Thursday 24 November 2016

Côte Brasserie: A perfect Gluten Free Christmas meal.

We all know how hard it is for coeliacs over the Christmas period. Whether it is trying to get your in-laws to understand that “a little bit" CAN hurt or you are struggling your way through Christmas drinks without a gluten free nibble in sight.

The hardest of all is the Christmas meal out, whether it is the Christmas office lunch or a pre-Christmas gathering with family or friends.

Thank goodness for Côte Brasserie. Not only is their food exceptional in quality, especially for the price, but they now have a dedicated gluten free Christmas menu!

What a joy to be able to have a menu that also has multiple options per course!

I went for an early preview and I had one of the most fun Christmas meals since my coeliac diagnosis 18 years ago. It was a sad shame for my husband, who was working that day and couldn't come, but a great bonus for my friend Adam who happened to have the day off and joined me.

We started with some marvellous champagne, accompanied by really delicious olives (I am quite picky with olives and these were great!).

I was very impressed that the gluten free menu so closely mirrored the regular Christmas offering. You will not feel singled out. I was also impressed with the price point - for three courses including olives it was £29.90 per person.

Don’t think that you are only left with one or two options though - it is a very generous menu, including a 10 oz steak if you wished!

Goat's cheese and walnut salad 
Duck liver pate with gluten free bread
Starters were excellent and felt special enough to be festive. I opted for the duck liver pate, because I was inclined to go full-glutton. It was superb, as was the red onion compote that accompanied it, which was spiced in a way that made it Christmassy. Make note - all of the gluten free dishes come with a delightful little flag in them announcing that it is the gluten free version, so you can rest easy and simply enjoy your meal. A little touch like that makes a huge difference in terms of feeling relaxed, especially if you are with a large group ordering the same or similar dishes.

Needless to say the pate was delicious and of a very high quality. My friend Adam’s contribution to enjoying this meal with me was that he also ordered off the gluten free menu so that I could try twice the amount of dishes! The goats cheese salad was both generous with gooey cheese and crunchy walnuts and spiced apple. Excellent.

Because my picture of the chicken was out of focus!
For the main course there is a lot to choose from. I wasn’t in the mood for steak but I think that including a 10oz steak in a set menu is great value. I opted for the bacon wrapped chicken with a seasonal sage and rosemary sauce. It was delicious. It’s probably because of the delicious Pinot Noir that we were enjoying at this point that my photography wasn’t so great - rest assured it was presented very elegantly! Adam opted for (on my suggestion....) the Duck a l'Orange. The duck was tender, meaty, and truly scrummy. I’ve never had Duck a l'Orange before so it was a real treat for me. (Sorry you couldn’t have the steak Adam!).

Duck a l'Orange
At this point I was getting close to being merrily stuffed! It was also the point at which my husband, who was still working, texted “How is it?” and I guilty wrote “It’s alright”. Ha, an outright lie - I was having a whale of a time!

Chocolate Mousse
Desserts were also a pleasant surprise, although they differed from those on the glutenous menu (no lemon tart etc). The two that we opted for, the Chocolate Mousse and the Creme Brûlée, were just beautiful. I’m not a huge dessert person - whether or not that is a psychological trick that I have played on myself over the years because I usually can’t have what is on offer - but I became one when presented with that Chocolate Mousse. My goodness, how delightful. My “I’ll just try one spoonful because I’m not a dessert person and am too full” turned into eating the entire thing slowly over a glass of scrumptious dessert wine.

All in all - a wonderful way to spend a Christmas meal. Superb atmosphere, excellent service, reassuring gluten free knowledge, and exceptional food at a great price.

Creme Brûlée
Needless to say, dear husband, if you are reading this - it really wasn’t anything special and I didn’t have the best meal in ages and you didn’t miss out on anything. And I'm sorry if I was tipsy when I turned up to meet the in-laws! How about I treat you to the Christmas meal at Cote? Because it’s so good that I’ll eat it (more than) twice!

P.s. Send this to your office manager if they haven’t booked the office Christmas lunch yet!

Wednesday 3 February 2016

For the love of Pho: Vietnamese chain has gone gluten free!

Let's face it - Asian cuisines can be tricky for coeliacs at the best of times. Not only is there often a language barrier, but all of the bottles of sauce seem sinister and there's the risk of the dreaded soy sauce lurking around every corner.

