Friday, 21 November 2014

Wild Thyme, Norwich, Norfolk

After taking a short break from blogging to move house, I'm back. With lots of blogs to write up I thought I’d start with a little gem I discovered in Norwich recently.

With the world population increasing and new emerging middles classes in countries such as China and Brazil, demand for meat has soared. Leading experts cite consequences ranging from rapidly increasing prices, to climate change, and even the potential need to look at test tubes as the solution. As a result, we’re being urged to eat less meat and the recent trend for #meatfreemondays has become very popular. It used to seem that vegetarian food in the UK was an afterthought to most menus, a damp tasting aubergine in a nondescript tomato sauce, now vegetarian food is influenced by flavours form around the world and can be, and often is, exciting and vibrant.

The food is certainly exciting vegetarian fare at Wild Thyme in Norwich. Wild Thyme is nestled in a small courtyard next to a wholefood store (where you’ll find some great gluten free products), in the heart of Norwich. I've been twice in the last couple of months, the first time with some work friends and the second with my wife. Both times I've been hugely impressed. I've enjoyed an excellent salad of goat’s cheese, wild mushrooms and pumpkin which came with a tangy vinaigrette which balanced the dish perfectly. Sweet potato wedges are baked to give sweet gnarly skins with soft centres; so often can sweet potato wedges become sweet crisps or damp mush. I've had the bubble and squeak, packed with veg and topped with a perfect poached egg and piccalilli. Indian spiced pea, potato and peanut cakes are served with a tangy tomato chutney, their crisp exterior hides a tasty filling. It is simple food, superbly executed. It’s great value too, starters (easily enough for lunch) are around the 5.95 mark and mains around 8.95.

The menu is clearly marked with dishes that are gluten free and there’s even gluten free bread available for sandwiches or to dunk in what sound like sumptuous soups. Many of the dishes are vegan too, so would be good for dairy free too. One of my friends said I’ll have to tell my vegetarian friend about this place’… I’d say tell all your friends about this place and let’s all embrace a little less meat without compromising on flavour.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Kabuto Noodles

The quirky people at Kabuto Noodles got in touch recently and sent me some samples of their new range of instant 'upmarket' noodles. Food 'on the go' is always a difficult one for coeliacs. I'm generally on my best behaviour and take a packed lunch to work - salads, sandwiches, soups - the usual fodder. But, sometimes time is against you or you just fancy grabbing something that's hassle free. Kabuto have launched two of their instant noodles made with flat rice noodles resulting in a new completely gluten free lunch option.

Prior to becoming gluten free I think I'd only ever tried the 'well known other brand' of instant noodles once and in the dark days of studenthood, I may fallen into the depths of the own-brand supermarket variety. Both had that murky nondescript taste to them. As a coeliac you get used to reading the ingredients list before trying anything. One thing I liked about these new Kabuto noodles was that the list wasn't an endless list of 'flavour enhancers' you have never heard of. It was a simple and expected list of ingredients. So how did they taste? Surprisingly good actually both had a freshness that you wouldn't expect from essentially re-hydrating food! Rice noodles can be infamous for getting stuck together but simply adding boiling water and leaving for a couple of minutes gave you silky smooth strands. The chicken one was definitely my favourite, it just seemed to have a bit more going on. I found the miso one perfectly palatable, if a little bland. I'm sure you could 'pimp' your noodles with a little chilli oil or (gluten free) soy sauce if you wanted to add a bit more flavour.

All in all, a good product and great to have another gluten free 'on the go' option. These would be great to take as an emergency supply to a festival or travelling if you weren't sure exactly what you could eat. Let's hope there's even more to come.

Available from Ocado, Wholefoods and now Sainsbury's for around £1.99.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

How To Organise a Gluten Free Wedding!

I thought I'd interrupt the honeymoon food blogs with what is really just a shout out to some of the fantastic suppliers who helped make our wedding day so incredibly special. Food was always going to be important to us and we succeeded in having a completely gluten free wedding (without people even noticing!).

When we found Sarah our caterer, we were overwhelmed by the passion with which she spoke about food! She didn't even hesitate when accepting the challenge of ensuring absolutely everything was gluten free. Sensational canapés including tempura vegetables with a sweet chilli dip, mini Norfolk sausages in a honey glaze and shots of tequilla laced gazpacho were devoured by our guests. We managed to source gluten free breads from Kelly's Bakeries at Lenwade. They provided a whole host of different flavoured breads which were all beautifully baked and delicious. We always wanted food to be a big part of our day and Sarah pulled out all the stops creating a fantastic wedding breakfast and in the evening, a cheese truckle with cooked Norfolk ham and beef, more gluten free breads and crackers and various pates, olives and pickles. Everything was perfect!

