Tag Archives: sandwiches

Eating Out with Allergies in London

I wouldn’t usually think to write about where we’ve found to eat out in London as over the years we’ve often frequented one of the very many chain restaurants that we’ve come to know and love, but this time we spread our wings a little bit further and I thought it worth sharing our latest mealtime experiences.

Our Thursday evening dinner was courtesy of that old favourite of ours, Pizza Express, who were conveniently located less than 5 minutes from our hotel in Southwark, though there are many branches you can choose from no matter which part of London, or the rest of the UK, you’re in. In the 8 years or so that we’ve been frequenting their restaurants, we have only had a poor experience on one occasion, when they had run out of gluten-free pizza bases but failed to inform us until we were placing our order. Thankfully, even then, the restaurant staff worked hard to prepare other safe food for both G and M and both children managed to eat well. G  is very much a creature of habit when it comes to her food, so I knew she was likely to order the GF dough balls followed by an American pizza with goats cheese; and so she did. M loves to peruse the menu whenever he gets the chance, but this time chose a meal almost perfectly matching his sister’s, simply changing her goats cheese for the vegan mozzarella instead. The order came quickly, the food was delicious, there was no confusion or hassle about their orders and we left the restaurant with our appetites pleasantly sated,

Breakfast on Friday was a typically low-key affair and eaten in our hotel room as we had done our usual and carried travel containers filled with safe cereal for G and M to eat. M and I managed to find a small Sainsbury’s near to the theatre on the Thursday evening, so had popped in after the show to pick up a carton of rice milk. We have found that this is a routine that works really well for us and reduces the stress of choosing safe breakfast options for both children to eat. M’s only apology was that he had forgotten to research the nearest Starbucks to our hotel so that I could start my day with a coffee, but was quickly reassured when we reached the Globe theatre to spot one just across the street from it.

No sooner had we finished our Globe theatre tour, than M was clamouring for lunch even though it was only around 10.45 in the morning. This was not the result of an overwhelming hunger on his part, but rather great enthusiasm from both him and G as we had discovered a Subway sandwich shop near the Tower of London which stocked GF bread, which was also dairy- and egg-free, and they couldn’t wait to give it a go. During our holiday in Canada last year, we had seen GF bread available at the Subway on Toronto Island, but had not opted to buy one as 1) we had a packed lunch with us and 2) we had rather foolishly assumed that we would be able to buy it at other stores too. We were very much wrong in that assumption and have spent the last 12 months trying to find a shop serving GF bread somewhere in the UK, so you can just imagine how excited they both were to finally try a sub.

We were impressed with the service provided and care taken, even during a fairly busy lunch service during the summer holidays. The staff changed their gloves before handling the GF rolls for the children’s sandwiches – without me having to ask – and there was detailed allergy information available indicating the top 14 allergens present in all of the sandwich fillings and toppings. It was a strangely emotional experience as I watched G and M decide what sandwiches they wanted to try and pick out the toppings they wanted to add to make their perfect lunch. Here were my 15 and 13 year-old children, who have never been able to order at a Subway before because of their allergies, finally eating just like their friends. The look on both their faces as they made their decisions was priceless and their verdict on lunch – perfect!

We had booked tickets on a late train home to give us enough time to enjoy our planned excursions as well as the unplanned ones, and the final trip of our day was to one of our family favourite places to eat, although we hadn’t yet tried the London branch. Do you know where we went? Well, I’m afraid that’s a story for another post.

#FFFA19

It seems almost impossible that a year has passed since my last journey to London for a judging stint at the FreeFrom Food Awards (#FFFA19), and yet, here I am, on the train heading home after another great day of finding some fab free from foods. I feel so privileged to be a part of the judging team and it really is no exaggeration to say that it is easily one of the highlights of my year. Not only do I get to taste and discover some fantastic new products to the market, obviously always feeling very hopeful that I might even find some that are M-friendly as well as delicious, but I have made some lovely friends along the way and the judging sessions are always the best opportunity to do some much-needed catching up over food and a cup of tea.

