Sunday, 22 December 2013

Where to eat out in Reykjavik, Iceland - Gluten Free

Iceland's Blue Lagoon
I'm not about to start writing a travel blog but when I said I was going to Iceland it was met with a few puzzled looks and comments like "Isn't it just cold and dark?". We went this December and with an average temperature of about -9 and around 4 hours of daylight it's certainly both of those! It's also an incredible country with some fantastic places to visit. Highlights such as the Blue Lagoon, Gullfoss waterfall, friendly natives and some extremely good food made this a memorable trip. A little online research suggested it wasn't going to be impossible to eat gluten free so off we went to explore. I really didn't struggle at all, as always I printed some gluten free translation cards, armed myself with cereal bars and emailed the hotel in advance (Hotel Klettur) but I ate with relative ease. With a population of circa 330,000 they're the only people in the world speaking Icelandic, so most have learnt that it's very helpful to be able to speak English. Of all the places I've visited the Icelanders certainly came across as the most knowledgeable in gluten free terms. I hate seeing coeliacs put off travelling so I hope you all find this useful.

Tapas Barinn

We found Tapas Barinn for our first night meal and it set the bar high for the rest of our trip. Stood outside in the freezing cold, we couldn't really tell if there was anyone in there but we walked down the steps into what turned out to be a lively, bustling but cosy restaurant with a great atmosphere. I told the waitress I was gluten free and she just told us to pick whatever we wanted and she would check it was gluten free or ask the chef to make it gluten free. We were off to a great start. Fusion food can be terrible when done badly, a mishmash of flavours, but what Tapas Barinn did brilliantly was use fantastic Icelandic produce in some creative Spanish-style dishes. Some of the highlights were a beautiful Serrano ham served with melon and horseradish, a combination I would never have thought of, that worked well. Scallops served skewered with salty bacon, dates and a sweet chilli glaze were an absolute winner. The pan fried salt fish with sweet potato once again showcased some of the fantastic fish they have in Iceland. It was served drizzled with a punchy pesto. Finally the Icelandic foal, one of the more unusual choices and served medium rare with a chorizo sauce, was tender and succulent.
Bacon wrapped scallops with dates and a sweet chilli glaze
Pan Fried Salt Fish with sweet potato and pesto
Lobster tails with garlic
Fillet of Icelandic foal with chorizo sauce
Kitchen Eldhus

Chicken Tikka
For most coeliacs curry is a safe option and often a last resort. Kitchen Eldhus in Reykjavik certainly shouldn't be a last resort; it's Nepalese style curries are packed with flavour. When we arrived it was the chef who seated us at our table and after a quick mention of being gluten free he assured us that everything except the breads and samosas were suitable. He even said if we'd given him a call earlier he could have done gluten free breads - worth remembering if you're going to pay this place a visit. Iceland isn't cheap for eating out and the curries here ranged from around £12 - £20. The dish of the night was a smoked lamb starter, beautifully marinated meat with a hint of smoke served with crispy flaked rice, giving the dish some great texture. The chef took real pride in explaining that some of the dishes contain a mix of more than 20 spices and there was a real depth of flavour in everything. A chicken tikka starter was again well balanced and the succulent meat came out sizzling. A Nepalese lamb curry and a creamy paneer curry were equally delicious.
Rice and curries at Kitchen Eldhus
 Sakebarinn / Sushi barinn

With access to such an array of fresh fish, sushi is a must in Reykjavik. Sakebarinn is the larger restaurant with Sushi Barinn a small take away place next door - both are run by the same team. We ate at Sakebarinn, a stylish, modern sushi restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere. As became the norm in Iceland, our server was untroubled by requests for gluten free and just checked with the chefs after I ordered. They also provided gluten free soy sauce which meant I didn't need to buy a full bottle from the local supermarket. We ordered a chef's combination plate which was everything you would expect from good sushi, beautiful fresh produce with clean flavours. We also tried to be a bit adventurous but the grilled reindeer skewers were marinated in advance so couldn't be adapted, instead we settled for the succulent beef ones instead. There's all the usual array of sushi but the menu is also peppered with some of Iceland's more unusual delicacies. We tried some of the horse sushi, a little tough but very flavoursome!
Chef's combination plate
Grilled beef skewers
The Sea Baron (Saegreifinn)

