Gluten-Free Pizza at all UK Pizza Huts

Yes, you read that correctly. Pizza Hut, in association with Coeliac UK, have introduced a gluten-free pizza base onto their menus. It’s not even a special thing, it’s right there, printed on the menu. They have, very wisely, marked items as ‘Contains No Gluten Ingredients’. This is a nice way of saying that cross-contamination is always a risk in a restaurant.

You’ve even got a starter to enjoy; the cheesy nachos!

And you can follow this up with a 9-inch square thin-crust GF base (clever, no way of getting that mixed up!) with any toppings. Yes, all toppings are gluten-free, so no pizza combinations are out-of-bounds. Sadly no desserts, but my guinea-pig wife was adamant that this was no problem, as she was as stuffed as a stuffed crust. The verdict? Delicious. A very thin crust, nice and crispy at the edges and with no compromise required for the toppings, it was lovely. Being 9″ square as opposed to round, you get quite a lot too.

Pizza Hut have stated that  GF pizzas are prepared in a dedicated area, with dedicated utensils and ingredient bins the cooked in a reserved part of the oven by trained staff. Well played, Pizza Hut, well played.

The impact of this is probably larger than you may think. Pizza Hut have over 600 branches across the UK and they are all sticking the new base. That’s a great relief to coeliacs who find themselves travelling or asked out to dinner with friends. I think my wife summed it up best: “I feel so normal!”

Quick tip: Sign up for newsletters on Pizza Hut’s site and you’ll get a £5 voucher off main meals for everyone in your party.

 

 

Gluten-Free Surprises In Scotland

We’re not long back from our bi-annual holiday around Scotland. We have family in the Highlands, so it’s a great excuse for a road-trip.

Yes, road-trip, a phrase that often sends coeliacs into cold sweats.

So, as ever it was a mixed bag for gluten-free eating. We self-catered for the for the first week but a special mention must got to the fish-and-chip van that visits the villages near Aviemore during various days of the week. On his Monday stop at Nethy Bridge, he prepared chicken and chips for Mrs E as the fryers were clean and no batter had been near them. Considering our remoteness, he was very knowledgeable (and eager to help).

When it came to travelling southward along the west coast, we played it reasonably safe, staying in Premier Inns (as we’re well experienced in discussing food with them) and always carrying a supply of GF buns for that emergency cheese sandwich. A surprising exception was our one night at The Clansman hotel on the banks of Loch Ness. As a family-run hotel, we were not sure what to expect but my word, the food. A seemingly, shall we say, humble establishment turned out the best meal of the holiday bar none. The staff were extremely helpful with finding my wife something to eat and the whole meal was a revelation from start to finish. I won’t spoilt it with the details, you’ll have to go yourself.

A two-day stop at Fort William brought something unexpected. Stopping at the charming Glenfinnan Railway Station‘s café for a cup of coffee (we’re Harry Potter fans and the Hogwarts platform scenes were filmed there), we asked if by any chance they had anything gluten-free. No problem, she said, and turned up with a beautiful soup and toasted Glutafin GF bread. Jaws dropped all around.

The only day we prepared for, well, fasting, was the long trip from Fort William to Carlisle. We set out early, to enjoy Glencoe as much as possible, but didn’t really have hopes of finding anything to eat bar heading into Glasgow.

How wrong we were.

At the end (or start, I guess) of the Glencoe route is a small town called Tyndrum (where the A85 and A82 meet). We needed a (ahem) comfort break so stopped to stretch our legs. I popped into a small café called, wisely, ‘The Real Food Café‘. It turned out to be a fish and chip shop. A wonderful fish and chip shop. Best of all, it’s proudly displayed  timeline boasted the installation of a dedicated fryer for coeliacs. We grabbed the menu. Yes, there it was, chips safe for coeliacs and wait, battered gluten-free fish! This couldn’t get better could it? Could it? No, really? Onion rings? They have real GF onion rings???

We weren’t hungry, but that wasn’t going to stop us. Not one bit.

The result was delicious, see the photos if you don’t believe me. Flaky fish, crispy batter and fantastic real onion rings; everything cooked to order. Any coeliac is that neck of the wood who doesn’t make a detour to Tyndrum needs their head checking. We live over 500 miles away and I’d consider making it our local chippy. Well done them.

A footnote: After our trip to Scotland we traditionally finish off in Blackpool for a few days of rain, badly-timed tides and tacky shops. After our experiences in some of the least densely populated areas of the British Isles, I was quite optimistic. Wrong. We had to fall back on our safety restaurants, Bella Italia and Nandos, as there is precious little to be found. Major attractions such as Blackpool Tower and the Pleasure Beach really let themselves down in this area. Thankfully, the Big Blue Hotel was great and provided lovely evening meals and breakfasts for us.

 

 

 

GF Croissants and Pain du Chocolat from Genius

Well, what can I say? Genius do it again. The first ever croissants and pain du chocolat that actually taste like their wheat counterparts. A short blast in the oven and you get rich, buttery pastry that actually crunches when you cut through it. They’ve got magic going on in their kitchens. Absolutely delicious. On sale now in Tesco – priced at £4 for 2 or £2.50 per pack of 2.

www.geniusglutenfree.com

 

 

New Tesco GF Ready-Meals

A surprise addition to the shelves in Tesco this week; new gluten-free ready-meals under the Tesco ‘Free From’ branding. We were so eager to try them we didn’t even take a photo. Oops.

We tried three meals. Here are the verdicts:

Beef Lasagne

Yes, it’s a ready meal and yes, it’s a GF ready-meal. So, it’s going to taste awful right? Nope. It’s tastes exactly like a lasagne ready-meal, no more, no less. Remember, it’s my wife who has Coeliac disease, not me, so I do occasionally find myself eating ‘regular’ food and I can assure you this was absolutely fine. It’s a decent portion for one (or two with some GF garlic bread) and priced around £2.50. 4/5

Beef Stew and Dumplings

Again, only read-meal quality yet indistinguishable from a ‘gluten’ version. Very impressive with nice dumplings, albeit they have the give-away rice flavour. The stew itself was lovely. £2.50 4/5

Pizza

A cheese and tomato pizza from the frozen section. Horrible aftertaste from the base and plastic all round. The DS frozen pizza is much better. 2/5

Still, two out of three ain’t bad and a hat-tip to Tesco for innovating in this field. The two beef meals can be frozen and cooked from frozen, so these are great long-term meals for lunchtime emergencies. These can be found in the regular chiller cabinets in Tesco, not in the Free-From section.

 

 

Gluten-Free at Centerparcs Elveden

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.)

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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.

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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.

 

Dinner at Malmaison Oxford

Extremely accommodating for gluten-free diners. On-menu items were tailored to meet my wife’s needs with the minimum of fuss. She had a lovely chicken liver parfait (bread our own) followed by roast belly pork on a potato rosti. I’m assured it was amazing. Malmaison is a small chain of ’boutique’ hotels. This branch is at the Oxford Castle complex has the unique distinction of being a converted prison, the theme running throughout. The restaurant is open to non-residents and booking is recommended.