The Hemsley Cafe located on the 3rd floor in Selfridges opened in February 2016 and is a new 100% gluten-free restaurant and café venue. The food reflects the “good food, good mood, good digestion, good health” motto of the Hemsley sisters.
The Hemsley Café offers a special delight for those with a foodie passion and interest in wellness. However these are absolutely not pre-requisites to enjoy eating there. If you *do* admire the Hemsley + Hemsley approach to wellness and food then the café menu and café appear to be a fantastic way to experience their food ideas brought to life. If you are not so keen or simply not interested in the Hemsley + Hemsley philosophies the Hemsley café still offers a very varied range of dishes to enjoy, prepared superbly and served by friendly staff in a comfortable, light and airy environment.
Hemsley Cafe Free-From Credentials and Menu Overview
The entire menu is free from gluten, grains, refined sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oils. There are many meat-free and dairy-free menu options however there are also dishes featuring meat, fish, dairy and pseudograins (like quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth).
Setting aside the missing gluten (hurrah!) and grains the menu is otherwise diverse and inclusive. There are ‘conventional’ options such as steak tagliata, pan fried mackerel and a cheese board along with those for more exploratory foodies such as bone broth, vegetable juices and smoothies. There are sharing snacks, salads, main dishes, condiments and a very wide variety of drinks including cocktails, mocktails, teas, coffee and wines.
There are some fermented drinks and foods on the menu too – kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut – but if these appeal greatly do read my caveats on these below.
Hemsley Cafe Dining Experience
On a Sunday afternoon immediately after opening the café was already popular. The tiny layout is cleverly designed to offer seating options for individuals, pairs and groups of up to 10 people via stools at the café bar and comfortable seats and tables. During both my visits the staff have been very friendly and welcoming and appeared to be happy in the environment – something that really helps put a diner at ease. One staff member in particular – Andrew – was absolutely fantastic at responding to my enquiries about some of the dishes and also splitting the bill for the small group I ate with.
Hemsley Cafe, The Food!
I sampled a Salmon Burger, Lime Slaw, Cauliflower ‘tabbouleh’, Sauerkraut & Kimchi
The salmon burger itself was simple, pleasingly and uniformly tender and moist, crumbling and almost melting in the mouth.
The flaxseed burger bun enveloping the salmon generated quite some interest and discussion. The group I ate with agreed that it had a pleasantly characteristic mouth-feel, dense and substantial without being dry or chewy. We speculated on the ingredients and attempted to identify them through flavour alone, with quinoa and buckwheat being guessed at. However we learned they were made from flax seed meal, eggs and coconut oil, no other type of flour involved. This formulation makes for very densely nutritious ‘bread’, meaning very high in protein, fat, fibre and a range of vitamins and minerals from the flax seed and eggs.
Often when I am served gluten-free bread with a meal and that bread is made from the “usual starches” (tapioca, rice, maize, potato) I will set it aside rather than eat it. I prefer to save my appetite for more interesting, flavoursome and nutritious things. This was instead “bread” to savour as a core part of the meal, and I ate every crumb!
The cauliflower ‘’tabbouleh’ (cauliflower rice, herbs, tomato, onion, feta cheese and lemon juice) was a simple salad executed well and a great example of the versatility of cauliflower and vegetables generally. The lime slaw (red cabbage, fennel, carrots, celery, spring onions & coriander) presented a beautiful rainbow of vibrant colours and was wonderfully fresh and crunchy to eat.
A real surprise hit for me and a fellow diner was the hot chilli and garlic Sriracha sauce, served as a no-charge compliment. This creamy sauce had an intense and charismatic flavour, not too hot, but zingy and uplifting for anything it was spooned over. It was liked plenty enough that second servings were requested and I spread most of one onto half of a flax seed burger bun half in addition to liberal application across salad. Delicious!
Kimchi and Kombucha are on the menu but were not available on the day. The Sauerkraut and Kimchi were available and being very fond of fermented foods, I ordered both. I was surprised that both were only very mildly fermented. This was explained as being due to limitations on fermentation time for the café. Stronger fermentation would require that the sauerkraut be left to ferment for 3+ days and the kimchi for even longer, and this just is not feasible. It is a shame as there are very few places one can go to enjoy strongly fermented food but that left lots of things to still enjoy. If like me you are already fond and familiar with fermented foods I suggest this is not a place to go to try them. They may offer a gentle introduction to those not yet familiar and willing to try.
There are available from the Selfridges foodhall downstairs a range of dairy kefirs and some great raw sauerkraut and kimchi, the latter two from the Laurie’s foods range.
The desserts on range featured my favourite of all desserts – carrot cake! This one was prepared with almond flour, laced with walnuts, with a rich and velvety yoghurt and raw honey cream topping. Worth reserving a little space for in that healthy gut.
My take away is that I would like to revisit and work my way through most of the rest of the menu and since the menu is going to be regularly changing according to what is in season, visit often!
Water was served and kept topped up continuously so there was no need, as in many restaurants and cafes, to buy bottles for the table. I would like this to be a feature of more venues and mention Farmstand and Beyond Bread as two other great places where water is freely available without any need to ask for it.
Payment was facilitated by separate itemized bills for each diner to reflect their orders. This is a wonderful boon for those eating out in groups when it is not appropriate for one person to pay or for an equal split. Otherwise calculating how to split the bill can be a burdensome task at the end of the meal. Again, more venues should offer this service please!