Plenty of fresh seafood to choose from
We were running out of time but we had both read a lot about the Sea Baron so we managed to work in a quick stop for lunch on our last day. We accidentally went through the back door and were beckoned in by a gentleman stood by the kitchen door... The same man also appeared to be sat down in a chair in the restaurant... Then we realised he was in fact the Sea Baron and the man sat down was just a life-sized replica! We were taken through the kitchen and shown to a large refrigerator. The refrigerator contained all manner of seafood on skewers. We went for a skewer of scallops and a potato one as we were really only there to try it out. I mentioned I was gluten free and they said they would do it without the sauce they paste on as this contained gluten. The Sea Baron is also famous for it's lobster soups although I didn't check these were suitable for coeliacs. We parked ourselves on a couple of barrels on a long table. The scallops were certainly a good size and tasty and it was clearly a popular place as it filled up quickly. It's very no frills but if you want some fantastic fresh seafood then look no further!
Scallop and potato skewers
Iceland really is an amazing place to visit and personally I found it a very accommodating place to eat out on a gluten free diet.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Vila Joya, near Albufeira, Portugal

Most meals begin with the starter, and as a result, so do most of my blogs. Somehow that wouldn't quite do Vila Joya justice. The whole experience began when we arrived at a secluded looking villa on the outskirts of Albufeira. It would have been easy to drive past, but our taxi driver pulled up to the gate and pressed the intercom. The gates opened to what would be a truly stunning experience from start to finish.

Vila Joya, Albufeira, Portugal
First, the setting. Pristine white tablecloths scattered with petals, a magnificent view looking down over the sea and certainly one of the best places to watch the sun set over the Atlantic. It was breathtakingly beautiful. We spent some time taking photos against the serene backdrop and the staff weren't hurrying us along. In fact, the waiting staff need an extra special mention upfront. They were flawless from start to finish, incredibly attentive. Our lead waiter talked us through every dish with impeccable knowledge and passion. I'd told them I was gluten free when we booked a few months before. No matter how good the restaurant is I nearly always have to let them know again as the information never seems to get past the person taking the booking. Not here, they re-affirmed that there was no problem with the menu and that they would ensure all my dishes were gluten free.
The menu - there must have been as many courses not on the menu
Some of the chefs surprises including the incredibly intense 'peanuts'
It operates on a set menu basis, but they check you're happy with everything first. They then take your taste-buds for a spin! A number of chef's surprises (little amuse-bouches) begin arriving. Each one pushes boundaries with techniques I couldn't even begin to describe. Highlights include a small sphere of olive which exploded in your mouth seemingly packing the punch of a whole olive tree. Something that looked like a peanut was crunchy on the outside and then a smooth centre tasting of a whole jar of peanut butter. I suddenly had doubts on the gluten free front when some little cones of a mousse arrived in what looked like filo pastry. I double checked and he assured me it was gluten free. How they created such a thin flaky pastry texture is beyond me! There was one which they couldn't adapt so I was brought out an extra special treat. It was a fois gras lollipop coated in dark chocolate and gold leaf. It's hard to sum up with out just using the word 'wow', sometimes being gluten free has its perks!
More surprises
Sphere of olive
Foie Gras and dark chocolate lollipop
We haven't even started the menu and I'm already running out of superlatives. As the sunset it made taking photos a little more difficult so you'll have to take my word for how beautiful every dish was presented. Picking highlights from this menu was extremely difficult, akin to picking the sweetest candy in a sweet shop, certainly plenty of candidates  A highlight for me was the avocado cannelloni crabs. Again I wasn't sure how they would do this gluten free but I needn't have wasted time thinking about it. The cannelloni was made out of the avocado itself! I've no idea how they did it, but it looked like it must have taken a steady, brilliant hand and considerable time and effort. It was stuffed with a crab mousse which was feather light and smooth. I also loved the ray wings, the fish cooked perfectly and the whole dish perfectly balanced. Veal was succulent and a watermelon dessert a refreshing palette cleanser, ensuring everyone was ready for a sumptuous finale, a Tonka bean and salted caramel dessert.
Avocado Cannelloni Crabs
Everything at Vila Joya comes together to deliver a world class experience, it's 2 Michelin stars, richly deserved. I certainly feel very lucky to have eaten at such an amazing place.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Jamie's Italian Gluten Free Pasta U-Turn

