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

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.

Gluten free pizza 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:

gluten free hospital menu

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.

Jerk chicken gluten free

gluten free shepherd's pie

gluten free carb overload

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!

stewed fruit and custard

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?