Living 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!

FPIES and Allergy Awareness Week

smiling baby

Yesterday, at the Free From Food Awards ceremony, I learned that FPIES UK were their charity of the year and would receive 10% of all Awards entrants fees.

Now I’d never heard of FPIES (say it f-pies), so went to learn something about it…

It turns out that Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES) is the most severe type of delayed food allergy, and typically affects babies and young children, who projectile vomit 30 minutes to 6 hours after eating whatever the problem food is. They may become lethargic or sleepy. They may develop low blood pressure. And about 20% become extremely unwell, experience symptoms of shock, and have to be hospitalised.

Now Coeliac Daughter used to projectile vomit after eating, at least until we got a diagnosis of coeliac disease (aged 1) and changed her diet: usually over me, and on one occasion, memorably and extensively into my cleavage while in the doctor’s office. At least he got some idea of the problem!

But nobody ever discussed FPIES with me, though she was tested for giardia and cystic fibrosis, among other things. I’m not saying that she had FPIES—she didn’t; but you’d think it would have come up as an option…

Since it is Food Allergy Day in the UK Allergy Awareness Week, I thought I’d help spread the word by telling you about it.

So here’s what I’ve learned:

  • FPIES is something that can be outgrown, typically by the age of five (coeliac disease, of course, is not something you can outgrow), though not everyone does.
  • FPIES vomiting is dramatic, with babies vomiting forcefully many times. Afterwards, the child may be lethargic, and in more severe cases, may seem non-responsive. Some children go pale grey or blue, or suffer from diarrhoea and abdominal pain. If it is a chronic condition, the child may lose weight and fail to thrive. (Pain? Diarrhoea? Lethargy? Failure to thrive? The more I think about it, the more I think I should have known that FPIES existed…)
  • Foods that can cause an FPIES reaction are many and various: typical ones are cow’s milk, soya, rice, oats, barley, bananas, peas, beans and sweet potato and chicken. FPIES children won’t react to all of these, and will probably only react to 1 or 2.
  • FPIES is thought to affect as many as 1 in 300 children.
  • Most doctors in the UK haven’t heard of it.

Want to know more? Find out more at the FPIES UK website or the US one

Free From Food Awards 2016

free from food awards 2016Since I’d helped out by judging the TeaTime category again this year, I was invited to the Awards ceremony for the Free From Food Awards last night. The image on this page is of the list of gluten free beers available on the evening…

You can find the full list of winners on the Free From Food Awards website, so I’ll just give you my own highlights of the evening, based on my notes:

  • I was delighted that White Rabbit Pizza won the Pasta and Pizza category. We tasted their pizza at the Allergy Show in Liverpool this year, and it is simply the best gluten free pizza we’ve had.
  • I’m going to look up Oast to Host products (their quiche won the Food to Go category) – sadly, it looks as though there’s nowhere near me that stocks them, so it might have to wait until I can get south again.
  • I’m also going to check out the Coconom Coconut Aminos, which is a soy, gluten, dairy and wheat-free soy sauce replacement containing 17 essential amino acids, B vitamins and minerals. This sounds amazing.
  • To nobody’s surprise, Tesco won the Retailer of the Year category. They really have worked wonders over the last few years, with fab new products seemingly coming out all the time (they won in the Breakfast category for their garlic baguette, in the Down the Pub category, their onion rings were highly commended, and in the Food for Children category, they won with their chicken fillets, and their Free From Carl the Caterpillar birthday cake was highly commended)
  • I also noted that Tesco sponsored the Start-up/New Business category, offering mentoring to the winner—I think this is a great prize, and likely to be very useful to the winner (Seed & Sage, this year).

There are a long list of other products I’m going to investigate, from Rollagranola’s granola to SweetPea Pantry’s pancake mix… do look at the list of winners and see what you’d like to try.

That’s the thing about the Free From Food Awards; they’re a great way of spreading the word about your products. I chatted to MummyBakes last night (one commended and two highly commended products in the TeaTime category this year, and one product shortlisted last year) for whom the Awards have been very helpful—they’re now stocked in Fortnum & Mason.

