Gluten Free Dining at Zizzi’s

UPDATED 3rd OCTOBER WITH RESPONSE FROM ZIZZI

Mr D and I took a rather random drive out one afternoon in search of a stretch of beach we’d never been to before. Just to go somewhere new. I’m not entirely sure how it happened but we ended up in Chichester which is somewhere neither of us had been before but certainly wasn’t the stretch of beach we’d set off to find.

As we arrived at lunchtime we thought we’d try somewhere new. We found a branch of Ask Pizza and I was happy to see they are now serving gluten free pasta. Sadly, all the tables were taken so we moved on.

We then came across a Zizzi. We’d had lunch at the Zizzi in Whitstable last year on the Saturday of the annual Oyster Festival. The service had been amazing and I’d had a tasty meal which the waitress had been very helpful and accommodating in talking through the menu options which could be adapted to be gluten free. I’d been really impressed, if Zizzi’s could offer such a high level of friendly and competent service during what surely must be Whitstable Zizzi’s craziest weekend of the year, I wanted to see what it would be like on a normal day.

The Zizzi in Chichester is housed in an attractive building with high ceilings and a huge open kitchen with a big pizza oven. The chefs were impressing some small kids with their pizza base making skills. I watched as the waitress pulled over a couple of chairs for the excited children to stand on to get a better view of the chefs at work. Nice touch.

I’d heard Zizzi were now offering gluten free pasta so I was keen to try it. The waitress brought me the regular menu and the allergy list to view. The waitress eagerly told me they had not one but two types of gluten free pasta. I was offered either fusilli or spaghetti pasta both of which were made by Dove’s Farm.

My only criticism of Zizzi is that the allergy list is really confusing when substitutions are made, such as gluten free pasta for the regular pasta. (Click here for the online version although you will need to click on the full menu to see all of the pasta dishes which are available gluten free).

On the allergen menu all pasta dishes are listed as containing gluten, yet this isn’t the case if gluten free pasta is substituted. The waitress advised that all Zizzi’s pasta sauces were gluten free when served with the Dove’s gluten free pasta (more on that later). Dove’s have a great selection of very tasty pastas. Worth clicking on the link here to view the full range of Dove’s pasta.

Since it was a day of new things, I decided to try something different. I went for the Casareccia Pollo Piccante which was a spicy creamy chicken dish with spinach and baby plum tomatoes. I selected the gluten free Dove’s spaghetti with it.

I usually avoid cream so would instead opt for pasta with a tomato or pesto based sauce but that day I fancied something warming. So how did it taste? The sauce was spicy but, despite the ominously ginormous chilli nestled on top, it wasn’t too fiery. Satisfying and tasty. The Dove’s gluten free spaghetti tasted very close to regular version of pasta and I will definitely buy some of the Dove’s spaghetti to use at home next time I see it.   

After visiting Zizzi’s I found this seemingly old allergen menu online so its content may no longer be correct (Edited: The old allergen menu was removed). It is not in the same format as the one provided to me in the restaurant (see photo or click on link above). It states the the Bolognese sauce has wheat in it which therefore contradicts the waitress who said all sauces were gluten free but as I said this allergen menu may not be current. I have contacted Zizzi to ask them if they have plans to alter their allergen menu to incorporate adjustments to their dishes to make them gluten free, such as replacing with gluten free pasta or removing dough sticks from their salads to make them gluten free. I’ve also asked them to confirm whether all of their sauces are gluten and wheat free (since the waitress had advised they were). I will update this blog post once I receive a reply from Zizzi’s.

Overall I really enjoyed my trip to Zizzi. The food was tasty and competitively priced. I was happy to see the friendly service was as good as it had been in Whitstable last year. It’s also great that a chain restaurant such as Zizzi’s with over 100 restaurants in the UK now offers gluten free pasta.

UPDATE: RESPONSE FROM ZIZZI

I contacted Zizzi to understand how they handle the preparation of gluten free dishes in their kitchens and seek to prevent cross contamination issues.

They advised that all gluten free pasta dishes ordered at Zizzi are made fresh to order in fresh pans using clean water and clean utensils. They also added that “our staff receive food safety training commenserate with their work activities which includes training related to food storage, the avoidance of cross contamination and regarding allergens.”

I passed my feedback to Zizzi that I found their allergen menu to be quite confusing. They said “it is very difficult for us to show all substitutions that can be made as our dishes are made fresh to order and many items can be substituted to suit customer’s tastes and allow for any special dietary requirements or allergens.” Whilst I agree it must be difficult to display all the possible combinations in an allergen menu, I’m sure there must be a way to do it. They said my feedback would be passed on to the Marketing department.

