“Let them eat cake”
We’ve all heard of the expression “let them eat cake” supposedly spoken by a princess to the people of France in a time of great poverty in society. For IBD sufferers ‘cake’ can be the stuff of dreams or vicarious food longing.
If you have IBD, are coeliac or have food allergies or intolerances (or, all of the above) read on. If you want to understand what it’s like to eat out with an invisible disease, also read on. And, last but not least, if you work for an eating establishment, here is a textbook story of how to help us eat and reduce the anxiety we feel about eating out.
I had resigned myself to placing the queen of decadent food, the regal afternoon tea, served on that tantalising tiered china wonder into the ‘off piste’ never dare to go category of foods like ‘popcorn’.
Oscar Restaurant, Charlotte St Hotel
All changed this November on visiting the Oscar Restaurant and Bar at The Charlotte St Hotel in London (part of the worldwide Firmdale Hotel chain) for an impromptu post lunchtime snack. As it was a last minute affair, I hadn’t informed them in advance of my dietary requirements.
Note to fellow IBD sufferers, if you have time to do this, it’s worth doing so that you don’t put the eating establishment on the back foot.
When the slipper fits
Despite not informing the Charlotte St Hotel, I experienced the royal treatment from start to finish. At the restaurant’s reception I mentioned complex dietary needs beyond vegan and gluten free. I mentioned ‘Crohn’s. Don’t be shy to do so, it’s part of who you are and we shouldn’t be ashamed to mention it. I used to avoid mentioning it, now I’m quite open about it. It also confirms that like coeliacs you really ‘need’ alternatives, it’s more than a preference. This did not phase the maitre d and he assured me I could have anything from any menu. Of course, we often hear this but when we ask to go off piste the rolls royce treatment sometimes stops abruptly there. Having looked at the menus, including the pretty extensive and rather lovely gluten free menu, I had to ask the usual suspects…
“Does the gluten free bread have seeds and what are the gluten free cakes made of?”
The waitress was absolutely charming with the patience of a saint. Without any hesitation she went to ask the chef and actually brought me the gluten free bread they used so I could see the ingredients. It was, as usual ‘with seeds.’ This isn’t the case for all IBD sufferers, but many of us can’t digest seeds and experience pain, bloating and the usual frequent toilet trips if we eat them. We aren’t allergic, we just aren’t birds. Even the Mayo clinic has previously said seeds are difficult for some people to digest.
So, scanning the menu desperately, we got to the point in the story where I am on the verge of meltdown. The inciting incident for you storytellers. The negative self talk of “I can’t have this and that” and the mild state of anxiety and “is it too late to leave now?” thoughts came over me. As someone who’s book cover is easy to read, the lovely waitress could see the anxiety written all over my face and reassured me that she could and would find something I could eat. Thankfully ‘white sourdough’ entered my thoughts. Next thing I knew, she was by my side with a white sourdough loaf from the kitchen. She said the chef was happy to put anything I wanted on it. She guided me with a few suggestions and I noticed a few items on the menu I could safely eat. Finally, the order was settled:
Crohn’s friendly afternoon tea:
Tier 1: White sourdough with avocado and chicken
Tier 2: Goats cheese with watercress
(a recent intolerance test revealed cow’s milk and lettuce tolerance amongst others!)
Top tier sweet treat: Poached pears poached in cinnamon and star anise.
Needless to say, the afternoon tea came beautifully presented. Mea culpa for the non perfect picture, but I, and this blog are ‘an Ode to Imperfection’ as we are, after all, all imperfectly perfect as my gut frequently reminds me. I’m a ‘take as it is’ blogger and I sure ain’t picture perfect. I would encourage more of us mature, real bloggers with experience of life to try to influence others.
You can and you will eat scones
The Oscar restaurant does offer a delightful range of gluten free scones and cakes and a dedicated menu. The waitress read out the list of ingredients. I noticed ‘soy butter’ which I hadn’t knowingly eaten before. I didn’t want my first time to be ‘out,’ and will try this at home and hopefully return to enjoy the abundant gluten free alternatives that Oscar offers.
I can’t recommend Oscar highly enough. On the occasion I visited, the service and efforts to cater for me were faultless and I could not have asked for more. As my mother who worked in catering her whole life often reminds me, it is dependent on the chain of events of action and reaction and all elements of it have to work together. This takes planning, care and patience. From the reception, to the wonderful waitress and the inventive chef. Thank you Oscar for making my day, not sparking a Crohn’s Disease flare and for giving me hope that one day all restaurants in London and around the world will follow your example.
This blog was not commissioned by The Charlotte St Hotel and I did not receive a free afternoon tea in exchange (I wish!) Very happy to take such commissions (of course!) – who wouldn’t want to eat for a living! I’m happy to work with Oscar and any other restaurant, worldwide to come up with IBD friendly alternatives to the gluten and vegan menus that are popping up everywhere. This blog is to express my delight and gratitude to the royal treatment I received despite not being a famous blogger or instagram star. I commend the hotel on the way they dealt with and catered for my complex dietary needs. If you or friends with dietary requirements (or without) find yourself on Charlotte St in the future nip in and quote me if you need to. I also don’t profess that the ‘Crohn’s friendly afternoon tea’ will work for everyone. You are the master of your ship. Each of our bodies are different. Only you know what you can and can’t eat.
Thank you – thank you – thank you.