Bird – Gluten Free Restaurant Review

Gluten free fried chicken

Fellow coeliacs will understand the constant sorrow of scanning a menu for gluten-filled fried things that might contaminate the deep fat frier, placing the chips/fries out of reach. And you wouldn’t normally be wrong to think that fried chicken would be one of those gluten-filled items. And then you would come to London and discover Bird. Where the chicken is coated in gluten free flour and the chips are available to all.

Gluten free fried chicken

I first discovered Bird on a Gluten Free Gathering last year, a great event which combined awesome chicken with awesome people. One of the founders of Bird also spoke to us, and told us about how Bird had come to be. It turns out that the chicken at Bird is accidentally gluten free. When trying chicken recipes the coating that worked the best was a mixture of corn and rice flour, so it was what was used. Luckily for coeliacs and gluten free people this makes it safe for us. Keeping my fingers crossed that more fried chicken places start using this batter mixture too. Fried chicken for all!

The staff are always helpful in pointing out what is gluten free, and what can be made gluten free. Unfortunately the burgers and donuts are not, but all the pieces of chicken (wings and fried) and most of the sauces/dips are. And almost all of the sides are coeliac-friendly too. While the burgers do sounds tasty, I’m really there for the fried chicken anyway. Make sure to ask each time about the sauces and sides, as they do sometimes change the menu. But the only gasto-intestinal problems I’ve ever had after Bird have been related to the large amounts of fried chicken and tasty cocktails I’ve ingested, rather than a glutening. They also now state that the chicken is gluten free on their menus, which they stopped doing for a while, which I personally always find comforting. They even had gluten free beer as the special last time I was there.

There are now four Birds around London, including at the Westfield Stratford (for when you really need a post-shopping treat). I’ve only ever been to the Shoreditch branch, but hope to try some of the others soon.

 

Honest Burgers – Gluten Free Review

It’s no secret that Honest Burgers is almost revered among the London gluten free community, but I’m a huge fan so thought I’d add my voice! Honest Burgers is a small chain that started in Brixton Market and now has 17 locations around London (they open new restaurants all the time so see the current list of locations here). It was among the earlier ‘one dish only’ restaurants in London, in this case obviously burgers. Very good burgers with their secret weapon: rosemary-salted chips (fries).

Honest Burgers gluten free

My personal favourites are the American Tribute and the vegetarian fritter. I know that ordering the vegetarian option could seem controversial in a restaurant known for their fabulous beef burgers, but it is really tasty. The onion rings are also coeliac-friendly and have a great paprika-flavoured batter. The gluten free bun holds up well and doesn’t crumble everywhere, which is necessary when you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to fit the burger in your mouth. The staff are clued up to gluten free and ask if it’s a lifestyle choice or an allergy. There’s also gluten free beer available if you so desire, as well as a small but good selection of cocktails.

Honest Burgers has saved me so many times because it’s a great option when you’re out with friends and don’t want to have to feel like you’re the ‘weird coeliac’ and can’t go anywhere fun. Everyone I’ve taken to Honest has loved it, and it feels like a hipster-ish restaurant while not being too pretentious. Would love to see more restaurants like it, and thanks Honest for being honestly awesome for coeliacs.

Eat.Sleep.Pilates and Doisy & Dam at Printworks Kitchen

One of the best parts about being forced to go gluten free has been the opportunity to meet all sorts of people who have started their own businesses around their passions.

Printworks Kitchen in Clerkenwell is one of those places. Opened last year by Catherine and Danielle, Printworks offers a range of tasty salads and proteins for weekday lunches, with the options almost always gluten free and with ever-so-tempting gluten free baked goods from Sweetcheeks (also run by Catherine). I will do a full review of Printworks at some point soon, because it’s such a great lunch option, and tasty salads deserve lots of photos.

Printworks Kitchen salads

Love the tasty salads

But about two months ago I got to enjoy those salads while also doing pilates and a chocolate tasting. Perfect evening or what?! Printworks partners with other small businesses to offer evening workshops, including flower arranging, food pop-ups, and pilates. The workshop was run by Vanisha, who set up Eat.Sleep.Pilates after doing an pilates instructor course while between jobs in banking. I do a pilates class once a week and felt that I could do all the moves without really pushing myself, but that I was still getting a workout. Vanisha was really good about explaining the moves and moving slowly if anyone was having problems. It was the right pace for me for an after-work class.

