Restaurant Review: Oscar & Bentley’s, Canterbury, Kent

Oscar and Bentley’s in historic Canterbury were this year’s winners in the Restaurants category of the inaugural Free From Eating Out Awards. You can read about the FFEOA here.

In advance of visiting O&B, I had called to check how they manage allergies (I’m allergic to almonds as well as intolerant to gluten). I received the most detailed reply ever on cross contamination controls. Not only did I receive an explanation on how and where nuts were stored in the kitchen, but I was also informed they made a nut free crumble (after the kitchen had been cleaned down) and they would keep a portion for me just in case I would like this for my pudding. Impressed.

O&B is located in the very heart of Canterbury, just off the High Street. The décor of this 100% gluten free restaurant is quite glam.

The menu is interesting covering more than your standard fare of naturally gluten free items (chilli, curry, griddled chicken,jacket potatoes etc.,) and instead includes items normally off the menu for coeliacs such as fish and chips, crispy duck wrap and tempura king prawns. Everything is gluten free. Items suitable for dairy free, vegans, vegetarians are listed on the menu. Nut free dishes were listed on the pudding menu.

A special nod to the kids menu. Kids can select between 3 and 4 options within each category of main (protein), side (carbs), veggies, drink and pudding. Overall there was a good balance of healthy vs treat options. This is an excellent place for kids with allergies to eat. Not only would they have safe options but they can choose what they’d like to eat. Imagine how exciting that would be for a child with allergies!

I decided to choose items from the menu which I couldn’t normally eat. So chose a lot of battered items!

I don’t think I could have been more impressed with the quality of the food. The batter was light, very crispy and not in the least greasy. Although this is a 100% gluten free restaurant the quality of the food is such that you would forget you’re eating gluten free food – it’s that good. Mr D pronounced the chips served with his burger to be the best ever.

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Gluten free fish & chips and onion rings

I was also impressed with the drinks menu, Celia gluten free lager plus a great selection of Kentish wines at reasonable prices.

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Gluten free Celia

Canterbury can be reached in 58 minutes on the high speed train from London’s St Pancras. Perfect for a day trip to explore this beautiful city and have a wonderful, safe lunch at Oscar and Bentley’s!

Would I go back?: Try stopping me!

Cost: £56 for two people who ate 3 courses including a beer each

Address: 10 Guildhall Street, Canterbury, Kent CT1 2JQ

Opening times: Closed Mondays but please check here for current opening hours

The 2014 Free From Eating Out Awards

Last month saw the presentation the inaugural Free From Eating Out Awards. As increasing numbers of restaurants, cafés and pubs actively try to cater for diners with allergies and intolerances, these awards are a timely celebration of those establishments which cater well for those of us with dietary restrictions.

FFEOA logo header The 2014 Free From Eating Out AwardsWith the new EU labeling laws coming into effect today, it is ever more important restaurants, cafés and pubs understand the new rules and comply with the requirements to provide information on allergens in the food they serve. This should be a major step forward when eating out. I can’t wait to try out restaurants and their knowledge of this – it’s going to be interesting! You can read a good summary by Carly on the new regulations here.

I was delighted to be a judge in the Free From Eating Out Awards. The initial stages of judging involved reviewing a very lengthy questionnaire each entrant had completed. This covered many areas including menu, cross contamination controls and staff training. The responses were fascinating. Some so comprehensive and reassuring I was desperate to try the establishment. Others had some work to do in areas such as cross contamination controls.

Once a short list was produced of the best scorers, judges were asked to visit the short listed restaurants (incognito, of course!) and try the food as well as verifying during the visit the restaurant lived up to the statements they made in the questionnaire. However, in advance of the visit, we all called the restaurants to check how they would cater for our allergies and intolerances and how they would manage to avoid cross contamination etc. This is something I do with all restaurants I visit so it was an interesting exercise. Finally, we got to visit and try the food!

The Awards’ presentation was held during the Food Matters Live conference at Excel in London’s Docklands.

Anthony Worrall Thompson was presenting the Awards. It was interesting to hear from a restaurant owner the difficulties he faces in verifying allergens within his supplier’s products. Awards’ organiser, Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, made good points about the need for restaurants and cafes to cater for more than just gluten free – these were, after all, the Free From Eating out Awards, and not solely focused on gluten free.

The presentation had a great atmosphere as everyone nervously awaited the results. Glasses of Green’s India Pale Ale were handed out to the audience as well as oatcakes from another of the Awards’ sponsors, Nairns. As this was the first year the awards were held, they were smaller than the sister Free From Food Awards and you could feel how much winning meant to the small independents. The Alford Arms, Frithsden in Hertfordshire won in both the pub category and was also declared the overall winner. They had managed to produce a fabulous meal for the judge who has multiple allergies. Imagine, a friendly pub who can do that. Their reaction upon winning was priceless. They were so surprised and excited. (You can see a photo of the boys looking chuffed with AWT here). Genuinely something great to see how much it meant to them.

I was particularly excited that the restaurant I judged won in the restaurant category. Please check back for my review of Oscar & Bentley’s!

Gluten Free London: The Natural History Museum

Days out to museums and art galleries can often be a bit hit and miss when either you or your children have dietary restrictions.

