Despite being big fans, we hadn’t been to Centerparcs for a few years and, key to this post, before my wife’s diagnosis as a coeliac. When we first investigated we saw a few potential advantages. Centerparcs seem to have taken on some common restaurant franchises in the past few years so a few familiar names popped up including Bella Italia and Cafe Rouge. A Google or two also revealed some positive experiences. Add that to the fact that we knew we would have our own kitchen and could bring chilled food from a couple of hours away and we booked with confidence.
Turns out, Centerparcs Elveden is a fantastic place for a coeliac to go. It really exceeded my expectations and I doff my digital cap to those behind the scenes. They’ve obviously been listening to the market and responding.
I’m not going to review the Centerparcs ‘experience’ itself as it’s not the point of this blog and there’s plenty of information to be found elsewhere. All I’ll say is despite not being the most sporty people in the world, we always love the activities and atmosphere so were keen to return.
Day one saw an urgent need for lunch. As we hadn’t settled in yet, we went for Bella Italia as it is a known quantity. Bella have excellent gluten-free pizza bases and pasta so provide a wide range of options as very few toppings and sauces are off-limits. Sure enough, this branch was no different and they informed us they receive GF bases and pasta twice a week. Lunch done.
A quick survey of the ‘Parcmarket’, the small on-site supermarket, made our jaws drop. I expected to find very little for the wheat-adverse but instead found shelves of familiar goods and a frozen section that was better than our local MegaTesco. (BTW, we didn’t try any of the frozen ‘feel free’ range shown in the photos. If you have experience of them, do post a comment.)
Dinner was in ‘Hucks’, a typical American-style steakhouse. The staff were polite, helpful and very knowledgeable. We supplied them with a GF bun and they produced a delicious burger and fries from their dedicated allergy fryer! Full marks all around.
The next day, following a home cooked breakfast (remember to be wary of contamination from other guests, we brought our own frying pan and some utensils), we had lunch at The Pancake House. It’s a little pricey for what it is, but great for a sweet treat and guess what? Gluten-free batter is available as standard. Tasted good too.
Following a rather harrowing tree-trek we enjoyed a more relaxed family pub quiz in the Sports Bar. I expected this to be a little tricky as it’s a mass-production kind of place. However, a good selection was available, including nachos and filled potato skins all prepared in a dedicated fryer.
The only hiccup was Rajinda Pradesh. This upmarket indian restaurant was intended as a ‘special treat’ as it’s normally a safe bet as cuisines go. The hostess informed us that the curries were mostly GF, as we expected, but to avoid the obvious such as naan and chapatis. She also let us know that the poppadoms should not be considered GF. So, we ordered carefully but our food was served with poppadoms on the plate. We raised the alarm and after quite a fuss it was revealed that they were GF after all. By this time, my wife had lost confidence and we refused the rest of the meal. This was further complicated by the food just not being that good despite the highbrow surroundings.
Our final port of call was Cafe Rouge. They’ve been undergoing some changes recently and replaced their GF menu with a broader allergy folder. This actually complicates matters for coeliacs as it does not take into account substitutions or changes to the menu item. So, it took some further negotiation with the hostess and the manager to explain that possibly many items on the menu were gluten-free if you just serve it without bread. Long story short, the penny dropped and we were able to enjoy a hearty meal.
The only places we didn’t try were the Lakeview Restaurant (no time) and Zilli’s in the spa (no kids) but I’m sure they have options. Just call ahead.
To summarise, we had a great time with more dining options than we ever expected. Add to that the wide range of items in the Parcmarket and the ability to cook in your villa inside or out (all BBQs are disposable – so no worries about contamination) means that Centerparcs is a great destination for GF families.