Franco Manca – turns out it’s a good choice for allergies

We were in London for a day out in the Easter holidays. We often find it really hard to eat out when in London. It’s partly because we don’t want to waste too much of the day finding a restaurant and then waiting for the food to arrive, but also we don’t want to take risks and end up having a reaction, or just a stressful experience. So, more often than not, we end up eating the emergency sandwiches I always pack, and simply stop for a nice drink instead. When Yorica was around we always headed there for the best ice cream ever! Oh, we so miss Yorica!

We were just about to go and find somewhere to eat our emergency rations when we walked past a branch of Franco Manca on Old Brompton Road. Now, we’ve never eaten at a Franco Manca before but have heard good things about the chain catering well for allergies, and so we took the huge, brave step of walking in for lunch! Yes, it felt slightly nervy but also wonderfully spontaneous which is something we generally miss out on.

The menu is short and we were really surprised at what good value the pizzas were. To our delight the first pizza on the list was a marinara (tomato sauce, garlic, oregano and basil) with no cheese in sight – how wonderful! We ordered this as it’s a joy to order something on a menu without alterations and it was almost perfect. The base was deliciously chewy with charred bits and plenty of air bubbles – a really great pizza base. The tomato sauce was fresh, vibrant and light.

The only thing letting it down was the heavy handed addition of the oregano, which surely must have been a mistake because it was as if an entire jar had been tipped on top! We like oregano but this really was way too much! All in all it was a good, safe pizza but next time we’d ask for less oregano (!) and maybe add some toppings for extra interest. The vegan cheese on offer is Violife and there were plenty of meat and veg options to jazz it up. The beauty is you can start with a safe marinara and then add to it, rather than the trickier option of taking cheese off a pizza and then adding toppings instead. Even some of the dips were vegan, but we didn’t investigate further to see if they were totally safe.

I’d probably give Franco Manca 4* out of 5 mainly because the staff were efficient but a little brusk, I wasn’t 100% sure they’d got the message in our allergy order so watched like a hawk whilst the food was being prepared! Also, as it’s a pizza oven you have the potential for some cross contamination in the oven. But, having said that we had no issues and the food was good, safe and tasty, as well as being very good value. We’ll certainly eat at a Franco Manca again. 

We noticed a vegan raspberry sorbet on the menu but didn’t try, we felt like we’d been brave enough for one day!

(The menu also featured a gluten-free base which may be worth investigating if you’re gluten-free, although how that works with all the flour about I’m not quite sure? On the menu i didn’t see any peanuts but there were walnuts in a salad, almonds and hazelnuts in the puddings, as well as pesto on some pizzas.)

Browns Brasserie

I’d always imagined that brasserie style restaurants would be no-go’s in the UK. This probably stems from a disastrous meal in a Brasserie Blanc when the girls were tiny and the allegedly safe meal came with a pile of buttered green beans sitting on top! That was an experience that scarred us!

Anyway, Browns Brasserie had been recommended by a fellow allergy mum and as we were having a day out in Oxford it seemed like the perfect opportunity to be brave and give somewhere new a go. Well, we were pleasantly surprised and will definitely return for another visit sometime.

 

The waiter was exceptionally good – as soon as we mentioned allergies he brought out the allergen menu and didn’t seem at all phased. He also confirmed that anything grilled would be cooked in a separate pan to ensure there was no cross contamination – this came from him, not from us asking. It was really impressive service.

The allergen info is on the glass onion app so it’s easy to peruse at home, and also simple to categorise via allergen. We’d spent a long time checking it out at home (as is often our way!) and discovered that while the menu was more limited for Little S, she could still have a variety of dishes (she avoids milk, eggs, peanuts and sesame seeds). Out of the adult mains she could have had a steak, a couple of fish dishes or a vegan curry or salad. On the children’s menu there was grilled chicken breast or tomato pasta. She opted for the grilled chicken, plus chips and peas. Big S (allergic to milk only) had the burger with no cheese. 

