Gluten Free Paris – Pastries

One would think that Paris, home of pastries and baguettes, would not be the best place for a coeliac. And up until a few years ago that assumption would have been correct. The French are still not known for their general knowledge of gluten free requirements or the problems of cross contamination, but luckily a number of fully gluten free places have opened up in Paris and it is possible to eat very well while you are there.

I just returned from four days in Paris and managed to try eight different bakeries and restaurants. It required a lot of walking and a very patient boyfriend but was definitely worth it. This post will focus on pastries, then one on sandwich shops, then cafes and restaurants to finish!

The first bakery I tried, and the one that needs to be at the top of the list for any coeliac or gluten free eater, was Helmut Newcake. It looks like a regular French patisserie, except EVERYTHING is gluten free! All the shining pastries in their little rows. It was a very happy moment. There are two Helmut Newcake locations and I visited both on my trip. We also had brunch at the cafe on the Canal St Martin but I will describe that in the other post. This one will focus on the 7 pastries I had… In addition to a baguette and a small brioche!

So many tasty pastries. Like a real bakery!

Bad panorama, but so many tasty pastries. Like a real bakery!

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So happy.

So happy.

On the first visit I picked up a rhubarb meringue tart, a raspberry tart, and a Madame de Fontenay (two choux buns with chocolate cream filling). The bakers on Great British Bake Off made religiuese last series, which were very similar to the Madame, so it was great to be able to try one. Apologies for the photos of the pastries I purchased. They were carried around for some time in the hot sun before I ate them and they didn’t look their best. But they were extremely tasty. I even shared.

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Slightly squished/melted but still made my day.

The bottom of the Madame de Fontenay in the Tuileries. The top disappeared too quickly for a photo...

The bottom of the Madame de Fontenay in the Tuileries. The top disappeared too quickly for a photo…

I also bought a baguette for dinner, with saussicon and cheese in the Jardin des Tuileries, and a mini brioche for breakfast the next morning. We were staying in an AirBnB so ate breakfast in our flat every morning. I believe the baguette was made with gram flour because it had the slight bean aftertaste which I’m not a huge fan of. But it was still a good gluten free loaf.

Baguette.

Baguette with tasty cheese.

There was a lot of cheese eaten too.

On my second visit, right before getting on the Eurostar home, I bought another Madame de Fontenay, a caramel éclair, a Symphonie (layered cake with raspberry, cream and other tasty things), and a meringue Chantilly, which looked like a meringue éclair with whipped cream. Again they didn’t quite make it as far as the photos, having had to survive a trip through the security x-ray to board the train. But the éclair made Monday morning back in the office much better.

More fallen-over yet tasty pastries.

More fallen-over yet awesome pastries.

Helmut Newcake accounted for almost all of the sweet pastries I ate during my trip, except for a quick waffle from Yummy & Guiltfree. This cute little stand is in a courtyard in the BHV Homme Marais department store, and the courtyard is a lovely place to sit away from the hustle for a few minutes. The waffles are all gluten free and come on sticks with tiny bows. I had the ‘Roland Garros’ in honour of the French Open (lemon curd and cream) and my boyfriend had the caramel. Slightly messy to eat but a good sugar hit mid-afternoon.

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I also purchased a mini croissant from Biosphere Cafe, a full review of which will appear in a later post. I ate the croissant with the brioche from Helmut Newcake for breakfast and both were extremely tasty.

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Mini croissants made a further appearance for breakfast when I purchased some from Bio C’ Bon, a French Whole Foods-type chain. I slightly burnt the croissant so there is no ‘after’ photo. The croissant was good for a bake-at-home one, but lacked the typical pastry layers of a croissant. Would probably buy them again if I was on a villa holiday in France or similar. I was also a big fan of the fact that the croissants came individually wrapped, which meant the others lasted longer!

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Overall it was a very good thing that I walked 70km over the four days, as lots of pastries provided lots of sugar-fueled energy! I would recommend coeliacs went to Paris just for the pastries from Helmut Newcake, but the abundance of other options made the trip even better.

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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!

Gluten Free Dublin – Part Two

As mentioned in the first half of this post on gluten free restaurants in Dublin, my boyfriend and I took a trip over for the recent May Bank Holiday. While I probably could have lived just on the lunches we ate (detailed in the first post), that wasn’t even half of the exciting gluten free food I found! We tried three different restaurants for dinner, all of which were great for coeliacs and ran the gamut of restaurant options in Dublin.