In the world of politics someone can't simply change their mind without it being called a u-turn. I'm not sure why, I change my mind all the time, particularly when faced with a wonderful sounding menu, and I've never referred to it as a u-turn. So whether you want to call it a u-turn or a simple change of heart someone at Jamie Oliver HQ decided that gluten free pasta was no longer for them. I felt the need to write a blog because I have previously reviewed Jamie's Italian in Glasgow and didn't want to mislead or misinform. I first heard rumours that the chain had stopped doing gluten free pasta on Twitter. I already had a table booked, so I sent a tweet to Jamie's Italian to find out if the rumours were true but got no reply. Others also got no reply from the same question. A quick check on their online menu showed no mention of the gluten free pasta they had been previously proud to shout about. There was now a 'gluten free' section which showed a couple of starters and mains and only a handful of sides. I was less excited about the visit than I had been previously but intrigued to find out more. What had led to the gluten free u-turn?

Around the same time as the decision to remove gluten free pasta from their menus, a number of newspapers ran articles about a coeliac customer being provided with the incorrect meal at Jamie's Italian and suffering as a consequence. She was ultimately awarded damages and the chain admitted it had got things wrong. According to the article  'Environmental health experts visited the premises and an investigation was launched revealing "lamentable failures" over food allergy issues'. I can't comment on the particular case with the limited information provided in newspaper articles, but the timing of the withdrawal of the gluten free pasta appears to coincide with their fine. From the information in the article it clearly caused some suffering, however, I do know people who have been 'glutened' by restaurants in the past and have given feedback without the need to go to court. I'm on the fence as to whether or not raising the failures of the chain through this method was the best way to get a satisfactory outcome or not.

When the day came to visit Norwich's branch of Jamie's Italian I thought I would double check that gluten free pasta was definitely off the menu. I was expecting to hear that it had been taken off while they ensured they had the correct controls in place to ensure customer safety. Instead, our waitress explained that: 'It was not in-keeping with the brand and the fresh pasta they served'. I'm not the only person who appeared to be given the same rationale, with others citing on Twitter that they had been told the same. It's was a slightly alarming and defensive response given the recent press. So gluten free pasta was no longer good enough for the chain?

The meal itself was fine. Interestingly they are willing to adapt some other dishes on the menu so the online 'gluten free' section isn't as limiting as it suggests. I would have expected that there's a greater risk adapting meals than serving gluten free pasta but perhaps their controls have changed. I had one of the planks featured in my original blog which was still great. For main I chose to have a  burger without the bun. It looked very sad on a plate by itself. At £10.95 for a burger with a slice of cheese and bacon on it was underwhelming to say the least. A side of apple slaw perked up the plate but the slightly bitter taste left by their gluten free pasta saga remained. I'd love to see gluten free pasta back on the menu with the right controls in place. The high street has leapt forward recently with multiple gluten free offerings, it would be a shame to see more u-turns and a step back for coeliacs.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Gluten Free Fish and Chips, Southwold Pier, Southwold

