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