Friday 30 September 2011

Nopi: Ottolenghi I'm in love!

Having recently experienced the seasonal deli delights of Ottolenghi's in Islington, I was very excited to hear about the opening of his more formal restaurant, though they call it a brassiere, Nopi.

What a beautiful place. It reminded me of a greek toga. All white with little gold trimmings. So peaceful, calming and luxurious, this would come pretty close to what a brasserie in heaven would look like.

I was presented with a gluten free menu (white with a touch of gold, naturally), with that day's menu on. The menu changes with some frequency, as the the food is fresh seasonal fare. It's fantastic that somewhere that changes their menu regularly makes the effort to have a gluten free one that is up to date.

We had a delicious Gruner to drink from Austria, don't knock Austrian Wine, the gruner is an excellent alternative to a sauvigon blanc, crisy and citrusy.

I pretty much wanted to order every single thing on the menu.

When you are bored with all of the french and modern european fare, Nopi is a breath of fresh air. Totally inspired food. Asian and middle eastern influences, with fantastic ingredients and ingenious combinations. The silver mullet could not have been happier than beside a salad of green papaya, mint, mango and peanuts.

The Presa iberica carpaccio with manouri and pine nuts was so pretty and colourful, and didn't need to be chewed, it melted in your mouth that easily. Clean and simple.

Seared prawns with fennel, white oregano and feta blew my mind - hearty yet delicate, such an exciting and addictive mix of flavours I could have licked the pan they were served in.

I'm not a big dessert fan but was tempted by my companion to share a palate cleansing sorbet - Melon and Elderflower. It positively sang and danced in my mouth making me shriek a little in delight. Totally my sort of dessert. Like all the food at Nopi, it was all about clear interesting flavours at their best.

I am now totally addicted and in love, and am plotting on how I can eat Ottolenghi's delights weekly without going broke. If you fancy taking me out to dinner there, let me know. That is, if I ever find my way out of the marvelous mirrored bathroom.
Square Meal

Friday 5 August 2011

GF Cheap Eats: Stingray Cafe; Classic Italian Pizza... but gluten free!

We have another pizza place to add to the others. Hoorah! In the world of gluten free pizza, Otto's and Hell are being joined by the Stingray Cafe in Tufnell Park.

Remember when you would see a pizza place, casually stroll in, get a pizza with your favourite toppings and think nothing of it? Maybe grab it to takeaway if you didn't fancy eating in? It's like that! I haven't felt that normal in a long time. It's an unassuming cafe; simple, classic and with great pizza.

The gluten free base is perfect - really thin, crispy edges just how I like it. And it is normal sized! We don't have to live in the land of diddy sized pizzas, on thick premade bases. Rejoice!

I went with my favourite toppings from salad days (or before the salad days you might say)- pepperoni and mushroom.

It was great.

It was a pizza.

That is all.

Oh, I guess I should mention that there is a Highbury Stingray that does gluten free pizza bases too.

And I should probably also add that they have gluten free pasta (which I obviously didn't try through my pizza-tunnel-vision).

There, now I'm done.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Namaaste Kitchen: Elegant, imaginative and delicious Indian cuisine, with a GF Menu

Namaaste Kitchen isn't your typical Indian restaurant.

Located in Camden on the quiet street Parkway, Namaaste Kitchen has a modern elegant interior, and just as modern and elegant food. The menu is packed with new and intriguing dishes - anyone for a Mungalore Dorset Crab curry?

I've been several times, and I'm really please to say that they now have a gluten free menu! Even though most Indian dishes are safe, sometimes it's hard to know for sure what flours are being used in what dishes, and whether there is any cross contamination. So it's a great help when you get a gluten free menu and learn that they will make a Soft Shell Crab for you gluten free (with a rice flour tempura flour especially!)

The food is served in a more European style of set courses, rather than several dishes in the middle of the table. Good if you don't want to be overly stuffed! I adored the flavours of the Coriander and Lime Chicken Tikka, and the surprisingly delicious fusion of marinated portobello mushroom stuffed with figs green chilli and cashews with a curry leaf dressing. The Spicy Soft Shell crab was fantastic - the sauce it was served with complementing it perfectly.

The choices for main courses are many - practically all are gluten free actually. I tried the Chettinad Chicken From Tamil Nadu - a dark rich coconut curry with coconut rice - totally delicious. My friends had the monkfish (delicate and juicy) and the lamb (moorish!), it's a great place for both a group of friends or for an intimate dinner for two.

The service is excellent; attentive and not intrusive, just as you would hope from a fine dining restaurant. The prices are very reasonable. I'd recently been to michelin starred Benares, and found Namaaste to be just as good at half the price! For your next Indian craving get thee to Camden pronto!

