
I think my favourite was the salmon and cream cheese. I liked the little bread puff things they were served on the best. I think it was as close to brioche as I’m ever going to get in this gluten free lifetime.
T has to be for tea, doesn’t it? Served in beautiful china, you can take your pick from an extensive menu but I highly recommend taking your cue from the tea ninja himself. Who else could have got Kelly and I to try olive tea?!
U for Underground. The nearest tube station is Hyde Park Corner, just make sure you use the right exit! I can’t tell you which one that is because we blatantly failed to find it.
V is for very full. I challenge you to consume this entire afternoon tea and not roll out of that hotel having gone up two full dress sizes.
W is for the Wellington Lounge, which is where we took our afternoon tea. Kelly and I visited on a Saturday and it was busy, but not rammed. There’s plenty of space around the tables and you don’t feel packed in like sardines even when all the tables are occupied.
X is for expandable waist, which you will definitely need if you undertake this afternoon tea.
Y is for Yes please. My answer if you asked me to go there again!
Z is for the giant nap I needed to take after inhaling this much food. No regrets!
The Intercontinental London kindly provided me with this afternoon tea free of charge. I think I’ve been pretty objective about my experience – Kelly can vouch for me on this. I genuinely had as good a time as it sounds like I did. Accepting and writing about free things isn’t something I’ve done before, so I’m interested in hearing your opinions about it. Does it totally turn you off or are you not bothered?