My day started with “Foods to Go”, which Mike and I judged on the one occasion I let him join me for the experience and which nicely balanced out the sweetness that I knew the afternoon would be filled with. You never quite know what you’re going to get in this category and this year was no different as the first few mouthfuls included dried fruit snacks, soup, noodles, sandwiches and sweet rice cakes! It was a relatively small category for us to make our way through thing – just 16 items to try – which is always a good thing and I was one of the lucky few able to try everything being neither gluten-free or vegetarian.

My highlights of this session were:

Thai Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup: This was a surprise hit for me. I am not usually a big fan of carrot soup as I find it inevitably sweet, but the delicate balance of the Thai spices alongside the vegetables gave every mouthful a tantalising delicious and fragrant flavour. I haven’t spotted this soup on the supermarket shelf before – though to be perfectly honest, I’d probably have passed it by anyway – but I will definitely be looking out for it in the future.

Made Without Wheat Chicken & Bacon Sandwich: Apologies for my failure to get a photo of this, but this was a delicious, well-filled chicken and bacon mayo sandwich, which was not only gluten-free, but also dairy-free and I know will be a definite winner with G. I was impressed by the quantity of the filling as well as the flavour and texture of the bread – you really wouldn’t be able to tell it was gluten-free if you didn’t know. Sandwiches can be one of the hardest things to find when we’re out and about, so this will no doubt become a firm favourite in our family.

Caramel Rice Cakes: These weren’t necessarily the biggest hit in the room due to their to-be-expected sweetness, but I fell in love with them as they’re pretty much safe for M and will give him a great sweet treat that can be added occasionally added to his lunch-box.

This year saw my return to one of my favourite categories, that of Tea-time treats, not least because it was there in 2016 I first discovered the incredible Borough 22, who perfected the most indescribably delicious doughnuts that are safe for both children and are still a regular favourite in our household. I had gone with strict instructions from M to see if I could find anything that might be safe for him, and with a few more ingredients to play with I was hopeful that I might just have some luck. The afternoon session did not disappoint and with 5 different chocolate cakes to taste amongst the 29 products, it was a tough job, but someone had to do it.

My highlights?:

Gluten-, dairy- and nut-free Occasion cake: First of all, we were completely blown away by the appearance of this incredible wedding cake which had been carefully driven to the FFFA HQ for our enjoyment; and then the taste simply took my breath away. Amazing sponge, creamy buttercream without being too sickly sweet and enough sharpness in the jam to cut through the sweetness – utter perfection and one I would definitely recommend.

Tea-cakes: Nothing beats a toasted tea-cake and a cup of tea and it was wonderful to find this vegan and gluten-free alternative for this Sunday tea favourite. Another one of those “I don’t think you’d know it’s free from” treats we got to try and one I’m definitely going to be trying out with G.

Raw Mince Pie: Now, this will be a surprising highlight to just about anyone who knows me as they know that I absolutely hate most things with dried fruit – fruit cake, Christmas pudding or mince pies are not anything I would willingly put near my mouth on your average day. But, this was not your average day and I absolutely had to try a small bit for the sake of fair judging. It was surprisingly tasty and whilst I’ll confess that I wouldn’t necessarily rush out to buy these for myself, I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for an allergy-friendly, vegan Christmas treat.

My thanks go to Michelle, Cressida and Sue for their hospitality today and to all those producers who keep working hard to produce these delicious free from foods that give those living with food allergies, just like G and M, the opportunity to eat the same things as the friends and family safely. Keep an eye out for the shortlist in February and final winners, who will be announced on March 20th.

Every Cloud…

Easter weekend, and a piece of bad luck combined with a chance encounter led to the discovery of an absolute hidden gem that we wouldn’t have discovered under any other set of circumstances. G, M and I were enjoying a Saturday out and about, when an unexpected puncture disrupted our day and found us searching for the help of a Kwik Fit centre in the small North Somerset seaside town of Clevedon. The staff warned that it would take a couple of hours to replace my tyre as I was at the back of a somewhat lengthy queue and so the children and I headed in the direction of the town centre to see what we could discover whilst we were there.

Shrugging off the unwelcome stress of the situation, we enjoyed the sun as we chatted and walked together, with G and M laughing and sharing their thoughts on just about any subject that crossed their minds as we wandered the streets. However, the lack of a prompt lunch soon began to catch up on us all and following the advice of the cashier at a nearby shop, we found our way to a local café to see what, if anything, we could have for lunch. My expectations were low and I had managed to pick up a pack of rice cakes that M could eat, whilst I kept my fingers crossed that I might be able to buy something that was not only safe for G, but that she’d eat as well. I could never have imagined the ultimate success story that was about to unfold before us.

