In Oliver’s yesterday, I met an American couple, who were visiting London and Paris. They could have been on honeymoon even, but they certainly wanted to eat gluten-free.
So I decided to put up this simple guide, which includes some my favourite restaurants and the rules by which I live.
Marks and Spencer
I’ve eaten gluten-free bread all over the UK and most of Europe, including in specialist gluten-free bakeries. But none compare with the range of breads in Marks and Spencer, if you take availability into account. Most of their stores in London, including those in stations, have a range of bread, biscuits and cakes. And many have gluten-free sandwiches, which you usually have to buy early, as many on their way to work, buy them as they pass by.
Marks also sell lots of salads, fruit and vegetables, including single bananas.
There are also gluten-free quiches and scotch eggs. I also thing, that the company is implementing a policy of making sausages, burgers and other goods, as free of all allergens as possible. Most packaging is clearly labelled in English, French and Dutch. I regularly eat their ultimate burgers and specialist gluten-free fishcakes.
So if you’re staying in London for a few days make sure you check out the nearest store to where you are staying.
I would issue a slight word of warning.
Suppose you are travelling outside of London to visit an attraction. Don’t expect that the range in all stores will be the same as London! So make sure you plan your eating properly or take supplies from a store in London.
Incidentally, I have found that their sandwiches usually last a day past their sell-by date, if kept unopened in a fridge. In fact generally, their bread, unlike some others, seems to last well. Even when it is past the sell-by date, the bread, still makes an acceptable toast.
EatNakd bars are my staple snack, that I carry with me most of the time. I usually get mine in a supermarket from the Free From section, but they are turning up in more and more places.
Holland and Barrett
Holland and Barrett is a chain of health food shops and every one has a selection of gluten-free snacks amongst a comprehensive range of foods and supplements for the health conscious. Most seem to have a selection of EatNakd bars too!
Restaurant and Cafe Chains
As in all the corporate world, some are good, some are very average and some are downright bad. I use four chains regularly as I know I can trust them and perhaps more importantly I like their menu.
Bill’s – I’ve recently discovered this chain, which seems to be expanding fast. They sell themselves as opening from breakfast to bedtime.
Carluccio’s – This group is expanding all over the country, with a lot of restaurants in the London area. They have a gluten-free menu and pasta is always on offer. A particularly useful one for me on my travels around the country is the restaurant in Manchester Piccadilly station, where I often change trains.
Jamie’s Italian – Jamie’s Italian is a good upmarket alternative, which has a comprehensive gluten free menu including pasta.
Leon – This a smallish chain, that is setting new standards in fast food. I regularly use them, when I want an interesting small eggy snack for breakfast. Some of them, actually serve tea and coffee in large real mugs.
Patisserie Valerie – Probably best described as an upmarket cafe chain, but the tea and coffee are good and they do have an acceptable gluten-free brownie.
Pizza Express – C and myself would regularly eat in one of the numerous Pizza Express restaurants until I was diagnosed with coeliac disease. After that, it was less often, as you can only eat so many salad nicoise. Now I regularly go as I’ve always liked a good pizza. They may not be as good as the one I ate in Munich, but they are certainly as good as any in the UK. If you choose your Pizza Express with a bit of care, you can find some with excellent views or in historic locations and buildings. I regularly eat in one by the Globe theatre, that has good views of the River.
I shall probably add other chains to this list, as there are some restaurants on my radar, that may grow up to be more widespread.
I have generally found that an Indian restaurant with good tablecloths and an owner, who speaks good English, generally cook with chick-pea flour and are usually gluten-free. Or at least, I’ve never had a problem. Some might in some, as a lot of very competent and affordable Indian restaurants in the East End of London, don’t serve alcohol. But they usually say you can get beer or wine at a nearby shop!
If I need an Indian meal, I usually go to the Angel Curry Centre in Chapel Market at the Angel.
There is quite a bit of excellent gluten-free cake in London and even in the smallest non-chain cafes, you’ll see one displayed. There is an excellent chocolate chip and mandarin cake that turns up all over the East. Obviously they mine it somewhere near the Olympic Park.
Network Rail, who manage a lot of the bigger stations in the UK, have stated that they want to get the fast food chains like Burger King, McDonalds and Starbucks out of the stations.They hsave said they want to go upmarket with chains like Carluccio’s and Patisserie Valerie. They also seem to be encouraging local cafes, like the one at Alexandra Palace station. London Overground also seem to be using up spare space for local cafes, some of which, like Crystal Palace, are very good.
As many stations now seem to be featuring a Marks and Spencer food outlet and these are increasingly featuring coeliac-friendly food, it’s a far cry from the day, when comedians made the joke about their father working as a sandwich curler for British Rail.
As many busy provincial interchange stations like Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester have a Marks and Spencer and a cafe/restaurant that does a passable gluten-free, train travel is almost becoming a preferable alternative to driving. Unless of course motorway service stations have improved since I last visited one.
Trains for me in the UK are not a problem, as I usually take something I’ve either made or cooked, or bought elsewhere. On some operators like Virgin, if you pick your train out of London correctly and travel First, you can sometimes have a gluten-free breakfast.
I once talked to Gordon Ramsay on the radio about gluten-free food in a restaurant. He said that if you book at least 24 hours before and say you want a gluten-free meal, the restaurant has no excuse for not giving you what you need. He also said that if they think they’re a good restaurant and can’t offer gluten-free food, then they’re not a good restaurant. I’ve never eaten in one of his upmarket restaurants, but I have eaten in his Plane Food at Heathrow and his restaurant certainly follows his advice. Although, I broke his rule, by just turning up. But he still got his share of a satisfied customer’s money.