After pilates we got to eat gorgeous salads from Printworks. All of the salads were gluten free so I didn’t feel leftout at all.

 

Printworks kitchen salad

The final part of the evening was a chocolate tasting run by Nat and Alexa from Doisy & Dam. I’ve purchased some of their chocolate before on Ocado and was interested to hear more about the company and their ethos. Couldn’t believe that there are only 6 people working at Doisy & Dam, just goes to show how much can be accomplished by a small number of people. Doisy & Dan are trying to recreate the ideas of some famous commercial chocolate bars, but using good quality chocolate and superfood ingredients. For example, their Date and Himalayan Pink Sea Salt bar does taste a lot like a salted caramel chocolate bar! I was more interested in the fact that all their chocolate is gluten free, which other coeliacs will know can be difficult to find. I spoke to Nat and Alexa afterwards to tell them how important it was to me that all the chocolate was gluten free, and they said that originally it was just because the founders didn’t see the need for gluten in chocolate. I wish other chocolatiers felt the same… So hopefully Doisy & Dam will continue to make all their products gluten free in the future.

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For the chocolate tasting we got to have melted milk and dark chocolate on dairy free coconut yoghurt from The Coconut Collaborative. I’d never tried the yoghurt before but it was really good, and gluten and soy free too. It worked really well as a complete dessert with the strawberries and chocolate. We also got to put our own Doisy & Dam toppings on our chocolate. I tried cocoa nibs, pink salt, puffed quinoa and coconut.

All in all I had a great time at the Eat.Sleep.Pilates workshop at Printworks Kitchen with Doisy & Dam. I would highly recommend keeping an eye out for events run by any of the three businesses!

Camden Gluten Free Festival

Camden Market in Camden, North London, is a street food hub. Technically six markets (according to Wikipedia) the main street food market is in Camden Lock, up by the canal. You have to push your way through hordes of tourists and tat stalls to get there on weekends, especially Sundays, but it’s worth it! There are plenty of gluten free options available in the regular market, as evidenced by these reviews by The Coeliac Plate and Kim McGowan in the Londonist.

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For the last few years the lovely people at Camden Lock Market have been running a gluten free food festival over a weekend every few months. The most recent one was last weekend (14-15 May), and there will hopefully be another one either in September or at Christmas. Or if we’re really lucky, both! They rebranded this time so the festival is now called Against the Grain, with the hashtag #beigerage to emphasise colourful food. The May one is usually tied to Coeliac Awareness Week and this year included talks by the Coeliac UK Youth Group. This review will focus on the stalls I’ve visited in my last few visits to the festival, especially last weekend. If you want a review of another coeliac’s visit last year, check out Gluten Free in London. Word of warning for the festival: go hungry.

Risotto

So much risotto that I got an extra fork for my boyfriend!

For my main dish I went for risotto from Risotto2Go. They do gluten free risotto at a number of festivals, mostly music ones, and this was their first time at Camden. I was very excited to hear that they will be at Citadel Festival (Victoria Park in July) because I’m going and was very worried about finding gluten free food! I stupidly (or smartly, take your pick) didn’t check on the size of the risotto before ordering and went with a large because I was hungry. Which ended up being SO LARGE. I had the chicken and pea risotto. They also had mushroom risotto but I can’t eat mushrooms, and they were advertising arancini (fried risotto balls) but had sold out before I got there. So definitely want to try the arancini at Citadel!

 

I also had to stop by the stall of Artisan Gluten Free Bakery for some of my beloved fresh bread. They were selling bread and brownies faster than they could bring them in from Islington so I was very happy to get a loaf. And possibly a peanut butter brownie too… They’ve been at all of the Camden gluten free festivals and it’s always great to see more people enjoying their bread.

I was actually very restrained this year (mostly because we’d hosted a Eurovision party the night before and had no room in the house for more food), but I resisted buying anything other thanΒ Thornley’s spice blend. I make most of my own sauces at home but thought they would be great for a night when I was rushing. They were giving out tasters of the chili so I couldn’t resist.

Thornley's sauce mixes

There were obviously lots of other stalls that I didn’t visit. Though it could be hard to find them, the market was very crowded on Sunday lunchtime. Would be nice if they could move the gluten free area somewhere that was easier to get around/see all the stalls, it was in a narrow passage. Other stalls that I saw at this festival included: Feed Me Primal (great paleo food, they’re also at markets around London. A full review will follow); Lab Pizza; Cupcakes and Shhht; Louisiana Chilli Shack; Maize Blaze; and From the Earth.

