Archive for the ‘Gluten-free eating out’ Category

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Our worst gluten-free dining experience ever: Pizza Express

November 23, 2013

In June this year, we were delighted to report that Pizza Express had worked with Coeliac UK to create an accredited gluten-free menu including gluten-free beers, pizzas and other menu items. We were really pleased with our first experience and found our waiter to be knowledgable and very well-trained.

So, last night, we were confident that we would have the same great gluten-free experience at the busy Pizza Express on Euston Road in London. We’d had a great evening catching up with friends in a pub in King’s Cross and decided to nip in to Pizza Express to share a meal before heading home. We agreed to order a completely gluten-free meal so we could share.

The first thing I said to our waiter was “We need two gluten-free meals” as I pointed at the gluten-free advertisement on the menu, which he acknowledged. The “gluten-free choices” part of the menu is very clear as you can see below.  I ordered a “gluten-free La Reine pizza on a gluten-free base”, pointing again to the gluten-free choices sign.

Pizza Express Euston Road gluten free menu

 

I then ordered a “gluten-free aubergine parmigiana”, not bothering with trying to pronounce the confusing “Melanzane”, again pointing at the menu and the gluten-free choices sign.

Pizza Express gluten-free menu aubergine parmigiana

 

Finally, I ordered a “gluten-free beer” and a small Peroni.

Pizza Express Gluten Free drinks menu

 

At this point, I had said “gluten-free” and pointed at the menu so many times it’s safe to say we had a complete understanding. Our waiter repeated the order back and it was bang on.

We were buzzing after a fun night with friends and happily chatted while sipping on our beers. Our meals arrived really quickly. The waitress mumbled what I thought was “Melanzane” or “Parmigiana” as she placed my meal in front of me.

After a few bites of his pizza, my partner said “This is terrible. It tastes of nothing.” I was already a few bites into my parmigiana and was thinking, “This is nice. There are pieces of aubergine, but are these layers aubergine or pasta?” We were starting to get worried but kept eating. After a few more bites I said “I have to ask the waiter about this. This is pasta.”

I called the waiter over and said, “Can I just check? Is the aubergine parmigiana gluten-free?”. He said “That’s a lasagne.” I said “I ordered two gluten-free meals.” He whipped the dish away and sped off.

By this point we were absolutely furious and decided we weren’t going to pay for the meal. I tried a tiny slice of the pizza to see if I thought the base was gluten-free or classic. It was doughy, and undercooked, like a frozen base had not been in the oven long enough. No wonder it tasted insipid. But we still weren’t 100% sure if we’d been given a gluten-free pizza or if my partner had just eaten two slices of normal pizza.

When the waiter got back he said they were cooking new meals for us. I was completely fuming inside but I stayed calm and was very polite. I said “No thank you. We’re going to leave but I’m not happy to pay for these meals. This pizza is undercooked and my meal wasn’t gluten-free so we’re not going to pay.” He called his manager.

The manager apologised and offered to cook us new meals. We politely declined. He said we don’t have to pay for the meal and the drinks are free. We explained how important it is for his staff to get the order right and that our whole weekend could now be ruined. We asked if the pizza was gluten-free and he said “if it’s served on a black board it’s gluten-free. It’s definitely gluten-free.” I know that’s not the truth; all Romana pizzas are served on a black board. He invited us back to have a free Christmas meal on the house, but we had already decided never to eat a gluten-free meal at Pizza Express again. We thanked him for the offer and got ready to leave.

We started to talk about what you should do if you’ve mistakenly eaten a lot of gluten. Do you go make yourself be sick? We were worried our weekend was a write-off at this point and we still weren’t sure if he’d had gluten or not. I decided to ask the waiter if the pizza was gluten-free. He said “you had a classic pizza.” I queried that and he said he’d get the menu. Thankfully, he pointed to the gluten-free sign and we were a bit more confident that we’d be OK.

