Sunday 26 December 2010

The Orrery: Swoon! Perfect GF fine dining

Want Michelin quality food and service without the price tag? Well, my gluten free lovelies, allow me to introduce you to The Orrery.

Tucked up at the north end of Marylebone High Street, The Orrery is a beautiful and elegant restaurant serving delightful French cuisine.

The menu de jour is £26.50 for three courses. Reasonable, yes? Ah ha - but that's not all! Add in an amuse bouche, a pre-dessert and homemade petit fours and we are talking 6 courses. Had I known I might not have tucked so wholeheartedly into the toasted gluten free bread that arrived unprompted.

Since discovering The Orrery I've been several times already, (always one to practice moderation), and have found their service and gluten free knowledge to be outstanding. The waiters know everything on the (constantly changing) menu and whether it's gluten free or if the chef will make it gluten free specially.

On the last occasion I went I was lucky that none of the starter options were gluten free. Why, you ask? Well, they informed me I could substitute anything from the a la carte and suggested I have the foie gras. Now you are really talking my language.

We were then treated to an amuse bouche - a wonderful little soup of parsnip with a parsley foam, before I tucked into the aforementioned and divinely smooth foie gras, spreading it on crunchy pieces of gluten free toast.

I then, sticking closely to my New Year's diet, opted for the braised shin of beef with pommes puree. It was rich and melty and totally divine.

For desert I could have had a selection from the vast an aromatic cheese trolley. On a previous visit I had a heavenly pannacotta. Instead (remembering that diet) I chose the homemade sorbets they offered me - and they were the best sorbets I've ever had. Each of the trio was bursting with the intensity of the flavour: coconut, blackberry, raspberry; and the dish was as pretty as a picture. A perfect end to a meal full of flavours and textures.

That's what you'd think. Then come the petit fours. And what petit fours! Even though we were all contentedly full, the portions being perfectly sized so that you aren't too stuffed, we tried each one with excitement. My favourite was the highly alcoholic rum truffle. Bam! Woo.

I'd hurry if I were you before they do get a Michelin star and then the menu could, deservedly, double in price!

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

Verdict: A perfect gluten free fine dining experience, for a deceivingly low price.

Thursday 23 December 2010

The Old White Bear: My new GF food crush

Oh I admit it, I have large food crush on The Old White Bear at the moment. I almost didn't want to tell you about it, because I want to keep it all to myself. The Bear is mine I tell you, all mine!

What was a somewhat dingy pub hiding in the backstreets of Hampstead has been transformed into a gorgeous bar and restaurant. The decor is just the right mix of warm and welcoming yet still fresh and minimal. I love it.

I went for a Sunday roast to begin with, and was disappointed to be told on the phone prior that a "large pot" of gravy had "just a teaspoon" of flour in it. However, the manager Emma called me back before my booking to let me know the Chef was able to prepare it gluten free, and has now made it gluten free all of the time. Hoorah. That's the kind of attitude I like.

It was a fabulous roast. Fabulous. The beef was melt in your mouth, mine beautifully rare as I'd asked for it to be, and the accompaniments were stellar. The baby carrots were roasted and sweetly shrivelled, the roast potatoes crispy but soft in the middle. The horseradish cream mixing with the rich and meaty gravy.... DROOL. Washed down with a delicious glass (or three) of (a very reasonably priced) Saint Cirice = sunday roast perfection. (Sorry for the rubbish picture.)

I then promptly booked myself in for dinner the following week, after noticing that the majority of the menu seemed to be gluten-free friendly (And have since been there almost every week. Me, greedy? No, never!...).

The menu changes frequently, but is in general a mix of modern British and French. For dinner I started with a duck salad with a poached egg on top; soft pink duck breast mingling with a honey mustard dressing and gooey yolk. Perfect.

The waiter was lovely and was more than happy to check everything with the chef, and never made me feel awkward in the slightest. My partridge was tasty, though the foie gras on the top probably unneccesary, with a yummy sweet maderia sauce. My companion's steak was brilliant - made even more so by a bernainaise-esque yet salsa verde tasting sauce, if that makes any sense whatsoever?!? (It did.)

