I'm such a lucky Chef indeed
There is a wonderful community of Bloggers out there that I love to read and connect with over the Internet, and now and then I get to interact with them in the Real World too!
This is what happened when I was contacted recently by Lovely Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella, with the offer to join her for a Gluten Free High Tea at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Sydney. The Radisson Blu has just launched it's 100% Gluten Free High Tea, and you don't even need to pre-book with dietary needs, just turn up as it's all available all the time! http://www.radissonblu.com/plazahotel-sydney
Lorraine organised a great get-together for us along with Charlie, Tania, and Brydie, and as it just happened to be my birthday at the same time, I felt very special indeed :)
It's so fantastic that more and more main stream restaurants are starting to realise the validity of food InTolerances and catering for our needs. I don't think most people realise that it certainly requires a lot of extra work and commitment by the chefs and kitchen team to make this all happen.
I wanted to know a bit more about the reasoning behind the Radisson Blu's decision to create a Gluten Free High Tea menu, so I was very grateful when Executive Chef Oswin Ribeiro was happy to answer some of my questions:
I was just wondering how the decision to create a dedicated gluten free menu come about?
The Gluten free market is growing and quite a few people are either highly intolerant or are by choice on this type of a diet. I realized that there was an increase in demand for the same and it only became more evident during our high teas as we had to prepare stuff to accommodate our guests request at the last moment and this often took a while as we had to be 100% clear to ensure that there was no form of cross contamination. Secondly, I decided to observe reactions of people not just at the hotel but at other places where I would go, check menus and make request for Gluten free Items, I must admit it seemed more like pleas being made by myself to accommodate my requests at many of those places even high end one’s. I then asked myself the question, Why should someone with a condition have to be sounding this way? Why should it be that catering places would be doing a favour trying to accommodate this need. Hence, started the journey of introducing a High tea where someone could just look at the menu and order confidently. This concept carries on from all our offerings at the Hotel our Breakfast buffet in the morning has tags which specifies Gluten free Items and of the 74 items on offer 80% is gluten free, Our In-room dining menu has alternate choices of the same dish prepared in a manner that is gluten free. So on and so forth. The high tea will keep evolving at Radisson.
Are all the items made in-house, or if not, which ones?
Are all the items made in-house, or if not, which ones?
Beside the bread and Wraps every item on the High tea is made in- house, We do production of the Gluten free items before anything else is produced for the reasons mentioned prior.
I was also interested to know if any of the chefs experience a gluten free lifestyle, and how they chose the gluten free options that were on offer.
None of our chefs experience a gluten free lifestyle at the moment, But I guess this due to the fact that we have to deal with varied kinds of food and prep, vitally important is that we have to taste what we cook, on second part of the question, we did trials for about 3 months before we were fully confident of the products, time of delivery, handling, sourcing etc We now have a repertoire to work from now for the future as well.
Did they perhaps trial them on both regular and gluten free eaters? I was certainly interested to hear my friends reactions to my meal, and to see how it compared to theirs as well.
Yes we did on few friends who were willing to try it out and give us their opinion this was during the trial stages. the interesting part is people on regular menus can eat gluten free without any effects, but it is the opposite for a Gluten intolerant person.
(I have to admit Dear Readers, that I find this to be a very odd answer, of course anyone without food allergies/InTolerances can eat the 'Special Menu' offerings, the question is why would they want to if it wasn't as delicious as the Regular menu?)
High Tea at Radisson Blu is held in Bistro Fax, with the Regular menu costing $40, and the Gluten Free one at $50. It's best to make a reservation, but it's not necessary to pre-book as gluten free.
The two types of High Tea side by side: the Regular one set for 3 on the right, and the Gluten Free set for 2 on the left
The nice thing about the two High Teas is that there is relatively very little difference between the two- the sandwich fillings are the same and the top sweet layer is identical. The scones are substituted with shortbread rounds, but sadly there are no little hot pastries for the gluten free menu
The Gluten Free stand, beautifully customised especially for me!
The array of sandwiches and wraps
Cucumber, cream cheese and dill; Roast beef, caramelized onion and horseradish; Smoked salmon with cream cheese dill and capers.