So on a recent day trip to The Natural History Museum in London to the see the new exhibition with Lyuba the baby mammoth, I was flabbergasted to find this menu in the museum’s Restaurant:

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There are a number of places to eat in the museum (more on that later) but we chose The Restaurant because it happened to be very close the the current exhibitions on Mammoths and also that we were told in advance they had lots of highchairs and a dedicated space for parking buggies (highly important these days!).

I went for a NGCI pizza with parma ham, rocket, olives and marscapone. This was a ‘no gluten containing ingredients’ pizza but having talked to the staff, I was reassured that there were sufficient measures in place to prevent cross contamination.

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The pizza was utterly delicious. Despite eating a lot (ahem) of pizzas, I was surprised at the quality of this pizza. In truth I was expecting to be brought some kind of reheated frozen gluten free pizza, not this freshly baked gem.

The really great thing about the Natural History Museum is that there’s an area – used by school parties on our visit – on the lower ground floor which has tables and chairs to eat your own food. This is so refreshing. In a more commercial gallery/museum this wouldn’t be provided, you’d have to either go outside (perhaps not ideal on a cold, rainy day) or use the museum’s own restaurant.

Location: The Restaurant (Green Zone on Fossil Way), Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD

Cost: Under £30 for lunch for 2 people including drinks.

Would I go back?: Looking forward to it…although perhaps after the school holidays!

(Gluten Free) Life On The Ocean Wave: MSC Cruises

Now the sleep deprived delirium of new parenthood to twins is (very) slowly starting to lift, my thoughts are turning to where their first proper overseas trip should be. Having babies (and especially twins) now means extra considerations when we travel. Just for starters: Will there be lifts on the transport system for us to get around with a double buggy or will we have to walk everywhere? Will the accommodation allow two travel cots in the room (this week’s drama)? Will the hotel/apartment even have two travel cots? And which double umbrella stroller should we buy for travelling? All on top of the usual considerations and preparations required for gluten free travel. It’s a very good job I love a challenge!

Back in the summer I received an invitation from MSC Cruises to hear about how they cater for Coeliac guests on selected ships. Just imagine waking up in a new port every day but with no packing and unpacking AND gluten free catering. Sounds good doesn’t it?

MSC Musica (Gluten Free) Life On The Ocean Wave: MSC Cruises

As the twins were only 6 weeks old on the day of the MSC Cruises presentation being held onboard one of their ships, on this occasion leaving two tiny babies for the day to go to Dover wasn’t an option. So instead I asked MSC Cruises a few questions, including the one which all Coeliacs going on holiday need to know…will there be (gluten free) beer on an MSC Cruise?

1. What prompted MSC Cruises to offer gluten free catering for Coeliac guests? 

As a company committed to meeting the dietary requirements of all guests, MSC Cruises is constantly looking to improve its culinary offerings for those who suffer from particular illnesses, including celiac disease.

MSC Cruises has therefore been collaborating with the AIC [ed – the Italian Coeliac Association], a member of the Association of European Coeliac Societies (AOECS), since 2008. Since 2010, MSC has also adhered to the  special ‘cruises project’ which guarantees compliance with the AIC’s safety rules and directives for gluten-free foods on board its ships.

2. What measures and training are in place to prevent cross contamination in the kitchen (and in the restaurants if there are buffet style dining options)?

MSC follows strict regulations for preparing its gluten-free menus on board. Gluten-free products are stored in special areas and at least one kitchen on each ship, managed by specially trained staff, is reserved for the preparation of gluten-free dishes.

3. How are gluten free meals identified on your menus?
We have dedicated menus for our Gluten-free meals.
On board MSC Preziosa, MSC Divina, MSC Fantasia, MSC Splendida, MSC Magnifica, MSC Orchestra, MSC Poesia and MSC Musica guests with Coeliac disease can follow a delicious gluten-free diet in each of two main restaurants.
During the summer season we offered twenty nine special menus, depending on the itinerary of the ship, from breakfast through to lunch, dinner and afternoon snacks.

4. Many Coeliacs are also unable to tolerate dairy products, do you also offer dairy and gluten free meals?
Yes, we do offer dairy and gluten free meals.

5. What does a typical day’s menu feature for your Coeliac guests?

I have attached an example of our Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Gala Menu.

Coeliac Sample Breakfast Menu

Coeliac Sample Lunch Menu

Coeliac Sample Dinner Menu

Sample Gala Dinner Menu

6. One of the biggest attractions for me of cruising is waking up each day in a new and exciting port without having to keep packing and unpacking my suitcase. How does MSC Cruises help its Coeliac guests when they go ashore on excursions for the day? Can you offer a gluten free packed lunch?

A gluten-free lunch box for shore excursions is also available, meaning that even when exploring a port of call, guests need not worry about finding a gluten-free lunch.

7. Finally, do you stock gluten free beer on board to enjoy at the end of a fun day of sightseeing? 

During the day, or for a relaxing after dinner drink, guests can head to a dedicated Bar to enjoy its special “gluten free” list of beverages, which includes a number of tempting cocktails as well as a gluten free beer and bitter

MSC MUSICA POOL GLUTEN FREE1 224x300 (Gluten Free) Life On The Ocean Wave: MSC Cruises

Further details on gluten free catering aboard MSC Cruises can be found on their website by clicking here.

Many thanks to MSC Cruises for the interview. I hope I’ll be able to join you again sometime soon.