Last weekend I had an awesome bavette steak on a bed of rocket. Best bavette I've ever had, not chewy or tough in the slightest. The cooking of meat at The Old White Bear is to a very high standard - and consistently so, which I think is the mark of a great restaurant.

You'll find me holing up in The Old White Bear's cosy arms a few more times this winter, hiding from the snow in this little gem of a pub. And remember, even though you know him now, and can love him too, I saw him first.

P.S. If you have any questions just ask the very helpful managers Emma and Abby and be sure to mention The Gluten Free Foodie.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

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

Verdict: A foodie's perfect pub, restaurant and bar

Thursday 9 December 2010

Otto: Deliciously different gluten free pizza

Well I am beginning to feel the tide is changing, can you feel it too? First are we blessed with the awesome gluten free Hell Pizza chain, and now the fabulous Otto Pizza too!

Otto Pizza is a funky, smartly furnished yet laid back pizzeria in Notting Hill. They exclusively serve cornmeal crust pizzas - something they discovered whilst on a road trip in the States. And although their usual recipe is a non-gf combination base, they have now made a gluten free version just for us!

It's not like your typical pizza, nor is it trying to be - you can taste the cornmeal in the crust, which is the intention, and it is delicious. You get an almost sourdough taste to it. It's quite dense, and when loaded with the tons of very high quality (and often homemade) ingredients it's almost like a topless pie. A true pizza pie I guess you could say. I had a pizza loving non-gluten-free friend (side note - what are we calling these people, in the sense of "muggles"? Wheat eaters? NGF's? You let me know please) try it and he thought it was superb, a definite thumbs up.

I went for the pepperoni; mozzarella and fontina cheeses, pepperoni, mushrooms and tomato, to be more precise. The quality of the ingredients really does make all the difference. They were excellent -fresh and very high quality (I hate to say anything bad about Cotto's as so many of you have a fondness for it, in the sense of it being a gluten free oasis in a bleak wheat filled desert, but the ingredients are very low quality and I didn't enjoy the pizza there at all for that reason, and wouldn't go back unless there was nowhere else to go. I wouldn't go if I was non-gf, I'm not going to go there now just cause I am. Please though, no pitchforks!).

The range at Otto is great also - I can't wait to go back to try the homemade (and gf) fennel sausage pizza with caramelized onions and marinated green peppers. How good does that sound? Or indeed the Pesto and Ricotta. There are several vegetarian options, and even a vegan Cashew and "Cheese" option, for anyone insane or unfortunate enough to be both gluten free and vegan.

The online menu hasn't yet got the gluten free base option on it - it's steep at £12 for the gf half-pizza ( they only do gf pizza by the half). That would be my only complaint. However, the ingredients are top notch, and it's so filling that you could feasibly split that between two. Or be greedy and take some home for later as I did.

So well done to Otto, and it's conveniently located, being more central than Hell pizza. Both are great - Hell for a more traditional pizza, and Otto for something deliciously different, but still gooesy cheesey tomatoey pizza-y goodness.

And, pssst, keep it quiet but I've heard on the grapevine some Bella Itallia restaurants are starting to gluten free pizza also. I'll check it out and be sure to let you know.

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

Verdict: Different but delicious pizza pies

Monday 6 December 2010

GFF in Lanzarote: "Are you a celiac?"

I was getting fed up of the recent freezing weather and hopped a bit of an impromptu flight to the Canary Islands for some weekend sun.

I thought it was worth a mention from the gluten free side of things in case any of you were making a trip there, or were clawing at the snowy London walls wanting to escape. Plus Lanzarote is not at all like you would think - no high rises, beautiful scenery, lovely beaches, very quiet and no yobs.

The fact that Spanish food is relatively GF friendly aside, I was very pleasantly surprised at the awareness of celiac disease on the island.

