Friday, 16 September 2016

Gluten Free Guide to California and Las Vegas: Part 1

Earlier this summer my wife and I had an amazing break with our friends travelling around California and on to Las Vegas. We started in Los Angeles before travelling up the coastal road to Pismo Beach, Monterey Bay and on to San Francisco. After a few days in San Fran it was on to Sonoma, Yosemite National Park and Death Valley before ending our epic adventure in Vegas. It was an awesome holiday, from trekking the Hollywood Hills, to the amazing coastal drives, Alcatraz, wine tasting, waterfalls, the brutal heat of Death Valley, to pool parties and landing in the Grand Canyon for breakfast! But this blog is always about the food! Eating gluten free was easy, a bit of research to make sure there were plenty of options but everyone understood and had a good knowledge of what I could and couldn't have. So here's a whistle stop tour of some great gluten free places to eat.

Denny's (LA and Vegas but nationwide)
First stop was a classic American diner breakfast and Denny's has lots of gluten free options clearly marked on the menu. Be prepared for huge portions and refillable drinks. We ate at Denny's a couple of times for breakfast / brunch, I tried the Santa Fe Skillet - chorizo, potatoes, peppers and eggs and a Philly Cheesesteak Omelette with hash browns. Both very tasty, both absolutely massive.
Santa Fe Skillet at Denny's
Cheesecake Factory (LA and Vegas but nationwide)
Another American institution with a lot of gluten free options on the menu. Tasty pasta dishes and burgers with gluten free bread buns and an epic gluten free cheesecake called Godiva. It's a huge portion of deliciously rich chocolate cheesecake - make sure you save room!
All gluten free at Cheesecake Factory
Odys and Penelope (Los Angeles)
A trendy Los Angeles restaurant that specialises in grilled meats. They were really knowledgeable about what I could have and there were lots of options or adaptations they could make. For starter, I had grilled squid which was filled with potato hash and a roasted tomato sauce. Squid was beautifully cooked with a nice char and the tomato sauce had a real depth of flavour. For main course I had tri-tip with a Bearnaise sauce and grilled broccoli. The tri-tip, a cut of sirloin was sensational and really showed off their grilling skills!
Squid, potato hash and roasted tomatoes
Tri-tip with Bearnaise sauce and grilled broccoli
Bay Cities (Santa Monica, LA)
Recommended by a friend as the best sandwiches in LA we had to try it! The place is an old Italian style deli and was packed with keen customers. The sandwiches were well worth the wait though. The gluten free ones are served on a delicious Italian style flat bread. I had the 'Godmother', an insane amount of Italian meats, provolone cheese, salad and peppers.  Definitely one of the best sandwiches I've ever had.
The Godfather at Bay Cities
Sea Venture (Pismo Beach)
Great seafood restaurant overlooking Pismo beach. Succulent scallops were served with crispy Brussel sprouts and goats cheese. For main, the Sea Venture special, shrimp, scallops, mussels, white fish and sausage in a delicious tomato broth. All of the seafood was cooked perfectly. There were lots of clearly labelled gluten free options on the menu too.
Scallops, Brussel sprouts, goats cheese
The Sea Venture special
Hula's Island Grill (Monterey Bay)
A busy bar with a great atmosphere and cocktails. The seafood on the Californian coast is so good we had to have the ceviche which was fresh and flavourful. The chicken wings came with a delicious coconut curry sauce. We shared shrimp tacos and shredded pork tacos for main, all washed down with plenty of Hula's Mai Tais!
Chicken wings at Hula's
Shrimp tacos at Hula's
If you've got time be sure to drop into Lilly Mae's in Monterey Bay for gluten free cinnamon rolls!

Coming up - San Fran, Sonoma, Yosemite, Death Valley and Las Vegas!

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Your gluten free guide to Thailand!

Our creations at the Thai Farm Cookery School
Thailand was always going to be a culinary adventure but as a coeliac, I was a little apprehensive. With no language skills or EU allergen labelling to fall back on it could have been very challenging. However, a combination of restaurants cooking everything from scratch and the extremely accommodating people, it proved one of the best places I've ever been for gluten free food. We were there for just over two weeks and went to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui. I'll use this blog to give some general tips and some of the stand-out places we ate:

General Tips:
  • Do a cookery class or school. We did one called the Thai Farm Cookery School in Chiang Mai which was fantastic. You learn a lot of the common ingredients in Thai food and therefore what can be made gluten free. 
  • I didn't find the translation cards overly useful. They talk about wheat, barley and rye which isn't overly useful in Thailand. The most common things to avoid are soy sauce, oyster sauce and deep fried pastry type things like spring rolls. 
  • Everywhere we went understood my request for 'no soy sauce / no oyster sauce'. Better still we took our own in little plastic bottles. As everything is made from scratch most places were happy to use my gluten free versions even if they didn't quite understand why!
  • Street food is delicious! Most places rinsed out woks etc. between dishes but you'd have to determine whether you thought that was safe for you. I never had any issues.
  • Supermarkets can be a little tricky. It was very challenging to work out which crisps etc. were gluten free but eating out is so cheap and tasty we didn't need to use them much.
  • Generally curries are gluten free - thai red, yellow, green, penang etc. Stir fries usually contain soy sauce and oyster sauce - either ask for without or take your own. Soups were generally gluten free e.g. tom yum. Rice and rice noodles are popular so you can always substitute any other type of noodle. Pad Thai is made with rice noodles but some add soy sauce, again just ask for it without.
  • Desserts tended to be mango sticky rice or bananas in coconut milk which were both gluten free and delicious!
Where we stayed - Hotel Muse - fantastic boutique style hotel with an infinity pool overlooking downtown Bangkok.
Where we ate -
  • Nahm - for an extra special Thai treat check out this Michelin starred restaurant. Thai food as you've never tasted before. Flavours are ramped up, presentation is spot on and the whole experience is spectacular. We went for the tasting menu and any dishes were modified seamlessly to be made gluten free. The soft shell crab was out of this world!
  • Soul Food - trendy downtown restaurant which did Thai dishes with a twist. Dishes such as red curry with smoked duck and pork cheeks with green peppercorn curry provided a break from the usual. Staff were very clued up and the cocktails washed everything down very nicely.
  • Street food off Koh San Road - first time braving a little cafe style place on the side of the road. Super cheap and tasty so we never looked back!
Street food off Koh San Road
Amazing food at Nahm
Soul Food
Chiang Mai
Where we stayed - Anantara - amazing colonial style hotel looking out over the river. The food and drinks here were amazing too.
More Thai street food from Anusan Market
Where we ate -
  • Lemongrass - doesn't look much from the outside but this was a favourite of ours for lunch. Cheap but ridiculously tasty and they were more than happy to use my soy and oyster sauce to make delicious stir fries and pad thai. Washing it down with a cider was a treat too.
  • Anusuan market - there's a whole host of fantastic street food places in this night market where we ate regularly. There's also a cool bar where local Thai bands play covers - don't miss it!
  • Salsa Kitchen - if you need a break from Thai food this Mexican is great for gluten free options including a dedicated menu. 
  • Whole Earth Restaurant - Set in a traditional Thai house this has an Indian influenced menu common in northern Thailand. Tasty curries alongside classic Thai dishes in a beautiful setting.
Tom Yum soup and cocktails at Anantara
Koh Samui
Where we stayed - Sareeraya - beautiful ocean front hotel in Chaweng Beach. Great food, cocktails and breakfasts. Only downside was they brought me gluten free bread every day which was like a rock! Full marks for effort though.
Where we ate - 
  • Greenbird - has to be one of my favourites. Small place with plastic tables and chairs but incredible authentic Thai food and happy to use my soy and oyster sauce to make incredible dishes like the chilli chicken stir fry and sweet and sour. Brilliant service too, this became a regular lunch spot and we might have even gone twice in one day!
  • There's loads of great places for seafood. They all do different offers - lobsters, prawns, crabs, squid etc. all BBQ'd on searing hot grills.
  • In neighbouring Bophut we ate at an awesome steak place called the Shack run by an American and Irish guy where they imported Australian beef. 
  • For amazing sushi, check out Tai by Red Snapper. They make the most of the fantastic seafood available and were easily able to adapt dishes to ensure they were gluten free.
A holiday favourite - Greenbird
Some of the amazing seafood available in Chaweng
Delicious sushi at Tai by Red Snapper
It was an amazing trip with amazing food. If you're gluten free don't let that put you off, it's easy enough to navigate and you certainly won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Gluten Free Cafe, Norwich

I have to admit, I think I need to eat a little gluten free humble pie. I was sceptical when I heard that Norwich was getting a dedicated gluten free cafe. Even more so when I heard it was going to be called 'The Gluten Free Cafe'. I thought there would be nowhere near the demand in my adoptive home city. I thought that the name would make anyone who had no need to follow a gluten free diet run a mile.  However, a few weeks after opening my wife and I had to wait for a table on a Friday lunch time and every time I've been in since it's been busy. I really hope it stays that way because this place is an absolute gem for coeliacs and gluten sufferers.

The cafe is located downstairs and upstairs you'll find a shop which is like an Aladdin's cave of gluten free products. On the cafe menu, there's a whole host of usually 'off-limits' options including sausage rolls, cheesy dough balls, pies and pasties. There's also salads and soups on offer and a mouthwatering selection of cakes. I went for a pie filled with chicken and ham with a stuffing topping. Delicious pastry stuffed with well cooked meat and a tasty stuffing flavour really hit the spot. My wife's cheese and onion pasty was equally good and definitely on my list for next time. We took a couple of millionaire shortbreads back to the office which were faultless. Having this place a stone's throw from work could be dangerous! I have since tried a slice of their Bakewell tart which was as good as any I've tasted. It was my favourite dessert at school so I had fond memories (pre-gluten free days) and I really wouldn't have been able to tell this was gluten free. They sell a great selection of breads in the shop too which I've been getting weekly, much better than anything the supermarkets currently stock. I'm really pleased it seems to be doing so well and if they keep up the good work I'm sure it will continue.