Eating Out Gluten Free

Cafe Life – John Lewis, Cheadle

Once again, I bribe the children with drinks and cakes – this time so we can get their feet measured for school shoes.

Because they woke up late (ooh, back to school tomorrow will be a shock), we headed for John Lewis, which as their fans know, doesn’t open until 10am, ducked under the opening shutter and raced up the escalator to be the first in the shoe queue. We only just made it.

40 minutes later – yes, I have three children, and it just does take that long to find shoes that fit – we headed for the cafe. If you were behind me in the shoe queue, I apologise for my son’s indecisiveness.

Nothing labelled as gluten free, but (as a previous customer) I knew that something would be, and sure enough, it was the Paradise Cake again.

There’s nothing wrong with the Paradise Cake – it uses grated coconut, raisins and glace cherries – and tastes fresh and light. Its very pleasant. But coconut isn’t to everybody’s taste (not my daughter’s, for instance), and it would be nice to have a choice.

To be fair, John Lewis were among the first to have gluten free cake as an option, and I remember seeking out the manager about 8 years ago to thank her, in tears because I was so pleased that my daughter could eat something with the rest of us in the cafe. My excuse is that I was hugely pregnant with baby 3 at the time. It was Paradise Cake back then too …

I think it would be quite possible to lunch both well and gluten free at John Lewis – I haven’t tried it in years, because lunch out with three children is very expensive – but they do offer more than just the standard omelette and baked potato. One day I’ll venture out and let you know …

Cafe Life – Trafford Centre

Along with about 40,000 other people, we decided to visit the Trafford Centre yesterday. (Yes, the car parks, which hold 10,000 cars, were full – luckily we’d got up early to catch the first showing of Flushed Away).

Film was very entertaining, thanks – but at the end, we were hungry, and I had refused to allow the children to have sweets and popcorn for the film, so we called in at Muffin Break. On our last trip, the advertised gluten free muffins weren’t available, but they did have gluten free muffins this time, and we collected two different flavours: banana and blueberry, and chocolate chip and blackberry.

The muffins were good enough – denser in texture than the standard muffins, and the flavours are odd (chocolate chip and blackberry?) – the banana and blueberry was the better of the two. I’m not a huge muffin fan anyway, finding even the ones with gluten in rather heavy and uninteresting. And for some reason, muffins are always twice as big as they need be, and are big enough for two children. However, as muffins go, these were good, and it is great to find food that a coeliac can eat when we’re out.

Next time we’ll visit again, and see if there are different flavours to try. There are apparently a wide range of flavours available.

Cafe Life – Lakeland Ltd

During half-term, we went to a Lakeland shop (the one at Cheadle), to get various bits and pieces, and decided to go to the cafe upstairs. The children see going to a cafe as a big treat …

The staff at Lakeland are always helpful, and the Lakeland cafe is pleasant enough, but not fantastic (the not-gluten-free chocolate cake the non-coeliac children ordered was too cold to eat). They did, however, offer some gluten free toast, when I asked if they had anything that was gluten free. The toast came with wrapped portions of butter and a range of tiny pots of jam – so no cross-contamination issues – and could have come with bacon, if we’d wanted, and was made from their own gluten free multigrain bread mix. We liked it enough to buy some mix later to make our own loaves – though it was a shame we were given a crust as one of the three pieces of toast made. The crust of the loaf was very difficult to eat anyway, and having the end-crust meant that that slice of toast became inedible, particularly for the child it was ordered for.

Still, credit to them for having it available – though it wasn’t on the menu, and should have been. They do sell various gluten free items in the shop, notably an italian almond cake, so it would have been good to see that on the menu too.

Cafe Life – Marriott hotels

What is it that makes you know you can trust someone – even over the phone?

As part of the birthday celebrations, we went to the Marriott at Meriden (Forest of Arden). Before the visit, as usual, I phoned the hotel to discuss catering for my coeliac daughter.

I was put through to the chef, who not only knew what I was talking about, but – without being prompted – said that they would make gluten free gravy with no thickening for her if she wanted it, and that I should just make sure that the waiter on the evening knew which order was to be gluten free.

In practice, when we turned up for dinner, the restaurant manager came over to be sure that we understood which items were gluten free, and to reassure us that they could produce a gluten free version of the things she chose. In the end, she chose gravadlax (which sure enough came without the crostini that the others had) followed by trout with a clam and mushroom chowder, and then fruit dipped in chocolate. We all had the gluten free birthday cake that I had brought with us, and the hotel didn’t mind providing candles, plates, knives etc for us to use.

Well done to the Marriott – particularly to the chef who was so knowledgeable. He told me that almost every evening they had someone in the restaurant who needed a gluten free diet – which isn’t surprising, once you know how many people have been diagnosed. What is surprising, given our experience over the last 10 years, is how well set up the Marriott was for managing this without making a fuss.

How did I know I could trust him with my daughters health? Well, you never know for certain, obviously, but he knew the key issues and used the right terminology. He’d clearly come across it before, and wasn’t thrown into a state of panic. And then his staff followed through and gave us good service.

If they can do it, why is it so difficult in other places?

Fancy going out for a meal – and having a choice?

It isn’t often that a coeliac gets to go out for a meal and have a choice of dishes. Often there is only one safe option – and that usually involves a baked potato!

Jenny at the Celiac Club blog talks about a recent visit to the Edmonton branch of the Outback Steakhouse. Yes, I know this isn’t exactly handy for those of us who talk about ‘coeliac’ rather than ‘celiac’ … but a quick visit to the Outback Steakhouse site for the UK reveals that they have a gluten free menu – just as Jenny says – and you can even download it in advance. And it includes a child oriented section with a choice of gluten free items.

Sadly, all their outlets are 200+ miles away from us here in the north, but next time we head south, we’ll make a point of visiting. Thanks to Jenny for the heads-up.