Gluten Free at La Polenteria, London

As soon as I walked into this friendly restaurant on a sunny day, I just knew I was in for a treat. I was dining alone so I took a seat facing out on Old Compton Street for a people watching lunch. The middle aged man – also dining solo on the table behind me – was tapping away on his laptop as he ate while swaying gently to the Italian pop playing.

The entire menu at La Polenteria is gluten free. When I asked about gluten free options, the waiter proudly bounced over to the window and pointed to the Coeliac UK gluten free accreditation sticker in the window.

La Polenteria Menu

La Polenteria Menu

La Polenteria offer a great lunchtime specials deal. 2 courses for £9.75.

I was intrigued by the bruschetta so chose that for a starter. It smelt so deliciously fresh I couldn’t wait to try it.

Bruschetta made with polenta

Bruschetta made with polenta

I wasn’t able to resist the Italian sausage and barlotti bean with polenta for my main course. This dish arrived pipingly hot. The ratio of polenta to sauce was just right. The polenta was deliciously creamy and I sat wondering why I didn’t cook polenta like this at home instead of potato mash.

Deliciously hot and creamy polenta

Deliciously hot and creamy polenta

I’ve thought about going to La Polenteria a few times recently when I’ve been in the West End but each time decided against it because I thought polenta for lunch might be too heavy. In fact it was not the case at all and I felt plenty of energy after lunch to do what turned out to be a lot of walking that afternoon.

If I have one piece of feedback, I’d ask they make it more clear on the menu that everything on the menu is gluten free, even the lasagna and even tiramisu as I didn’t realise this until the waiter told me. Maybe it was just me (probably!) but I think the menu stating they had gluten free tagliatelle underneath the other pasta dishes made me think the dishes above contained gluten. This is how menus offering gluten free pasta in addition to the regular pasta often look like this. So it would be good to be clearer on the menu on this point.

Cost: Lunch deal: £9.75 for 2 courses
Location: 64 Old Compton Street, London W1D 4UQ
Would I go back?: Definitely! Great value, super friendly and delicious gluten free food.

2015 Free From Food Awards

Last week saw the presentation to the winners of the 2015 Free From Food Awards.

This hashtag is probably still giving Alex nightmares

This hashtag is probably still giving Alex nightmares

I’ve been delighted to be a judge in these awards for the last few years and equally happy to judge in the inaugural Free From Eating Out Awards last year.

What I really like about the Free From Food Awards is that they celebrate both the large retailers we free from food folk usually rely on for supplies, as well as the small, and often very niche, retailers.

The Awards party itself has a fabulous atmosphere. It’s impossible not to feel the excitement crackling through the room as the 300 or so invitees wait to hear who has won.

For me it’s a bit like a school reunion. The date is in my diary as soon as I’m invited and I can’t wait! I get to catch up with friends I see fairly regularly as well as those I see perhaps only once a year at the Awards ceremony. And there’s always someone new and interesting to meet.

The full list of Free From Food Award Winners, Highly Commended and Commended products can be found here.

However, I’d like to award a couple of special prizes of my own:

Every Little Helps Award – Tesco
Back when I started this blog, Sainsburys were the supermarket who were very engaged with the Free From community. I went to their HQ for a number of new product development sessions and product launches. While their Free From range is still extensive, it feels a little tired and it’s Tesco who are really leading the way currently on developing new products. On the day of the Awards, Tesco announced record losses of £6.4 billion. During the judging, I tried the Smoked Haddock Fishcakes with Melting Middle which won the Meat and Fishy Ready Meals category. It was delicious and I was speechless it had come from Tesco. I’m not a Tesco shopper as there isn’t one near me but this made me reconsider occasionally going out of my way to stock the freezer up. Every little helps.

OMG Are These REALLY Gluten Free? Award – FEEL FREE DONUTS

I have never tried these donuts before (it’s a real gap in the gluten free market) but they were available in the buffet after the awards’ presentation. I tried them. And went back. And they were so good I went back several times for more. They were crispy on the outside, soft in the inside. They come from in a pack of 4, wrapped individually which I think is a great idea.

Consistently Great Award – Caroline Aherne, Free From Bakehouse
I first met Caroline at the 2011 Awards presentation party. An incident on the train line to the party venue had left me stranded at Clapham Junction. Caroline (who I had never met before) replied to my stranded tweet and picked me up in her car and drove us out to Kew. That night, and since then, Caroline’s delicious sweet and savoury treats – in various forms – have been picking up the accolades. My favourite are her raspberry and white chocolate brownies, for which I’ve been known to take a cab over to Borough Market to buy some of her delicious treats during my lunch hour.

