Fine Dining Free-From Style at Indigo, One Aldwych:
Chefs these days face an uphill struggle when trying to negotiate the dietary nuances of all their customers. Most people I know have one or more food intolerances and many of us compound that with dietary preferences. Woe betides the chef who can’t produce a decent vegetarian (with vegan option) tasting menu. I suspect I’m a little unsympathetic to the ‘preferences’ category. There are plenty of good vegetarian or flexitarian restaurants around now and my personal take is that those who chose a vegetarian or vegan diet shouldn’t demand things to suit themselves that might not appeal to those of us with a carnivorous bent.
Intolerances and allergies are something different. I have two allergies and in some ways I suspect I’m fortunate that they vary in level. The first is to strawberries (I turn red from my chin to my toes with a very itchy rash). The second, far more serious, is to chia seeds. It’s a VERY annoying allergy because chia is a great product for anyone trying to manage their weight. But, if I dare bite into a chia health bar or sprinkle some seeds on my soup to help keep me full my lips and mouth swell, the back of my throat becomes constricted and I find it hard to breathe. As someone pointed out, I really should carry an Epipen for that one.
Bizarrely, it was when dining at the ‘Free-From’ fine dining restaurant at One Aldwych that I nearly caused myself some damage. Unbeknown to me, the chef, Dominic Teague uses chia seed in some of the bread to help improve the texture. I didn’t eat it by chance more than by design.
What it does illustrate is that there is no perfect solution. Though Dominic, executive chef at One Aldwych has put considerable care into his latest menu offering which is entirely gluten and dairy free and his proposal of a menu which is entirely free from seems very logical. Why is it important? Well, if by chance I eat a strawberry I might itch a bit. I can generally tell if I swallow chia seeds almost immediately – and I stop. But, for those who are genuinely Celiac, even a trace of gluten can hospitalise them. Having a completely gluten and dairy free menu means that there is no risk of cross contamination. The kitchen is scrubbed down after breakfast service and becomes a temple. No one can account for every weird allergy and intolerance, but offering a realistic choice that enables those with gluten and lactose intolerances to eat with the rest of the world safely is a good step forward.
I might not be quite so heartily in approval if the meal at Indigo, One Aldwych had been in any way compromised. But I’m happy to say it really wasn’t, although some items were ‘different’. We all thought the gluten and dairy free bread rolls were very tasty but closer to American style biscuit than normal bread.
I went on to enjoy a generous and delicious portion of hand-picked Dorset crab with potted Shrimp and pickled mackerel as my starter. There was a whole range of options on the menu and you wouldn’t have known the menu was gluten and dairy free unless you’d asked.
Main courses offered a similar variety. I loved my breast of Yorkshire pheasant with celeriac, watercress and port jus – something of classic dish brought up to date by the stylish presentation and celeriac crisps. Others at the table enjoyed a comforting looking plate of Organic Rhug estate lamb rump with samphire, smoked aubergine, capers and anchovy or steak from the grill.
For dessert, it had to be the Amedei chocolate mousse, served with a delicious pistachio and almond milk ice cream. Actually, there were plenty of other choices, but when there’s chocolate on the menu I find myself drawn in one particular direction.
I suspect that I was not alone in loving the fact that this indulgent menu was both gluten and dairy free. Although I have no health reasons to avoid either, like many people, I find gluten free food lighter and more digestible. And, here, you would never have known that you were dining ‘free from’.
Disclosure: I was invited to sample the gluten free menu as a guest of One Aldwych. All views are my own and have been editorially given