I hadn't had 'chip shop' fish and chips since going gluten free. We've had home-made ones which have been really tasty, but there's something very British about having fish and chips at the seaside. Today, we took a trip down to Southwold in Suffolk. It's a beautiful place, the pier has little shops selling handmade souvenirs, it's home to Adnam's ale which has a large flagship store selling all sorts of wonderful produce and the harbour is dotted with little fishmongers and smoke-sheds.
Southwold pier has three places to eat; The Boardwalk restaurant, The Beach café and The Clockhouse. On the first Saturday of every month, coeliacs get to fulfill their fish and chip cravings! Both the Boardwalk restuarant and The Beach café serve gluten free fish and chips. The fryers are cleaned beforehand and fresh gluten free batter is prepared. You can even get battered gluten free sausages (I'm definitely going back to try one of these)! The fish and chips were excellent, a light, crispy batter around fresh tasting cod and beautifully cooked chips... and you can't have fish and chips without a side of mushy peas! It was great to see somewhere catering so well for coeliacs and the regular pundits didn't seem put off by the gluten free day either; the place was bustling. Hopefully more places will see how successful this is and get in on the act.
Gluten free fish and chips at Southwold Pier

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Leek and Gorgonzola pasta with crispy chilli breadcrumbs

I do enjoy blue cheese, but unfortunately my fiancée does not. Needless to say, when she's out for dinner with friends, it's one of my go too foods. I don't often blog recipes because I'm usually following them rather than creating them, but I thought I'd share this really simple supper which uses classic combinations and is ready in minutes. For those who also don't like blue cheese try this with some ricotta.

Ingredients (serves 2):
1 onion diced
2 leeks sliced
2 cloves of garlic crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
200g gluten free pasta
125g Gorgonzola cut into pieces
1 slice of gluten free bread (the crust works well)
2 dried red chillies
Salt and pepper

  • Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and sauté for 2 mins. Then add the leeks, garlic and thyme and season.
  • Blitz the bread and dried chillies in a mini-chopper or blender. Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan and add the bread crumb mix. Keep the mix moving so you don't burn it
  • Now get your pasta on. I used Juvela fusilli which I put into a large pan, poured on boiling water and boiled for 8 minutes. When done, add this and a couple of table spoons of the pasta water to the frying pan with the leeks. Stir in the Gorgonzola and remove from the heat.
  • Pour the pasta, leeks and Gorgonzola into a bowl and scatter over the chilli bread crumbs. If you've got a few thyme flowers scatter these over to help show off your presentation!
Leek and Gorgonzola pasta with crispy chilli breadcrumbs

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Heinz goes gluten free

Heinz's PR company got in touch and asked if I wanted to review a couple of their new gluten free products. As this is my first 'product' review as such, I feel the overwhelming need to justify it! Not everyone agrees with receiving free samples but I've promised an unbiased review. Can a review be unbiased when you've received a free sample I hear you ask, well you'll have to be the judge of that I'm afraid. If it helps other gluten free people understand their options, then so be it.

The fact that companies such as Heinz are joining the gluten free market clearly demonstrates it's become big business. Currently, the small 'free from' section in supermarket aisles is full of smaller niche brands you don't find elsewhere during your shop. So what do Heinz bring to the mix? Well a tasty pasta for one thing. I tried the penne (they also sell macaroni and spaghetti) and it had a good texture and taste. For those who don't have access to the brands available on prescription it also gives you more choice than the handful of brands available at the moment. It cooks well too, gluten free pasta likes to stick together - literally - but this posed no problems. I found Heinz's choice to launch a range of gluten free pasta sauces a slightly strange foray into this market. We rarely buy ready made sauces but I can certainly understand the convenience, but more often than not are most pasta sauces not gluten free anyway? It seems particularly strange when there are other areas so severely lacking in options (a quick ready to eat pasta salad?). I found the sauces a little sweet for my palate, The Tomato Frito reminding me slightly of one of Heinz's most popular products, tomato soup. The Tomato and Oregano one was more flavoursome. They would provide a decent base sauce if you want to add more ingredients, some roasted Mediterranean veg or some smoked streaky bacon would go well. Its not gourmet food, but what it does provide is convenience, which the gluten free market so often lacks. With the sweetness, I think Heinz's pasta and sauce will especially appeal to people with gluten free children, providing a quick and tasty meal.