Zizzi also confirmed that all of their pasta sauces are now gluten free which means all pasta dishes can be made gluten free when paired with the Dove’s gluten free pasta. The only exception to this is the Goat’s Cheese ravioli (Ravioli Di Capra). I think this is great news and am glad Zizzi is able to offer plenty of gluten free pasta dishes and have procedures in place to cook gluten free dishes safely.

Gluten Free at the Tate Modern

I’m a big fan of the Tate Modern. I’ve had some very enjoyable trips here over the years that I’ve been living in London. From lazy Sunday afternoons gazing at the art, history of art class field trips and study days to evening views with a glass of wine overlooking St Paul’s. And I could (and have!) happily spent several hours in the fabulous book store.

I was quite excited about visiting the Miro exhibition.

I enjoyed this major retrospective of a Surrealist artist I didn’t know much about. It was so interesting to view his art work and consider the historical / political changes which occurred through his  lifetime and artistic career; World War I, Spanish Civil War, World War World II and Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. I felt that I learnt something from the exhibition and came away feeling his work was less challenging to view than I’d thought prior to visiting.

One of the big advantages of being a member at the Tate is the Member’s Room. It’s located on the 6th floor and has truly fabulous views up and down the river, including St Paul’s opposite and towards the City. It’s not only Tate Members who enjoy the view, the Tate Modern Restaurant is located above the Member’s Room on the 7th floor and has the same amazing view.

We decided to pop up to the Member’s room for a refreshment. The menu has several gluten free items listed:

This sandwich wasn’t listed on the menu above but there was an egg mayonnaise and watercress  on gluten free bread. Bit of a surprise! I also think £2.75 is pretty reasonable price.

They also had some gluten free chocolate cake. I really liked that all of the ingredients were listed.

I went for a slice of chocolate cake. It was yum but lucky Mr D was donated half of it. I also had the best pot of jasmine tea I’ve had since the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong which is my benchmark for jasmine tea. No cushion tidier in the Tate Modern though!

Although the food options featured in this blog post are from the Tate Member’s Room, the Tate Modern has several other eating and drinking options including Cafe 2 and Tate Modern restaurant where gluten free options are available. Please click here for more information and various menus.

I think it’s great that the Tate Modern offer several gluten free options and at very reasonable prices. All profits from the restaurants go to support the gallery.

Gluten Free Cupcakes at The Hummingbird Bakery

Tuesday was a MCD. A Mandatory Cake Day. Ever have one of those? A day where your mood is so low it’s a requirement to eat cake. Truly. It’s the law.

So what do you do when you need a gluten free cake? Your options are usually so limited. To be honest, I think it’s a good thing I can’t usually lay my hands on a slice of delicious spongy sweetness without true effort. When my colleagues bring in trays of synthetic smelling doughnuts I breathe a huge sigh of relief I can’t eat them. Really, how can anyone enjoy eating those rings of artificialness with their toppings in radioactive colours? That’s one mahoosive consolation for not being able to eat gluten as far as I’m concerned!

I took a walk at lunchtime to clear my head and came across the sign for the Hummingbird Bakery at the turn into the gloriously named Frying Pan Alley:

The Hummingbird Bakery store in Spitalfields is part of the new Nido student development (lucky students!):


I wandered in and spotted these Red Velvet cupcakes. Sitting in their own covered case, they were gluten free (more on that coming later…).


I practically swooned at the packaging my cupcake came in:

So how did it taste? The cream cheese frosting on the cupcake made it more like a dessert than a cake. The cupcake itself was also pretty crumbly so any attempts at breaking off small chunks to eat were impossible as the pieces turned to tiny crumbs. Instead I went the dainty route, with a fork. The cake itself was so light and fluffy it was like eating a delicious cloud. Albeit a very sugary cloud. I certainly had a nice sugar rush to the head from the cream cheese frosting. Very occasionally I make gluten free cupcakes (I have a killer chocolate cupcake recipe using ground almonds) but I never put frosting on them. I guess this is probably sacrilegious in the world of cupcakes but a cupcake with frosting is just too much sugar for me. So for once it was lovely to enjoy a cupcake with such delicious frosting. Won’t change my mind on the frosting for my own cupcakes though.

After I’d eaten the “gluten free” Red Velvet cupcake, I looked on the Hummingbird Bakery website and saw the following:

“* Our Made Without range uses gluten-free ingredients, however, please note that they are baked in kitchens that also handle ingredients that contain gluten.