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

Verdict: Delicious Indian cuisine with a modern twist.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

L'Autre Pied: Note perfect and immensely pleasurable

Oh, what to do in all of this lovely summery weather except to pop down to L'Autre Pied for a spot of lunch outside?

Well, actually, I missed out on my London Restaurant Week booking and was desperate to try it, having heard great things about this michelin starred restaurant, I looked into menus and times - turns out the very reasonably priced two course lunch menu at £18.95 is available on Saturdays, so I went ahead and booked(It is also available for pre-theatre dinner Monday- Friday).

Then when the reservation rolled around, low and behold, the sunshine was upon us, so my companion and I took an outdoor table where we could watch the world of Marylebone go by. I did pop my head inside, and it looked very modern, sleek and chic, but I wasn't going to pass up a rare opportunity to dine al fresco.

The set menu prompted a little bit of a sigh for a coeliac to begin with - pastas and pastry featured in all of the dishes. Not to worry, the manager was at hand who had a full grasp on the gluten free situation and explained what could be modified. When she realised the mains couldn't be modified she popped inside to consult the chef and said that if I still wished to have a set menu price I could have pork belly as a main. Yes, and yes thank you!

As we tucked into a delightful bottle of chilled Viogner (nothing like drinking at lunchtime to make one feel that it's the weekend), they brought out bread for my friend and some gluten free crackers for me. I recognized them as the Tru Free High Fiber crackers, which I like, so it was fine with me. I was a bit surprised they did have gluten free bread though, crackers with butter being quite a different thing to bread and butter. People don't describe the core of their business as their "crackers and butter" now do they?

Then came the food. An unexpected amuse bouche. And boy was my bouche amused! It was a ode to the parsnip, singing it's praises to the heavens; Parsnip puree, concentrated caramelized parsnip drizzle, topped with parsnip crisps. The world drifted away and we were silent closing our eyes when eating this divine creation. Creamy, deep, rich, sweet, crispy. Never has a parsnip reached such heights.

The next course, our starters, were scallops (originally with a thin film of ravioli, but not for me) and spring onions with marinated spring vegetables, in a lemongrass and ginger consommé. Isn't it just the prettiest thing you've ever seen in a bowl? Don't let it's beautiful and simple appearance fool you, the asian flavours were surprisingly and pleasingly intricate; sweet, salty and fragrant. Who knew that consommé kicks the ass of it's weedy cousin, broth? Broth, you are done sir, I am a consommé girl from now on.

Now I have to tell you, I don't like pork belly. I am always amazed the same animal that brings us the irresistible delights of bacon, prosciutto and chorizo, also delivers the dreary direness that is "pork chop". Don't ever try to feed me a pork chop. Next to pork chop in my head was pork belly. People go mad for it - at events they started popping up on all the canape menus. I've tried it, say, four times, each time with someone who is a huge fan. Even at a favourite restaurant of mine Polpo, it was a no. I'm not going to start getting fussy about set menu gluten free exchange offerings though - and you know, fifth time lucky.

What can I say. I love L'Autre Pied pork belly. It was exquisite. I ate the whole thing, savouring each mouthful. My friend had a bite and came down with a severe case of food jealously. There wasn't a nasty layer of chewy fat between the crackling and the meat, as there so often is with pork belly. It jumped from tender melting juicy meat straight to crispy salty crackling. The combination was too much to resist. I dare you to try it and not fall in love. The purees and pink grapefruit sauce gave just the perfect amount of acidity to complement the pork. Even the broccoli was faultless. And again, could that be a more perfect rectangle? My friend's veal lasagne was equally pretty and precise.

Continuing in the excellent service of the very well trained staff, we were offered desert (three courses £22.50), and they let me know what I could have gluten free without me asking. Alas, we were perfectly full. With a little sparkle in the eye and spring in our step from the wine, we took inspiration from the people of Marylebone and trotted down the road to Selfridges. It was all very ladies who lunch I can tell you. And what a lunch. I will be back. The spring tasting menu is calling me, and who am I to refuse a call from such a fine suitor?

Gluten Free Knowledge: ★★★★
Gluten Free Range: ★★★★
Taste: ★★★★★ (can I give it six? What do you mean it's the sunshine and wine talking? oh, go on then)★
Atmosphere: ★★★★★

Verdict: Exquisite, memorable and very delicious fine dining.

Monday 21 February 2011

GF Cheap Eats: WAGfree bakery cafe and deli

There is something to be said for the simple pleasures in life, those tasty treats that everyone else takes for granted but we miss, and that's what the WAGfree cafe is all about. It was set up by David late last year as he wanted to recreate the foods that he was missing since becoming gluten free a few years ago.

He and fellow purveyor Edward sell freshly made pies, quiches, breads and cakes, all made on the site of their shop in Brixton Market. They even make fresh pasta on the weekend - including stuffed tortellini (if you get to the market before they sell out).