Café Fusion is an unprepossessing cafe in this lovely seaside town, tucked away on Old Church Road, nestled between a hairdressers and a charity shop. I took a quick glance at the menu in the front window and didn’t hesitate to enter the minute I spotted the large number of gluten-free sandwiches so clearly on offer to customers. It didn’t take long for G and me to decide what we were going to eat – an egg mayonnaise sandwich on toasted gluten-free bread for G and a cranberry, bacon and brie one for me. M took a fancy to the Apple Tango in the fridge and a quick perusal of the can suggested that this would be a great option for him to enjoy alongside his plain rice cakes. Not an exciting lunch by any stretch, but I hoped that it would fill a gap as a temporary measure at very least.

The waitress was understandably confused that I only ordered 2 sandwiches for the 3 of us and I soon found myself explaining the situation and that M is only able to eat a handful of foods on a regular basis. The chef had obviously been listening from the kitchen and popped his head around the door to ask what M’s safe foods were. Within minutes of me listing the 6, he offered to whip up a serving of plain steamed rice, plain chicken and fresh cucumber for M’s lunch. I couldn’t believe my ears that this tiny cafe was able to offer a completely safe meal without any fuss, something that has never happened without the careful planning and implementation of strategic military-esque manoeuvres beforehand. M was thrilled to hear that he could eat a proper lunch alongside G and me and couldn’t wait for his plate to appear. The food when it came was absolutely delicious and the sight of 3 empty dishes was all the indication needed to show just how good that unplanned lunch was.

It absolutely wasn’t the Easter Saturday the kids and I had in mind when we set out that morning, but it only goes to show that every cloud has a silver lining, even when it comes to complex dietary requirements.

 

#FFFA17 – Foods to go…and bars

Having finished the huge selection of breads for breakfast time on Wednesday, we moved on to the final two categories that Mike and I would be judging during #FFFA17: “Food to go” and “Bars”. These were 2 new categories to me and whilst I wasn’t sure what to expect, I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed. We started before lunch with the savoury half of the entrants in the “Food to go” category where there were, as ever, some unexpected options to tantalise my taste-buds, before moving on to enough delicious drinks and desserts to satisfy anyone with a food allergy.

img_13841Interestingly, for a savoury food lover, I was delighted to shortlist as many of my personal favourites from the sweet selection as from the savoury. The hardest part now is knowing where to start in sharing those I think note-worthy, but let me begin with this gluten-, dairy- and soya-free chicken and bacon roll from Tesco that I absolutely loved. I’m hoping that this will be easy to find amongst their sandwiches as I’m certain this will be as much of a hit with G as it was with me. I couldn’t disagree with some of the other opinions that said they could make as good a sandwich at home, but I know firsthand how frustrating it is to stand in front of the chiller cabinet in a supermarket searching high and low for something that will feed my oft-time picky eater for a quick lunch and failing miserably each time. It was img_13831tasty and a much simpler offering than the chicken roll we recently reviewed from Costa – another almost impossibly difficult option to find in store when in a hurry – and something G would willingly eat each and every time.

I also have to highlight these 2 surprising success stories, or at least, those that would be surprising to any who know me well. The hulk-like green soup (Core Body Cleanse Supergreen soup) ticked more boxes that I thought possible when I read that it contained peas, kale, spinach and wheatgrass and I’m not afraid to admit that I was blown away by its amazing, fresh flavour. img_13871Likewise,the spices in London Falafel‘s Sweet potato falafels were perfectly and delicately balanced and the final product tasted great hot or cold, and even microwaved, despite that being against the cooking recommendations of the manufacturer.