So judge the review how you want. After all, that's all I've tried to do with the products in it.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Rhubarb and Custard Eton Mess

Eton Mess is one of my favourite desserts. Its popularity on menus is often something of a saviour too, since coeliacs frequently struggle in the dessert department. One blogger has even started their own campaign comically titled 'fruit is not a pudding'. So often fruit, a miserly excuse for a dessert, is dished out to gluten free people up and down the country by those lacking the awareness or creativity to dish up a coeliac friendly pud. So back to Eton Mess, I love it, and like I said it's usually naturally gluten free.

This recipe is ridiculously simple, although the dedicated dessert king or queen can complicate it as much as they like by whisking up their own meringues or custard. The slightly tart rhubarb helps to offset the sweet components nicely. If you are gluten free, don't forget to double check any shop bought ingredients. Quantities are all fairly approximate as you can layer it up how you like it.

Ingredients (serves 6 - 8):
300ml double cream
500g ready to pour custard
6 meringue nests
800g rhubarb
Bar of white chocolate
A sprinkling of caster sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees, chop up your rhubarb into small, bite sized pieces and put in a single layer in a baking tray. Sprinkle over some sugar and place in the oven for 15 minutes. The rhubarb should be soft but not mushy, you want it to hold together. Set aside and leave to cool. Now whisk the double cream till thickened, then fold in 3/4 of your custard, to create a slightly marbled effect. Crumble up your meringue nests and coarsely grate the white chocolate. Now it's simply a case of assembling your mess and that's completely up to you! I started with a layer of rhubarb, followed by a layer of the cream and custard mix, a little more of the custard, crumbled meringue and then white chocolate. Just repeat until you reach the top. Best served in tall sundae glasses.
Rhubarb and Custard Eton Mess

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Relish, Newton Flotman, Norfolk

Going out for Sunday lunch often promises so much, but invariably fails to live up to expectations. Pubs and restaurants up and down the country suddenly decide to turn out over cooked meat and mushy vegetables. Thankfully, Relish at Newton Flotman in Norfolk is not one of those places.

On a Sunday they do 2 courses for £16 or 3 for £20 and for the quality of the food, it's great value. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing over whether to have a starter, dessert or both! In the end, the decision was made that you can always tag a dessert on the end but you can't really go back and have a starter - good logic! To start I had beautifully cooked pigeon, blushing and tender, served on a bed of lentils with celeriac purée. It was a well crafted dish that got the meal off to a great start. My dad had a mushroom and tarragon dish with a soft poached egg that also looked great.
Pigeon on a bed of lentils with celeriac purée and pea shoots
For main, I couldn't resist the haunch of deer with a port jus. When cooked well, venison is one of my favourite meats and this was cooked superbly, the meat tender and succulent. All the accompaniments were well cooked too, crisp and fluffy roast potatoes and vegetables cooked to retain their full flavour. It was a generous portion too, so much so that we decided we didn't quite have room for dessert - maybe the logic wasn't that great after all! There were no problems catering for my gluten free requirements either. Everything was cooked fresh so dishes could be easily adaptable. Inside, Relish has a modern feel while still retaining it's country feel and the service was spot on too. We'll definitely be going back, especially since they also do pizza Sundays and can do gluten free pizza. They also do an 'experience menu', which sounds rather tempting!
Sunday lunch - Haunch of deer with a port jus

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Belgian Monk, Norwich

I have been to Belgium. It was on a school trip in year 9. We stopped off at a motorway service station on our way to Germany. The closest I've come to sampling Belgian gastronomy in Belgium was spending a few francs on some juicy fruit chewing gum to last me the rest of the trip. So I can't really compare the Belgian Monk in Norwich to the real thing, what I can say though, is it certainly makes me want to go back and visit more than just the country's service stations.