So if you are a manufacturer of an amazing free from product – or know someone who is – do consider entering next year. You never know…the overall winner was Nutribix this year, but next year, it could be you!

Review: The Allergy Catering Manual

allergy catering
Like many families where one or more people have coeliac disease, we only eat out at a place where Coeliac Daughter can safely eat—and ideally, at a place where she can have a choice. When we have had to eat out (when travelling, for example), for years her only option has, typically, been a baked potato.

Things are getting a lot better now. A lot!

But there is still a way to go—and it seems that many caterers are still missing out on a big opportunity. The Free From market is big, and getting bigger. According to Mintel (2015), nearly 40% of the UK population avoid at least one food on a regular basis; 3 million of those are people who suffer from serious food allergies, 650,000 with coeliac disease, and up to 7 million who suffer from other food-related problems.

By failing to provide food that one member of a family of five (like ours) can eat, a restaurant misses out on selling a meal for five. And once we’ve found somewhere that caters for Coeliac Daughter, we are very, very loyal customers, and tell as many people as we can about a good experience.

So the opportunity is in fact even bigger than the statistics indicate… If you’re in the food service industry, you’ll want to make sure you can serve this group of people.

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, who runs FoodsMatter and the FreeFrom Food Awards, has used her experience as a caterer and food manufacturer to write The Allergy Catering Manual designed to help the food service industry reach this market.

I’ve read a preview copy of this book; it will be essential reading for people in the food service industry, but also extremely valuable for those of us who cook at home for friends and family with allergies and intolerances.

  • It explains clearly the difference between food allergies and food intolerances; the law covering the 14 major allergens; and the problems of accidental contamination.
  • There is a chapter that discusses each major allergen (and some others) in detail, and where you might find them unexpectedly—they aren’t always called by the same names!
  • And there are some clear guidelines about the issues involved in each of the key areas: menu design; recipe design; front of house; ordering and storing food; and preparing and cooking food. All establishments should read this to ensure that their processes and procedures are well-formed—and their staff well-informed and trained.
  • And finally there’s a section on using alternative ingredients and products, and a useful resources section at the end, including information on training courses for managing allergy in food service.

All in all, I think the Allergy Catering Manual will prove invaluable. It’s written clearly and as simply as possible, and is full of useful information. It would make a great addition to the reading list for food technology students from GCSE up—I’ve certainly seen enough questions from young people studying food technology to know that there’s a demand for this kind of material.

And from our point of view—the consumers—the more people that have an understanding of the issues involved in managing allergies and intolerances the easier life will be!

If you’re interested in buying a copy, the The Allergy Catering Manual is available via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), priced at £3.99 until 21st May 2016 (usual price, £5.99).

Staying Gluten Free at Center Parcs

gluten-free-menusIn 2014, James Haywood, the Group Executive Chef at Center Parcs, decided to live as a coeliac for four weeks, to find out what it was like.

Going gluten free for a month clearly helped him understand some of the issues that coeliacs face, and he came up with the following principles for Center Parcs:

  • offer a specific gluten free menu
  • offer delicious food that everyone can enjoy
  • offer gluten free beer
  • work to make those small tweaks in the kitchen that make a big difference to coeliacs.

I was invited by Center Parcs to a gluten–free tasting at their Woburn Forest village, and although I didn’t try any gluten free beer, I can confirm that the other three principles have been adopted.

We tasted food that had been developed for some of the Center Parcs’ own restaurants (Huck’s American Bar and Grill, The Pancake House and Sports Café), and saw dedicated gluten free menus for all three restaurants (Hucks has dedicated gluten free menus for both adults and children, which I thought was a great touch) – and the food was excellent.

Visiting Center Parcs

Now I’ve never been to Center Parcs before, so didn’t really know what to expect (it’s big!), and managed to get lost on arrival, ending up in the hotel rather than the conference venue. However, I was rescued by Alan, who saw that I was lost, asked if I needed help, and took me to where I was meant to go – chatting to me on the way about Center Parcs and how much he enjoyed working there. Thanks, Alan: great customer service, and a good way to be introduced to the ethos of Center Parcs.