We found an excellent bespoke wedding cake designer and they assured us they could do everything gluten free. One of the best bits about organising the wedding was definitely sampling the copious amounts of cake at Vanilla Patisserie! We had 5 tiers, with lemon cake, carrot cake and a classic raspberry cream cake with white chocolate design.

We both love Macarons and couldn't resist a Macaron tower to go with teas and coffees. We're lucky that the masterchef finalist Tim Kinnaird has set up his shop Macarons & More in Norwich. Macarons are usually naturally gluten free so make a great addition to any coeliac wedding! They created a fabulous Macaron tower for us which I'm sure took a lot longer to make than the speed with which it disappeared!

We did our own home-made jams and chutneys for favours. After quartering my 200th cherry tomato I was questioning whether this was the right decision but they went down brilliantly and were well worth the effort.

Actually, it was surprisingly easy to create our perfect gluten free wedding because everyone involved knows just how perfect you want it to be. We went the whole way and had everything gluten free which I would definitely recommend. It allows you to relax and eat what you want on your wedding day!

We had so many fantastic people involved to make so incredibly perfect... Katherine Ashdown captured our wedding perfectly providing us with some superb pictures to look back on.... Studio 1208 blew us away with their video which we can't stop watching (and you can see here)... We got married at the breathtaking Kimberley Hall and Sarah Goodson and Sarah Softley made sure everything ran like clock work... Fabulous flowers were arranged by Libby Ferris... The Ben Weston Quartet jazzed up our canapé reception in style... Captain Scarlet played the hits that made sure the dance floor was full to the very end... Thanks to everyone involved who made marrying my beautiful wife so perfect.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Where to eat in Montreal, Canada - Gluten Free

Next stop on the honeymoon was the marvellous city of Montreal. Despite packing for mixed weather the sun shone down on us as we walked round the beautiful parks and saw the sights of this fantastic French-speaking city. I speak French but most people seemed to speak English as well so there were no issues with explaining dietary requirements! One of the highlights was the incredible Cirque du Soleil, so if you get chance to see it in it's home-town then do so. Of course the food was a highlight too so here's a run down of some of the places we ate at:


Toqué is for serious foodies! The experience here was easily equal to some of the best Michelin starred restaurants in Europe. We had booked in advance and they acknowledged that I was gluten free when we were seated. We couldn't resist the temptation of the tasting menu. You've got to be brave at Toqué, you have no idea what you're going to get but I can assure you it will certainly excite and enthral. As we were on honeymoon we had to start with the champagne and oysters. You receive two glasses of champagne and the extremely knowledgeable sommelier talks you through the differences while you sample the fresh tasting oysters. I won't go into all 7 courses but I can guarantee that you'll have flavours and combinations you'll have never tried before. Highlights included a scallop ceviche with strawberries. It sounds like one of those terrible combinations an over-enthusiastic Masterchef contestant would try but it worked seamlessly. Sea urchin was certainly a first for me and with a creamy taste of the sea it didn't fail to disappoint. A beef dish provided rich dark meat and the pigeon dish which followed looked like artwork on plate. Toqué gave me the most unusual cheese dish I'd ever had, with flowers of cheese, smoky hay cream, and tangy mustard seeds. Everything was effortlessly gluten free and the little touches such as a different crumb around the cheese really showed the attentiveness of the chefs at Toqué.

Sea Urchin at Toqué
Cheese at Toqué

Accords is a fantastic wine bar and bistro with a quaint courtyard just down from the Notre Dame Basilica. They clearly mark the gluten free options on their menu which is great to see. We went there for a spot of lunch but as it was a Sunday they only serve brunch. In fact, we were in for a treat! They had a simple set menu with a few choices again clearly marking what was gluten free. We both had the salad to start and simple though it was, it was beautifully dressed. We both then had what we thought was the eggs Benedict (mine ordered without the muffin). This is where my French let me down in a good way! What we in fact ordered was eggs Benedict but instead of the usual ham or bacon we had huge lobster claws. The perfectly poached eggs and zingy hollandaise made for one delicious dish. As well as a large selection of wines they also have gluten free beer available!

Lobster Benedict at Accords
Le Comptoir - Charcuteries et Vins

One of my favourite restaurants of our entire trip was Le Comptoir. It was helped by the fact that we had front row seats! Being able to sit at the bar and watch the chefs meticulously put together these delicately crafted plates of superb food was brilliant. The waiter checked each of the dishes we ordered was gluten free or could be adapted. It was hard not to watch the chefs with eagle eyes, but I soon relaxed when you could see the level of care and attention that chefs take in such a well-oiled professional kitchen. The dishes are small and perfect for sharing. We started with one of their home-made charcuterie platters, delicious smoked and cured meats. My favourite was a smoked bacon carpaccio with parsnip purée, sprouts and pickled onion. The combination worked perfectly and was some of the best bacon I've ever tasted. I loved this place and would definitely recommend booking as it was packed all night.