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the food was tasty and well presented and it felt a little bit more special than one of the usual allergy-safe destinations. I would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a nice meal out. 

 

The only downside was that there weren’t so many choice for me (the vegetarian) but that’s a small price to pay for a safe allergy-friendly, family-friendly meal out. A big allergy-applause to browns Brasserie from us. 😊

 

Tea at The Orchid Lounge, Pan Pacific, London

I so wanted to write an absolutely glowing review as we’ve been looking forward to this exciting and special occasion for ages, so I’ll start with the good and then if you want to hear the negatives (there were some), you can read on…

We booked afternoon tea at The Orchid Lounge at Pan Pacific in London as the ultimate treat for big S’s 18th Birthday. Years ago we had a very successful afternoon tea at The Langham when Cherish Finden was head pastry chef there, so when we’d heard she’d joined the newly opened Pan Pacific as executive chef, it seemed like a wonderful choice for this very special occasion. I contacted Cherish on social media and the hotel directly, and was reassured that our dietary requirements (which I admit are tricky and numerous) could be catered for and the hotel would make sure it would be a very special occasion. We were so excited, we talked for weeks about what it would be like and checked and rechecked the menu! 

The Good was very good: the dessert plate of patisserie was spectacular with interesting, thought-provoking flavours, contrasting textures and it really was picture perfect to look at.

Our table had two versions, the usual one and the 14 allergen-free one, and there were few differences. The Free-from selection was delicious, incredibly impressive and certainly worth seeking out if you’re hankering after particularly fine patisserie. As it was late November, the tea had a Christmas theme and was an entire story of walking through the forest, Father Christmas and the reindeer flying over the trees, then waking up and opening the Christmas presents. It was really special. The ‘forest tower’ was filed with Yuzu mousse that was light and perfumed. The Christmas tree shortbread seemed to have a passionfruit caramel centre which was totally delightful. The Christmas bauble contained an orange mousse and gel, and the gift was the richest chocolate of many contrasting layers. All spectacular, and exceptional that such fine patisserie could be made ’14 free’. I know that Cherish and the kitchen spent months developing that aspect.

14 allergen free patisserie plate
The traditional patisserie plate

Indeed, all the food was fabulous – maybe the sandwiches weren’t necessarily to our taste (I’m not sure anyone want a fat slice of tofu in a sandwich!) but they were interesting and presented beautifully, and they were trying to tick the boxes for us and our requirements.

Vegan sandwich selection

Those of us who had the Kopi Tiam version (dim sum and Singaporean take on afternoon tea) found the offerings beautiful, delicate and very interesting. The curry puffs were a real highlight, and the dim sum a real flavour sensation and a step outside the comfort zone for the younger members of the family. Just what you want from an afternoon tea experience.

Dim Sum
Mushroom Bao

I’m impressed how the kitchen catered for our various dietary requirements and I feel they are extremely skilled and should receive massive praise for the beautiful food they create.

Before I say anymore, I have to say the hotel has been fantastic. They’ve been very communicative, extremely apologetic and are making changes to address all our issues. So please do consider Pan Pacific if you’d like a truly spectacular afternoon tea.

But here are the problems we had. Our issues mainly arose from the service and I have to say that sadly the special occasion was ruined, in fact it ruined the whole weekend. I could go on at length about the two hour wait for any food to arrive, the whole tea taking four hours (yes, 4 hours!), the offers of free drinks being swiftly denied by other staff, the constant need to ask for a tea cup or glass of water which took multiple requests and ages to come. Or the fact that Big S ended the meal with a small contact allergic reaction to some cross contamination (yes, we know and accept this is a risk of eating anywhere), or that the one member of our group who ate the prawn dim sum since came down with a nasty bout of food poisoning. But all those failures could have been forgiven, what really ruined the experience was the incompetent way the staff dealt with allergies, and the four occasions where we avoided an allergic reaction due to us (and mainly Little S) noticing something was not right about the plate in front of her. The kitchen knew about the food but not all the service staff did, meaning each time something arrived there was an air of (dangerous) confusion.