So many choices, what to have? 
Vietnamese has been a safe as a bet as Thai as it is largely a rice based culture. But it's still hard to communicate and be certain that dishes are 100% gluten free. 

For a few years now I have enjoyed eating the broth based rice noodle soups at the small chain restaurant "Pho", as the staff were well trained and it was gluten free if you had it without the crispy shallots. Equally the chicken salad could be altered to be gluten free. I never ventured into the fried section until it was pointed out to me that the crispy squid was indeed gluten free, but I worried about cross contamination with other glutenous fried items.

Lest we not forget the original and
eponymous Pho
Imagine my sheer joy then at the fact that this week Pho’s entire savoury menu has gone gluten free! With a few small changes and help from Coeliac UK they have ditched the regular soy sauce for a gluten version, making all of the Wok dishes okay for cross contamination. They made all of their desserts gluten free, apart from one, the chocolate slab, which is prepared in a separate section to ensure no cross-contamination issues. They took the hoisin sauce off of the tables with the other sauces, as it is the only one with gluten in it (you now have to specifically ask for it if you want it, and staff are advised to mention that it is not gluten free.)

What joys come of these small changes to us coeliacs! All of a sudden there are no questions to ask staff, no amends to orders that you have to double check got through to the kitchen, no fraction of worry. Order whatever you like! Fried pork spring rolls? YES PLEASE. Crispy squid? Oh hello calamari’s asian cousin, nice to meet you.

Crispy pork spring rolls,
drool inducingly delicious
This fried squid kicks
calamari's ass
If you want to talk about health, the food is really light and you can even see all of the calories online, should you wish to. So what I’m saying is, it’s diet friendly yeah? So NO EXCUSES. Wonderful! The prices are really reasonable too, with all of the dishes under £10.

I thoroughly enjoyed delving into parts of the menu where I had never dared to go before - wok fried noodles for one, curry for the other. I must say Vietnamese prawn curry = my new favourite curry (though I still have love for you dear Thai and Indian). It is a delicious subtle peanut-ty affair, delicately spiced and fragrant.

Prawn summer rolls, classic and healthy

Wok fried noodles and the
awesome prawn curry
And for the many who also suffer from dairy intolerance - you are well served here too. The majority of the food is naturally dairy free. Hell, there are even dairy-free-gluten-free-vegetarian options for when you want to eat out with the dairy-free-gluten-free-vegetarian in your life. Really, everyone is a winner, but not more so than your taste buds, which will be delighted by the fresh and zingy flavours of southeast asia’s finest foods.

Currently Pho's 18 restaurants are in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cambridge and 
Brighton. But with food this fantastic and such a relaxed and fun but grown up atmosphere, I have a sneaking suspicion there will be one near you soon!

Gluten Free Knowledge: ★★★★
Gluten Free Range: ★★★
Taste: ★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★

Verdict: I now have no excuse not to eat delicious crispy squid at least once a week. This will be your new favourite go-to place.

Banana fritters! With honey
and ginger ice cream.

Friday 13 March 2015

Gluten Free Chinese? No Way!!!

Yes way, my friends  

A mere 15 minutes by train from Waterloo lies a mythical and never before seen wonder - a gluten free Chinese restaurant.

Steamed dim sum platter
Given that “Gluten” isn’t even a known word in Chinese, it’s no wonder trying to communicate a gluten allergy or coeliac disease is near impossible, let alone trying to figure out what ingredients may contain it. Given the ever-present pest that is soy sauce, let’s just bet on it being none. Enjoy that plain bowl of steamed rice Jimmy. Have fun while we all munch down on some delicious Dim Sum and dumplings Jimmy. 

Well no longer!

Deep fried calamari
Naturally Chinese was founded by Aime and her husband, who is also the chef. Aime wanted to create great tasting natural Chinese food, without using MSG. This led her down a path of discovery that led to her really understanding her ingredients. It also a gained her a loyal following of customers with allergies that struggled with communication and the lack of appreciation of allergens in Chinese restaurants. She was really surprised to learn that no UK Chinese restaurants were catering to coeliacs and decided to contact Coeliac UK for training. And we should all be so thankful she did!
Rice paper spring rolls

THE FOOD!!!!!! I haven’t eaten dim sum since I was fifteen. I used to love it. I have food memories of it. I haven’t had anything that has even come close over the years.

Pan-fried turnip cakes
To be able to eat the most delicate handmade, flavourful prawn dumplings - I could have cried! Food memories came rushing to the fore of the food present, and man was I happy.

