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.