Firstly, we were all served an amuse bouche of a Calamansi jelly with a mango pearl served in a cleaned-out egg shell so it looked like an egg. Eye catching and interesting but also somewhat un-nerving as the start of a meal for a family with an egg allergy amongst them. We pointed out that it wasn’t right to serve an empty egg shell to someone who is seriously allergic to egg to which the waiter responded that it was fine because it had been thoroughly washed out (I don’t think this is safe!). We asked if Little S could have similar in a different container, but after a lengthy enquiry this apparently was not possible. So little S had to sit there with an eggshell in front of her – we all started to feel rather uncomfortable. What were they thinking? How can using an empty eggshell and serving it to an egg allergic child be acceptable? (For those who ate the amuse bouche it was delicious, but for Little S it was the start of feeling that they didn’t want her there, that she was a bother, which made us feel fairly sad.)

Amuse bouche

Next up came the sandwiches. The waiter proudly talked us through the fillings announcing that Little S had a cheddar cheese one. Eek! When told that wasn’t ok as she’s allergic to milk, he said, it’s ok just start eating the others and I’ll go and check. The head waitress came for a look and said it was turkey, finally it was confirmed to be tofu. A relief, but we were feeling increasingly ill at ease. Maybe we should have just left, but this was the special event, we had nothing else planned and surely it could go well from here, but no. Big S was given the wrong in between course biscuit and this was only noticed by Little S at the very last second.

Between course freefrom biscuit

Next the wrong scones were given to Little S, again a mistake noticed only by ourselves. As I say, I know we’re difficult to cater for but we’d only gone for this hugely expensive experience because it was confirmed that we could be looked after, and maybe we should have just left, but it’s hard when there are no other easy options and you’ve gone to such lengths to make this happen. 

14 free scones
Traditional scones

As I say, the meal ended on a high of wonderful 14-free patisserie, but we would have maybe enjoyed it more if we’d felt less anxious and it had been two hours earlier. To not be able to have your first bite of sandwich for two hours after arrival is excessive. And to be fair, once all the issues were pointed out the head waitress got involved and did all she could to turn the situation around. It was just sad that the occasion had been ruined, that special 18th birthday celebration which was meant to prove that yes you can have the same luxury experiences even with a food allergy just didn’t go to plan. Will we go for afternoon tea again soon? I’m not sure we will as it was just a stressful occasion and not the relaxed special occasion we’d hoped for….

Malaga in Spain with allergies

View of Malaga from Gibralfaro Castle

I can’t quite believe it! We’ve been abroad for the first time in two years (thanks COVID!). It really didn’t look like we’d get there after cancelled summer plans and then cases of COVID rocketing at school before half term. It also didn’t seem like it would be worth the hassle whilst doing the costly tests and filling out the countless forms. But we did it, we managed a half-term city break and it was definitely worth it to explore this grand Spanish city and enjoy some truly warm late October weather.

We flew with BA who were fantastic with allergies. They happily made numerous ‘no nuts on board’ announcements which was reassuring. However the risks of flying were bought home to me when, despite the announcements, I looked down at the pile of rubbish my neighbour was carelessly tossing onto the seat between us (pretty gross in itself) to see the wrapper of a peanut bar. I was shocked, and as he’d already finished it i didn’t fancy a confrontation.I guess, like many people he just hadn’t listened to the announcement. Luckily Little S was across the aisle and absolutely fine but it certainly made me feel rather uncomfortable and goes to show that you can politely ask people to look out for others, but some just don’t hear it, or won’t listen or don’t care 🙁.

What a mess left by the passenger sitting next to me 😦

We stayed in an apartment in the very centre of the old city so we could self-cater. this is always our choice as eating out is generally difficult and often stressful but also we’d get bored of eating out all the time, sometimes homemade food is what you want/need. As per usual, I packed plenty: bagel thins, wraps, dairy-free margarine, dairy-free cheese, oat milk, chocolate, biscuits and a cake; however this time I wished I’d packed more.