I promptly ordered as many dim sum as I could eat, and then Aime added on several more for good measure.

Steamed crystal prawn dumplings
I absolutely adored the turnip cakes, an old favourite that I can't have because of cross contamination issues in normal Chinese restaurants.

There is also an extensive menu of other items - soups, noodles, meats and fishes. I just went for what I missed most.

And of course, that means that I have an excuse to go back again sometime very soon.

I would talk more about it, but I think that is enough said!

Gluten Free Knowledge: ★★★★
Gluten Free Range: ★★★
Taste: ★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★

Verdict: If you want amazing, gluten free Chinese food, make your way to Waterloo pronto. You won’t be sorry.

Friday 25 April 2014

The Truscott Arms: Say hello to your new favourite pub

Do you remember those days when you could casually stroll into a pub, grab a beer and order whatever you wanted off the menu? Fish and chips, sausage and mash. Perhaps you just fancied a scotch egg with your pint. Or a good old Sunday roast.

I can tell you my friends, THOSE DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN.

In the little slice of gluten free heaven that is The Truscott Arms, feel prepared to feel.... normal. Just go to the bar and order the fish and chips. Done. No explaining yourself to the staff, no asking about cross contamination, no asking if the chips are done in a separate frier. The fish and chips are gluten free for everyone.

The Truscott Arms is an upmarket gastropub that mixes exceptional traditional pub food with a modern airy and laid-back atmosphere. They have a great list of cocktails. But who are we kidding - they have BEER. Gluten free beer! Three kinds! A CHOICE of beer my friends! Personally I love Celia, the organic gluten free pilsner from the czech republic. But if you want to mix it up there are also two Belgian beers by Daas, a blonde and a dark. And rumour is, if Estrella ever pull their distibution socks up, there might be some Spanish Daura for us also.

The menu is clearly marked with "GF" symbols, loud and proud, right alongside the oft used vegetarian "V"'s. Why oh why places that find "V" on the menu acceptable can't type out "GF".... It makes life so much easier! Several dishes have "GF option" next to them, which you can request when ordering.

I have been to The Truscott Arms many times since it opened a year ago, and have been very pleased by their gluten free strides. I've kindly sampled everything on the menu for you my darlings, such is the dedication I have. Here's the rub:

Fish and Chips: Crisp, expertly seasoned batter. Light, crunchy, flavoursome. Mushy peas take an elegant guise as a smooth puree that is great for dipping bits of fish in. Homemade tartar sauce is fresh and world's away from anything that came in a jar. The best fish and chips I've ever had - glutenous or otherwise.

Wagyu Burger (gf option): A juicy burger in a gluten free bun. With super crispy chunky chips. Enough said!

Sausage and Mash: Sausages made to a specific Truscott recipe by the Queen's butchers Aubrey and Allen. Smooth creamy potatoes and a deep rich gravy. Posh nosh.

Boudin Noir Scotch Egg: A large scotch egg with a runny yolk surrounded by a gluten free version of black pudding. It's a very posh and scrummy Scotch Egg.
Sunday Roast Beef: A superb roast, one of the best in London. Tender and beautifully cooked high quality beef, served with buttered green beans, honey roasted root veg and the crispest roast potatoes! The red wine infused gravy is delicious. Roasts come served on big platters for the table which adds to a relaxed Sunday family feel. However, if you are gluten free they will happily serve you separately if others have ordered yorkshire puddings. The Sunday menu doesn't have "GF" marked on the menu but the staff are very knowledgeable. Rumour is they are close to perfecting a gf yorkshire pudding!
Beef Shin Chips: What might these be you might ask? LITTLE STICKS OF MEATY GENIUS. That's what. If you asked someone to create the perfect bar snack it's this. 14 hour slow cooked shin of beef, till it falls off the bone, formed into the shape of a chip, rolled in polenta and deep fried. It looks like a chip, but bite into it and it's all juicy beef. Served with a red wine bordelaise sauce for dipping.

For those of you with a sweet tooth there is a Cake of the Day which is always gluten free plus another option on the dessert menu proper. There's also gluten free bread with the cheese board by the excellent Wild Thexton.

Gluten Free Knowledge: ★★★★
Gluten Free Range: ★★★
Taste: ★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★

Verdict: I told you it would be your new favourite pub. And you haven't even been there yet!

