Thursday, 23 October 2008

Gluten-free pizza, pasta, gnocchi, garlic bread...

So after a recommendation from Rochelle (thank you, Rochelle!), some friends and I visited Italian restaurant Cotto on Westminster Bridge Road for dinner on Tuesday night. As I'd read in many reviews, the welcome was as warm as you could hope for in a restaurant and I felt transported back to when I lived in Florence. It is a family-run, small Italian restaurant that has good food at its heart - and boy, is it good! The owner (who is originally from Naples but has lived in London for years) has been Coeliac for 20 years so he totally understand allergies and there are more g-f things on the menu than I've found anywhere else so far!
I had a pizza, which, although it was a bought base - so smaller and thicker than homemade, it was just so nice to be able to have a pizza in a restaurant and not worry about it! The toppings were delicious and it was such a treat. The non-g-f pizzas looked amazing too. Two friends had gnocchi which they said was absolutely delicious (and they're fairly picky about their Italian food, believe me!) and the other had crespolini (which weren't gluten-free) which were also winning apparently.
For pudding I had tartufo nero which was again, brilliant - and amazing to have more choice than just plain ice cream or sorbet.
Next time (it will be in the very near future, definitely!), I'm definitely going to give either the gnocchi or pasta a go - and try some of the g-f bread they offer too. It really is a lovely place and everyone there was so lovely. I couldn't recommend it more. Plus, if you're visiting, it's really near things like the London Aquarium etc so a great place to pop in and have some g-f, warming lunch.

Friday, 17 October 2008

In summary... if you're visiting London

London is pretty good to live in if you’re gluten-free – and it’s not bad for visitors either! Restaurants are certainly becoming more clued up about what gluten is and staff are more friendly than they used to be when you mention allergies… Just don’t expect gluten-free bread or anything in restaurants – there are a couple which provide this but it’s CERTAINLY not the norm… I’ve only ever been offered it once!

More coffee shops are now also offering at least one gluten-free item (usually individually wrapped to avoid contamination), and the supermarkets all have good ranges of g-f products, both their own and other popular brands, so you certainly won’t starve! Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose are the best supermarkets to find g-f stuff – but beware! – lots of the smaller branches which are in central London don’t have anything g-f, so don’t rely on being able to pop in and find something! There’s a bigger Sainsbury’s Central near Tottenham Court Road which has a few g-f things in, but you’re better to go to a bigger branch, which might be slightly further out, and stock up if you’re able.

Below are some places that I like eating in and where I have had good experiences with allergy-friendly food – and also a couple that I haven’t tried yet, but that I’ve heard good things about! I’ve divided things up into ‘Snacks and Treats’, ‘Cheap Eats’ and ‘Restaurants’ – these are the more formal places, but they are all still pretty good value… Enjoy!

Snacks and Treats
If you’re out and about and near a Starbucks, it’s worth popping in to see if they have a gluten-free sandwich. They are literally the ONLY place in London I know of that do one (not even health food shops seem to), but I don’t think they realise the untapped market, and not all of their outlets stock them. Usually if they DO have them, they only have one or two, so if you see one – nab it! The bread they use is quite hard but, to be honest, I always enjoy the novelty of being able to get a take-away sandwich so much that I overlook that… the fillings are good – they seem to rotate them so that you get one flavour in all the shops for a month or so, then they switch to something else… I’ve had the egg mayonnaise one and the tuna – both good. The Starbucks in Waterloo station usually has some if you’re going on a train somewhere and fancy a snack! (Approx. £2.50 per sandwich)
Marks and Spencer have great labelling, so it’s easy to see if a product has gluten/wheat in. They don’t offer much in their ‘Food To Go’ section that is suitable for Celiacs, but if you look in the vegetable section, they have what they call ‘side salads’. These are small tubs of cold stuff, like mixed beans in vinaigrette, or spiced quinoa with sweet potato and are all very tasty – and a perfect size for a snack lunch/picnic. They have disposable cutlery near the tills to eat it with. (Approx. £2.50 per salad pot)
Costa Coffee is a chain of coffee shops that do a great gluten-free cookie – it’s almond and jam flavoured and is really good – great consistency. Comes individually wrapped so handy to have in your handbag/pocket for a teatime moment. (£1.50)
For a real treat, AMAZING cake shop Konditor and Cook do an absolutely delicious gluten-free cake by the slice. It’s called Almond St Clement and is a citrus flavoured sponge (made with ground almonds) with a sticky, marmalade-y topping – it’s SO good! It’s about £2.50 a slice, so pricey – but well worth every penny…!
There are lots of ice cream places that do gluten-free flavours (I like Oddono’s – a gelateria that has an outlet in Selfridges Food Hall), but so far I only know of one place that does gluten-free cones. It’s called Scoop and is in Covent Garden. This is the best Italian gelato in London - no contest! It's really cheap as well as you get MASSIVE portions and can have two flavours in a 'small'. (Approx. £1.50-4 an ice cream) If you’re in that area, there is a great muffin place that does gluten-free muffins – Muffinskis. Definitely worth a visit if you’re nearby and peckish! (Approx. £1.50 a muffin)