This completely ruined a really nice evening. We were polite and explained how important it is to get the orders right and the consequences of getting it wrong so it never happens to anyone again. If we started off with the opposite meals we could have been in for a terrible weekend. It might sound harsh, but we are never going to eat at Pizza Express again. Their accreditation gives you false confidence and trust, which is quite dangerous if they don’t deliver. Despite the undeserved trust, I think we were extremely vigilant with our order. How could they get it so wrong? They have a lot of work to do and I question their Coeliac UK accreditation. Other unaccredited restaurants like Carluccio’s can get it right every time. Pizza Express completely failed. I recommend that you don’t eat there.

 

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New gluten-free breakfast menu at Carliccio’s

August 14, 2013

We had no food in the house on Sunday morning and, if I’m honest, were feeling super lazy so we ate out for breakfast. (Hooray! My favourite! Promise I didn’t put any undue pressure on my other half to make that happen.)

At Carluccio’s we expected to get the standard breakfast sans bread but the waiter produced their newly released gluten-free breakfast menu and said they now have GF bread too. So we had the hugest, most satisfying breakfast ever. Nice one, Carluccio’s.

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We spotted a gluten-free chocolate and coconut cake in their bakery too. It would make a nice treat for a special occasion.

I love their bakery and grocery shop. The packaging is beautiful. The red tuna tins you can see in the window were featured in Red Magazine as plant pots for herbs which is a neat idea for your kitchen.

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New Wahaca gluten-free menu

July 15, 2013

happy days

When a heat wave hits all I want to eat is fresh, zesty food; piles of salad, punches of lime juice, fresh herbs, fiery salsas,  juicy grilled meats, spicy red onions, buttery avocados… my mouth is seriously watering just thinking about it.

And I like nothing better than ordering tapas-style meals so I can eat a bit of everything we can share. Make it al fresco and put an icy drink in my hand and I am in heaven.  Read the rest of this entry ?

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How were the gluten-free pizzas at Pizza Express?

June 3, 2013

Green's gluten-free pilsner at Pizza Express

 

What are the main things we look for when we go out for a gluten-free meal? Clued-up waiters (beer!), a clearly labelled GF menu (beer!), a range of gluten-free options (BEER!)?

Yes, all of those things, but mostly beer.

So, on arriving at our local Pizza Express, dressed up and full of excitement at the prospect of a beer and pizza date-night (eating out is a big deal for us), it was only a matter of seconds before we ordered two Green’s gluten-free pilsners. The beers weren’t too bad, certainly a lot nicer than the majority of GF beers out there and they tasted like real beer not the imitation stuff, but still not anywhere near as nice as the king of gluten-free beers, Daura by Estrella.

 

 

Pizza Express gluten-free pizzas

Choosing our mains was fun because we could have almost all of the toppings on the menu. So much choice, what a nice change! We had a false start with the Sloppy Giueseppe since hot spiced beef isn’t on the safe list (and this wasn’t clear on the menu so we had to check).

We went for an American Hot pizza with pepperoni, mozzarella, tomato, with jalapeno peppers. My choice was a Capricciosa (ham hock, anchovies, capers, black olives, mozzarella, tomato, hard-boiled free-range egg and red pepper) with the egg and peppers swapped for artichokes and mushrooms.

We had a good chat with our lovely waiter who was really keen on explaining the new labelling system in the kitchen and the training they had gone through as part of the range launch, which helped us to feel confident about the meal.

The pizzas were delicious! The bases were like the real thing. You can see from the photos that it didn’t take long for me to pinch a piece of his pizza. The only draw back was that my pizza arrived without any artichokes. The meal was so filling that when it came time to order a second beer or look at the dessert menu we had to call it a day.

We’ll definitely go back.

Have you tried the new gluten-free pizza range? What did you think?

You can find your nearest Pizza Express restaurant here. And if you’d like to try Green’s or Estrella Daura beers they’re available from selected Sainsbury’s stores.

