A Paradox in the Kitchen – Sugar-Free Afternoon Tea:
Bundling up to the Fifth Floor Cafe at Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, I was somewhat apprehensive. Afternoon Tea involves cakes in my book. And cakes involve chocolate, cream and lots of sweet and sugary treats. But I was also a little intrigued so I checked out the ethos behind Sarah Wilson’s ‘I quit sugar’ books. This tea is a collaboration between Sarah and Harvey Nichols designed to coincide with the launch of The I Quit Sugar Kids Cookbook and the I Quit Sugar Slow cooker cookbook. The basic principle seems to be that one type of sugar, fructose, is the main enemy. And that any sugars which contain a high level of fructose are evil. That includes normal table sugar, honey, agave and some of the sugar types I thought were relatively ok together with anything more than a small portion of fruit. So, most of Sarah’s recipes are created using brown rice malt syrup or stevia.
Apparently, fructose is only broken down by the liver, too much can cause fatty liver disease and all sorts of problems. So, while a little whole fruit (1 or 2 portions a day, not 5) is OK, a normal afternoon tea wouldn’t be.
Certainly, the menu sounded good. Things for a sweet tooth included cardamom and sea salt ganache tart, carrot cake with cinnamon frosting and strawberry scones served with raspberry chia jam. What would it be like in practice though?
Regardless of whether you go for the sugar-free option or not, it’s worth noting that the Fifth Floor Cafe has a small but perfectly formed roof terrace where you can sit and enjoy brunch, lunch, cocktails or afternoon tea of course. On a lovely, sunny June day that’s just what we opted to do.
Our tea tower arrived – looking pretty much like any other afternoon tea.
We started with deliciously moreish pork and fennel sausage rolls, served hot. Beautifully seasoned, I love the combination of pork with fennel seeds and the pastry was light, delicate and flaky. Of the items listed under ‘sandwiches’ I particularly enjoyed the carrot tahini burger and the Witlof (endive) sardine boats which were basically endive leaves filled with a sardine pate.
For me, the ultimate beef sandwich looked good but the dark rye bread was a little too dry to complement the perfectly cooked beef filling.
Scones came laced with strawberry gum an Australian berry that tastes not unlike strawberries but has a rather different consistency and served with raspberry chia seed jam.
There was an excellent variety of cakes to follow, including ‘bloody good cheesecake’, lemon curd tarts with a chia seed base and little chocolate cherry tarts.
I loved the cardamom and sea salt ganache tart, though my companion thought it was a little sweet (despite the lack of sugar!). We both agreed that it needed to be served so that it was easier to eat – it’s made with a biscuity base which crumbles as you move it and the filling was very soft indeed. But, it’s VERY moreish. Totally impossible to pick up with fingers, we both ended up spooning it from the main serving plate.
This is a very reasonably priced and quite substantial afternoon tea (£25 per person, including tea or coffee), which would work well if you are trying to cut down or avoid sucrose. It doesn’t ‘miss’ anything, though it has a slightly healthy feel about it. Personally, I’d still risk death by sugar and choose the classic afternoon tea at £30 or £35 with a glass of champagne. For me, an afternoon tea should be indulgent and luxurious and whether it’s psychological or not, I came out of this one feeling far too virtuous!
If you are interested in trying for yourself, you can find out more about the principles of I Quit Sugar from Sarah’s website. And, if you are as intrigued as I was, why not pop along to Harvey Nichols and try for yourself. A gentler way would be to just enjoy the main menu at any of the Harvey Nichols Cafes or Brasseries – you’ll find my favourite of the sweet dishes, the cardamom and sea salt ganache tart on the menu for dessert!
I was a guest of Harvey Nichols
109 – 125 Knightsbridge
Tel: +44 (0)20 7235 5250
Fax: (0)87 0191 6019