For the first night for dinner we went hipster and met up with some friends at Neon, on Camden Street. Neon does Vietnamese street food in a cafeteria-style restaurant (you order at the front but they bring the food to you). Their menu has a fair number of gluten free options. I had the chicken massaman curry, which was not too spicy but very tasty. All the food came in takeaway boxes to the table, on very cute trays. Neon’s other hook is that you get a free soft-serve ice cream cone at the end, but sadly this is not gluten free.

Takeaway boxes on a great tray.

           Takeaway boxes on a great tray.

For dinner on Saturday night we moved well away from the hipster restaurants and went to Beshoff Bros. Beshoffs is a small chain of fish and chip shops, some of which do gluten free! (They seem to change which ones do gluten free, so check before you go) We went to the one on Dame Street, near Dublin Castle. We happened to be there when people started leaving Dublin Castle after the results of the marriage referendum were announced so we got to see lots of happy rainbow-covered people, which was awesome. What was also awesome was the food. I’m not actually a huge fan of fish so was delighted to see chicken goujons on the gluten free menu. And, what my boyfriend insists is a Dublin tradition, battered sausages! The gluten free menu was very clear at the front and I could see a sign on one of the fryers that said ‘gluten free products only’. They also gave me separate sauces because the ketchup had gluten in it, and when my food arrived it had tiny gluten free flags!

The full meal, with proud gluten free flags!

The full meal, with proud gluten free flags!

The batter on the chicken and sausage was really light and crisp, proper fried batter. The chips were also proper chip shop chips (say that fast) and there was a ton of food. The sausages were tasty, if a heart attack waiting to happen, and I thoroughly enjoyed everything.

The glory of battered sausages.

The glory of battered sausages.

Even though we could barely eat by Sunday evening I was determined to go to Manifesto, slightly outside Dublin city centre in Rathmines (by Dublin standards, not London ones) because it had got great reviews from a number of coeliacs. We luckily had made a reservation because it was packed on Sunday evening, possibly because they had a three-course plus drink deal for 25 euros! I didn’t do the deal because I wanted to try a different starter but it was available gluten free.

For starter I had beetroot gnocchi in a cream sauce with chicken. Which, as you can see, was pretty much a main all in itself! The beetroot added a nice colour to the gnocchi, although I’m not sure it added flavour after it was topped with cream sauce, but it’s something I will be trying for a dinner party or to add vegetables to my meal. The starter overall was very tasty, if filling as a appetizer before pizza.

The gnocchi. The chicken breast was separate on a board.

The gnocchi. The chicken breast was separate on a board.

My pizza came from a separate kitchen so I wasn’t worried about contamination. It looked like it had been cooked on a proper pizza stone, with actual brown bits, but was a bit underdone in the middle. My boyfriend found the same with his regular pizza so maybe they were just in a rush that night. My pizza had Italian sausage and roast potatoes on it, which sounds weird but was tasty. And even tastier the next morning for breakfast because I was too full to eat it all at the time.

Actual cooking marks on a gluten free pizza!

Actual cooking marks on a gluten free pizza!

But not too full for some of the panna cotta which came with the set menu, which my boyfriend had tried. The waitress had asked if we wanted it gluten free when my boyfriend ordered, which was reassuring. As you can see it arrived on a very fancy plate. The panna cotta itself was a great texture, I don’t like them too gelatine-y.

Pannacotta with raspberry sauce, cocoa bites (confirmed gf) and lots of squiggles.

Panna cotta with raspberry sauce, cocoa bites (confirmed gf) and lots of squiggles.

Pretty much everything on the menu at Manifesto was gluten free or could be made gluten free and I didn’t feel ‘weird’ at all. I thought the food was good but the service was a bit rushed, probably because there seemed to only be two waitstaff for a full restaurant. I would go back on another trip to Dublin because of the choice of gluten free options, and would definitely recommend it to anyone living there.

For anyone who followed my instagram/twitter while I was away you will have seen multiple goodies from Antoinette’s Bakery, a completely gluten free bakery just off Camden Street. I went three times in four days so I could be sure to sample everything! I will write a full review with lots of photos soon, but here are a few to excite your taste buds for now.

Awesome and huge chocolate chip cookie.

Awesome and huge chocolate chip cookie.

The apple cinnamon cake I ate three times for breakfast...

The apple cinnamon cake I ate three times for breakfast…

I am a shameless planner and spent lots of time before this trip looking into the exciting gluten free options. The blogs, Twitter accounts and lists of restaurants that I used the most to plan my trip included:

Dublin Gluten Free (on twitter as @dubglutenfree)

Gluten Free Cailin (on twitter as @gfcailin)

Gluten Free Dublin, especially the restaurant list

Gluten Free Ireland (on twitter as @gfireland)

Lovin Dublin list of restaurants

Coeliac Ireland twitter account

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Dublin and was very happy with the gluten free choices. I have many more on my list to try, so will have to go back! Definitely a good option for any coeliac looking for a holiday.

