(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.

Gluten Free Burger Off: Gourmet Burger Kitchen vs Byron

On the street near where I live there’s a Gourmet Burger Kitchen directly opposite a Byron. Whilst I’ve been known to pop into GBK for the occasional bun-less, fries-less burger, I had yet to try out Byron.

The news that GBK have recently started to offer gluten free buns for their burgers came at roughly the same time I’d been beaten into submission by my gluten eating friends that Byron offered the best ever burgers. It seemed rude not to conduct a burger off.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen

The menu: GBK have gluten free menus available in their restaurants. At the time of writing this blog post, they were not available online on the GBK website for me to link here, but you can see the regular menu here.

07D5B1ED A910 4AB6 B807 703D0D3248BFiphone photo Gluten Free Burger Off: Gourmet Burger Kitchen vs Byron

The gluten free offering: GBK have recently started offering a gluten free bun. There’s plenty of choice in burger; beef, chicken, lamb and two veggie options. The sides on offer are coleslaw (two types), corn on the cobb and side salad. NONE of the GBK fries are gluten free.

The burger: I went for The Don which comes topped with Gorgonzola, bacon aioli, American cheese and rocket. It was served with a side salad and I ordered a blue cheese slaw (because post-pregnancy I cannot get enough blue cheese).

745A226A CA75 407F 9C4D AD446B335BB3iphone photo Gluten Free Burger Off: Gourmet Burger Kitchen vs Byron
I feared the burger bun would crumble so I ate with knife and fork. Also, not having a flip top head, there was no way I could get the burger and bun in my mouth.

03FB44D9 F831 48A5 9011 353F8D1011E1iphone photo Gluten Free Burger Off: Gourmet Burger Kitchen vs Byron
7E842B32 3C6E 493C A665 0C5CB9E3D58Ciphone photo Gluten Free Burger Off: Gourmet Burger Kitchen vs Byron
Cost: £ 16.40

Verdict: The well cooked burger in a gluten free bun was very satisfying. The burger bun was nicely toasted although a little crumbly inside. I wasn’t that keen on the jalapenos on top of the blue cheese slaw but the coleslaw itself was tasty with chunks of blue cheese in it.


The menu: I was not offered a specific allergy menu in the restaurant. I had checked out the options online here before visiting.

8827921A 3542 4A86 AB57 7836D933A2AFiphone photo Gluten Free Burger Off: Gourmet Burger Kitchen vs Byron
The gluten free offering: Nothing specific. The chips are NOT gluten free. I spoke to the waitress who said the Home Made Skin On Chips were made on the premises and should be gluten free but the onion rings were sometimes cooked in the fryer with them so they couldn’t guarantee they were gluten free. The Byron online allergy guide states none of their fries are gluten free. This is a shame.

The burger: When I finally located it on my plate (under cheese and on top of a gherkin in the photo below), the burger was juicy, well seasoned and nicely charred. I could see why everyone raves about the Byron burgers, it was delicious. I ordered a side of avocado and a coleslaw.

6CEF7507 8307 44C0 A5E5 49DFFE5C6FCEiphone photo Gluten Free Burger Off: Gourmet Burger Kitchen vs Byron
Cost: £16.05

Verdict: Seriously underwhelmed. Despite the burger being very tasty, I just couldn’t help feel disappointed. No fries, no bun, a very small burger and a feeling that there is a large mark up on this meal.

87F5B9C0 EAEC 4084 B05B C6E4E0171E57iphone photo Gluten Free Burger Off: Gourmet Burger Kitchen vs Byron
Conclusion: Between GBK and Byron, GBK wins hands down for gluten free. However, until GBK offers gluten free fries, it’s still a second to Honest Burgers.

Gluten Free at ASK Italian

Sometimes when eating out, it’s easy to forget it’s not all about gluten free dining. While I was pregnant I arranged to meet 5 of my friends for lunch who between them have 4 babies, all aged under 6 months. This turned into a tricky mission and for once I was glad it wasn’t me who’d been charged with organising the location. The first place (a gastro pub) had balked at the idea of 4 babies and had refused to allow us a table there. The next option was an Italian restaurant chain who said we weren’t welcome there either because “business meetings” take place in that particular branch at lunchtimes (really??). Barred twice aged under 6 months, impressive!

Ask Italian logo 02 Gluten Free at ASK Italian

And so it was that we ended up at ASK Italian, an Italian chain I’d not visited before. After a little research I discovered ASK have plenty of gluten free options, including pizza and pasta dishes. They’ve also worked with Coeliac UK in developing their practices to cater for gluten free guests.

Although when researching on the internet I’d found this dedicated gluten free menu, when I was in the restaurant I was provided the regular menu with the gluten free options clearly marked. I was impressed with the number of gluten free options on the menu and the fact an additional cost wasn’t being charged for ordering gluten free pasta or pizza.