My hotel - the lovely NH Hesperia Lanzarote - provided gluten free bread at the breakfasts - I only requested it once, after that they noted down my room number so that each morning when I came in they would go and get it for me. It wasn't the softest, but who on earth is complaining when you can smother it with nutella and honey. It felt very naughty. I loved the fresh spanish omelettes and large array of high quality cured meats - serrrano ham with my eggs: yum. That and loads of fresh fruit, ahem. And free champagne. Which is always gluten free! (The picture of the champagne with breakfast is all I took - not too relevant. But note the sun!)

I didn't stay there for dinner - but check it out on the dining bit of their website - they mention the gluten free food they provide. I like!

We took a trip to the nearby Puerto del Carmen for dinner, picking Puerto Bahia in the old town harbour area on the basis that it had the nicest views and a black ink paella on the menu.

When I asked if the scampi on top of the paella had any flour on it the waiter said "Are you a celiac?". I nearly missed it - it was my companion that heard him say it - me being so unused to hearing such a thing. He came back and said that it was gluten free, and asked if I would like some gluten free bread. It was soft and warm and fantastic. I may have eaten a bit too much of it before receiving the massive, freshly prepared and scrumptious squid and scampi paella, but what the hey, it's so rare!

The next night we found a great mexican restaurant, Las Margaritas in Puerto Calero, owned and run by a mexican, who managed to find some gf corn tortillas for my fajitas.

I'm not sure if I was just having some super gluten free holiday luck, but I'd say definitely worth the trip. I will be going back for sure ( *starts looking up flights*).

GF Cheap Eats: Arepa & Co, The Cornbread House

If you are ever near Camden on the weekend and in need of a quick, inexpensive and tasty bite on the go then head for the Arepa & Co Cornbread house in the Market.

I often wake up on a Sunday morning with nothing but these delicious naturally gluten free stuffed cornbread patties in my head, and I'm not ashamed to say I go out of my way to get my fix.

Arepas are a traditional Venezuelan street food - my choice of filling is the tender shredded beef (that is oh so beefy, don't ask me how or why, it just is beef plus) they are very moorish. The chicken and avocado filling is very tasty also, especially with the hot sauces. But the beef is the winner for me. And all for just £4.... gluten free foodie on-the-go heaven.

Arepa & Co
West Yard
Camden Lock Place
London NW1 8AF

Tuesday 14 September 2010

GFF goes to Edinburgh: Deliciously different fun at 21212

The Gluten Free Foodie took a little trip up to Edinburgh to catch the end of the Fringe festival. I thought while I was there I might indulge in some fine dining; notably the stunning 21212.

The concept of 21212 revolves around the idea that you have two choices for starters, one amuse bouche, two choices for main, one cheese plate, then two choices for desert. See: 21212, simple! For the gluten-free diner this type of set menu always rings alarm bells. Well, between the moment I booked on the phone and they asked if I had any dietary requirements, to the moment that they greeted me with basil oil infused gluten free bread, I knew that they were going to be accommodating.

And accommodating they were, alerting me to all of my options and helpfully pointing out that anything could be amended for me. And all with smiles on their faces. Even better, all the staff were made aware, not just one, so it didn't matter who came to the table, there were no mistakes. I must say, and my guest noted this too, that it was the best service I have had, perhaps ever. Even more surprising, the bill came without a pre-added service charge, almost non-existent in London, especially at a high calibre restaurant such as this.

The overall experience is one of FUN. That was the predominant feeling afterwards. Such a fun meal! Each plate was playful and interesting, and well, it was all just such fun!

The dining room is magnificent, a single large room with butterflies on the carpet, and wonderful table settings. My starter was a scallop with an amazing assortment of ingredients, some of which seemed a little out of place, but hey, that was part of the fun of it. Nothing, nothing, in the meal was boring.

The next "1" course was a fabulous layered soup with deep deep flavour. Delicious.

Then for the mains, I went with a deconstructed lamb hot pot - with perfectly cooked pink lamb. Good measured portion sizes also - allowing you to eat all five courses without feeling over stuffed.