On my last visit, in September, I visited a few of the stalls that I just mentioned. I’m trying to branch out at every festival, got to catch them all!

My main meal in September was from Louisiana Chilli Shack, when I had their white chicken chilli on nachos. The entire stall is gluten free and they do a range of chillis, including a vegan one, with nachos and rice for sides. I’m not a huge fan of tomatoes so the white chilli was amazing, really flavourful without being overly spicy. They’re going to be in Old Street Station from May 23 – June 19 and I’m definitely planning to stop by.

 

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My boyfriend went for grilled meat and potatoes from Maize Blaze. I personally would have gone for their gluten free empanadas, but if I drag him all around London for gluten free food I can’t really complain about his meal choices. Still need to try them though!

I also caved and bought myself a cupcake from Cupcakes and Shhht. They do gluten free and vegan baked goods, available in Camden all week and at their cafe in Elephant and Castle. Couldn’t resist the perfect raspberry on top.

Perfect cupcake

While there aren’t quite as many free samples as the Allergy & Free From Show I would definitely recommend the Camden gluten free festival to any coeliacs or other gluten free-ers in the London area. And I really hope they continue to do it on a regular basis!

 

Niche – Gluten Free Restaurant Review

Words to bring joy to the heart of any London coeliac: ‘fully gluten free restaurant’. They’re multiplying! Now embracing the wonders of a completely gluten free restaurant is Niche, next to Sadler’s Wells theatre and on the border between Farringdon and Angel.

If you are anyone eating gluten free in London (or can come down for any sort of visit), you must visit Niche. The restaurant itself was light and airy, the staff were friendly, the menu had a great range of choice, and the food was fantastic.

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I had been meaning to try Niche for weeks, since hearing that it was now all gluten free and checking out their awesome menu, but even though I live and work a 10 minute walk away I hadn’t quite gotten through the door. So with a free weekend I was determined to make it for brunch. Niche serves brunch Saturday and Sunday until 3pm and, in a rarity for the hipster brunch spots of Clerkenwell and Islington, takes reservations. I should note that this is a completely independent review. I received nothing from Niche except tasty food, but I’m about to use enough superlatives that my independence might be doubted…

First up was parmesan and cheddar doughnuts. Just the name on the menu sounds awesome. And when they arrived it was literally fried cheese. Very tasty fried cheese. They were served with a tomato and red pepper sauce, which my boyfriend enjoyed, but I just went straight for the cheese.

Fried cheese doughnuts. One of the few times I'll allow something served in a basket.

Fried cheese doughnuts. One of the few times I’ll allow something served in a basket.

The inside of the fried cheese.

The inside of the fried cheese.

For the mains we went for typical brunch options. My poor boyfriend even had to wait to eat his food so I could photograph it, only happens in a gluten free restaurant! He had a full English and I had eggs Benedict. Full English got a thumbs up, especially the sausages. Eggs Benedict was also awesome, with a really thick Hollandaise and crispy bacon. We both agreed that the eggs were the right consistency and with the right seasoning, which is rare at a brunch spot.

Full English, fully gluten free.

Full English, fully gluten free.

Eggs Benedict (scrambled because I don't like poached) with a side of avocado and awesome hollandaise.

Eggs Benedict (scrambled because I don’t like poached) with a side of avocado and awesome hollandaise.

Because we hadn’t eaten enough tasty things already, I insisted on dessert. Because who can resist a peanut butter and white chocolate blondie?! (Except my boyfriend. Who is weird and doesn’t like peanut butter, so only ate the ice cream. MORE FOR ME.) It was squidgy and rich and awesome. I noticed on the way out that they’re available for takeaway too…

WHITE CHOCOLATE AND PEANUT BUTTER BLONDIE. So many good words together.

WHITE CHOCOLATE AND PEANUT BUTTER BLONDIE. So many good words together.

But I resisted the takeaway blondie this time and instead got a chocolate chip cookie, which I later ate in the sun. Cookie was the right amount of baked (ie almost not), and the chocolate had remained gooey in the sun. It got the highest praise of ‘You wouldn’t know the difference’ from the gluten eater.

