Umami - Afternoon Tea at the Celtic Manor

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Afternoon Tea at the Celtic Manor
Author: Victoria Jones

Another episode in my adventures in Afternoon tea – check out my other posts for reviews of Bath Pump Rooms and The Savoy.

Monday was my grandmothers birthday, so my mum and I took her out for what we hoped would be a fairly swanky afternoon tea at the local 5* independent hotel, the Celtic Manor. I am recently vegan (made the jump after over 10 years as a vegetarian) and the staff at the Celtic Manor were informed of this when we booked in a few weeks ago – I was very excited to spend the afternoon with my family and enjoy my first vegan Afternoon tea (anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m a bit of an aficionado) and was sure that a 5* resort would be able to rustle up some lovely vegan treats with a few weeks notice.

From the Celtic Manor Website

We turned up in plenty of time for a 2pm booking, all with rumbling tummies as we’d skipped lunch. We were shown to our table and asked if we had any special dietary requirements – we reaffirmed the fact we’d pre-booked with a vegan in the party. It was past 2.30pm before we received the first course of the 3-part tea – a cute little hamper filled with various goodies. The first one was opened to reveal 2 each of a cheese and leek tartlet, chorizo sausage roll, chicken and rocket wrap and a perfectly formed brioche roll filled with egg mayo. The second hamper was opened to reveal… 2 cucumber and tomato wraps and 2 cucumber and tomato skewers. We also had a bottle of delicious cloudy lemonade (and I’m not usually a fan of cloudy lemonade). So far things were off to a mixed start – slow service and a very uninspiring vegan option were going to prove to be running themes for the afternoon.

We polished off the hampers in record time, due to our already ravenous hunger and long wait – though they cleared away just a tad prematurely (while my mum was still eating the plate was whipped from under her hand!). Tea choices were brought out – we opted for a nice Earl Grey. The biggest teapots I’ve ever seen were brought out (one each!) and then we waited for more food. And waited. And waited. Eventually 2 cake stands were brought out.. both the standard menu with no vegan option in sight. We queried this and one was taken away… to be left with another wait for the correct one to be brought. My disappointment must have been palpable… four identical dry finger sandwiches of lettuce, cucumber and tomato (seriously – it’s a really good job I like cucumber and tomato but even I was bored by this point). 2 identical pots of fruit compote, and 3 shop-bought (and fairly poor – dry and tasteless) cakes. The standard menu was dressed with watercress and fresh fruit – none of which was apparent on mine.

Compare this to lovingly thought-out and executed standard options (check out the full menu here) and this only increased my frustration. I realise that becoming vegan is a fairly dramatic life choice and perhaps I shouldn’t expect the same level of service everywhere for such an unusual request – but this was a 5* hotel which had forward notice! They must cater for dairy intolerance, egg intolerance, and people who choose to be dairy- or egg-free for whatever reason (there are many – health, weight, ethics, the list goes on).

We complained and the price of one meal was removed from the bill, and we were assured we would be provided with a freshly made gluten free scone. This concerned me even more – had they been catering for me gluten free as opposed to vegan the whole time? I queried it and they brushed it off – explaining that their gluten free options were also dairy free (call me a cynic but I wasn’t too convinced…).

After another excruciating wait (I think we’d now hit the 2 hour mark and weren’t even done) the scones finally arrived. One scone each… and mine was a little ‘crispy’ round the edges. The others contained little pieces of freeze-dried raspberry, mine contained the standard currants.

Overall – it is probably worth doing if you have a standard diet and have a whole afternoon to kill (though watch out for the 2.5 hour limit on the free car park – we would have got stung if we hadn’t complained about the tortoise-like service taking us slightly over). The others in my group confirmed that their food was delicious, though looking around at other tables we weren’t the only ones experiencing slow service and problems with special requests. I wouldn’t call the afternoon a 5* experience, and definitely avoid it like the plague if you have any sort of special dietary requirement. Afternoon Tea is meant to be an occasion of refinement and attention to detail is often the difference between an OK and an exceptional experience… and there was absolutely no attention to detail in plonking a few shop-bought cakes on a cake stand and putting some lettuce in some bread. Even some hummus spread instead of butter on the sandwiches would have shown a little imagination but instead they just left it dry. There was no variety or creativity shown, which just felt like an insult – as if my custom was a nuisance and not worth their time. It really did ruin what was supposed to be an enjoyable afternoon celebrating with my family.

Article by Victoria, determined to find a good vegan Afternoon Tea to make up for it.

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