Bacon Carpaccio at Le Comptoir 
Veal at Le Comptoir
Café Pavé & Nococchi

Just opposite Accords we found Café Pavé which is a great place to grab a gluten free sandwich for lunch. There's a whole host of different fillings you can have in your gluten free bread. I had the pulled pork sandwich which was the perfect fuel after a morning seeing sights. It's worth noting that like some gluten free bread in the UK, the slices are a little smaller so for those with big appetites, you might want to order two!
Nococchi was also another good spot to grab a gluten free sandwich - the BLT was particularly good. They also had a number of salads on the menu too.

Gluten free BLT at Nococchi
Cartel Street Food

For our last night in Montreal we found the Cartel Street Food Bar an eclectic mix of tacos, quesadillas, ceviches and Asian dishes. The menu was clearly marked with gluten free options and once again we found the staff knowledgeable. It was at Cartel that I had my first poutine, a sort of chips, cheese and gravy medley that is a Montreal speciality! Other dishes we tried included a blackened grilled chicken with a fruity guava dressing and a pork belly and pineapple fried rice. There's certainly something to please everyone here.

Poutine & Beef Tacos at Cartel
Blackened grilled chicken and guava sauce at Cartel
Finally if you're looking for a great bar, we loved Dominion Square Tavern - you have to try the Orange Julep!

Next stop Toronto!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Hotel Sacacomie, Quebec, Canada

Three weeks ago, the Hungry Boyfriend became the Hungry Husband. Yes I tied the knot with my beautiful wife! For blogging purposes though I'm sticking with the Hungry Boyfriend, primarily because of the effort involved in changing it all over! The next few posts are going to cover our honeymoon; we've just got back from an amazing trip to Canada followed by Antigua in the Caribbean so lots of food stories to share.

Anyone who has recently got married will testify that it takes a lot of organisation and hard work, particularly in the run up to the big day, so we decided that our first stop in Canada needed to be for some relaxation. Having flown into Montreal, we hired a car and headed to Hotel Sacacomie. Although it was blissfully relaxing when we got there, the journey there was anything but, as I managed to reverse our Chrysler 300 hire car into a ditch! We had to get pulled out by some friendly French-Canadians living nearby! The less said about it the better!
When we did finally arrive we were greeted by the most breathtaking view from our room. It was such a peaceful place, the rooms, all made out of wood were like log cabins and we had large jacuzzi bath and a log fire. I'd notified the hotel in advance that I was gluten free and they did a fantastic job throughout our two night stay. It's a French speaking place and although I speak French, many spoke perfect English/Canadian. Having admired the view, we headed downstairs for some lunch. It was a great lunch menu with lots of variety. I had the smoked trout salad, the trout was caught from the lakes nearby. It was absolutely huge (as were a lot of the portion sizes) but was beautiful. Lots of flaked trout and perfectly dressed salad. We shared some fries but it was more than enough for lunch. The next day I couldn't resist ordering the salad again as it had been so good, so we agreed to share a salad and some chicken wings. The wings were great too, succulent and flavourful. 
Smoked trout salad
Our breakfast and evening meals were included in the package we booked (which also came with Swedish massages - which were amazing!). Breakfast was a buffet and so there were plenty of gluten free options. The chefs also made omelettes to order which were great, especially with a side of crispy Canadian bacon. There was plenty of choice on the dinner menu too and I could have easily eaten here for a week without getting bored or having the same thing twice. We had booked Sacacomie without knowing too much about it but couldn't have picked a better place to relax and enjoy some delicious (gluten free) food! Each day they had a delicious homemade soup to begin the meal which was always gluten free. Some of the starters we enjoyed included more of the smoked trout, this time in a delicious rillettes, a type of coarse paté garnished with thin strips of the smoked trout and baby beetroot leaves. My wife (still not quite got used to saying it!) enjoyed a carpaccio of venison with pine nuts, parmesan and balsamic which was perfectly balanced. On the first night we both enjoyed some perfectly cooked blade of beef which was melt-in-the-mouth tender. For our final night at the lodge, I had the scallops and king prawns which came on a bed of pea purée with celeriac and crispy bacon. The scallops nicely caramelised on the outside and soft in the middle, the prawns meaty and flavoursome. My wife enjoyed the duck, which as with everything, was cooked perfectly, crispy skin and pink in the middle It was a struggle finding room for dessert but the creme brulée was heavenly! Crunchy top with a silky smooth vanilla custard. I had the crème brûlée both nights as there wasn't as many gluten free desert options but I was more than happy to have it again! We washed this all down with some great Canadian wines.
Trout rilletes
Venison Carpaccio
King Prawns and Scallops
Duck with sweet potato mash
It was a fantastic place to which we would happily return The spa was excellent with outdoor jacuzzis and saunas with stunning views and a cold plunge pool which I didn't stay in long enough to admire the view! We were slightly out of season but there's a huge array of activities you can do depending on the time of year or you can just go and relax and enjoy some great food!