Upstairs at The Truscott: GF fine dining perfection

I do eat out at a lot of fine dining restaurants and on the most part they handle gluten free diets incredibly well, adapting dishes from their menus along the way. I am occasionally saddened however when I see my companion's extra crunchy something here, their extra fried something there, that have been dutifully removed from my plate. After all, the chefs spend so long balancing these plates and trying to create perfection, it's often a little sad to removed a couple of elements, usually those that add a crunchy texture.

Not so at The Truscott Arms' gloriously high ceilinged and elegant upstairs restaurant. It was with a wash of joy, a touch of disbelief and a little peep of an excited squeal that I discovered the GF marks all over the menu next to foodie items I don't usually get to try. Oyster beignet anyone?

I started with the field mushroom veloute with crisp hens eggs and truffle. Yes, you read that right, crisp. As in coated in something and fried. In this case, gluten free breadcrumbs, in a 100% gluten free frier, so no cross contamination issues there. It was a sublime dish, hearty umami flavours of the mushroom with the creamy yolk of the egg and the usually elusive crunch of the coating, bringing it all together in perfect harmony.

I also pinched some of my friend's scallops with chicken wing and MY does that blow bacon/pancetta/black pudding right of the "scallop's best friend" seat. Move over guys, scallop's new lover is a crisp confit piece of salty chicken wing.

Stone Bass
Next, along with what I must say was an excellent glass of Viognier, I tried the wild stone bass, palourde clams, artichokes, chanterelles and roasting juices. The fish was perfectly cooked, crisp on the outside and soft and flakey on the inside. A delightfully well balanced fish dish. Again I went over to my companion's plate for a cheeky little bite of their guinea fowl, which was moist and balanced with a smoked mash potato. There was a general amount of food envy that was going on, but it was extending out in all directions. Remember, when food sharing, or in life in general, it is better to give and receive. I'm not sure what all those people who are just giving or just receiving were thinking of.

Guinea Fowl
As you may know by now I'm not a terrific dessert eater, but was really pleased to see something other than creme brûlée, pannacotta or ice cream available for gluten free diners. The gluten free selection that evening was an orange and polenta cake with cardamom ice cream. They previously had a "Rhubarb and custard crumble" with ginger ice cream and gf oat crumble.

For cheese lovers it is a wonderful treat to have gluten free artisan crackers with cheese. In fact the dark imitation "rye" gluten free bread that was served throughout, from the marvellous gluten free baker Wild Thexon was truly the envy of my sourdough-eating companions.
"Rhubarb and custard" Gf oats

The menu changes frequently as new seasonal produce becomes available, but this is a place that is committed to providing the same experience for a gluten free diner as for anyone else, so I was assured that the majority of the menu will be naturally gluten free, including those crispy treats we long for.

This is a place for a romantic evening, a foodie treat or a real special occasion.

Gluten Free Knowledge: ★★★
Gluten Free Range: ★★★
Taste: ★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★

Verdict: Gluten free fine dining without the compromise

My 10 favourite gluten free products

I don't normally ever write about gluten free products. I like to keep the blog all about eating out. However these products are so fantastic they are too good not to share! I'll keep it brief.

Nairn's Oatcakes and biscuit breaks
Perkier apple and cinnamon porridge
DS frozen pizza
Bfree multigrain wraps

BFree Brown Seeded Loaf

This is my favourite gluten free bread. It healthy - low fat, high fibre. It's also dairy free. But most importantly it ticks the boxes in what you want in a gluten free loaf: decent sizes slices, it holds together, and it tastes GREAT. I can feed it to any gluten eating guest without complaint. And that's saying something!

Nature's Path Nice and Nobbly Granola 

This is a real treat. It's great for topping yoghurt for breakfast. It's great for a cheat's crumble topping. It's great on it's own from the bag as a snack (I'm guilty!). There is the berry version with freeze dried raspberries and blueberries. And there is also an equally delicious pumpkin seed, almond and raisin version. 

Nature's Path Mesa Sunrise

This is a great breakfast cereal that you can have daily. It's made from corn, buckwheat and amaranth which tastes great, and is a supergrain - high in fibre and many other nutrients.

Alara Into The Garden

This muesli mix is great for mixing with other cereals and for topping yoghurt. It's filled with great healthy ingredients. Goji berries, cranberries, linseeds, quiona, buckwheat, sunflower seeds.