If you like your mussels, then look no further than the Belgian Monk. They sell over quarter of a tonne every week and with over 30 different flavour combinations, you're spoilt for choice. We decided to sample a few different flavours between the two of us and went for the mussel selection option where you get to pick 3 starter portions of mussels. We supplemented this with another starter portion and shared the lot and we certainly had plenty. We went around the world with our flavours, from the 'A la Maharajah' with coriander and orange, to the 'Normandes', with a deliciously creamy apple and bacon sauce. The 'Amerika' were served with clams, crab meat and hot sauce for a spicy fishy kick and the 'Thai' with red chilli, coriander, lime and shitake mushrooms packed a punchy fresh taste. They were all beautifully cooked and full of flavour. I'd called ahead to enquire about what was gluten free and was informed all of the mussels were (although there's one with white beer so always double check) but the chips were off limits due to being cooked in the same fryer as other dishes containing gluten. It's times like this I'm occasionally glad I'm gluten free because we substituted the chips for the Limburg potatoes and Potato Tartiflette both of which were excellent. Heavy with thyme and a garlicky hum, the Limburg potatoes were soft and fluffy and the Tartiflette was delicious, oozing with cheese and bacon. With potatoes as delicious as these, who needs chips?
Mussel selection at the Belgian Monk
Limburg Potatoes
Potato Tartiflette
They serve a huge variety of Belgian beers to wash it down the traditional way but we shared a decent bottle of Sauvignon blanc. At £15 - £20 for the mussels and side it's not cheap but it's brilliantly done and for a little taste of Belgium close to home you really can't go wrong.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Jon Gay's 'pop up' at Zin Zeera

I'm not quite sure how, but Jon and I ended up following each other on twitter. Seeing the occasional status about what he was up to, I soon learnt he was serious about food. Jon recently set up his own cookery school which you can find out more about on his website. Seeing photos of some of the dishes he had created and his support for local Norfolk suppliers meant that when he tweeted about an upcoming pop up restaurant he was working on, I jumped at the chance to go.

This was my first 'pop up' experience and I was intrigued to hear it would be at an Indian restaurant called Zin Zeera on the outskirts of Norwich. It was mothers day and for the mother-in-law to be, it was a bit of a shock to be pulling up to an Indian restaurant for Sunday lunch. There was a look of relief on her face when we were handed Jon's menus and she realised we weren't here for a Korma. The menus were a nice touch, hand written with little quotes and nods to local suppliers. I even sampled my first Norfolk cordial of rhubarb, ginger and orange which was a refreshing change. Jon's staff were great too, friendly and helpful. Jon had assured me that my gluten free dietary requirements would be catered for and he came to the table to explain tweaks he could make to ensure I had a full range of options.

My starter of boneless chicken wings with textures of garlic and sesame was a great start to the meal. Deliciously slow roasted garlic melted in the mouth and the wings were succulent and full of flavour. It was a well presented dish which could only have been improved with crispier chicken skin. Others opted for the smoked mackerel pâté, a generous portion which seemed to go down really well.
Boneless chicken wings with textures of garlic and sesame
Mains arrived and were equally well received. My salmon and mussels were all well cooked and seasoned and served with a tasty arrangement of crushed new potatoes. The light white wine sauce tied the dish together well. One of the difficulties of a pop up, I'm sure must be using an unfamiliar kitchen and it was a testament to the chefs that everything was cooked extremely well. Jon was also relying on the Zin Zeera crockery which I think meant that the plating wasn't quite as refined as some dishes photographed so elegantly on his site. Nonetheless, both the butternut squash 'lasagne' and braised lamb enjoyed by others continued to deliver on flavour. The lamb provided by local butcher Tony Perkins received particular praise for it's deep, rich flavour and tender texture.
Pan fried salmon, new potatoes, mussels and white wine
Desserts were definitely a highlight. The most creative dish on the menu of peanut butter 'jammie dodger' went down extremely well and I had one of the best brownies I've eaten. It even earnt the use of the cliché 'melt in the mouth'. The brownie was naturally gluten free too, other chefs should definitely take note.
'Loads of chocolate' brownie, baileys ice cream
For a first pop up, there was some really good cooking on show. Jon and his staff did a great job at making us all feel welcome. Launching your own business certainly demonstrates ambition and I think with this under his belt, hopefully there'll be even more to come.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Gluten Free McDonalds here in the UK?