Cookie in the sun.

Cookie in the sun.

As you might be able to tell, I loved Niche. Couldn’t find anything to fault it on my first visit, and hope that will remain the same on my sure-to-be-lots of subsequent visits. Any and all gluten free people of London must visit. And take your ‘normal’ friends, they’ll never know the difference. The food is just good, in addition to being gluten free.

I decided to go for a typical brunch main on this visit but spent a long time agonising over my decision. I will have to go back many times, as I really wanted to try the cauliflower steak, the superfood salad, the beef and chorizo pie, and pretty much everything else on the menu. I will update this review as I try more. I have discovered that they do takeaway and Deliveroo, which may be great for tastiness but bad for my bank balance.

We had had brunch the day before at a hipster spot in Hackney. Where we paid a lot more for a dark restaurant, unseasoned food, and no gluten free carbs on the menu whatsoever. I will only be returning to one brunch place that I tried this weekend, and it is most definitely Niche.

La Polenteria – Gluten Free Restaurant Review

London can often feel full of chain restaurants, which can be both good and bad as a coeliac. I am often grateful for the large number of Pizza Expresses available, especially with the never-ending supply of vouchers, but I also like to support independent restaurants and eat something different! Luckily Soho has a large number of independent restaurants with gluten free options, including one of my favourites: La Polenteria.

On one visit they had balloons that you could write on. This was my contribution.

On one visit they had balloons that you could write on. This was my contribution.

La Polenteria does nothing but polenta, as might be gathered by the name, but in a huge variety of ways. Pressed and grilled polenta slices are used in place of bread for bruschetta, soft polenta is used as a base for stew, there is polenta pasta, and even desserts baked with polenta. Everything on the menu can now be gluten free, although this isn’t labelled and can be confusing, and they have been accredited by Coeliac UK.

I have been to La Polenteria numerous times over the last year so have had a thorough peruse of the menu. They have experimented with different options, including salads, sandwiches and pasta, but always have a selection of vegan, vegetarian and meat-based dishes served directly on polenta.

If you arrive before a certain time of the evening (I think 7) they do a happy hour, with small polenta tasters and fruit-based champagne cocktails to start.

Mini happy hour polenta bites.

Mini happy hour polenta bites.

Rose champagne cocktail with flower petal.

Champagne cocktail with flower petal.

I have also had the full portion of bruschetta as a starter. The polenta worked really well as a base for the tomatoes and this is definitely something I will try myself at home for parties.

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My favourite mains have been the ones with soft polenta and lots of cheese. They are very generous portions with great quality toppings. The toppings vary based on season, with more stews in the winter and vegetables in the summer, and are always tasty. And you can’t go wrong with this much cheese.

Polenta with tomatoes and an entire ball of mozzarella. Perfect for summer.

Polenta with tomatoes and an entire ball of mozzarella. Perfect for summer.

Polenta with a huge wedge of grilled cheese, very tasty Italian ham, and raspberries. So much cheese.

Polenta with a huge wedge of grilled cheese, very tasty Italian ham, and raspberries. So much cheese.

On my last visit I also tried their fresh pasta, getting the gnocchi with red pesto. I thought it was very tasty, and nice to have fresh gluten free pasta! However I think I will go back to the soft polenta next time because it’s a bit more unusual and not something I would do to the same standard at home because of the awesome toppings.

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Sometimes I have even had room for dessert (or gotten something to go…) and my favourite is this chocolate and coconut bar which is exactly like a coconut gluten free Nanaimo bar, for any other coeliac Canadians in London. (Please get in touch if you are out there, I can’t be the only one!) For those uninitiated into such delights, it’s a chocolate base (cooked with polenta here), with a coconut cream filling and chocolate ganache on top. Highly recommended.

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Word has obviously been spreading about La Polenteria, including a mention in Time Out last week, and on my last few visits it has been getting busier and busier. It’s a small location in a bustling area so I would definitely make a reservation for dinner, especially on a weekend night.

Overall I would highly recommend La Polenteria to anyone looking for a non-chain gluten free restaurant in London!