I have found that his advice usually works, except in a couple of cases where they have said they can’t, so I’ve just gone elsewhere.
I like good food and there are some very interesting restaurants, where gluten-free food features.
Arbutus – In my view Arbutus is one of the best restaurants in London. It was also one of C’s favourites.
First Great Western Pullman Dining – This must be one of the best, if not the best food on a scheduled train. Read about Pullman Dining and my experiences to Plymouth and Cardiff. To my mind, there’s no better way to go to Devon, Cornwall or South Wales.
View Tube – The View Tube is one of London’s most unusually placed cafes, as it sits on top of Bazalgette’s sewer, looking out over the Olympic Park. You couldn’t do better than start your trip to the park, by having coffee and a tasty snack here. Just go to Pudding Mill Lane DLR station and look for the yellowy-green building made out of containers.
Vozars – Vozars is unique, in that it combines gluten-free food with gluten-free beer. It is also tucked away in the heart of Brixton and can be difficult to find, but it is always worth a visit.
Yard at Alexandra Palace station – An upmarket cafe, that certainly impressed me.
This small list will grow!
It was a very worthwhile trip and with the exception of some fish and chips at Rick Stein’s in Padstow, which cost probably a lot more, it was the best I’ve eaten. In some ways that is an unfair comparison, as in Cornwall I was with C. And then for many years before I was diagnosed as a coeliac, I never ate battered fish. Something was probably telling me, it was poisoning my gut.
But the plaice and chips today was superb. C hated chips, but she’d have loved these. There can be no better accolade!
I’ve passed Bill’s Restaurant at The Angel several times on the bus, but as it’s not on any of my walking routes between the tube station, the buses and any of the shops I use regularly, so I’d never checked it out.
Then today, I was looking for some string bags for Christmas present bags and I found that the restaurant sold them at a couple of quid a time. So I popped in to get them and try out the food at lunchtime.
I shall go again, as it’s well-placed for the M&S, Boots and Waitrose, I use several times a week. It’s also got decent wi-fi and is ideally placed to visit if I’m coming home on the bus from say Euston or Kings Cross.
The great thing about this chain, is that they have branches everywhere!
In my bread bin, in addition to some gluten-free bread, there’s also the remains of a packet of ginger snaps and some mince pies. All are gluten-free from Marks and Spencer. Some of the breads are the sort that sell well in Islington, Sandbanks, Morningside and Alderley Edge.
Today, I went to their store in the back of St.Pancras station and saw this display.
All of these packets of sausage and bacon based nibbles have the gluten-free sign.
So I tried to cook the dish using a small pack of Saint Agur and a boned and skinned salmon fillet from Marks and Spencer.
The blue cheese gave it a different flavour which some wouldn’t like. But I did and feel that I’ll try the method again.
It certainly produced a nice lunch with some fried potatoes.
The salmon cost £2.90 and the cheese £0.47.
It was certainly worth a visit and I agree with most of what has been said about the place in Trip Advisor.
Every cafe should have at least two different gluten-free dishes, as this one does; lasagne and cottage pie. I shall be going back to have some lunch.
If Modern Railways had an award for best small cafe in a station, this would be a contender.
I’m just putting a link to the list of 10 in last night’s Standard.
But that makes a dozen.
I’m not a cake connoisseur by any means, but I just had to put a link to Borough 22, even though I haven’t seen them for real, had a bite, or just a sniff.
As Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake! Even coeliacs and others with allergies!”
I went to Cardiff taking the 10:45 out of Paddington. I chose this train as it features First Great Western’s Pullman Dining.
I had a simple brunch consisting of the most exquisite kedgeree, washed down with juice and a lot of genuine English tea. By the latter, I really do mean tea grown in Cornwall.
This is certainly the way to go to South Wales. First Great Western say this about booking on most trains except the ones that leave around 18:00.
Pullman Dining services are open to all ticket holders although, on busy services, priority is given to First Class ticket holders. Please contact the Pullman Service Leader when you board to request a table in the restaurant. Pullman Dining services do not operate on weekends or public holidays.
When did booking a meal in a high class restaurant be so easy?
The train I was on, also called at Reading at 11:10, gets to Cardiff at 12:46 and then goes on to Swansea, reaching there at 13.44, so it is very convenient for a lot of journeys.
The only problem was that the actual train I was on, didn’t have the wi-fi fully installed. I read that this should be running and free in the New Year.
I do hope that this concept succeeds, as travellers like me, who aren’t strapped for cash, will certainly use this type of service as a treat.
My First Class ticket, which I bought on-line the day before, cost me £31.55 and I paid £18.00 for the lunch, with its excellent food and service.
As I have been known to take the occasional day out in Bristol, I do wish a similar service was offered to there. And what about services to Torquay and Cheltenham?
Obviously, First Great Western know the economics and they certainly have a whole fleet of InterCity125s, with which they can run the service.
So will we still see these magnificent trains reborn as high-class leisure trains serving the West Country for upwards of twenty years in the future? I suspect we will, as these trains seem to have more survival genes, than a whole pack of London mongrels.
Did Terry Miller and his team in Derby realise what they were creating?
I cook this regularly and I always have the Waitrose ham hock and the Rachel’s yoghurt with honey in the fridge, with frozen peas in the freezer. It came originally from Lindsey Bareham, where she called it pulled ham hock and pea pasta with herbs.
It usually takes under fifteen minutes from starting to boil the water to sitting down.