A Tale of Two Birthday Afternoon Teas
It’s quite obvious from the sheer volume of afternoon tea reviews I’ve done I enjoy my cake. When it came to organising something for a recent birthday, my friends didn’t have to think too hard about what I might like to commiserate/celebrate another step closer to the big 4-0.
A surprise afternoon tea was booked at Hawthorns, housed in the Crowne Plaza. Having tried this out earlier in the year with my mother-in-law (which can be read about here) and it being a lacklustre experience, my heart sank a little. Not to seem ungrateful for all the effort my lovely friends put in, I hoped it would be different and focused on spending some much-needed quality time with the girls rather than dwelling on any disappointment. Eateries can have ‘off days’, after all.
Unfortunately, right from the get-go the staff seemed almost determined to get it all wrong. We waited so long for our Prosecco that the food arrived first. My poor friend who’d organised this was back and forward chasing things up, and I started to feel guilty for all the stress it was causing her. They gave us an extra glass each as a way of apologising, but it really started to impact on the mood of the get-together.
Then came the issues caused by my vegetarianism. Laura had informed them ahead of time when making the booking. The waitress confirmed this with me at the table, but then proceeded to ask if I ate fish. I stated I wasn’t pescetarian, but when the stands arrived I’d been given prawn sandwiches. It was raised again with the staff, to which they replied I’d said I ate fish! Why on earth would I do that when I didn’t eat fish even when I ate meat?!
The annoying thing was I’d been given separate sandwiches to the rest of the group, so there’d clearly been a recognition in the kitchen my food should be different to the others. I’m not sure why they even bothered! Rather than waiting an age like we’d done for the Prosecco, I just swapped my sandwiches around with the others. After all, I was the birthday girl!
Marshmallows were served up as part of their sweet selection, but it was nigh on impossible to get the staff’s attention to check whether I could eat these. Depending on how they were made, they could have potentially contained gelatin, a no-no for anyone avoiding animal products like me. The brownies were delicious though, so ploughed my way through as many as I was allowed. Credit where its due, the food (that I could eat) itself was spot-on, so it seems a crying shame that this post became so negative on account of the service we received.
At no point were we offered the tea or coffee we were supposed to have, so gave up when we started to gasp and retired to The Gin Bar for another glass (or 5) of Prosecco. I got home at 2:30am and had a slightly sore head in the morning 🙂 I clearly enjoyed the ambience or the alcohol afterwards.. or both.
Laura was full of apologies, worrying it had spoilt my birthday. I reassured her she wasn’t to blame and that I was extremely disappointed in Hawthorns for getting such basic things wrong in relation to vegetarians. She complained afterwards, but this was not followed up by management. Serving a vegetarian fish is a bit of a no-no in most people’s eyes, and it made me wonder how bad they’d have responded to Mr. Canny’s veganism!
Part two of my birthday treat from the lovely Laura was a belated afternoon tea at Marco Pierre White’s restaurant in Newcastle. I invited her as my +1, and this time assumed responsibility for booking and discussing my vegetarianism ahead of time. I had been to MPW for an evening meal (which can be read here), but not for a tea.
I needn’t have bothered notifying them, as the moment we sat down I was asked again if there were any dietary requirements. Why go to the trouble of having this feature during the booking process if it’s going to be disregarded by staff? The waitress was accommodating and helpful though, and everything arrived promptly. When going through the stand, there seemed to be an uncertainty as to what certain foods were. The standard salmon sandwich had been replaced with salad for me, which the waiter said contained pesto. There was certainly nothing other than spread used when I ate it, unless my tastebuds are failing me. There was a nice cheese tartlet, and a cheese & pickle sandwich that had a nice sour pickle on it.
The waiter was also incredibly vague about the desserts served up and this, unfortunately, is where my happy experience of the Marco Pierre White afternoon tea ends. Tucking into the Panna Cotta, I suddenly remembered how it is usually made. Laura then said she could taste the gelatin, so we called over a member of staff to ask if it was suitable for me. I’m aware there are vegetarian-friendly products on the market and that agar can be used as a substitute, so didn’t jump to conclusions and wanted to double check.The waiter returned and told me that I shouldn’t have eaten the dessert and that they would provide me with an alternative sweet instead. This was after I’d eaten nearly half. I wanted to cry. I begrudgingly ate the fantastic chocolate mousse that was sent as a replacement, but nothing could make the feel better after the error. Neither could the delicious macaron, the rich pavé, or the scones (which were disappointingly served with a cream that had vanilla essence added to it as a side note. Yuck!) turn my frown upside down. They’d fed me something – ethically and morally – I don’t ever want to eat again.
What I dismayed me most was the blasé attitude of the staff once this had occurred. I appreciate that veganism and vegetarianism are dietary CHOICES, not like an allergy, but what if we were eating this ‘diet’ based on religious beliefs? Would MPW have been so casual about accidentally serving pork to a Jew, as an example? Probably not. Why do some restaurants and cafes think this isn’t a big deal?!
Laura was feeling terrible that both of her presents had been such a disaster. I imagine it was hard for her in the first place, trying to organise surprises for such a prolific food blogger. On reflection, at least I hadn’t eaten anything I shouldn’t have in Hawthorns due to my own cautious nature. I was still annoyed by the lack of knowledge and general lethargy of the service there, but Marco’s in contrast had been completely remiss in their treatment of me.
In both cases the issues were raised while we were there and since via Social Media, but nothing has given me confidence either of these hotel restaurants have learnt anything from my experiences. There is a responsibility on the part of diners to notify eateries of their dietary requirements, which happened on both occasions. The buck now stops firmly at the feet of Hawthorns and Marco Pierre White Newcastle for not taking these needs into account. I would not recommend either establishment if you are vegetarian, vegan and/or an allergy sufferer. It simply isn’t worth the risk.
Thanks for reading,