With all these great savoury go-tos, I was hard-pushed to choose my top pick, but I’ve finally settled on these white cheddar flavour Quinoa puffs from Eat Real. I am a self-confessed crisps addict and the hardest part of my own intolerance to potatoes is the absence of “proper” crisps in my life. The cheese puffs were a more-than-adequate replacement to their img_13801well-known counterpart and as well as being corn and quinoa-based, thus rendering them a perfect snack for me, they are also fantastically gluten- and dairy-free and therefore a great and safe cheesy snack for G. I would love to see these sold in single portion packs and then stocked in mainstream supermarkets as part of their meal-deal offerings, but, for now, I’ll take them anyway I can.

img_13901For those with a sweeter tooth, these 2 picks were delightfully indulgent and unbelievably freefrom. These incredible Raw chocolate and raspberry tarts by Somerset-based small producer, Liberty Loves are MEWS-friendly as well as being nut-free and just melted in the mouth. I’m not sure I could eat a whole tart myself, but it would be a perfect accompaniment to a coffee and dairy-free hot chocolate when G and I are out and about together. As for the Miiro dairy- and soya-free img_13911salted caramel choc ices, well, words simply fail me. They tasted just like the real thing and once again I would defy anybody to be able to tell the difference between these and a cows milk ice-cream alternative. The salted caramel flavour was there, but not overpowering, which made them a real winner in my books.

img_13921I also loved the CocoMojo Bean iced drink, made with coconut water, coconut milk and coffee and the perfect dairy- and soya-free alternative to iced coffee. It’s a little too grown-up for G to enjoy at the moment, but I was more than happy to drink as many tasting cups-ful of it as I could. It was a completely new find to me as I’m not aware of any other freefrom iced coffees out there on the market at the moment and I’m sure it could be a big hit with anyone missing this popular treat. My delight in this product was obvious for my fellow judges and the Awards team to see and resulted in an extra can making its way home in my suitcase!

Our long two days spent judging finished with the “Bars” category, one that I am willing to confess I was a little apprehensive about doing. As well as the inevitable food fatigue that had set in after hours spent trying 100+ freefrom products, I don’t really eat cereal, energy or superfood bars, although I have been buying Nakd bars for years as both G and M, when he could eat them, loved them as a snack. However, my mind was open to trying something new and I was surprised and delighted to find one that really did appeal to me. The Roo Bar  Probiotic img_13931Choc Chip Matcha Energy Ball didn’t taste as heavy or as cloying in the mouth as some of the others did to me and the hint of peppermint was an unexpected and refreshing twist on an otherwise plain chocolate flavour. This category caused perhaps the most division in the judges of all those sessions Mike and I were a part of and the final result was a hotly contested decision.

My thanks go to Michelle, Cressida and the rest of the #FFFA17 team for their time, hard work, effort and hospitality during not just our 2 days, but for the entire 2 weeks of the judging sessions. The entire #FFFA17 shortlist was published on February 8th and can be read in full here and is well worth perusing to see what other goodies were found by not just me, but the other discerning judges too. The final winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on March 28th 2017 and, just as we did last year, we’re hoping to be there on the night. Make a note in your diary to keep an eye on my live Twitter feed that evening and look out for a subsequent blog post as I reveal those products that really excelled in the Freefrom awards this year.

Afternoon tea at the Celtic Manor

ladies-and-redwineAt the end of last year, not long after M had been discharged from GOSH, my Aunt celebrated a milestone birthday and my Mum started talking about a trip to the Celtic Manor in Newport for a celebratory afternoon tea. Fast forward 9 months that have taken us even closer to her next birthday than the one we were actually celebrating and with Mike organised at home to do the school-run and sort the children for the day, the three of us finally managed to become “ladies who lunch” as planned. We booked a table for their Autumn Afternoon Tea at 2pm and arrived a little earlier* (*for little, read 1 hour) than necessary due to my Mum’s anxiety of being caught up in the Rugby World Cup traffic and the pressing need to arrive early, no matter where we’re going.

We spent the first 20 minutes wandering the grounds and browsing in the shops before kicking our celebrations off with a glass of prosecco and a chat until it was eventually time to venture a little further to the Olive Tree Garden Room. As a family we are now well-versed in the world of disability and additional needs due to not just EGID and multiple food allergies, but also the presence of T1D, Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis amongst our members. Everywhere we go is assessed on their ability to cater for all these needs and I’m sorry to say that here the Celtic Manor failed at the very first hurdle. The Olive Tree Garden Room is a 20150918_142930stunning place to relax and enjoy the treat of an afternoon tea, but from every approach it is only accessible by steps and whilst a portable ramp is available, the staff were slow to offer help when it was so obviously needed.

