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.