I arrived in the middle of a conversation about the release that day of some rescue hedgehogs into the woods in Centre Parcs, about the work that goes into maintaining the woodlands in which the village sits, and about the wildlife that is supported by that woodland. My kind of place…

Eating gluten free

gluten-free-macaroni-cheeseBut you really want to know about the food, don’t you?

We were offered 17-18 different dishes to taste; the extra one was some gluten free fish fingers that were prepared specifically for the children among us, and these went down really well.

And how very sensible of Center Parcs to include some children among their tasting panel, since Center Parcs is primarily a family destination (though they do offer conferencing facilities, and quite a few couples choose to holiday there too).

17 separate dishes… Happily, the adult dishes were miniature portions! I didn’t try everything, because I don’t eat meat, but I can tell you that I particularly enjoyed:

  • Macaroni cheese (gluten free macaroni, with gluten free breadcrumb topping). This was, perhaps the favourite savoury dish of the day; James (the chef) came out to talk to us afterwards – apparently the key is to follow the pasta manufacturers instructions exactly and to add stilton and parmesan to bring out the cheese flavour
  • Hot cheese, baby artichoke and spinach dipping pot (with gluten free nachos).
  • Gluten free fish and chips (batter made with Daura Damm gluten free beer and Doves Farm self-raising flour); the batter was light and crispy, and very tasty. Coeliac daughter just loves gf fish and chips, and will choose this for preference if it is available anywhere we go
  • Grilled Cajun swordfish salad with roasted garlic and lemon dressing; this is one of those dishes that is naturally gluten free (though do check the spices), but it was good!
  • Prawn fajita shells; an unusual dish to find gluten free, and it worked well
  • Flourless chocolate torte with raspberry compote; everyone thought this was outstandingly good

gluten-free-cakeA couple of the dishes didn’t work so well, because they’d been made in miniature which had caused some problems – for example, the tiny pancakes weren’t as good as I’d hoped – but I was assured by a couple of the other visitors that they’d tried the gluten free pancakes at full size, and that they were good.

And the meat-eaters told us that the BBQ wings and the mustard-brushed pork loin with hasselback potatoes and sour cream were particularly good.

Cooking gluten free

After we’d eaten, I wandered down to the supermarket, to see how a coeliac would manage if they’d forgotten to take some basics with them. I know, not likely, but just in case…

There’s a reasonable range of specialist gluten free groceries: pasta, bread (but only Livwell), cakes, biscuits, rice cakes, breakfast cereals and some Amy’s tinned foods – but I didn’t see any gluten free flour or baking powder. And I forgot to check for gluten free beer (sorry!).

With those basics available, I’m sure that you’d be able to prepare meals for coeliacs from scratch from the rest of the supermarket provisions if you didn’t want to eat out every night. And I imagine that, like us, if you have particular needs you’d take your favourite items with you.


There was a joke made on the day about the collective noun for bloggers – a chat of bloggers? An opinion of bloggers? It was certainly entertaining to see that the bloggers all leapt to their feet to take pictures of each new dish as it arrived – the non-bloggers just laughed at us…

Either way, it’s always interesting to get a group of gluten free bloggers together and it was good to see that we agreed on a great many things from the big (the issues faced by coeliacs) to the small (the best doughnuts? Borough22. The best wraps? BFree. And so on). I came away with new ideas, too!

I hope that Center Parcs found our comments and suggestions both welcome and useful. It must have been reassuring for them that their visitors agreed on so many things, and we suggested a variety of other menu items we’d like to see and brands that they could look at. I also think the gluten free menus (and the lactose free menu, and the vegan menu) should be available from the website, rather than just on request, so that people can check in advance. I think Center Parcs said that they would be… but they’re not there yet.

It was clear to me that Center Parcs had put a great deal of effort into adding gluten free items to their menus, and to thinking through how to make a Center Parcs break better (more manageable; safer; more delicious) for coeliacs. Good for them! If any of you have been gluten free at Center Parcs, do let me know how it went…

Update: I’ve just realised I last wrote about being gluten free at Center Parcs back in June 2007. Things have obviously changed a bit since then; but it was a successful trip back then too!