Being the pizza fiend I am, I was keen to try the ASK gluten free pizza. I spoke to the restaurant manager about their gluten free pizzas and preventing cross contamination. Having worked together for the last year, Ask have been awarded the NGCI (No Gluten Containing Ingredients) accreditation by Coeliac UK. This means that not only do they offer a gluten free menu but they also have appropriate controls in place to avoid contamination. The restaurant manager explained the measures they take to prevent cross contamination. These included:

- The pizza bases arrive frozen, wrapped and are stored separately in the kitchen from gluten containing items

- Separate utensils to prepare the pizza which are stored in a box labelled “gluten free”

- The pizzas are cooked on a metal base to protect them from any contamination in the oven (I’ve had lots of gluten free pizzas cooked in Italy like this)

Satisfied, I went for the pollo piccante con pancetta.

5E4BFC18 1FE2 4294 B72D 8A498D5A520F25 Gluten Free at ASK Italian

I was worried on a large table of diners how I’d be sure it was really my pizza. I needn’t have worried. The gluten free pizzas are round whereas my gluten eating friends’ pizzas were rectangular. The base was clearly very different.

How did it taste? I was really impressed with the toppings on this pizza. They were both tasty and sufficient. The base was also thin and crispy which is exactly how I like it. However, the base on my pizza was overly crispy and I had to use a pizza cutter to get through it, my knife couldn’t slice it.

The food was good but the service we received from the restaurant manager and wait staff was fantastic. I appreciate that a table including 4 small babies is not every restaurant manager – or fellow diners’ – ideal set of guests but the babies were impeccably behaved throughout. The ASK restaurant staff made us feel really welcome, something I think we’d all feared given the other two restaurants who had refused our custom.

But it did make me think. Two restaurants turned away the business of 6 people because we were also accompanied by 4 babies. Imagine if diners with allergies and intolerances were refused tables in the same way….So a big thumbs up to ASK for being accommodating to both little people learning to eat and big people learning to live without eating certain ingredients.

Would I go back? Definitely although I might order the gluten free pasta next time.

Cost: Pizzas priced between £7.25 and £11.95. No surcharge for the gluten free option.

Gluten Free Hospital Stays

During the summer I spent 10 days in a central London hospital for the birth of our twins. No one likes being admitted to hospital but for those with food allergies and intolerances it poses an additional challenge.

Having seen many articles about the (poor) quality of much of the food in the UK’s hospitals, I’d like to show this isn’t the case in every hospital. Hospitals can provide nutritious food which is also suitable for those with specific dietary restrictions.

I was given a daily menu which clearly stated (some) allergens. At each meal that was at least one gluten free option, but sometimes more:

Iphone Back Up 20 September 2013 2549 225x300 Gluten Free Hospital Stays

The meals I received were generally filling, hot and nutritious. I was happy to find the meals were served with lots of veggies and they weren’t too overcooked.

Iphone Back Up 20 September 2013 25801 300x225 Gluten Free Hospital Stays

Iphone Back Up 20 September 2013 25501 300x225 Gluten Free Hospital Stays

Iphone Back Up 20 September 2013 25871 300x225 Gluten Free Hospital Stays

I was offered a dessert at lunch and dinner. I usually opted for custard with stewed fruit. At the start of my pregnancy I suffered from terrible morning all day sickness and custard was one of the few things I could stomach eating. And the stewed fruit were for, well I think you can imagine!

Iphone Back Up 20 September 2013 2569 225x300 Gluten Free Hospital Stays

The only meal which could be hit and miss was breakfast. Some days I was brought a slice of gluten free bread which had been defrosted. They didn’t toast it for me as they said they couldn’t avoid cross contamination. Whilst slightly cold gluten free bread isn’t what I’d eat at home, with some scrambled eggs in hospital it was great.

I know my experience of hospital isn’t always typical of UK hospitals so what can you do if you are admitted to hospital?

  • Take non perishable food in your hospital bag: I packed Nairns Oat Cakes, a good selection of gluten & nut free biscuits and Perk!er porridge pots
  • Speak up: Talk to the ward sister about providing gluten free food as soon as you’re able to do so, or ask someone to do this for you. Depending on the responses you receive, you may also wish to speak to the hospital dietician and/or the kitchen manager
  • On site alternatives: Investigate whether there are other food outlets on site which could offer gluten free food. The hospital I was in had both an M&S cafe and shop, both of which carried gluten free sandwiches and bread as well as naturally gluten free food options. Additionally, there were several cafes where gluten free food could be purchased.
  • Be creative: One of my favourite treat meals was bacon sarnies created from gluten free sliced bread brought in by Mr D with cooked bacon bought from the hospital’s M&S chilled section with some Heinz ketchup found in the hospital canteen
  • Think laterally: Is there a restaurant nearby which can offer take out? For example, there’s a Carluccio’s opposite the Chelsea & Westminster hospital which can offer gluten free pasta and other dishes to take out
  • Be respectful: Don’t bring strongly smelling food in to eat an open hospital ward

What was your experience of gluten free catering in hospital? Do you have any other tips on managing hospital stays with food allergies / intolerances?