Most excited nominees – Gluten Free Uprising
I absolutely loved chatting to these Welsh guys who won Highly Commended for their ready ro roll gluten free and dairy free short crust pastry. They couldn’t have been more thrilled and were really excited for their top secret future product plans. If enthusiasm and excitement can build a business, these guys are ones to watch.

But I couldn’t write this post without a mention to all the Free From-ers who I managed to catch up with on the night, and those who I didn’t. It’s always such a pleasure to see you all. We are lucky to have a great, supportive community, and it was a lot of fun to celebrate the producers who make our lives a bit easier by producing such tasty, allergy friendly foods.

A big thank you to Michelle and Cressida for inviting me to participate in the judging of the Awards. Well done to Alex for managing to tweet through the results, no mean feat. Huge congratulations to all the nominees and winners as well as whole Free From Food Awards team for another successful Awards. Roll on 2016!

FFFA 2015 selfie

FFFA 2015 selfie

Read more on this year’s Free From Food Awards by Ruth and Carly.

What did you think of the winners this year? Any surprises?

Is Pho Restaurant London’s Best Gluten Free Lunch Deal?

Deals and gluten free dining don’t always go hand in hand but there is one place where this is true…Pho Restaurants. This chain of Vietnamese street food restaurants offers a menu which is predominantly, naturally gluten free.

Pho (pronounced fuh) is a Vietnamese noodle soup in which Pho Restaurants use rice noodles. The pho both is clear, a bit like a consommé. You can choose options with chicken, thinly sliced steak and many more. It’s served with fresh herbs, bean sprouts and fresh chilli for you to add as you please to your soup.

Is this London's best gluten free lunch deal?

Is this London’s best gluten free lunch deal?

Pho currently have a weekday lunch offer of 2 courses for £9.95 which is truly excellent value given the main courses included are priced around the £7.50 to £9 mark. You can choose 2 courses from either starter, main or dessert options.

There are a couple of dishes which are not suitable for Coeliacs and the shallot garnish which is used on some dishes is not gluten free, but this can be simply omitted. Dishes can also be cooked without nuts. even though the menu is incredibly friendly to gluten free diners, make sure you notify the waitperson of any allergies or intolerances so the dishes can be customised accordingly.

Where: London, Leeds and Brighton. Check the website for locations

Would I go back?: I already do, regularly!

Cost: Weekday lunch deal is £9.95 for 2 courses

Do you know any other great gluten free lunch deals?

Gluten Free at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner

For reasons I have yet to fathom, the higher end restaurants I visit never seem to make it on to the blog. Today I’m making amends by posting about Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner restaurant, which I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice.

Dinner holds two Michelin stars and is currently rated the 5th best restaurant in the world. Its menu is based on historical British dishes ranging from the 14th to 19th century.

The service and attention on both visits to my gluten intolerance and nut allergy was exemplary. On the first visit when the waiter came to give us the menus he recited the specific nuts I’m allergic to – as always these had been provided on my booking. Usually when comment is made on my food allergies/intolerances by restaurant staff it is often just “you’re allergic to nuts” not the very specific nuts I can’t eat. On my second visit, when I called to make the reservation, my nut allergies were repeated back to me by the person taking my table booking as they’d been saved against my customer record. That’s impressive.

Given its starry status I am not going to enthuse wordily on the attributes of the food. It’s enough to say it is amazing. I’ll let the photos do the talking.

The famous meat fruit – mandarin and chicken liver parfait. So fantastic I had it on both visits.

Mains. Fillet of Aberdeen Angus with triple cooked chips. Normally served with mushroom ketchup. This isn’t gluten free but I was provided delicious alternative. Black foot roast pork with hispi cabbage side. This is no longer on the menu. Shame, the popping pork skin was amazing.

Dessert: Whilst I would have loved the spit roasted pineapple, sadly this wasn’t an option. Nevermind, the Chocolate Bar (served with passion fruit jam and ginger ice cream) was!

Cost: Upwards of £100 per head for 3 courses and upwards depending on wine pairings

Location: Mandarin Oriental Hotel Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA

Would I go back? So good I did.