Eating Out Gluten Free

Gluten free Niche in London

Niche - gluten free restaurant in London

I visited Niche (London’s first Coeliac UK accredited 100% gluten free restaurant) for the second time last week — and again, I was too greedy to think about taking pictures for you…

I’ve been twice so far, and will definitely visit again; ideally, so I can try their evening menu. So far I’ve tried a few items from their daytime menu:

  • eggs florentine (part of their brunch menu) which were perfectly cooked
  • beer-battered onion rings – these were crispy and delicious
  • parmesan and cheddar doughnuts – these were fab, with a crispy coating, and good chutney to ‘cut’ and contrast with, the cheese
  • apple and blackberry crumble with cinnamon icecream – good pastry

It is very filling; after eating the doughnuts, I didn’t have room for a main course, and had to move straight on to the crumble! Note that I don’t eat meat, so I haven’t tried any of their meaty dishes.

The food I have tried is fab and the service is good too; both times I’ve met helpful and attentive waiting staff, who are happy to talk about the menu and reassure visitors. And the art on the walls is worth looking at too – it’s a showcase for London-based mobile photographers.

It’s only about 10 minutes from Euston station (take the tube to Angel, and then it’s a short walk), so it is surprisingly easy to get to for those of us who aren’t based in, or familiar with, London.

I am definitely going to have to take Coeliac Daughter there, or maybe buy a gift voucher so she can visit with a friend. She would love that she could eat anything she chooses from the menu.

If you’re looking for a gluten free restaurant in London, and you haven’t been to Niche yet—perhaps because, like me, you don’t live in London—I can wholeheartedly recommend it for a gluten free meal (there are also some vegan options if you need to be dairy free as well). Let me know what you think!

Winners of the Free From Eating Out Awards 2015

free-from-eating-out-awards

I spent most of last week at the Food Matters Live conference – and one of the highlights for me was the announcement of the winners of the Free From Eating Out Awards 2015 (which are sponsored by Sodexo).

There were lots of different categories for this—everything from cafes to conference catering—and so many excellent options…

Finally I can reveal that I was involved in the judging for these awards this year—such fun…and interesting, too.

And I was delighted that two of the shortlisted places I was invited to judge (incognito) were selected as winners in their categories—and well-deserved winners they were, too!

These two places were a cafe and a B&B (so two very different categories): Labyrinth Cafe in Stockton-on-Tees, and Stonecroft Guest House in Edale.

  • Labyrinth is a light and bright, warm and welcoming cafe/secondhand bookshop, with squashy sofas and comfortable chairs, book-lined walls, and a few small tables for people to eat at. Their menu is 100% GF, and they offer meat/fish/vegetarian/vegan dishes, any of which can be made wheat free, dairy free, lactose free…

    It is the first not-for-profit organisation to apply for Coeliac UK accreditation, which they hope to achieve within the next few months.
  • Stonecroft is a comfortable, warm and welcoming B&B with a quiet, calm and peaceful atmosphere, in a very beautiful area of the country which attracts many walkers and tourists. It is very popular, so if you’re interested in staying, be sure to book early! The ethos of the place is allergy-first, and much of the food is locally sourced, though the owner travels some distance from her rural location to find ingredients that her visitors can tolerate.

    Stonecroft already has Coeliac UK accreditation.

The overall winner was Oscar & Bentleys, in Canterbury. Quite a trek from here for me, but we will try to get there… I heard one of the founders speak at the conference, and watched one of their chefs prepare a dish at a ‘cook-off’, and it sounds great.

Do look at the full list, and go and eat at as many of them as you can. I’m planning to!

Surprise find: Gluten free French bread

bistronomeWe’re recently back from a camping holiday in France. Yes, thanks, it was great, though the tent was a bit leaky when it rained…

But the point of telling you this is that we had a meal out at our stopover point in Montreuil-sur-Mer.

We went to Bistronome, who were very welcoming to our party of 5 Brits, and entirely understanding about our need—explained in imperfect French—to check that the dishes Coeliac Daughter wanted to choose were gluten free.

Our waitress went to check with Chef, and indeed they were gluten free.

But imagine our delight later, when, completely unexpectedly, she brought not only bread for the rest of us – which we did expect – but a plate of gluten free French bread rolls for Coeliac Daughter.