Next stop Montreal!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

A gluten free defence of Nando's

When Jay Rayner recently put pen to paper in defence of Nando's - 'Don't even think of knocking Nando's' - it struck a chord. The Guardian's chief restaurant critic was merely defending the British high street from sneering food snobs. When you factor in being gluten free though, the case for the defence is even stronger. Unlike 'ordinary folk', when coeliacs go out for a spot of lunch, much like everyone else, they want some decent food, but they also want to know that it's safe for them to eat. Step up the British high-street chain. It's a god send. Yes it can be predictable and yes it doesn't necessarily support 'eating local' but sometimes all you want is a decent, safe meal.

I've already written extensively about the high-street pizza chains conquering the gluten free market. Plus there's the likes of Carluccio's, new French-inspired Cote Brasserie, even Wagamama's, with it's somewhat restrictive menu, can provide a few 'safe' dishes. The high street often provides a consistency when it comes to dietary requirements that unfortunately some independent restaurants fail to consider. Not all by any means, as you'll see from my reviews there's plenty that can cater for the needs of the gluten free, but sometimes there's something comforting in consistency.

With over 250 branches nationwide, Nando's is something of a gluten free Mecca. With it's naturally gluten free, peri peri grilled chicken, fries and a number of side dishes to chose from it provides a safe-haven for coeliacs up and down the country. Nando's keep a dietary requirements bible behind the till, so I've no doubt it provides guidance on a number of other food allergies too. You can use this to check for yourself exactly what you can and can't have but tends to be the obvious things to avoid. Stay clear of pittas and wraps but feast on chicken marinated in a peri peri sauce of your choice and sides such as spicy rice, macho peas, coleslaw or corn on the cob. I always notify the person at the till that I'm gluten free and they add a note to the order to let the chefs know so they can take extra care. Equally it's always worth checking the 'bible' as recipes and ingredients can change.

Mr Rayner may be in defence of Nando's because he can't take another duck confit, for me Nando's provides a hassle free eating experience, something those with food allergies will know can be like gold dust.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Yalla Yalla, London

The trend for street food has taken off during 2013. With the likes of Yalla Yalla, you can see why. It's billed as serving Beirut Street Food, providing a mix of Lebanese and Middle Eastern dishes. There are currently three branches dotted around London and we headed to one in Soho. It's a little café with cushioned benches, walls adorned with various pictures and trinkets giving the feel of a real neighbourhood place. We arrived at around 5pm and were seated straight away but an hour or so later and people were having carafes of wine in the street as they waited for tables. I'm sure it won't be long before they'll be investing in a mobile app queuing system which seem to be the new thing in London. 
Halloum Meshoue - grilled Halloumi cheese with tomato, black olives, fresh mint and olive oil
As always when we were handed menus, I mentioned I was gluten free. I was informed that this wasn't a problem and to take a look and decide what we fancied, the waitress would let me know what they could do. There's a fantastic selection for coeliacs or those on a gluten free diet and all of the dishes we fancied could be done without any issues. We went for sharing some mezze dishes, small tapas style portions which were great value. All the dishes packed the punch of flavour you would expect from the complex spicing and flavours of the Middle East. Halloumi was nicely browned, it's saltiness offset by a fresh salad of olives, tomato and mint. Batata Harra a sort of Middle Eastern version of Patatas Bravas was arguably the dish of the night. Expecting it to be more of a 'filler', I was impressed with crisp potatoes, fluffy in the middle and beautifully seasoned with cumin and chilli. Tender chicken wings were perfectly complimented by a bright garlic and harissa sauce. We also chose the chicken livers, I've never really been a fan but these had the accolade of being one of Time Out's 'top 100 dishes' so I couldn't resist trying them again. I'm glad I did, they were sautéed perfectly leaving them soft and tender and served in a sticky garlic and pomegranate molasses sauce which I couldn't stop dipping the potatoes in. The only disappointment was the Shawarma, hummus was fresh and vibrant but I found the lamb a little dry given how on point the rest of our dishes were. 
Hommos Shawarma, Batata Harra and Jawaneh Meshoue
One of Time Out's top 100 dishes - Sawda Djej
With places like Yalla Yalla giving street food a great name, I can see this trend continuing into 2014.