Their pastry is excellent. I got to feel some of the sweet pastry before it had been cooked - I have no idea how he got it to be that smooth (and it's a secret!).

The best thing was the jammie dodger. I had just given up eating foods like that, as replicas were tasteless. It was THE BEST JAMMIE DODGER EVER - sweet smooth biscuit with homemade jam and an almond butter. With a cup of tea - well goodness it just brought out the British in me!

I recommend following them on facebook, as you will get all the updates about what they are making the next day, for example today - "Baby Victoria sponges, chocolate eclairs, raspberry, cherry and ginger cupcakes and rhubarb pies are on tomorrow. We'll also have the usual pies, fresh pasta, bakewells, fruit loaf, brownies, jammie dodgers and our lovely golden bread." They had valentines cakes as well. And, what's this I see, fresh bagels?

Even though the cafe is next to a fish stall, and it can be a bit chilly (this is in February), Brixton market is an interesting eclectic mix of stalls and shops - well worth a snoop around. They also sell a range of GF foods in the shop section; breakfast cereals etc, so it's a sort of gluten free one stop shop.

This isn't fancy foodie food, it's great traditional British staples. If it's a bit of gluten free carbohydrate indulgence you are after, make a little pilgrimage my gluten free lovelies, you won't be disappointed.

Verdict: Cakes and Pastries and Pies, Oh my!

Tuesday 8 February 2011

The Soho Hotel: A brilliant GF breakfast and so much more

We all know how difficult travelling gluten free can be. When you find a hotel that can cater for you it can make all of the difference to your experience.

Imagine being able to go downstairs at breakfast to find a big buffet of GF muffins and cakes, gluten free muesli on the menu, and fresh GF toast to spread butter and jam on. Or perhaps even calling room service at 1am for the Club sandwich you were craving?

Well, all these gluten free fantasies and more await you at The Soho Hotel.

I've been to the funky and glamourous five star Soho Hotel a dozen or so times since it's opening in 2004, mainly to the screening rooms downstairs or to perch at the bar when I fancied a decadent and delicious late night cocktail.

I was totally unaware of of all of their gluten free offerings. Upon a friend mentioning to me gluten free items at breakfast I booked myself in to investigate further. It was a gluten free treasure trove. Once I started asking questions the excellent staff explained the wealth of products on offer; from GF pasta at lunch to three different (and delicious) types of gluten free bread from artisan baker Droppa and Droppa. Sundried tomato and basil bread anyone?

The executive chef Robin Read is incredibly knowledgeable about the gluten free diet. They've made it their mission to cater for all kinds of different diets - whether you are a gluten free vegan or lactose intolerant and on the atkin's diet - it's no problem. A lot of energy goes into training the staff. They understand that being gluten free doesn't mean that you are carb-free or any of the other diets that other staff often get confused by (how many times have you had an earnest waiter tell you they can serve you something without the potatoes? No no, I can have those! What does a lady have to to for some carbohydrates around here?) The staff clarity is fantastic and you feel able to trust them completely.

This is one of the reasons they don't have GF marked on the menus (apart from the gluten free breakfast), the staff are trained to pick up on details and ask. I must say that I wouldn't even think to ask for GF pasta if I didn't see some indication on the menu. But, what the hey, if every wish can be catered for then hooray for that. Just remember to be vocal.

They are also very aware of cross-contamination issues and are even working to create a separate gluten free prep section.

My breakfast was excellent. I couldn't get enough of the savory spinach and goat's cheese muffin. Really moist and flavoursome. The poppy seed toast was flawless, far better than most I've tried. Light but not dried out at all.

As part of the gluten free breakfast I had a gluten free muesli complete with fresh apple and almond shavings, topped with blueberries, which was light and refreshing. The breakfast came with a healthy smoothie and fruit pot of apricots and prunes. I must say I felt very smug for being so nutritious, but I was eyeing someone else's egg's benedict with envy, it would be great on gf toast! Next time, that's why there's always a next time.

We all know that hotel dining isn't cheap, but you are paying for a first class service. If you are coming to London for business and want the perfect Gluten Free luxury hotel - The Soho Hotel has to be it. It's definitely on my list for breakfast meetings in the future.

Also to note, the bar menu is fantastic and price accessible- if I'm there for some after work drinks and get peckish I'll be havign a £7 bacon and egg sandwich, or a £8.50 Croque Monsieur.

There is also a gluten free afternoon tea, with all the wonderful little cakes and sandwiches everyone else gets and an innovative "fruit tea" that's gluten free too. I'm sure I'll get around to trying that and their dinner menu in the near future.

I just hope my new found discovery of someone willing to make me gf tempura batter isn't going to lead me to one to many cocktails!

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

Verdict: A gluten free foodie's hotel heaven.