Well not quite... but you can certainly come pretty close! They're a guilty pleasure, it was very rare that I had a McDonalds even before becoming gluten free but just now and again I'd have that craving. Since becoming gluten free, I thought that surely McDonalds would be off limits?  Of course you can make excellent beef burgers yourself and we've even made gluten free wagyu beef burgers at home but there's a unique taste to a McDonalds Big Mac that you just can't recreate.

Actually though, it's not off limits. McDonalds have an extremely thorough allergen menu available online. As they break down the components of their burgers you can actually see which components contain gluten and which don't. For example, take the Big Mac, only the bread bun has gluten. Asking for a burger without a bread bun does earn you some funny looks but the branches I've visited have been more than happy to provide the rest of the burger! They make it from scratch and usually put it into a breakfast tray clearly labelled. All you have to do then, is add your own bread bun! The fries are also cooked in a separate fryer to anything containing gluten. You can also check the McFlurry flavours available online too, as some of these are gluten free. I obviously can't speak for the cross contamination procedures in place across every branch of McDonalds but I've never had any issues. If you're unsure though, it's probably best to ask.

One day coeliacs might have a full gluten free burger option in McDonalds, it's already available in country's such as Sweden, but for now, at least you can satisfy that occasional craving.
Big Mac created with a gluten free bread bun!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Your Guide To Eating Out For Gluten Free Pizza

In the gluten free calendar, 2012 will be hailed as the year of the gluten free pizza. They burst on to our high streets in the UK with abundance, as the chain restaurants competed to improve their share of wallet in the increasingly lucrative gluten free market. I have to commend them all for giving it a go, it's not easy to put systems in place in the kitchen to avoid cross contamination, re-train staff and create a great tasting pizza. Pizza's a very personal thing too, some prefer a good deep pan, others a crispy base, some a good tomato sauce, others laden with cheese. What I aim to do here is give you a brief review of how I found them:

Pizza Hut
I was surprised to learn that Pizza Hut were launching a gluten free pizza as the dietary blurb on their website had always suggested that they'd never be venturing into this market as it was in the too difficult camp. Pizza hut for me conjures up memories of teacher training days at school and half our class going to Pizza Hut for all you could eat! The gluten free pizza I had certainly brought back those memories. It's a good deep pan base with a sweet tomato sauce. We shared a BBQ chicken pizza and a pepperoni. They come as square pizzas on a black board with their own cutter, avoiding any horror stories of getting the wrong pizza - a great idea. We went during the launch week and although our waitress had to check a few things she was more than happy to do so. Pizza Hut will be great for those with coeliac children. It was perhaps a little over sweet for my palette but still a good pizza.
Pizza Hut Pepperoni Pizza
Ask Italian
Ask has become my favourite place for a great gluten free pizza. They already had a good array of pasta dishes and with the addition of pizza too, a lot of their menu is now gluten free. The pizza was fantastic, again served on it's own board with individual cutter. The base is thin and crispy and comes with a comprehensive selection of toppings. My favourite has to be the pollo picante, a great spicy chicken pizza, loaded with peppers and mushrooms. The staff are knowledgeable too which always gives you confidence when eating out.
Ask Italian Pollo Picante Pizza
The Prezzo launch almost went unnoticed. There was the odd rumour via twitter but little in the way of publicity. It's another good pizza too. Similar to ask but perhaps a slightly thicker base and generously covered with cheese and tomato. The Vesuvio, a pepperoni pizza with red chillies also packs some heat! When ordering though, the staff do always give you the disclaimer that they can't guarantee 100% that it will be gluten free as it's obviously produced in the same kitchen as non-gluten free pizzas. Possibly Prezzo being extra cautious, but it always feels slightly less reassuring than the others. Nonetheless another good option to have when eating out.
Prezzo Vesuvio Pizza
Bella Italia
Bella Italia was the first gluten free pizza I had, back when it was pretty much the only option for eating out for gluten free pizza. It's a thin and crispy base but perhaps a bit too crispy. I think the competition has moved on a little and it will be interesting to see if Bella Italia make any changes. It's still a good pizza and as coeliacs will testify, it's great to now have multiple options!