 

 

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Gluten-free pizzas and BEER at Pizza Express

May 12, 2013

Pizza express pizza

Sometimes at the end of a tough week you just can’t wait to relax and enjoy a pizza and a beer and forget about cooking for one evening. But in our case, the wait on a pizza and beer night has been roughly a decade.

Which is why I can’t tell you how excited we were to hear that Pizza Express have brought out a gluten-free pizza range as part of their new Summer menu. But the excitement was ramped up another notch when we investigated further and found out that beer is also involved.

In fact, those smart cookies at Pizza Express have launched an entire gluten-free menu featuring risottos, salads, pizzas, parmigianas and brownies. They’ve also provided a list of menu items to avoid. And as a bonus the menu has been endorsed by Coeliac UK.

Pizza Express say:

“We’ve worked hard to ensure that you can be fully confident of no issues on entering any PizzaExpress. This includes changing processes in our kitchens – including labeling and storage, using new equipment only for gluten-free food, as well as changing the flour we use for tossing and stretching our dough to be Gluten free.”

Amazing. I think it’s pretty safe to say we’ll be there next Friday!

Have you tried the Pizza Express pizza? What did you think? Any other recommendations?

 

Image via pizzaexpress.com 

 

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Can you trust a waiter with your gluten-free order?

May 6, 2012

Anne Wollenberg’s Observer article  on food allergies makes me think not.

According to two studies in the UK and the US, over a fifth of restaurant workers surveyed thought someone with an allergy could eat a small amount of that foodstuff, and over a fifth thought it was fine to just pick it off a finished meal. As Anne says “they can’t” and “it’s not.”

I love to eat out but for my boyfriend and his family it is too often a frustrating and a sickening experience (literally) with upset tummies and low energy for the next few days after a carefully ordered meal was laced with hidden gluten.

So, here’s to the food heroes I can strongly recommend who provide an allergy menu and have knowledgable and helpful staff who make what is often a frustrating and embarrassing ordering experience into no big deal.

  • Wahaca – ask them anything. They’ll circle all of the gluten-free menu options on the menu quickly and confidently. Shame it’s not just printed on the menu though. Have a margarita for me.
  • Carluccio’s – tasty gluten-free corn pasta on a special gluten-free menu. Allow extra waiting time so they can boil a fresh pot of water for your meal. No cross-contamination in this kitchen. Antonio Carluccio is such a legend.
  • Leon – heaven sent. Clearly labelled gluten-free and vegetarian items. Tasty hot boxes with brown rice, coleslaw and a choice of a hot main. Pecan pie to finish too! Positively scrummy.
  • Nando’s – peri peri chicken, chips, rice and salad. Avoid the peri peri salt.
  • Wagamama – special allergy menu for all kinds of concerns. We were going to take some gluten-free soy sauce in case the meal was bland after all the fun stuff was taken out but it was very tasty. We had a bottle of prosecco to celebrate*.
  • McDonalds – really? Well yes. Their fries aren’t covered in flour or crazy glutenous spices like Burger King. Also, after a few quizzical looks from the teenage cashier they’ll whip up a Big Mac without the bun and serve it in a breakfast container with a knife and fork. Hash browns and breakfasts without the muffins are also safe. My other half likes to eat a Big Mac with fries like a chip butty. Hey, I didn’t say it was glamorous but sometimes you just gotta eat.

Do you have any other tried and true recommendations? Be a pal and let us know in the comments section. Cheers!

*Wagamama is a new addition. A few weeks ago we went through the usual Food Dork work up to get ready to give the waiter the run down. It’s difficult, it’s embarrassing, you know they’re going to ignore your concerns and decide that you’re just some bozo on a health kick. Our waitress was so cool about the whole thing that we felt a little embarrassed for building it up to be a big deal. It was amazing. It felt normal!

