Monday, 2 July 2012

Hanging out in the Roof Gardens of Babylon

Enjoying the view - with the dairy free cow!
When I first heard that we were going to The Roof Gardens, I had no idea what on earth they were on about. My sister-in-law arranged the booking at Babylon. It was only later, when The Hub was looking at the menu online, that I realised that I might need to dress a bit more smarter than usual.

For those of you who are still none the wiser, The Roof Gardens, in Kensington, are exactly that - a series of gardens that were created on the roof of a department store, that opened in the 1930's. Bought by Richard Branson, in 1981, they are open to the public, as well as to diners at Babylon - the restaurant that perches above the gardens, on the seventh floor.

It turns out that The Mother-in-law's partner used to hang out there, in his younger days and my sister-in-law thought that my mother-in-law might like to return there for her birthday. Not being in charge of the booking, I was slightly anxious about the arrangements for Baby and me. I thought of phoning ahead, but never got 'round to it. 'Surely,' I thought, 'a place like this, that cooks to order, will have something that we can eat.'

First Impressions
We went there one Sunday. It was certainly smart! No wonder The Mother-in-law, who usually takes good care of her appearance anyway, had dressed to impress that day. I was glad I had dressed up a bit too, (and slapped some make-up on my face, for a change). In fact, I have to say, the restaurant itself was beautiful, if perhaps a little cramped-looking in places, but that was maybe inevitable - after all, you have to fit in a certain number of diners, in order to make things worthwhile, don't you? 

I always secretly judge a restaurant by its toilets: Are they clean? Is there enough loo roll/soap? Do the taps run hot and cold? The toilets, I have to tell you, were beautiful too and... they featured a fish tank!

So far, so good!

Our Choices
Seated, by attentive staff (of the variety that can immediately tell what stuff you're made of) my sister-in-law was quick to mention that I was gluten free, I interjected with, 'And dairy free,' straight away. I was relieved to note that the waitress seemed perfectly at ease with this information. Meanwhile, we were entertained by a quirky magician.

We were soon presented with the Sunday Lunch Menu. Scanning down, I glanced briefly  at the starters before perusing the Mains. I noted the various roasts on offer, but passed them over (too many gravies and sauces to be examined) when my eyes lit on the Sea Bream - sautéed and accompanied by a fennel and pomegranate salad. That certainly looked like a possibility for me - as long as I was careful with any raw fruit and vegetable matter! Now, what about Baby?

The Young Diners Menu also featured Starters. Again, I ignored these - the chances were that the omelette would be cooked with dairy and I knew baby would not eat the melon. The tomato soup may have been a possibility, but my real concern were the Mains (the filling bit). 

There were three choices: Linguini Pasta, Salmon Fish Fingers and Chicken Goujons. I immediately discounted the Linguini, on account of the lack of protein. I think we ordered the Salmon Fish Fingers, It may have been the Chicken Goujons, no matter, to my dismay, I was soon informed that neither of these options were dairy free! 

The waitress did tentatively suggest that maybe the chef could do something else with fish or chicken instead, but she didn't appear too keen on this option. Having been brought up to not cause too much trouble, and with Baby needing to eat quite soon... Linguini it was then - with tomato. This was because, I thought, of the two options (the other was olive oil) that tomato would contain the most nutritional value.

Outwardly, I was pretending it was fine - at least there was something that Baby could eat - that would stop her from getting hungry. Inwardly, I was disappointed and somewhat bemused. To be offered just pasta and tomato sauce as one of the main options for children at restaurants, is usual - disappointing, but usual. However, why would that take place in a restaurant of this standing? I also couldn't understand, why, with roast on the adult menu, 'Young Diners' couldn't be offered a smaller version of the same. After all, most children I know quite like roasts - especially the crispy potatoes!!

It was at this point, the waitress pointed out that we each needed to select a minimum of two dishes from the menu. With her assistance, we soon ascertained that the only dairy free dessert was the sorbet. Sorbet it would be then!

