Posts Tagged ‘Gluten Free London’

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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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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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Luscious gluten-free pasta at Da Mario!

September 19, 2010

This little Food Dork is another year older and enjoyed an absolutely scrumptious dinner of gluten-free pasta at Da Mario’s Italian Restaurant in Covent Garden last night. Da Mario is an authentic family run Italian restaurant and is very popular with locals and tourists alike. They cater for gluten-free diets and the waiter confidently informed us of everything we could try on the menu.

We shared an entrée of carpaccio of beef then I was spoiled with a piping hot plate of Linguine all’Astice (with fresh lobster, brandy, lobster sauce and fresh tomatoes). Even though the portion was ginormous I managed to find space for all of it. (It’s surely poor form to waste lobster.)

The pasta tasted like the real thing, the restaurant was buzzing with happy customers and the service was excellent.

Dinners like that make getting older a little more bearable. Do yourself a favour and grab a plate of their gluten-free pasta next time you’re in town. We’ll certainly be back again; it means we don’t have to go to Carluccio’s every time we want pasta.

Da Mario Restaurant

63 Endell Street
Covent Garden
London
WC2H 9AJ

http://www.da-mario.co.uk

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