Eating Out Gluten Free

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

gluten free masked dinnerA 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.

Motorway jams with a silver lining – gluten free

Remember the half-term holidays? I know, only last week, but already it seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it… Did you enjoy it?

We drove south, and spent a few days visiting relatives – which was lovely – but then had a hideous journey home. All motorways were blocked. Eventually, we headed cross-country only to find that our last remaining route was also blocked, so we decided to take a break and hope that the roads would be clearer in a couple of hours.

So, not expecting much, we pulled off the country roads at Bicester, and trekked into the Bicester Retail Village. This was due to close for the night in a couple of hours, so we really weren’t optimistic, and there wasn’t a lot of choice.

A typical distress purchase, in fact.

carlucciosHowever – and you knew this was going to end up well, didn’t you? – we walked into Carluccio’s. We’ve not been there before, though we know of it, of course: it’s an Italian foodshop with a cafe attached, isn’t it?

Turns out to be rather more than that.

Could they feed us? Yes. Even though one of us was a coeliac? Yes – tell your waitress.

So we sat, and did the usual picking out of items that might possibly be acceptable, only to discover a note that said they had a dedicated gluten free menu. Could we see that?

Oh the joy.

3 starters; 4 salads; 6 different pasta dishes (yes – pasta!); 2 meat-based dishes; and 6 side dishes.

Such a delight to go somewhere where my daughter has a choice – and more than a choice of salad, salmon or baked potato. And the staff were delightful: helpful when we needed it, and sincerely apologetic when the children’s choice of dessert wasn’t available.

We loved it. All five of us chose a different pasta dish; my coeliac daughter chose a simple tomato and basil one – gluten free. Perhaps next time she’ll choose something more adventurous now they’ve earned her trust.

Because we’ll be back. Not only as part of our north-south travels – because Bicester is ideally placed halfway – but also to Carluccio’s other branches. There’s one in the Trafford Centre…

The only thing I’d suggest for improvement is that they develop a gluten free dessert menu as well, as the current dessert menu isn’t clearly marked up for GF or not.

If you’d like to know more, to download the gluten free menu, or to find out if there’s a Carluccio’s near you, visit the Carluccio’s website.

You do know its Coeliac Awareness Week, don’t you?

Free For Tea?Free for tea?

That’s the branding for this year’s awareness week, organised by Coeliac UK.

One of the best elements of this year’s arrangements is the focus on being able to go out for the day and have a cup of tea and a cake with a friend. The National Trust and National Trust for Scotland are supporting the campaign, so you could go for a day out, explore some of the beautiful gardens, historic buildings or natural landscapes of Britain and have a gluten free cake or biscuit to celebrate.

This is one of the things that we struggle with – we go out as a family for an explore, fancy a drink and a snack, and find that while everyone else can have a delicious cake, our coeliac daughter either has nothing, something we brought with us, or yet another packet of crisps. Very far from ideal. So hurrah for CUK and the National Trust.

Check if there’s a National Trust property involved near you.

And if you’ve got questions for Coeliac UK, you’ll find them at many of our most beautiful places this week.

Coeliac UK are hosting tea-parties in the Westminster Houses of Parliament, and in the Scottish Parliament this week, and there are many other activities and offers available. Visit the Coeliac UK site to learn more. (Scroll down to see all the offers available).

So – line up in twos by the front door, and let’s go out for tea and cake …