I recently heard that Pizza Express are now trialling gluten free pizzas in a few of their restaurants. If you've tried one it would be great to hear from you. Hopefully these will be launched nationwide in the future. I've still not had chance to pick up the phone and order a Dominos yet either but when I do, I'll be sure to add it to the list! I've heard there are some great independent pizza restaurants which have gluten free options, particularly in London which I'm hoping to try in the future. Any predictions on what 2013 will bring to the gluten free market?

Update: Pizza Express

So were they saving the best until last? The Pizza Express gluten free experience has arrived. You can understand why they took their time - they wanted to do things right - great news for coeliacs. One of the difficulties pizza express had was the risk of airborne gluten when they were rolling their 'normal' bases. The launch of gluten free pizzas has brought about a total re-think and now the company uses gluten free flour to roll their 'normal' bases. Where others have missed a trick, Pizza Express has spotted it, a gluten free beer. It's a welcome addition to the menu and brings home the feeling of 'normality' even more for coeliacs up and down the country. There's a good range of toppings too and clear labelling. I went for a Gorgonzola,  leek and pancetta one which was a perfect combination. The base was excellent, good texture and more flavoursome than some of the competition. We couldn't leave without sampling the gluten free brownie. Brownie's have come under a bit of stick from the gluten free community due to being the gluten free pudding of choice for a lot of restaurants.  Pizza Express' was very good though, just dense and chocolatey enough and served with a tea or coffee of your choice. As a pizza lover, it's great to have another choice and another excellent pizza. Now they've ventured into the market hopefully Pizza Express can expand their offering  it would be great to have more variety in the starter and dessert department. Is it the best? Well, you'll have to be the judge of that!
The 'Da Moire' pizza at Pizza Express
Gluten Free Brownie at Pizza Express

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Frank's Bar, Norwich

It can sometimes be tough finding a great lunch spot when eating gluten free. Sandwiches, paninis and the like still dominate a lot of lunchtime menus. So I was delighted to discover Frank's Bar in Norwich, which has an exciting selection of gluten free options. It's always nice to support local, independent places and sometimes coeliacs can naturally veer towards trusted chains where they feel safe. Frank's is proof as to why it's worth exploring.

I've been a few times in the last year so I won't review a specific meal - it's easier to say I've never had a bad one! There's an eclectic mix of dishes with some Mediterranean influences but clearly not forgetting some of the great produce we have on our doorstep in Norfolk. Highlights have been Shakshuka, a delicious dish of Tunisian baked eggs with roasted peppers in a tomato saffron stew which is generously scattered with feta. The Spanish tapas dish is everything you'd expect with spicy chrorizo, salty manchego, paprika chips and much more. The more substantial dishes are equally as good grilled 'flat iron' steak was cooked perfectly medium rare and served with an excellent chimichurri sauce. It's all great value too, with decent portions for around the £8 - £9 mark.
Spanish Tapas
Grilled 'flat iron' steak with chimichurri
The menu is all clearly marked with 'GF' signs to signal they are gluten free and some are marked with 'GFA' meaning they can be adapted to be gluten free. I've been offered gluten free bread in the past which is great to see. Whether your gluten free or not, Frank's Bar is definitely worth checking out. It's a popular place so occasionally you may have to wait for a table but for food this tasty and a great atmosphere, its certainly worth it.