coeliac, dairy free, dominic teague, eating out, Food, Gluten free, gluten free and dairy free, gluten free covent garden, gluten free hotel london, gluten free london, indigo, London, one aldwych, restaurant, Review, west end gluten free
“Why would you choose to come to a gluten and dairy free restaurant?” laughs one of my fellow diners. He owns one of the few burger chains that doesn’t offer a gluten free bun, so you can guess his feelings about Indigo, the free from restaurant at One Aldwych. Those of us in the free from community however feel a little different about it…
Not many coeliacs missed the headlines about Chef Dominic Teague making the menu at the only restaurant in a central London hotel completely gluten and dairy free. But incase you didn’t know… He didn’t tell anyone. Not until three months after the new menu launched after a kitchen refit.
Now what this experiment does confirm is a number of things that those who live on a restricted diet will tell you: 1) simple food cooked well can be gluten and dairy free 2) it can still be delicious 3) your guests won’t even know 4) it doesn’t need to be full of additives and taste like cardboard. And Indigo does exactly that.
Surprisingly I was the only guest at this press event who was on a restricted diet. This is partly because, I believe they don’t want to be known only for their free from catering. They also want to be known as a fantastic, West End hotel restaurant as well. Strange that quality and free from food aren’t always associated isn’t it?
To be honest, I went feeling a little skeptical about the free from band-wagon this hotel restaurant seemed to have thrown itself onto. But I left pleasantly surprised. Let me explain.
First of all, the menu being entirely gluten and dairy free is only mentioned in the small print, where you would normally find the “special diets make yourself known and we will see what compromised meal we can find you”. I liked this. Subtle, but when you speak to the staff you really know you are in safe hands. They are confident talking about procedures in the kitchen and ingredients used.
They make as much as possible in house, including their own gluten and dairy free bread. Currently this is little individual loaves of samphire, onion and buckwheat bread that is savoury, almost cheesy (but obviously not), but a cake-y texture. A signature of free from bread, sadly. However we were given a taste of a work in progress loaf, which was dark, soft sliced bread, like a gentle textured rye, which was much more to my taste and will hopefully be on the menu soon. All are served with little bowls of olive oil for the whole table it preventing the drooling over ‘real’ posh bread as I often do.
The a la carte menu is succinct with a seasonal selection for each course. Starters included Heritage Beetroot Salad, Rhug Estate Pork and Truffle Mayonnaise, Hand Picked Dorset Crab with Pickled Mackerel or a create your own salad for starter or main. Main courses featured bang on season Breast of Pheasant and Celeriac, Rhug Estate Lamb Rump with Samphire and Brixham Monkfish braised in Spices. Simple, seasonal food, that is naturally free from.
My choice of starter arrived as a fan of unbelievably thin roast pork, sprinkled with slithers of Granny Smith, shards of crackling and a rather generous shaving of truffle. All perfectly balanced on eating. I had to choose the fish and chips for main. Widely available yes, but not always very well executed. It was a test. But this was by far the best, most flavoursome proper fish and chips I have had. A delicate portion, with a truly punchy tatare sauce, the batter made with GF beer sealed the fish perfectly and there wasn’t a patch of soggy batter in sight.
To have a choice of more than one dessert was a real treat. However for me, as a coeliac there was slightly too much focus on fruit and not nearly enough innovation here. Polenta cake? Pineapple Carpaccio? But this is the only concession to the menu and I believe it’s purely because gf and dairy free puddings are tricky to master. And as Chef Dominic admits there is a lot to learn, and he is doing this as he develops the menu.
Saying that, each one was still really delicious. The Amedei Chocolate Mousse gained menu supremacy, made with coconut oil instead of cream whilst the accompanying DF pistachio ice cream simply seemed like an excellent ice cream. Maybe I should have tried the polenta cake… Ah see that’s the problem when you have a choice. One that I seem to have forgotten!
Overall, I came away less skeptical. Indigo have genuinely responded to a real demand at their restaurant and I applaud them for making it both gluten and dairy free. However what they are doing here is pretty simple, and something much of the restaurant trade could learn from. Simple seasonal ingredients, cooked with allergies and food sensitivities in mind mean everyone can enjoy a top class meal without compromise.
The service was excellent, attentive, and subtle, and staff had real confidence about handling allergens. Overall it was an excellent experience – I wasn’t blown away or massively excited, it was for me just very good seasonal cooking. My approach to eating out gluten free is to challenge the status quo. But to have a reliable venue in the heart of the Covent Garden that you trust to create GF and DF meals without drama is brilliant for the whole free from community. And with a 3 course set menu for £25 it can also be great value too.
Please note that the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon tea can be made both gluten and dairy free, but you need to book this in advance.