And it was astonishingly good bread: crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, just as real French bread should be.

Coeliac Daughter ate four rolls … she was thrilled, having coveted proper French bread on holiday for years.

french-bread

We tried to find out the manufacturer of these outstanding bread rolls, but it turned out to be someone local, making the rolls for the restaurant trade rather than for retail customers. What a shame! We’d have bought some to take away with us…

Bistronome is new, and if you happen to be visiting Montreuil, we can recommend it: the food was delicious. We visited again on the way home, and the gluten free French bread—and the welcome—was just as good.

Braving the Dragons Den

Are you a fan of Dragons Den?

It’s a ‘reality show’ where entrepreneurs face a team of potential investors and try to persuade them to invest money into their business in exchange for a share in the business. Naturally, for it to make good television, there has to be a certain amount of drama… a few completely bonkers ideas, a bit of confrontation, and the occasional good news story.

This weekend, we watched Lisa and Helen, from Sweet Mandarin, pitching to the investors for some money for their gluten free Chinese table sauces (sweet and sour, sweet chilli and barbeque). They wanted £50,000 in exchange for 20% of their business.

Initially, there were some negative comments about the brand not being unique, the margins being tiny, and it being a niche market. The Dragons didn’t seem to understand the significance of the fact that the sauces are gluten free—despite the fact that we were all shouting at them. Don’t they know that we don’t eat Chinese any more because we didn’t think our daughter could? Don’t they see the potential?

Lisa and Helen did explain the size of the dipping sauce and condiments market (£600m per year, growing at 16% per year) and the size of the gluten free market (they said £200m per year, but I think it might be larger).

But it wasn’t until Lisa and Helen explained that Wing Yip have ordered 50 cases per week (50!), and that they are in discussions with big retailers, that the Dragons really started listening. (Wing Yip, for those of you who don’t know, is the biggest and most famous Chinese food supplier/superstore chain in the UK).

In the end, Lisa and Helen had offers from all 5 Dragons, and chose to work with 2 of them, in exchange for 40% of the business. Yay for Sweet Mandarin!

And yay for us too:

  • there are three gluten free Chinese sauces for coeliacs – and the Dragons said they were delicious. They’ve been tested at the Manchester Food Science Laboratories and it is confirmed there is zero gluten. You can buy them online
  • Sweet Mandarin run a Chinese restaurant in Manchester – and 90% of the menu is gluten free (90% ! )
  • they did mention a cookery school, in passing – and it turns out there’s a gluten free Chinese cookery course in November this year.

Who fancies eating Chinese? A good news story indeed.

Delighting Your Guests: Afternoon Tea at Claridge’s

Claridges, LondonYesterday I talked about the afternoon tea party organised by Genius.

Today I want to tell you about the remarkable contribution to this tea party made by Claridge’s: the French pastries.

Claridge’s expert staff had created some very sophisticated cakes for this tea party:

  • beautiful raspberry and rosewater macaroons: girlie pink, packed with raspberries and cream, and decorated with a rose-petal and a single dew-drop of sugar syrup. So lovely…
  • dainty fruit tartlets with a pastry case: a variety of fruits and cream in an excellent gluten free pastry case (I didn’t ask whether they’d used a Genius recipe for the pastry – I wish I’d asked!)
  • and tiny chocolate Ondulay cakes. I don’t know what an Ondulay cake is, in technical terms, but who cares? This was an outrageously rich, dense mouthful of chocolate cake.

Delectable. Amazing. And gluten free. So it can be done…

Based on our experience yesterday, Claridge’s offer a wonderful afternoon tea: with champagne or without, it’s going to be an experience to savour. So if you ever want to treat yourself to afternoon tea at a prestigious London hotel (or even treat someone else – but make sure you go as well) this is the one to go for.

Naturally, this will have to be as a very special treat – Claridge’s isn’t cheap. But it will be worth it. Just be sure to tell them in advance that you’re gluten free.

And, to seal my (unrequited) love affair with Claridge’s: I begged for one of the leftover gluten free pastries to take home for my coeliac daughter, who was, of course, at school in Cheshire, eating a baked potato for her school dinner, as she does every day, not in central London drinking champagne (the things I have to do for her!)

The lovely Claridge’s staff provided a dozen.

That’s the way to win an admirer for life.