Gluten Free Dublin – Part One

My boyfriend is Irish and lived in Dublin for almost ten years, so for the recent Bank Holiday we took a cheeky trip over to see his friends. I have been to Dublin multiple times but only once since diagnosis, about three years ago, so it was great to explore the new gluten free options. Ireland has a high percentage of diagnosed coeliacs and more restaurants seem to label gluten free on their menu. Often it’s even marked with a ‘c’ for ‘coeliac’ rather than just ‘gf’. Obviously contamination can still be a risk but it’s nice to see awareness of coeliacs and medical intolerances.

On my previous trip I as a coeliac ate at Lemon Jelly, Yamamori and Credo Pizza. Unfortunately photos do not exist! Credo has a separate gluten free kitchen so is definitely a good option for those worried about contamination. However it has been a long time since my last visits so I would confirm with the restaurants about gluten free options before going.

On this trip there was a mix of hipster restaurants and old-school Dublin institutions. It was really nice that a lot of the ‘cool’ restaurants offered gluten free because I didn’t have to feel like I was forcing the group to eat places they wouldn’t normally.

I was going to write this as one post but realised that it was stretching on, and nobody needed 21 photos at once! So I’m going to arbitrarily divide it into what I ate for lunches and dinners, although most of the places we went serve both. Lunches are below, and dinners will follow.

The 'menu' at Bunsen.

The ‘menu’ at Bunsen.

Our first lunch was at Bunsen on Camden Street, Dublin’s answer to Honest Burger in London. The menu only comes on as a business card and consists of nothing but burgers and fries. I went for a cheeseburger and sweet potato fries. I love the Honest onion rings, but could be swayed by the Bunsen sweet potato fries as favourite burger accompaniment. The burger itself was tasty, and the bun held its structural integrity well. We did originally try to go at 1pm on a Friday and the queue was out the door. Going away and waiting until 2pm instead meant we got a seat immediately.

Almost acceptable without a plate since it is a burger restaurant.

Almost acceptable without a plate since it is a burger restaurant.

The burger itself. Bun is looking good!

The burger itself. Bun is looking good!

For lunch on Saturday we went to Itsa Bagel, a chain of bagel stores around Dublin that have gluten free bagels. They will make the gluten free bagels in a separate area if you ask, minimising the risk of contamination. I had the Californian bagel, with bacon, mozzarella, avocado, lettuce and basil mayo. A combination I will be trying on my own sandwiches soon! The bagel (they used to be Udi’s but not sure anymore, forgot to ask) was fine, but definitely more of a vehicle for the fillings rather than an amazing bagel. We actually ended up going to Itsa again on Monday before the airport because we were so full from eating out over the weekend!

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Slightly blurry bagel. Too excited to eat it!

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The very tasty fillings.

On our way to lunch we also popped into Brown Thomas, THE fancy department store in Dublin, so I could check out the cake & crumb, who have a stall there on Saturdays to sell their mixes. I bought one of the bread mixes and hope to try it soon, the sample bread was lovely.

The stall at Brown Thomas

the cake & crumb stall at Brown Thomas

Lunch on Sunday was actually a picnic by the seaside. I’d been to Dublin 5 or 6 times but never made it outside the city nor seen the sea, which is quite sad since it’s a coastal port! So we took the DART (commuter rail) out to Howth, a seaside suburb about 30 minutes from downtown. Howth is on a peninsula with a large hill at its centre and there is supposed to be a lovely walk around the hill. Unfortunately I was hobbling all weekend after damaging my foot on the Coeliac UK Awareness Week walk the week before so we cheated and took the bus to the top. We had stopped at a Tesco in town before getting on the train and brought hummus, salami and cheese to put on BFree Foods bread. The bread was a great size for large sandwiches, a good texture, and refreshingly hole-free! Dessert was a beautifully zingy lemon muffin from Pure Bred. With surprise lemon curd inside! Even my boyfriend, who hates lemon cake that isn’t lemony, thought there was a good amount here. And there was a beautiful view to go with it.

Very tasty BFree Foods sandwich

Very tasty BFree Foods sandwich

Bright muffin, bright view!

Bright muffin, bright view!

Those were the lunches I ate in Dublin, as you can see there was a good mix of options available. Reviews of the places we tried for dinner are available in Part Two, and a detailed look at the awesome and fully gluten free Antoinette’s Bakery will follow in the next few days.

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!