The fillings are delicious! A great variety and lovely balance of flavours in each mix as well. I just wonder though, if the chefs have ever tried one of the actual gluten free offerings themselves? As a whole I mean. Having a quick taste of something is very different to actually eating an entire sandwich.
Gluten free bread is just not the same as the soft, fluffy regular variety that squishes away and lets the filling shine. This bread is certainly a decent gluten free one, but as we know gf bread is quite dry and not at its best unless toasted, so they are a bit too dry and hard to swallow. My advice would be to make open faced sandwiches and so cut down the bread by half, making it a much nicer experience. I ended up discarding the top layer of each so I could taste the too-good-to-miss middles.
*Update* I recently received this news in a follow up email from Chef Oswin:
I have done a couple of minor adjustments already to the Gluten free high tea. We have begun presenting the sandwiches as lightly toasted open sandwiches which presents better and the bread forms a crisp base. Food is all about improving and at every stage and so the journey carries on.
Great news indeed!
Sadly the wraps were also not-quite-there-yet. The hotel has certainly used quality ingredients, but this brand of GF Wrap snaps instead of wraps and are again very dry and hard to eat. The chicken and avocado filling is so amazing however, that I scooped it out with my teaspoon as I didn't want to miss a bit! The best solution to this problem would be to use a lovely light GF crepe instead of the wrap. There are some very very good GF ones on the markets, and my favourite best crepes ever from Creative Gourmet, would be perfect for this. They thaw in seconds or can be microwaved, so having them on hand would be easy and much yummier indeed.
Shortbread Rounds with Jam and Whipped Cream
Again, these have a lovely flavour and the true shortbread snap and crumble....but ... They are HUGE and nearly impossible to eat. The first bite is delectable, but then the lovely short dough crumbles all over you, down your blouse (and cleavage) covering you with delicious dust, then the rice flour goes to work sucking all moisture out of your mouth leaving you gulping for tea and spluttering behind your hand as you try and swallow it down. Elegance is out of the question, and as you are sitting back in an arm chair relaxing, suddenly having to squat hunched over the coffee table in front is rather ungainly to say the least. I did try smearing on some of the jam and cream, but that just meant that I now had sticky crumbs all over me instead...
The answer to this one is so very simple indeed- just make them smaller! One bite is enough. Several small biscuits are much nicer than one humongous one on it's own. I get that these are supposed to be the scone substitute, but they aren't and shouldn't try to be. Treat them as their own little treat and they will be gobbled up gleefully as they really taste very good. Again, I think just good old GF scones on their own would be nice though, especially if they were served warm as in the Regular High Tea version.
Top Tier of Sweets, exactly the same for both types of High Tea
Walnut Slice; Mini Pavlova; Coconut Macaroon; Mini Chocolate and Lemon Curd Cups; Passionfruit Jelly
Just lovely indeed!
Marvelous moist Walnut cake, light Coconut cake, crispy Meringue, tangy Lemon Curd, and a very delicious Passionfruit jelly.
Definitely my favourite treat of the day, the jelly was softly set and a beautiful balance of sweet, sharp and tangy. A great way to cut through the other sweets and wake up your palate a little.
The Radisson Blu and Chef Oswin have obviously put a lot of effort into creating this Gluten Free High Tea, and overall it's been a success. There are a few teething problems that need to be addressed, and some will have already been tweaked by the time you read this, but the underlying tastes and flavours are top-notch indeed.
I have to say that this was a much more successful and enjoyable meal than the one I had at Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and I would certainly love to try it again- especially with the new style sandwiches on offer!
So Dear Readers, who would be your ultimate High Tea companions, and what treat would you most like to serve?
Disclosure: Radisson Blu and Bistro Fax kindly supplied two complimentary High Teas to our group.
Read Lorraine's review here for her take on our dining experience, Tania's post here, and for an amazing afternoon treat check out Charlie's post here for the fantastic gluten free/lactose free cake she bought along on the day for us as well. Yummo!
My review on the gluten free High Tea at Raffles, Singapore can be found Here