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Extreme Menu Makeover

London’s Indigo restaurant eighty-sixed dairy and gluten but kept meat and fish.

In April 2015, after a short closure and refitting of its kitchen, the One Aldwych Hotel’s restaurant, Indigo, reopened with a twist to the menu – without announcing it to anyone. Quietly eliminating dairy and gluten from everything, but maintaining the meat and fish dishes, executive chef Dominic Teague and his team held their breath. Would anyone notice?

“There was not one comment from anybody who said, ‘Oh, that tastes different from before’ or ‘That bread’s not very nice’ or ‘That ice cream wasn’t very good,’” says Teague. “No, not one single comment of negativity about the food. So, that gave us a bit more confidence. Then, we announced it through our PR company, and it just went crazy from there.”

Why not just go entirely vegan? “I think that’s a much smaller market perhaps,” he says. “A lot of people come here for meat and fish. We didn’t want to alienate ourselves too much.”

Still, they had noticed an increase in the number of people asking for gluten-free and dairy-free versions of their dishes. “We felt that it became more and more popular, not necessarily from a dietary point of view, but more from a medical or health point of view…. We just decided to go for it really,” Teague says.

The gluten and dairy alternatives used include almond milk, coconut oil, buckwheat flour, olive oil, and rice milk. What was the biggest challenge? “The bread was the big one I was worried about,” he says. “We always had gluten-free bread available for guests if they asked for it. We just brought it in from a local supplier. It was never great. It was OK, but I wouldn’t have been happy if I’d gone into a restaurant and just had that. So, we did quite a bit of work on that. We invented this bread recipe, and it stands up on its own. It’s a fantastic bread. People generally have no idea that it’s gluten-free.”

As the kitchen was being refitted, the team had time to experiment and make sure all of their creations would hold up to scrutiny. They continue to work on ways to eliminate gluten and dairy without sacrificing taste and texture. “We just developed a pasta recipe using gluten-free flour. We tried like ten different recipes, different flour combinations. And we came up with one. You could blind-taste it, and you couldn’t tell the difference,” says Teague.

Still, there are some recipes he feels can’t be adapted. At least, he hasn’t yet figured out a way to do it. One of those is puff pastry. “The flour would be OK, but without the butter, I just don’t think it would work. The puff pastry needs to be buttery, rich, and creamy,” he says.

The menu changes regularly, but one item remains—the chocolate mousse. It out-sells their other chocolate desserts by ten to one. Diners who had to give up dairy products years ago are thrilled to be able to order chocolate mousse again. They’re even more thrilled to discover that it tastes just like the dairy versions they enjoyed in the past.

Indigo is located on the mezzanine floor of the chic, 5-star One Aldwych Hotel, which is named after its own address. Located near Covent Garden where the Aldwych meets the Strand and opposite Waterloo Bridge, the triangular building was erected in 1907 by the same architects who built the Ritz Hotels in London and Paris.

Melanie Votaw is a New York-based food and travel writer.

Categories: Shorts The Journal