Artisan Gluten Free Bakery – Review

UPDATE – Since I wrote this review Romeo’s Gluten Free Bakery has changed their name to Artisan Gluten Free Bakery. Their website can now be found here. Their bread is also now available at Whole Foods in London (I’ve found it in Picadilly Circus and Richmond), and (as of May 2016) they should be starting mail orders soon. I haven’t been back to the cafe in a few months but I know they’ve been working on the menu and staff. Will report back when I finally get a chance to pop by! In the mean time, I will continue buying their bread wherever I find it. It’s best fresh, untoasted, with butter…

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I live and work near Angel so I am lucky enough to have the fully-gluten free Romeo’s Gluten Free Bakery pretty close by. The bakery is at the Highbury end of Upper Street, near Islington Town Hall. There is a Romeo’s Sugar Free Bakery a few doors further down, so make sure you go to the right one! Romeo’s opened about 18 months ago and has gained a reputation within the gluten free community for their fantastic bread. There is an eat-in cafe, serving sandwiches, brunch and lunch mains, as well as a large assortment of breads and baked goods to take away.

The AMAZING avocado, bacon, cheese and salad sandwich. Personal favourite.

The AMAZING avocado, bacon, cheese and salad sandwich. Personal favourite.

I have been to Romeo’s many times and I have always enjoyed my food. However this is a review of two parts. The first is that the bread, sandwiches and baked goods at Romeo’s are awesome (if expensive) and I would highly recommend it. The second, unfortunately, is that the service is bafflingly incompetent sometimes. I still go to Romeo’s frequently because I really enjoy their food, but you do have to be prepared.

The best part of Romeo’s is the bread. It comes in a variety of flavours, including my favourites: onion, and cheese and chive. It is soft and squidgy and everything you could want in bread. It’s great toasted and EVEN BETTER fresh. Anyone who’s eaten gluten free bread knows that this is the Holy Grail. It’s expensive but worth it for an occasional treat. The sandwiches however are very good value, with great bread and a lot of fillings, so I would recommend them even more.

Sunday brunch using Romeo's onion bread.

Sunday brunch using Romeo’s onion bread.

The cakes and brownies from Romeo’s are also very good. There’s usually a large selection of cakes by the slice, including chocolate with Nutella icing, banana with salted caramel, red velvet, and a chocolate vegan cake for those who are gluten and dairy free.

Banana cake with salted caramel icing.

Banana cake with salted caramel icing.

In addition to my own visits I went to Romeo’s for a Gluten Free Gathering in April (full review of GF Gatherings to come!). It was the first time they’d held an event but I thought they did relatively well. They originally served the bread toasted, but when we said we preferred it untoasted they brought out a huge supply for us to try. We were also allowed to choose our dessert item from the entire range of Romeo’s baked goods that they had out, which I thought was an inspired touch. However the main courses did not live up to the bread and cake. I had the quiche and thought that the pastry was quite rubbery, a sentiment echoed by others. The breaded escalope got better reviews. This was the first time I tried anything at Romeo’s other than a sandwich or the pancakes and I thought it wasn’t worth it.

Red velvet cake and banana cake at the Gathering, with a cameo appearance by the lovely Issi of Gluten Free in London!

Red velvet cake and banana cake at the Gathering, with a cameo appearance by the lovely Issi of Gluten Free in London!

There are however some major problems with the service at Romeo’s. Supposedly they are having problems retaining front of house staff, and there does seem to have been a lot of turnover through the times I’ve been. They also have a baffling system for the staff, whereby all the front of house staff (of which there are never enough) take the orders from takeaway and seated customers, then make the drinks associated with that order (including made to order juices that seem an afterthought), then take the food orders downstairs, then get the baked goods out. This means that if there are a lot of takeaway customers or a lot of drink orders it can take forever to be served if you are sitting down.

I think Romeo’s would be better off focusing on bread and baked goods, rather than having a choice of main meals. Their sandwiches are just so good that they don’t really need anything else on the menu, except the pancakes for brunch purposes… They would also be better off not serving the juices and having one staff member dedicated to making coffee/tea and one for takeaway customers.

The pancakes can definitely stay on the menu.

The pancakes can definitely stay on the menu.

Also a warning that the kitchen does not stay open as late as the bakery, but nowhere do they say when it will shut! I’ve been stuck without a dinner option before when I went at 5pm, and last time we were there they were turning people away at 4pm because they couldn’t make sandwiches anymore.

I would definitely recommend Romeo’s for anyone looking for a gluten free sandwich, treat, or bread. Just be warned that the service might not be great, and I would stay away from the extraneous main meals. However the bread and cake makes up for it all!