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Gluten-free Mexican ingredients & a pork pibil recipe

May 6, 2012

A lot of people are obsessed with Wahaca’s pork pibil tacos and want to find out if they’re gluten-free. I know because it’s the most searched item on Food Dorks. And who can blame them? Pork pibil tacos are mouthwatering parcels of tender deliciousness and I order them every time I go to Wahaca, without fail. (And, yes, the Wahaca recipe is gluten-free!)

So I know people will understand my launching on a crusade to find an easy way to make (or better yet, buy) gluten-free corn tortillas to make pork pibil at home so I can eat tacos all the time.

I have a Thomasina Miers’ cookbook, Mexican Food Made Simple, but she has cleverly omitted her most popular taco recipe so I’ve had to do a lot more searching. (Tommi does include recipes for refried beans, tortillas, pickled pink onions and other Mexican essentials so the book is still highly recommended!)

The best looking recipe I’ve found on the interwebs is this one from Food.People.Want. (Cheers buddy!)

So, after a lot of homework, I had recipes but I still needed ingredients and these are not easy to come by in the UK. My search for ingredients led me to Mex Grocer… which led me to spending about 40 pounds on dried chillies, Mexican spices, tortillas, black beans, banana leaves, mesa harina, and marinades. These magic ingredients, when combined with humble rice, pork, onions and garlic make the most amazing food to be sampled on the planet. The Mex Grocer delivery was speedy and the products were great, especially the gluten-free soft tortillas. Believe it or not but the hardest thing to source to make a Mexican feast was fresh bay leaves; Tesco and Sainsbury’s do not stock them so I had to drive across town to Waitrose to get some.

After all the effort of gathering the ingredients I let myself down by not cooking the pork in a “dutch oven” or what i imagine is a cast iron pot like a Le Creuset. I don’t own one and didn’t feel like forking out on one. So the pork was not tender and melt-in-the-mouth as you get at Wahaca but it tasted just as delicious. The stars of the dish really seemed to be the toppings; pink pickled onions, the refried black beans and fresh sprigs of fresh coriander (cilantro).

Nevertheless, the goodies I picked up at mexgrocer.co.uk are a very welcome addition to my kitchen. Although it took a bit of effort, my batch of Thomasina Miers’ chipotles en adobo is smokey, tangy and delicious. Her refried black beans also took a lot of time and blending but the result was so tasty we ate til we were far too full to do anything for the rest of the afternoon. Siesta time!

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Alright, I have to confess that I wrote the above MONTHS ago (Hi! I’m back. *waves*). Since then I have tried again and this time I nailed the recipe. My hot tips are:

  • you don’t need banana leaves.
  • you DO need a cast iron pot so the meat slow-cooks in the oven and all of the juices are sealed in. Since the failed attempt I got this beautiful teal Cook’s Collection pot from Sainsbury’s. The colour is a nice happy bright teal and it reminds me of Tommi’s book and the bright colours of Mexican decorations so it’s perfect to prep a Mexican feast.
  • You don’t need dried black beans and hours of soaking as per Tommi’s recipe. Just use tinned black beans. I got some in a tetra pack from Sainsbury’s. I threw a batch of black beans together in about 20 minutes while I boiled some rice and they tasted amazing.
  • DON’T add salt to boiling beans until they are nearly ready. Salt makes them go hard.
  • You do need epazote for black beans though, or at least anise seeds or star anise as a substitute.
  • Dried bay leaves are fine. You don’t need fresh.
  • Don’t skip the pink pickled onions. They pull the whole dish together. I prefer Tommi’s recipe for these – although again, I cut the time down to about 15 minutes.
  • The Mex Grocer tortillas are fantastic. Last weekend I tried to make my own with the masa harina I bought and it was an almighty failure. Does anyone know how to stop tortillas from going hard in the frying pan? I’ve always struggled with pancakes and tortillas!
  • Tommi Miers has a new book coming out in 2012 so keep an eye out to see if it has all the recipes you need before you buy the first book

Let me know if this has been helpful in the comments section. Thanks!

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