Cheap Eats
Leon is absolutely my favourite place to grab a hot (or cold – depending on the weather), gluten-free, fresh-tasting inexpensive meal. It’s been labelled as healthy fast food, and, even though it’s fast, I definitely don’t want anyone picturing anything like the dreaded ‘golden arches’…! For hot choices they do things like grilled chicken with a variety of sauces, tagines, Thai curry and stews – all served with brown rice and soy-based coleslaw. The cold options are tasty superfood salads – made with quinoa and a variety of vegetarian/meat-based ingredients. It’s really tasty and the menu is all labelled as to whether it’s g-f or not… as a bonus, they sell GREAT g-f cake bars – brownies (with a hint of orange – delicious) and lemon/ginger crunch – YUM! (Approx. £5 for a bigger dish, £8 to include a drink/cake)
Wagamama is a fantastic chain of Japanese noodle bars – they are really aware of allergies and there are a couple of dishes on the menu that are naturally g-f, and they can also adapt a whole host of others… They can use veg stock instead of pork (which has gluten in) and will use rice noodles instead of egg/soba where they can. They also do some rice-based dishes, and some interesting juices etc. One of the best things is that they have gluten-free soy sauce (Sanchi) so you can add some extra flavour. It’s cheap, quick and very tasty! (Approx. £10-15 a head, including drinks)
If it’s sushi you’re after, Itsu is my preference. If you ask what’s gluten-free they will find out for you (particularly on dishes if you’re eating in, they’re not so good on the take-away boxes), and it’s really fresh, tasty sushi. Yo! Sushi is another big chain but last time I went, they didn’t really have a clue what I could/couldn’t eat, so I prefer Itsu. They also have a couple of sweet treats that are gluten-free, such as a chocolate pot – sometimes sushi just isn’t satisfying enough…! (Approx. £20 a head, depending on how much you eat!)
Hell Pizza is my newest discovery – gluten-free pizza in London!! WOOHOO! Finally! It’s based in SW London (they deliver if you’re in that area), and you can eat in or get take-away (in a box and everything! A novelty for me!). They have some very strange flavour combinations on offer, but they offer good-size, crispy, gluten-free bases and I just went for a Margherita when I visited, which was good. I’d maybe recommend adding some veg though – I like rocket, but they didn’t have any! Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area (approx. £7-10 per pizza). Chains Strada and Pizza Express will let you take your own g-f base (if it’s sealed, so from a supermarket or something) and then will add the toppings and cook it in the wood-burning ovens, but you’ll need to take some g-f flour to for them to dust it, and all the supermarket ones over here are very small so it’s not such a good option… You also need to call the branch you’re going to, to make sure the chef is happy to do it.

Da Mario is a great Italian restaurant in Covent Garden that offers gluten-free pasta instead of regular with most of their sauces. It’s very small and very authentically Italian and is a great place for a cosy, cheap, delicious dinner. They use rice pasta and cook it to perfection so it’s not soggy or slimy – there’s no website but if you Google Da Mario gluten-free you should find lots of good reviews! It’s on Endell St, not far from Covent Garden tube station. (Main courses approx. £7-10)
Rasa is one of the best Indian restaurants I’ve ever been to – it’s all Keralan (South Indian) food and is really good value. There are a few branches around London, but I think the best one is the original, vegetarian one up in Stoke Newington (north London) and the one that specialises in fish on Charlotte St near Tottenham Court Road. The food is all really good and the staff are always really friendly and can find out any answers to wheat/gluten queries. However, I’ve always found that I can have most of the dishes – and, even better, there is a really great rice bread on the menu (a good substitute for Naan!) and they do a fantastic basket of snacks as a starter, which are all made out of gram/rice/lentil flour so are all g-f! (Main courses approx. £7-12, plus rice/bread etc)
La Trouvaille is a lovely French restaurant that I’ve only recently visited. The food was really lovely and they were very sweet about the whole allergy thing – I told them when I booked and when we arrived they asked who it was who had the allergy and then assured me that the chef would be preparing my food separately and that he could adapt all but two of the dishes so that I could enjoy a really wide choice. It’s all set menus (£29.50 for two courses, £35 for three) and is very central as it’s just off Carnaby St. Well worth a trip for a more special occasion.
Alloro is another good place that does a good set menu (£35 for three courses). It’s an Italian restaurant in Mayfair (near Green Park tube station) and they are always very good about allergies. There’s no gluten-free pasta or anything, but lots of other things – great salads and things to start, lovely grilled meat/fish for mains and some good ice cream for dessert! Not much more to say apart from that it’s very, very good and a great place for a smarter, romantic meal!