The Mains

Delicious, but a little bit light for lunch?

My food, when it arrived, looked wonderful - just a bit 'light' for my liking. Wish I had noted that additional sides could be ordered - at a cost of £3.50. I would definitely have ordered the chips! It tasted wonderful too. Perfectly cooked and served with a carefully balanced salad, it soon disappeared off my plate.

So did Baby's - disappear, that it! Too quick for me to take a decent photo! Please note, if your child is a hungry one, you may need to do what my sister-in-law did for our nephew, and order your child something off the adult menu. He much preferred what was on offer there anyway! Surprise, surprise... he chose a roast - get my drift?

Soon polished off!

The good news is that Baby must have enjoyed the sauce that accompanied the pasta. Her cousin, Melissa did not however, and ended up eating off her mother's plate - roast again! Good job she could, Baby (being dairy free) couldn't!!

Noting some Italian/Spanish sounding family at an adjoining table (who looked like they had been celebrating a first communion) I was surprised to note that they also ordered the Linguini, but with olive oil, instead. With interest, I saw the bemused look on their faces, when it arrived. I was not surprised, therefore to see that a jug of the tomato sauce appeared on their table soon after! 'Nuff said!!

The Dessert
Dessert took quite a long time to arrive. The restaurant had really filled up by then, but three quarters of an hour, for three scoops of sorbet? The sorbet looked superb when it arrived! Dairy free it certainly was! Gluten free? I wasn't so sure. So I checked with the waitress. She went to check. It wasn't!!

This was a first for me and I felt slightly stumped! 

Spot the mistake?
However, my dessert was removed and replaced in next to no time. Along with multiple apologies, and assurances of a discount, I was presented with this... spot the difference? (There were still three scoops of sorbet.)

Spot the difference?

Now, some finely grated pistachio (by the looks of it) was scattered on the plate - as opposed to the biscuit crumbs that had been there before.

Alarmed as to what else might be in the biscuit crumbs (Baby had already tucked substantially into her dish) I enquired, and was assured that they were completely dairy free - made with coconut instead. Phew!

Now all that was left for me to do was to enjoy the sorbet. 

Based on previous experience, I avoided the fruit around the edge - I know I have reacted quite badly to melon and kiwi in the past (sore, itchy and swollen mouth, lips and even throat) but I didn't make a fuss about those - they are the kind of thing I can usually just avoid, when I come across it. The sorbet itself was quite nice. If served with it's usual accompaniment of dairy ice cream, it probably balances with other flavours quite well, but I think three scoops of the same flavour was a bit much

Panic should have been over, by this point, but I must admit, I felt rather rattled by my close encounter. It's not like I'm going to suffer an anaphylactic shock - that's not the nature of my symptoms. The most I might suffer is stomach discomfort and some diarrhoea. And t's not as though I don't appreciate the lengths to which the restaurant went in order to apologise and make good. However, should another allergy sufferer, suffer a similar lapse in service, they could find themselves suddenly overrun with paramedics.

Final comment
Not even a stroll in the beautiful gardens, following the meal, was enough to restore my inner calm, which is why it has taken me so long to get around to writing this post. It was because I wanted to reflect upon and assimilate the whole experience without going over the top. 

Remembering that the restaurant itself is virtually perched over a positively HUGE whole foods market, one is tempted to wonder if they are capable of providing just that little bit more, for an allergic/intolerant customer. Maybe I should have phoned ahead after all.

My advice to another, would be yes, go and eat there; enjoy the restaurant and the gardens as well - don't forget to look out for the flamingos too. But, phone ahead, discuss your requirements with your serving staff, inspect your food carefully and if in doubt check before you taste. Oh, and if you need it, take  your epipen!!

The Price

Adult Sunday Lunch Menu: 2 courses £26, 3 courses £29

Young Diners Menu: 2 courses - £6, 3 courses £8

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