Cheese was next, four yummy varieties which we tried with a cheeky port on the side. It's cheese, so why not! Especially as we were sitting on a chaise longue next to each other at the far corner of the room, so could fully relax and engage in a spot of private banter and people watching.

The pre-cleanse before the dessert was a refreshing berry infused milk, served in an excellent porcelain cow jug. That was followed by dessert served on an upside down porcelain duck, with a duck-footed egg cup sat on it, filled with a zingy orange rice pudding with some sort of flavoured foam on top. And as I was limited with the other gluten free option, they made me a fabulous creme brulee. I don't care what anyone says, you cannot beat a perfectly made creme brulee. Other desserts can just go away with their heads hung in shame as far as I am concerned.

So overall a sumptuous and witty meal, full of surprises of the good kind! The menu for all five courses was £65 which I found to be more than fair for this Michelin-starred delight.

So, Gluten free foodies - get thee to Edinburgh quick!

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

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Hakkasan: Stunning GF modern Chinese cuisine

I'm not sure about you, but I've avoided Chinese food completely since becoming gluten free. There's always the fear of soy sauce lurking around every corner, and indeed, in every dish.

A solution - and an absolutely fabulous, Michelin-starred solution at that - the exquisite, delicious, and gluten-free friendly Hakkasan.

Yes, this is not one for a weekly visit, it's very pricey, but oh my oh my is it worth it for a special occasion.

The staff are so knowledgeable that the fear of being poisoned, the need to ask annoying questions and to be on guard at all times completely disappears and I was happy to be coddled in their safe GF arms.

They have a separate gluten free menu which neatly outlines what you can have (and to keep as many options as possible some are with slight modifications - e.g. "without sauce". Which in my opinion is the best way to do it. There's nothing more frustrating than no one considering that yes, you can have that salad, just without the breadstick? Duh? )

I went for fried. Golden fried soft shell crab with red chilli and curry leaf, to be precise. I mean, we all know that the opportunities for us to get our gluten free mitts on something fried are few and far between, and I thoroughly intended on taking full advantage of the situation. Not least because it was my birthday, and my dear sister was treating me. Ahem.

Needless to say, it was utterly stunning and my jaw near dropped to the floor, before moving back up again to hastily munch down the rest of the dish. It was full of flavour and overall simply divine.

At this point the lovely waitress put down three sauces and kindly pointed out which ones were gluten free, and which ones off limits. Also worth a mention, for my sister who is vegetarian, the waitress pointed out that one sauce had a small amount of shrimp paste in so wouldn't be suitable for her. Thoughtful, no?

My main course was the spicy prawn with lily bulb and almond (never tried lily bulb before! It's somewhere between a water chestnut and a bamboo shoot. Tasty). Hubbada hubbada. Giant juicy butterflied prawns on an almost curry like sauce. With some simple rice and baby pak choi, it was heavenly. Sweet, tangy and rich all at the same time. Drool.

Oh, and apologies for not setting the scene earlier - the dining room is stunning with its carved black partitions and perfectly dim lighting and soft air conditioning with some sort of delicious smell wafting from somewhere at all times. Tranquil and elegant.

With all of this being washed down with a Saketini or two, well I must say, I was a thoroughly happy, stuffed, birthday girl.

UPDATE: There are now two branches of Hakkasan. I went to the Hanway Place restaurant. I have heard bad things about the Mayfair restaurant, see comments below. I have been to Hanway place three times and had a consistently good service. Please do call before you go to make sure they have the extensive gluten free menu (also posted in the comments). I do not recommend Mayfair!

Tuesday 11 May 2010

A Tale of Two GF Teas: Part 1: The Ritz

We all know there are many many places that don't treat us well, and I would be here all day if I listed them. Besides - who wants to know where not to go?

I'm going to make one particular exception here as I have been asked about gluten free afternoon teas a fair bit recently, and I've had two very different experiences, and one helps shed light upon the other.

