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.