Eating Out Gluten Free

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.

Free for Tea? Free From Gluten: Happy Birthday Genius

invitation to afternoon tea at Claridges from GeniusHow hard would you find it to have afternoon tea at Claridges in the company of other gluten free bloggers, journalists and companies supporting coeliacs?

(For any of you not from the UK: Claridges is an extremely upmarket smart hotel in Mayfair).

I’m guessing: not hard at all! I certainly wasn’t going to decline the invitation (see right) from Genius to meet them there for afternoon tea – I was only too pleased to be invited, so I set off from the frozen north yesterday to join them in London.

And what a glamorous event it was… This was partly a first birthday party for Genius, so we were greeted with a glass of champagne and set loose to discuss matters gluten free.

Time to chat…

Naturally, I met Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, whose brainchild Genius is; like me, and others there, she has children with allergies; but we aren’t all professionally trained chefs impelled to make a difference by devising a ground-breaking new bread. Yay, Lucinda!

Coeliac UK were well represented by Anne Maloney (Corporate Partnerships Officer) and Norma McGough (Head of Diet and Health), and with them I discussed CD and teenagers attitudes to food and risk; the cost differential of gluten free products over normal products, and the difficulty this adds if you’re a low-income family on benefits; and the influence of family medical history (other coeliacs in the family, diabetes, psoriasis etc) over environmental impact (breastfeeding, for example, is recommended). If you’re newly diagnosed – or even if you’re not! – Coeliac UK are an excellent resource.

I met Liz and John from Coeliac London, who identify and review restaurants in London that cater well for those eating gluten free. They’d both brought iPads, to the envy of the rest of us Brits there, to show us their website and Facebook pages (do search for them on Facebook) – and they’re working on an application for finding suitable restaurants. We discussed the difficulties of quality control over restaurant reviews, and the success they’re having with their Facebook pages.

Liz had a quick look at this blog on her iPad and instantly recognised FlorisFoods goodies from yesterday’s post. FlorisFoods catered for her birthday party recently, together with Sweet Cheeks (new to me, but I’m so checking it out based on Liz’ pictures). Gluten free is a small world!

I was delighted to sit next to Caz, the Gluten Free Foodie during afternoon tea. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll remember I mentioned her blog a while back; she writes about fine dining gluten free in London – do check her blog out. She told us how she’d urged her local pub to get in some gluten free beers, and how astonished the publican was by the response: people flocked to the pub from miles around, and drank the gluten free beers dry in 3 days.

Caz is clearly quite a campaigner, as she’d also tried to persuade Pizza Express that it wouldn’t be too difficult to keep some frozen gluten free pizza bases in stock, with a dedicated pan to cook them in (to avoid contamination) – no luck yet, but I’d be happy to join with her in a campaign…

There were many more fascinating people with great stories to tell, from journalists, corporates, agencies and bloggers. But it has to be said that the highlight of the afternoon was the food.

Afternoon tea: a very English tradition

Genius bread was used to make the daintiest of English sandwiches (yes, including cucumber and excluding crusts), and there were also elegantly presented gluten free scones with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry preserve, made by Genius. These were excellent. Our table agreed that we all loved a decent scone, and these were fabulous.

We urged Lucinda to put them into production, but this isn’t nearly as easy as you’d think, if – like me – you don’t have experience in the large-scale production of food. And there are the issues of delivering the food fresh; scones, of course, being best within hours of baking. So: no promises from Genius on the scones yet, but I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.

Or – here’s a thought – sell the flour mix with a recipe, so we can make our own…

Genius, in case you haven’t come across it yet, is a gluten free fresh bread available in all 5 major supermarkets across England, in white and brown. And it is very good indeed. We were lucky enough to taste an early version of Genius rolls, which are very good – and very large! Sadly, the bread isn’t on the prescribables list yet, but if you can find it in your local supermarket, do try it.

This, of course, is Coeliac Awareness week here in the UK, and the message this week is Free For Tea?

Afternoon tea at Claridges: what a way both to celebrate the first birthday of a new product, and to raise awareness of coeliac disease.

Happy Birthday, Genius!

Gluten Free Foodie in London

gluten-free-menuVisiting London, and wondering where to eat safely?

You might find Caz’ blog very useful. It’s called the Gluten Free Foodie, and documents places (mostly) in London where Caz has eaten.

There’s a coeliac-friendly scorecard below each post. I haven’t found one that scores 10/10 yet, though it looks as though Gordon Ramsey did pretty well with 9.5/10!

The sidebar shows the categories both by location and by type of food, which seems like an excellent idea. Caz has only been documenting restaurant experiences since last July, so there are quite a few restaurants that haven’t been covered yet, but this is a great idea, and one that is bound to be helpful to those of us from out-of-town. It’s always difficult to know where to find somewhere suitable in a new town, and it’s great to be able to rely on someone who knows the issues involved…

Next time I take my daughter to London, we’ll know where to start. Sadly, it won’t be Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons (lucky, lucky Caz) – but gluten free pizza at Hell Pizza sounds ideal, even if it is totally the wrong side of London.

Black Tie, Masks and a Smallholding

maskA couple of weeks ago we travelled down to Bath, for a family party. The party was great, but I wanted to give credit to a couple of establishments who did a great job for us.

1. Cumberwell Park Golf Club

This is where the party was held: about 100 people for a black tie & mask dinner. The children were invited, and found the whole formal dressing and mask thing very exciting. We’d told the club in advance that there would be a coeliac in our group, and introduced ourselves to the manager on arrival, so that the team knew who we were – and they did a great job of ensuring that our daughter’s meal was virtually indistinguishable from everyone else’s.

We started with some tasty nibbles: hummous on tiny toasts, olives and breadsticks. She was provided with her own plate of hummous on gluten free toast (no breadsticks, but that was fine), and her own dish of olives (exactly the same, just in a dedicated dish), to avoid crumb transfer. Later, the manager discreetly came over and told us that both main course choices on the menu that evening were gluten free – so she chose a Thai curry. And then – still very discreetly – we were told that although the chocolate brownie was not OK, the lemon meringue roulade was fine, because they’d used cornflour.

Praise is due to the Cumberwell Park Golf Club, because not only did they cater well for her, they did it discreetly and without fuss, so that there was no embarrassment involved. Hurrah!

2. The Garden Room Bed & Breakfast

bandbAnd this is where we stayed: delightful self-contained en-suite studio accommodation in a small village outside Bath. If I said it was in a garden – or even a smallholding – that wouldn’t be too far wrong. It was lovely: friendly, welcoming, clean, and comfortable, and plenty big enough for the five of us. It was even stocked with some films for us to watch. We were completely self-contained, as there was a small kitchen area so we could prepare breakfast for ourselves. And this is, of course, the benefit for people who need to be gluten free: we could manage the diet without embarrassment or difficulty.

What a breakfast they’d provided: a range of cereals, fruit, croissants, toast, butter and preserves, eggs, bacon and sausages, fruit juices and milk. We don’t all eat meat, but those that do had a wonderful breakfast – and the meat was from their own pigs. Usually the eggs are from their chickens, but the chickens aren’t laying at the moment.

Our hosts didn’t know we had a coeliac in the family, but because they provided a small cooker, we could cook her gluten free pain au chocolat and bread at will – and she enjoyed the rest of the breakfast. (Not the meat – and I didn’t ask whether the sausages were gluten free).

It was fab. If you’re planning on visiting the Bath area, I can recommend this as a place to stay.