Brazillian Cheese Balls: Yoki Pan de Queso

If you’ve ever been to Brazil, you will no doubt have encountered Pao de Queso, the national snack of cheese balls which are naturally gluten free.

I bought this pack of Yoki’s Pao de Queso back from Brazil.

All it required was the addition of 2 eggs and 100ml of water.

I popped all the ingredients into a bowl:

After a quick stir and knead the mixture became dough like:

I rolled them in my hands into little balls:

After 25 minutes in the oven, they came out like this:

Sadly I didn’t have the ingredients to make caipirinhas so instead I enjoyed these great balls of cheese with a glass of South American red. Lovely!

NB if you can’t find the Yoki Pan de Queso, there are other suppliers such as Isabel’s who offer a similar product.

Gluten Free Dining at Nopi…Finally

Are all good things worth waiting for? I certainly hoped so since my (many) previous attempts at going to Nopi have been thwarted by a variety of strange reasons. Even the table booked at Nopi for my birthday this year got cancelled in the total disaster that day eventually became. Not a birthday I shall ever look back on fondly, that is for sure. So when my dining companions both cancelled for different reasons on the morning of my most recent booking there, I laughed. In between banging my head repeatedly on the wall. What does it take to eat at Nopi, I wondered? Mr D, it turns out, who saved the day by rather gallantly volunteering to come with me.

Nopi is run by Yotam Ottolenghi and team, a chef whose cookery books I swoon over regularly in Waterstones. The inside of the restaurant is a riot of white with accents of gold. After the mayhem of a Thursday night walking amongst the late night shoppers on Regent Street and the din of after-work drinkers spilling onto the payment from the pubs along Beak Street, Nopi’s white tablecloths, napkins and whitewashed exposed brick walls are a welcome respite for the senses. The upstairs (ground floor) is occupied by the restaurant and the downstairs dining area houses a long communal table right in front of the open kitchen giving it a slightly more relaxed feel. We sat upstairs in the restaurant and liked the fact the tables are not set too close together.

The menu at Nopi is split into three sections of ‘Vegetable, ‘Fish’ and ‘Meat’. They suggest that you order three savoury dishes per person. Before we visited I thought this might be too much food but the dishes are quite small and agree this is the right amount to order. We chose two dishes from each of the three sections to share between us. I had contacted Nopi in advance about my dietary restrictions (no gluten or almonds) and they had provided me with a copy of their gluten free menu. With the exception of one dish which required adapting (more on that later), most of the menu was naturally gluten free so it was easy for Mr D and I to share dishes.

I even got my very own printed gluten free menu listing all suitable items!

From the vegetable dishes we chose a salad of green lentils, shaved beetroot and radish and a dish of roasted aubergine with black garlic, harissa and pine nuts. Unfortunately we had to send back the lentil dish. This was the only dish on the gluten free menu which required adapting, to remove the small spicy croutons which the regular version was served with. Although we’d discussed adapting the dish with the waiter, we were initially sent the crouton-containing version. Fortunately before I’d tasted any, eagle eyed Mr D had spotted the croutons so we sent it back and a replacement was brought.

From the Fish section we chose a dish of seared organic prawns, feta, fennel and Pernod with a second dish of baby octopus, skordalia (a Greek garlic dip) and ras el hanout spices.

From the Meat section, we chose Roast Rib eye, baby leeks, pickled ginger, coriander and chilli salsa (because anything with leeks will always get my vote) and twice cooked baby chicken, lemon myrtle salt and chilli sauce.

For dessert I went for caramel and roasted peanut ice cream with chocolate sauce.  This was a seriously good dessert; a grown up verison of adding sprinkles and chocolate sauce to ice cream.

Mr D also went for a dessert from the gluten free selection, a chocolate hazelnut slice, mahlab (an aromatic spice from ground St Lucie Cherry) and cherries. Unfortunately since this contained hazelnuts I couldn’t taste it but it certainly looked fabulous.