Isabels Pizza Base Mix

I was super impressed with this pizza mix. The results are excellent! You can make your own thin crispy bases. Much better than the premade cardboard bases. These have great elasticity when you are rolling them out. Super easy to make, and worth the effort!

Perkier Porridge - Apple, Cinnamon and Raisin

A porridge lover's delight! Superb flavour acheived with no added sugar. They also sell this in individual to-go pots that you can take with you to the office or on holiday. It's a classic flavour combination that hard not to love!

Barkat Pretzels

These should come with a warning. "Once opened you will eat the entire bag". They taste fantastic, just like normal pretzels. Super moorish and I adore them. I like to pack them on holidays as a snack to go with my wine. Though they get eaten on the first day. Or on the plane. They don't ever last long! Solution? Buy multiple packs! Oh, and tell your gluten eating friends to get their hands off!

BFree Wraps

These wraps are fantastic! They are dairy and egg free also, and come in at a very healthy 99 calories. They are nice and floppy and don't ever split. I like to heat mine up for a few seconds in a pan before eating. They can be used for everything: breakfast burritos with eggs, chicken fajitas, lunch wraps, instant healthy pizza base. Anything! They also freeze well and a few seconds in hot pan or a microwave and bam, you're ready to go!

DS frozen pizzas- Bonta d'Italia

The whole DS range of pizzas are fantastic. I keep one in the freezer for lazy days and emergencies. They have a great texture and wonderful flavour. The best ready made gluten free pizza out there.

Salute Gluten Free Fusilli

This pasta is superb. Gluten free pasta has come a long way in recent years and Italy in leading the way. This is entirely indistinguishable from normal pasta. It completely holds it's shape. You can cook it al dente. Indeed it is so good that I have had friends over for dinner who were shocked - "you can't eat that!". Why yes I can my friends.

All of these products are available from Ocado and other online stores.

Ocado wins in my opinion as the best gluten free supermarket. Even if you only use it once every couple of months just for your gluten free supplies it's worth it.

Oh, that reminds me! I forgot beer! Shout out to Celia Lager - organic gluten free pilsner from the Czech Republic.

Thursday 6 February 2014

Ceviche: Get down with the Peruvians my gluten free friends

How much do you know about Peru beyond Machu Picchu? Well it's a hell of a lot easier to hike to the wonderful Peruvian restaurant Ceviche in Soho, and you'll come away with a similar sense of wonder and euphoria. Though that may be the four Pisco sours I had talking (and I haven't actually been to Machu Picchu).

Pisco sours, a revelation! Indeed, there's a whole Pisco cocktail menu. If you like booze you will like Pisco. I need to find out more about it, and I did just google it, but you know what? I feel like it would be much much better, journalistically speaking, to go back to Ceviche and hear all about Pisco from the bartender's mouth while I try a few more cocktails. I mean, the things I do for you guys.

Quinoa salad

FOOD. Most Peruvian food is naturally gluten free. The primary grains in Peru are a veritable gluten free hit list; Quinoa, Amaranth, Corn.

The quinoa salad is a must have; white quinoa, avocado, tomato, butter beans, coriander and an awesome lime and chilli vinaigrette. Light and delicious.

Don Ceviche

Ceviche itself, if you haven't had it before, is somewhere between Japanese sashimi and Italian fish carpaccio, but with a whole lot of lime juice and south American joy thrown in. I love the Don Ceviche: raw seabass with amarillo chilli tiger's milk. The tiger's milk is a mix of various acidic ingredients that part cook the fish.

Drunk scallops
The Drunk Scallops are happy little things, thinly sliced and dancing around on the plate with more lime and coriander, little pops of pomegranite seeds and a cheeky punch of pisco.

Fish and avocado on a potato cake
For those of you who aren't quite as obsessed with variants on raw fish, there are plenty of cooked dishes. There are "Anitcuchos" which are grilled skewers of various meats - chicken wings, chorizo and octopus with a black quinoa salad. There are also serious mains, such as a beef fillet, but I was just too excited and greedy to try as many of the smaller sharing plates as I could.

The atmosphere in this packed Soho venue is cool and chaotic, lively but laid back. I would recommend booking, or you can sidle up early to the unreserved bar seats at the front.

Have a happy trip to falling in love with Peruvian food my dears! I'm off to get onto that Pisco research for you now.

Gluten Free Knowledge: ★★★★
Gluten Free Range: ★★★
Taste: ★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★

Verdict: The perfect light, flavourful and fun food for a gluten free foodie.