Let's start with the negative. Do not go to the gluten free tea at the Ritz. Unless you like being really disappointed. And being treated like a second class citizen. And feeling nauseous afterwards. Well, it was more greasy-mouthed. Either way. It was unpleasant. Don't go.

The "sandwiches" were not the delicate sandwiches of ye olde afternoon teas past; more tiny bits of gf bread with great lumps of (low quality) ingredients plopped on top, the ratio entirely off and quite frankly, bizarre. Who on earth wants to eat six slices of cheddar on top of one little piece of buttered bread? Or indeed, what seemed like an entire cucumber? Or several pieces of dry chicken on top, with no other ingredients to speak of?

It was appalling stuff - you would make far far better in your own home. In fact, after trying each one, odd dissapointment after odd disappointment, I stopped eating them. Not because I wasn't hungry, but because it was actively unpleasant to eat. Especially the plain (low quality) mound of smoked salmon on top of that poor defenseless scrap of bread. Please sir, may I have a lemon? A tiny bit of dill? A daub of cream cheese for the lady? Anything more than three measely ingredients?

There was the distinct air of "Aren't you lucky that we even have anything to feed you". Dreadful. My sister's vegetarian option contained lovely little sandwiches. And when she was presented with a selection of cakes I received...... A fruit plate! Oh yes, a fruit plate! Lucky me. How delightful to watch my sister stuffing scones with clotted cream into her mouth (sorry sis, just jealous) while I poke at my drab (unripe, tasteless) melon slices. Hey, I did get a macaroon (medicocre) and a cake (dry and tasteless). Again, lucky me.

It really is the epitome of what I detest in the restaurant world, when dealing with us gluten free folk. I was paying the £50 like everyone else, but I'm supposed to put up with merely "something I can eat". Yeah, that's fine on a plane. But not at the Ritz. I mean come on guys, seriously? Buck up.

And on another note; the service had the outward appearance of being smart, but was actually flawed - I was interrupted as I greeted my sister, and when I gave her her birthday gift. And they loitered. And were often confused about what food was mine and what was hers . In case you didn't have enough reasons not to go. It was a special occasion, thoroughly disappointing, and I hope that all of you avoid this fate.

Instead - may I suggest you go to Claridges!

A Tale of Two GF Teas: Part 2: Claridge's

I was invited to the new gluten free tea at Claridge's, using the delicious fresh baked Genius gluten free bread.

It couldn't have been more different than the truly dire Ritz situation.

Delicious, lovingly prepared sandwiches that were beautifully presented - chicken with lemon remoulade, smoked salmon with horseradish and dill, Dorrington ham, egg and watercress. Light and fluffy bread, with high end, well prepared and tasty fillings. Gluten-free delights.

Genius, the breadmakers who make the gluten free bread that Claridge's uses, have the motto "yummy.... hooray!" - the idea being that your first thought when eating something should be that it is scrumptious. The hooray bit comes because it's also gluten free. But the yum should always come first. I entirely agree with this principle.

Oh and boy was it a "yummy... hooray" situation with the gluten free scones. Scones! Pour moi? Oh, Claridge's, wiz all ze's gluten free treats you are really spoiling us (note to the Ritz: this is how you should feel). I haven't had a scone in 14 years. It was delightful. With strawberry jam and a delicate cornell of Devon's finest clotted cream. I very nearly melted at the taste.

The raspberry and rosewater macaroon was, ah, heavenly! Light, a deep raspberry flavour, with some sort of custard cream in the middle, and fresh raspberries around the edges. Weep. I finished my feast with a delicate fruit tart, and some devilish chocolate cake concoction.

Most of all I just felt delighted. And like it was really special. Everything was beautiful to look at, and beautiful to eat. You could tell it had been lovingly prepared. Someone cared.

When it comes to an occasion like Afternoon Tea, I want to be made to feel really special, and to have something any non-celiac would be jealous of.

Mission accomplished Claridge's.

Next time it's my sister's birthday I know exactly where I'm going to go to rub her gluten-eating face in it.