The dishes were served to us two by two starting with the vegetable dishes. I enjoyed every dish immensely. Looking back the real stand out dishes for me were the aubergine with black garlic and harissa. This reminded me of the first time I tasted baba ganoush, cooked for me many moons ago by a Lebanese friend, just like his Mum used to make. Smoky and intense. Until then, I had no idea that aubergines could taste so good. I could eat Nopi’s aubergine dish every day and never tire of the deep flavours or texture of the pine nuts against the molten, smoky aubergine. The seared prawns with their hit of Pernod was also a revelation. I am not usually a fan of aniseed but I thoroughly enjoyed how this flavour came through at the end of each mouthful.

I particularly liked the concept of eating small dishes of highly flavoursome food where you can focus on a central ingredient along with complimentary but bold and robust flavours in each dish, all the while enjoying a good bottle of wine over a long chat. The wine list deserves a mention for its interesting and unusual selection.

Yes, Nopi was most certainly worth waiting for. I just hope I don’t need to wait as long for my next visit.

Rating: 8.5/10 (would have been higher were it not for the mistake with the lentil dish and the absence of any gluten free alternative to the bread Mr D was brought. It would be fantastic to have some gluten free bread to mop up stray prawn and Pernod juices with)

Cost: £130 (Dinner for two with dessert and including 2 glasses of Prosecco and a bottle of wine)

Address: 21-22 Warwick Street, London W1B 5NE

Opening Hours: Breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Check the Nopi website for full opening hours

Booking in advance highly recommended

Gluten Free Dining at Leon Restaurant

When I worked for a few months out in the Canary Wharf office, I went to Leon sometimes for lunch to pick up a gluten free salad. That branch was always crazy busy and there were never any seats free so I didn’t have the chance to eat in the restaurant. I’d simply collect my gluten free salad and head back to the office to enjoy at my desk. I always kind of wished I could eat in though, I wanted to see what other diners were eating. I’m nosey like that.

So one day when I was having a cultural afteroon at the Tate Modern I decided to nip to the Leon branch tucked behind the gallery on Bankside for lunch.

I was impressed with the menu boards over the counter which clearly displayed the allergy information for each menu option. The menu itself contained many gluten free options for lunch. There was also a separate kids menu.

On the counter in front of me were a number of sweet treats including a brownie and pecan pie which were labelled gluten free. These were not individually wrapped so you might want to check if they have wrapped versions of these if you are concerned about cross contamination.

The only downside for me was that I couldn’t actually see what any of the dishes looked like before choosing. You order from the Leon menu over the counter, pay and then your food arrives. Being a bit of a ‘visual’ person this proved a bit difficult for me.

Undeterred, I chose the BBQ Chicken. The box says grilled chicken (another menu option) but I think they used the wrong box since the description of BBQ Chicken matched what I received.

I rarely find BBQ sauce which is gluten free and it was for this reason I chose the dish. The Leon website is really informative and lists every item contained in each dish. Check out the BBQ Chicken ingredients here, for example.

So how did it taste? All of the dish’s ingredients tasted fresh and flavoursome. The BBQ sauce was deliciously smoky. I was really happy to find a little smattering of gherkins. How tastes change, eh? I can remember picking gherkins out of burgers as a kid but now I love them! Like the BBQ sauce, I rarely eat gherkins so another unexpected and rare treat.

I chose the BBQ Chicken as part of a Leon meal deal which included a fresh lemonade and a side of corn off the cob.

When I got home I spent some time reading Leon’s excellent website. I was particularly interested and impressed with the information on the Sustainability page.

Where: Leon have 9 branches in London. See website here for locations. There are also a further 2 Leons at Brent Cross and Bluewater shopping centres.

Cost: Very reasonable. I paid £ 8.10 for BBQ Chicken, a side of corn off the cob and a zingy fresh lemonade.

Saf Restaurant: Gluten Free & Raw Food

When I asked my usual dining partners in crime if they fancied trying a raw food restaurant for an adventurous dining experience, I got the following responses:

“No way”

“I’m sorry but RAW FOOD? Absolutely not. Nope”

“You’re on your own, lady”

So that would be a pretty emphatic no, then. Still, never normally deterred by anything I decided to take a table for one at Saf Shoreditch.

There’s something quite pleasing about eating alone in a restaurant. Although I wouldn’t want to eat out by myself in restaurants all the time, I do find it a release to take time over your food by yourself. On that particular day I had a very busy mind and my “I vant to be alone” Greta Garbo-esque lunch was exactly what I needed.

