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.

Boston – Gluten Free Travel

In late September my boyfriend and I were in the USA for two weeks, primarily for my sister’s wedding but also for a holiday. During that time we spent just over 24 hours in Boston to visit one of my oldest friends from school. 24 hours didn’t give me huge amounts of time to explore Boston’s gluten free options but I was determined to give it my best shot. Luckily I’d been given great recommendations (which I’ve listed at the end) so I knew that  I should be eating well.

One of the repeat recommendations I got was for The Elephant Walk, a French/Cambodian restaurant. There are two of them in the Boston area, one in Cambridge and the other in the South End, was the one we went to. My non-coeliac friend had been before and recommended it too, which is always a great sign.

Gluten free food Boston

The gluten free options were listed right on the menu, which always makes me feel better (though I always mention the coeliac disease as well). The three of us shared two gluten free starters, the Nataing and the Salade Cambodgienne. The Nataing was a ground pork dish served with rice, and the salad included chicken and shredded vegetables. As you can see from the photos, either of them could have been a main in their own right.

Gluten free food Boston

For my main I had the Poulet a la Citronelle, which was a peanutty curry quite similar to a satay. All three of the dishes I tried were really fresh and tasty. All five of the dessert options were or could be modified to be gluten free, but I resisted because I was already pretty full and I knew there was a dessert treat waiting for me two doors down…

Before we went to The Elephant Walk, we’d gone into The Gallows bar for some pre-dinner drinks. My friend had been waxing lyrical about their dessert: the ‘Stoners Delight’, made up of banana, chocolate ganache, peanut butter mousse, and bruleed marshmallow fluff. Imagine my excitement when I looked at the menu and saw the ‘gf’ beside this delight! So after dinner we obviously had to go back and order it.

Gluten free cider Boston

I also enjoyed this Downeast cider that was everywhere in Boston. Recommended if you’re in a bar.

Although the bar had been quite empty during our pre-dinner excursion (probably because we showed up 2 minutes before they opened and left after one drink), it was packed when we got back an hour later. Luckily they had one table left, but it was in their darkened dining area. So my photos of the awesome dessert are not as good as I would have liked. But you can all imagine how tasty it was. My boyfriend, unaccountably, does not like peanut butter so my friend and I shared the dessert. It was delicious, although I think my sugar rushed lasted for about 3 days. Not helped by everything I ate the next day.

The next morning we started the day with breakfast at The Friendly Toast in Back Bay. This was a very cute diner doing an very large selection of tasty-sounding food. But there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity for gluten free pancakes. So I ordered two banana pancakes, which turned out to be the size of my head. Or probably larger. Though luckily the fresh banana was very present, so I at least felt slightly like I was eating fruit.

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We then walked the Freedom Trail, with a quick stop into Uniqlo at Faneuil Hall because the weather had dropped about 15 degrees celcius since we’d arrived in the USA, and neither of us had brought more than a cardigan. So some new fleece-lined hoodies were in order! We then decided that the only thing even more necessary to warm us up was donuts. Amazingly enough, I can’t resist a gluten free donut either. And Kane’s Donuts are famous for their regular donuts, so had to be worth a slight detour.

There were three types of gluten free donuts on the day we went: chocolate, vanilla and pumpkin spice. The donuts are made and fried separately, and were kept on their own stand. I could even see that the three trays of gluten free donuts waiting to be put out were kept on a separate tray rack from the regular ones. I tried the pumpkin spice and the chocolate donuts, though I did keep the chocolate one for breakfast the next day. And they were some of the best donuts I’ve ever had, and definitely the best since I’ve was diagnosed with coeliac disease. If you are in Boston, GO TRY THE DONUTS.

Gluten free donuts

The rack with three trays in the background is the specifcially gluten free one.

We were meant to eat lunch in the North End, further along the Freedom Trail and home to a number of Italian restaurants that were recommended to me (see below). However, as you can imagine, after all this sugar we decided that maybe we didn’t need a big pasta lunch. So we went to Boston Public Market instead, where we meant to go to pick up food for dinner on the train home anyway.

Boston Public Market has only been open since 2015, and has around 40 vendors providing produce and food from the New England area. This includes prepared food, farm stands, butchers and specialty products. And, luckily for us coeliacs, lots of it is gluten free.

The most obvious gluten free stall is Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery, which specialises in allergy-free food. Unfortunately we arrived a bit late for lunch, just after they’d stopped serving their paninis for the day. And I felt I’d had more than enough sugar for a few weeks, so resisted any of their baked goods. But it all looked interesting and worth a look if you’re in the area.

For lunch I instead went for some latkes from Inna’s Kitchen, a Jewish cafe and bakery with a large selection of gluten free options. They serve a more limited selection at the market cafe (they have another location in Newton Centre), but there were lots of tasty things. Even gluten free knishes to take away.

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Many of the speciality producers’ goods were gluten free. We bought some charcuterie and cheese for the train home, and I was sorely tempted by Q’s Nuts. Nuts can often be subject to cross contamination so it was great to see one proudly stating its gluten free-ness (though I somehow forgot to take a photo).

Obviously, 24 hours was not enough time to eat everything I wanted to in Boston. Lots of people gave me more recommendations for my trip, so thank you very much to  Gluten Free Jessica, gfreeguru, lovethingsgf and happywombelle . I’m including a list of those recommendations below in case they’re useful to anyone else!

Otto
Lucca
Terramia
Mamma Mia
Beneventos
Bostonia Public House
Crazy Doughs
Committe Boston
Legal Seafoods
Nebo

(The following recommendations are from lovethingsgf, who is gluten sensitive but not a celiac. She says that most of these are good about cross contamination but I didn’t try any of them and would recommend that celiacs contact the restaurants and take the usual precautions)

The Thinking Cup – gf sandwiches (try the Barcelona Bliss) ( there are several locations)
Sweet Green – salads and grain bowls (several locations)
Dig Inn – salads and grain bowls (Boylston Street)
Otto Pizza – gf pizza (try the mashed potatoes, scallions and bacon one!) (Cambridge)
Salvatore’s – gf pizza (Theatre District)
Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons -gf burger (in front of the Boston Common)
Met Back Bay – gf burgers and great brunch (Newbury St.)
Joes American Grill – gf burger (Newbury St)
Chinatown restaurants – ask for fried rice without soy sauce
Antico Forno – gf pasta and pizza (North End) There are other Italian restaurants there that also offer gf pasta.
Barcelona – their tapas are incredible! Great for dinner or brunch (South End)
Paramount –  love their huevos rancheros for brunch. You cannot rsvp just go and make the line its worth it. (Beacon Hill)
Amorino – love their gelato (Newbury St.)
Georgetown cupcakes – gf cupcakes available (Newbury St.)

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!