These things aside, we made it to our table in one piece and couldn’t wait to get started on the tempting and extensive menu that formed our afternoon tea. The meal began with a glass of warm Winter Pimm’s – delicious – and the Harvest hamper filled with 4 bite-size savoury treats that tantalised our taste-buds and gave us an inkling to what to expect for the rest of the meal. The detailed menu impressively showed the allergens present in each of the different items on offer and I was pleased to see that gluten-free alternatives were available. On this occasion, we didn’t test their allergy offerings, a real treat for me, but I’d be keen to return to see whether they could cater for G with her gluten- and dairy-free needs and if they favourably compare to the “normal” dishes. 20150918_142925The sandwiches that followed were equally good and sized perfectly so that we could manage the cakes that came next.

The cakes were a sight to behold and it was really difficult to decide exactly where to start before trying each and every one. It was at this point that we all were finally beaten – well 5 cakes and pastries, however mini, is an awful lot for one person – but the Celtic Manor is obviously well-used to this experience and were able to offer us cake boxes to transport those extra ones home to enjoy at a later time. I cheerfully packed my remaining 2 away and eagerly looked forward to the final part of our tea, the scone. After all the other mouthwatering courses, I couldn’t wait to taste the scone with jam and clotted cream, which has to be the best bit of any cream tea in my opinion and I was confident that this one could be nothing short of exceptional.

Sadly I was very wrong and we were massively disappointed with the freshly baked Cherry Bakewell scones that arrived. The scones appeared to be so freshly baked that they were, in fact, under-done and tasted stodgy and sticky in the mouth. The Cherry Bakewell embellishment was a complete step too far and did nothing to add to the taste experience as it consisted purely of a sticky cherry syrup thinly spread across the top and a few flaked almonds added for effect. I struggled to eat it and gave up half-way through as it really wasn’t edible. To make matters worse, our disappointment with the scones was compounded by the poor quality of the tea served with the meal. I’m not sure who had trained whoever made the tea, but my Mum’s Earl Grey was the colour of a strong builder’s tea when poured and even our request for a second pot and then a pot of boiling water, did little to improve the flavour. In comparison, the coffee I had was fantastic and my Aunt much preferred the coffee to her original and fairly unpalatable English Breakfast tea.

I would love to be able to say that my review ends there, but I just can’t. Scones and tea aside, even though they’re fairly integral parts of any afternoon tea, the rest of the food was delightful and we really enjoyed everything else we had to eat; but – don’t pretend you didn’t sense there was a “but” coming – the service we received just didn’t match our expectations of the Celtic Manor. The staff members were not overly attentive and I found myself almost constantly having to grab someone’s attention each time we needed anything, however small. betterThey forgot to take our orders for tea and coffee and excused this surprising fail by blaming it on the “..very busy room..”, even though it was never more than 1/3 to 1/2 full during our visit. I flagged down our requested additional pot of hot water when it was delivered to the next door table, helped myself to extra knives from an empty table behind us when our clean cutlery ran out and even ended up asking the staff to clear our table of empty glasses and dishes to allow space for the cake stands, teapots and cups and saucers still to come.

The last straw really came when I asked for a clean cup for my Mum after her second pot of Earl Grey was delivered to the table and the waitress reached over and removed her cup. Just. her. cup. Not the saucer, not the spoon and certainly not all 3 items together, but the cup on its own and swapped it for a clean one, still swinging the old cup with its remnants of tea sloshing around it from her other hand!

20150918_145226Let me be clear: in no way did this spoil our enjoyment of the afternoon at all and in fact it gave the three of us a fit of the giggles, much to the bemusement of our unsuspecting waitress. We loved our table, even though it was tucked away in a far corner, as it gave us an uninterrupted view of the rest of the room and we all enjoy participating in a spot of people-watching whenever we can. However, given the Celtic Manor is described as a “luxury resort” and has 5-star status, the service was not what we had been expecting or hoping for our birthday celebrations. Would I recommend a visit? Yes, I think, but be warned about their scones and hopefully their service might have improved by the time you get there.