I’d heard about Saf from a friend who did a raw food course earlier this year. Saf stands for “simple authentic food” and also means “pure” in Turkish. Since I know she reads this blog, a big thank you to her for introducing me to it! The theory behind the raw food movement is that raw foods are more nutritious than those which have been cooked and consequently lost their nutrients. Raw foodists believe that the digestive enzymes in raw food aid digestion. Heating food is OK as long as the temperature stays below around 46C although the specific upper temperature varied in the research I made on raw foods. On the Saf menu all items heated to over 48C are marked.

The décor of Saf Shoreditch is clean and modern. I was particularly taken with the light fittings, not something I would perhaps ever notice if I was chatting away with friends but I guess dining alone forces you to take in your surroundings a little more. The restaurant extended back some way and I could see a pleasant looking courtyard garden out at the rear. I bet this is exactly the kind of place Gwyneth Paltrow would try to eat out incognito.

The waiter advised a new menu had been introduced the day before my visit. In 2010 Saf Shoreditch won the Evening Standard award for best vegetarian restaurant in London. They do not use any animal products, dairy, refined or processed ingredients in their cooking. There was a good range of starters, salads, sandwiches and main courses and the gluten free items (of which there were many) were clearly noted on the menu.

Four of the six main courses were gluten free and these ranged in price from £10.50 to £14.50. At the lower cost scale of the menu, all of the salads (which came in medium or main course size, all gluten free) and a wrap under the sandwiches menu was made with a rice wrap and gluten free. The main size salads each cost £8.10 and the rice wrap was £7.90.

I chose the Thai red curry which included butternut squash, aubergine, okra and tofu in a spiced coconut curry sauce served with black rice on the side.

The coconut sauce tasted deliciously clean and zingily lime fresh. It was a chilly day and the sauce was quite spicy and certainly warmed me up. But I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed. Not at the taste because it was genuinely delicious. But I just didn’t find it very filling, it was more of a spicy soup with a few veggies and some rice. At £14.45 I thought this was pretty pricey, especially considering its lack of many vegetables or much protein.

Would I go back? Yes, the food was delicious. The atmosphere was friendly and relaxed; I felt totally at ease dining there alone. However next time I would choose something more filling and not go on a day when I needed fuel for a high impact aerobics class later that evening!

Saf Shoreditch, 152-154 Curtain Road, London EC2A 3AT

Saf Kensington, 63 Kensington High Street, London W8 5SE


WAGfree Cafe, Brixton Village

After our fabulous lunch at Honest Burgers there was only one place to go: WAGfree Bakery (“WAG” stands for wheat and gluten), the source of the delicous gluten free burger buns, in search of dessert.

Brixton Village is a lively 1930s indoor covered market which is home to lots of small independent eateries, all very enticing looking. It has a great atmosphere, lively and with a great sense of community. It really does feel like nowhere I’ve been recently in London.

Despite not living that far from Brixton, I’ve somehow managed not to make it to WAGfree yet (I know!).

Having already eaten my lunch, I just wanted a sweet treat. I approached the counter and sitting on top was a gluten free chocolate brownie for tasting. What a treat! I always have to turn down small tasters so this was a bit novel.

The nutty gluten free brownie was made with teff flour and was deliciously densely chocolatey. We bought one to share:

As I’d already had my lunch I didn’t get a chance to try the great food on offer at WAGfree. I’m looking forward to having a gluten free toastie for lunch there soon. Other gluten free treats on offer are quiches, pies, breads and flatbreads, fresh gluten free pasta and even jammie dodgers and WAGon wheels!

As well as running the bakery and cafe in Brixton Village, WAGfree also have a small shop selling gluten free products such breakfast cereals / granolas and gluten free flours including teff flour. I was really pleased to see they stocked the gluten free Dialsi range of Italian gluten free pastas which I’d tried and enjoyed at the Allergy Show earlier this year.

Now that I’ve found my way to Brixton Market once, I will be going back very soon.

Details of opening times and and photos of the delicious gluten free foods on offer can be found on WAGfree Bakery’s website or Facebook page.