In the interests of our customers’ health and well-being, The Hummingbird Bakery does not certify our Made Without range as gluten-free. Customers who require further information on the ingredients used in our Made Without range should contact us.”

Interesting. When I’d gone into the store, I’d simply asked if they had gluten free cupcakes and I’d been shown the Red Velvet cupcake I bought. Looking at the photo now it does appear that there may be a disclaimer on the sign above the cupcake. I’ll be honest, I was so happy in my otherwise poor mental state to have found a gluten free cupcake that I didn’t bother reading the sign.

But also interesting on another level. These cupcakes have been made with gluten free ingredients but in a kitchen which handles gluten containing ingredients and therefore cross contamination may occur. In January 2009 the EU made a change to the food labelling laws that only items with a certified gluten limit in the final food of 2oppm or less can be labelled as gluten free. Food producers have until January 2012 to comply with the new law. Does compliance with the new law mean that we will see more labels like this? Where companies either can’t or don’t want to acquire certification for the new gluten free levels where once they would have labelled them as gluten free? You can read more about safe levels of gluten here.

Before I make a return visit, I’ve contacted the Hummingbird Bakery requesting more information on their “Made Without” labelling and cross contamination levels. I shall report back when I receive a reply from them.

Update 14th August 2011

I received the following reply back from The Hummingbird Bakery:

“Thanks for your enquiry regarding our Made Without range!
We have labelled these products as “Made Without” because they are made with ingredients that do not contain gluten.  This includes the vinegar that we use on the Red Velvets and all the sprinkles that are on the other flavours.  We have technical specification sheets from our suppliers for all our ingredients, therefore, have made sure that we are using gluten-free ingredients for this range!
We do not label the products as Gluten-Free, because, as you point out, we have not had them tested to be compliant with the new Codex coming into force next year.  We do our best to prevent cross-contamination, however, as we point out in-store on the point of sale material next to the price labels and online, “Our Made Without range uses gluten-free ingredients.  Please note, however, that they are baked in kitchens that also handle ingredients that contain gluten.  In the interests of our customers’ health and well-being, The Hummingbird Bakery does not certify its Made Without range as gluten-free”.
Practically, we wash down the mixing equipment before mixing the Made Without batters, these are then kept separate and labelled, and then finally we bake them in the distinctive silver cases so that they stand out from the “regular” range.  As with nut allergies, we do handle ingredients containing gluten, so we cannot guarantee that there won’t be traces of gluten in the products.
Therefore, you must use your own judgement as to whether you are comfortable consuming these products.  We have many Coeliacs who are regular customers since we introduced this range, and have had no problems since we introduced the range in January.  But we have always been careful not to promise “gluten-free”, and have consulted with the Coeliac Society before we introduced this range and the name for it!
We hope this helps!”

After receiving this reply, I went back and asked if they had any plans to have their cupcakes tested for compliance with the new Codex which will be enforced in January 2012. This is the reply:

“We will not be having our range tested for the Codex.  Unfortunately, our kitchens are VERY small and we cannot create “sterile” areas where gluten never enters.  Therefore, we cannot permanently guarantee that our Made Without range is 100% gluten-free, as we explained in our first response.  We didn’t want to mislead people just to jump on the “gluten-free” bandwagon.  We wanted to make a range that people could enjoy with the correct information and using their own judgement!
We do sell about 1 tray a day of the Made Without range in each store – that’s about 24-30 pieces… compared to 400 – 1000 a day of our “regular” range.  Therefore, economically, we cannot justify constructing a special/sterile kitchen that would guarantee gluten-free.”

In conclusion the choice is yours whether you take the risk or not of consuming the Hummingbird Bakery’s Made Without cupcakes.

I think we will see many more food outlets following a similar path. I guess we can all think of a cafe who produces a gluten free cake to go alongside it’s regular cakes, for example. I hope I’m wrong but I suspect what the new Codex means is that the number of “gluten free” products which can currently be found in shops and cafes all over the UK will inevitably be reduced as manufacturers large and small decide against compliance with the new gluten free Codex as it may not prove economically viable to do so.

Details:

Cost: Red Velvet cupcake was £2.95 to take away (in a super cute little box!)

Location: Hummingbird Bakery Spitalfields, 11 Frying Pan Alley, London E1 7HS

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 08.30 to 18.30. Saturday and Sunday 11am to 6pm

Hummingbird Bakery has 3 other branches in central London. Click here for locations.