169 Battersea High Street, London SW11 3JS
Visited February 2017
Value for money: 6/10
Recommend: (sadly) no
Practical information: Cost per person – £14. No refills or replenishments. 4 mini focaccia sandwiches per person, two cakes from their selection, and a hot drink.
It takes a good reason to lure me south of the River, but afternoon tea automatically qualifies as a good reason, and a specialist one even more so, so I found myself wandering down Battersea High Street on a Friday afternoon. The destination was Manna Dew, a specialist bakery which offers gluten-free goods. I would never have discovered this place had it not been for a BBC documentary on clean eating, where even the sceptical Dr Giles Yeo stuffed some of the gluten-free focaccia in his mouth exclaiming how good it was. Having just completed a clean eating ‘kickstart’, I was keen to try a gluten-free afternoon tea and see how it fared against the traditional kind, and went with a good friend who is experienced in gluten-free fare.
The initial impressions from afar were promising: an attractive website with enticing pictures of a modern take on gluten-free treats. There were, however, some glitches: the online booking tool didn’t work and I ended up calling the bakery directly and making a booking. They were prompt and sent me an email confirmation later. The website has plenty of photos but little information on menu, types of cakes and pastries etc, so I actually was taking a punt with my booking.
Before we even get to the food, there were issues with the reservation. They didn’t have our booking on their system, despite me having received an email confirmation. From their response, it seemed like it might be a problem serving us without a reservation – except the entire place was empty?! They seated us, and told us that the kitchen closed at 3pm – our reservation was at 4pm. We both had concerns whether we would be served a proper afternoon tea with the full selection, and not with whatever they had left in their display, which seemed to be very limited. We were both surprised that they weren’t fully stocked for tea even though they had two hours left until closing.
The staff were not particularly knowledgable about the products, and service was well-meaning and polite but haphazard. One of the management team (I assume) came and explained the afternoon tea components, and asked what sandwiches we wanted. The options were: chicken pesto; jalapeño beef and mayo; the Italiano (veggie); and a tuna melt. My friend ordered a sandwich which they would have had to make fresh as it was not in their cabinet, and the manager persuaded her to choose a chicken pesto as it was their best-seller – and also available in their cabinet. I thought this was a bit cheeky, but we went with it.
We were then offered our choice of cakes from a selection: one cheesecake and one ‘traditional’ cake. Or a brownie. Or cookie. It was not well-explained, and what we ended up with was not what was advertised on a large board behind the counter, which states that afternoon tea consists of ‘quiche, sandwiches, pastries, cakes, home made lemonade…’ This is different to what is stated on their website, which is vague (no menu) but more accurate: ‘a pot of tea or coffee of your choice; a selection of finger sandwiches; selection of cakes’. I still wonder whether we actually got what we were meant to get, but I ended up choosing a brownie and a hazelnut praline cheesecake, and my friend chose a raspberry passionfruit tart and carrot cake. All of this was gluten-free, which was impressive.
The selection of teas is no different to an average coffee shop, but there are dairy-free milks which I liked. I ordered an almond milk chai latte, which came in a generous, tall glass but was VERY sweet. Clearly a gluten-free tea does not mean a healthy one, as this was laden with sugar in every component.
The staff then gave conflicting messages about what we could get: the girl serving us told us we could get free refills of sandwiches; we were then told a minute later that we would have to pay for extra, so we stuck with our one round.
The staff were also not all informed about the products and ingredients, which I would expect for any bakery, especially a specialist one which caters for intolerant diets. They told me that about 40% of their customers were coeliac, and about 40% oat-intolerant. They were not able to tell me about the ingredients in their products which wasn’t encouraging.
All-in-all, the service was not rude or terrible, more well-meaning but disorganised.
The food arrived, and the sandwiches looked appetising: chicken pesto, avocado and dukkah, and smoked salmon and cream cheese, all on their gluten-free focaccia. These were all very nice and well-flavoured, although my friend pointed out that the bread had lots of sugar in it to compensate for the absence of gluten – and this is common to many gluten-free products. I would have loved more sandwiches as these were small and not filling (four finger sandwiches per person), but these were not offered.
We had no scones with our tea, opting instead for cakes.
The cakes were overall satisfactory but not overwhelming. The clear winner was the hazelnut praline cheesecake (main photo above), which was gooey and smooth, but the crust of the passionfruit tart was a bit rubbery, the carrot cake average, and the brownie pleasant but not outstanding.
Watch the hygiene…
We’re not sure when this venue was last visited by health inspectors but the basic cleanliness in the public areas – the floor of the seating area, and particularly the toilets – was shameful. The staff clearly had time to spare as the girl helping us was standing behind the counter on her phone, which could have been spent cleaning up and making the place more presentable.
Manna Dew is a great idea and I like that this is a small, family-run business catering to a rapidly growing market, but there are many problems with the execution. The lack of clarity over the menu left me dissatisfied and wondering ‘did I get the full afternoon tea experience here?’. The disorganised management of our booking and haphazard nature of the service and information provided in the store and on the website all need work.
The food itself was nice enough, but I have concerns about how much sugar went into the products to compensate for the absence of gluten. The stars of this tea were the sandwiches and the praline cheesecake, but until this bakery gets its service, menu, kitchen and overall cleanliness sorted out, I won’t be going back.