We were in the centre of the old town with it’s tiny streets, so only had small shops nearby and we found no safe bread (all contained or warned may contain sesame, and lots contained milk too) and pasta was equally tricky as most contained egg, we only found one pack of Barilla spaghetti that was OK. On our last day we popped into a slightly larger supermarket and there were a few loaves of Schar gluten-free bread which we could have bought. Also, because they were mainly small shops dairy free yogurts were hard to come by. Next time I’ll definitely pack more bread and some emergency pasta!

the freefrom range in the larger supermarket

We were on the visit to celebrate D’s birthday so we definitely wanted to eat out once at least. Before travelling I must have spent hours researching online for potential allergy safe restaurants. This was a difficult task, there were a few that were recommended for gluten-free but I didn’t easily come across any that were recommended for milk, egg, and nut allergies. After what felt like hours of fruitless research I came across La Pala d’Oro, a family run traditional Italian restaurant that proudly declared that they could cater for allergies (see below), and the menu had great allergen labelling, this was the destination for the big day (I’ll come back to the actual meal later!).

Since shopping proved far tricker than we’d expected and we had wandered past plenty of restaurants that looked possible, and it looked so appealing to sit outside and eat, we thought we’d be really brave and try a simple meal out. The restaurant we chose looked like a good choice and the manager was enthusiastic about his ability to cater for us. It was a traditional Spanish restaurant called Lo Gueno de Strachan and the menu featured grilled meats and he guaranteed there were no allergens on the grill. Perfect! Well, it was a safe meal but it was extremely underwhelming, plain grilled chicken or steak with some seriously bad greasy and cold chips! The vegetarian choice was a frankly odd salad that tasted rather unpleasant. Funny though, even though it wasn’t good food we were happy (and relieved) to have eaten safely, maybe that’s the lot of an allergy family, you put up with bad food just because it’s safe!!

Other than that disappointing meal, we did find plenty of fancy cocktails to enjoy, which is rather lovely whilst overlooking the beach and enjoying some late October sunshine!

San Francisco mocktail

So onto our meal for D’s birthday at La Pala d’Oro. I’m hesitant to write this because it was so good, the food was great and then service was perfect until the pudding and then both girls reacted to a likely trace of milk in the sorbet and the meal ended under a cloud, but i don’t think it was entirely the fault of the restaurant and I do think it is a fantastic restaurant that is worth seeking out… so hear me out before you make any decisions.

La Pala d’Oro Menu

La Pala d’Oro has branches in both Malaga and Benalmadena, and has an extensive menu with something for everyone, from pizza to pastas to grilled meats. The menu has very clear allergen labelling which is always a big relief. The waitress who took our order clearly knew the menu inside out and even confirmed which pastas were egg-free. To our utter delight we could all partake of the wonderful freshly made bread basket (this is unheard of) as it only contained gluten. Oh my it was delicious! Light olive focaccia, crispy grissini and crusty bread rolls. We didn’t mean to eat it all, but we couldn’t resist the deliciousness!

Homemade bread basket

Then it was pasta bolognese for Little S made with penne so no egg traces, she declared it the best bolognese ever and it even came with a garnish of edible petals. Big S had a prosciutto pizza with no cheese which was wonderful. Chewy, blackened, proper Italian base with light air bubbles, fresh tomato sauce and plenty of toppings. D and I had absolutely perfect pizzas too.

Prosciutto Pizza

Then a different waiter came to remove the plates and said ‘you can only have the lemon sorbet for pudding, how many would you like?’ I guess I’d been lulled into a false sense of security by how amazing he meal had been and so didn’t go through the please use a fresh scoop etc. Little S then heard a blender and the sorbet came – surprisingly – in a glass with a straw, which was rather unexpected. It definitely didn’t contain milk but there was certainly a trace in little S’s – she had a sip and then her mouth started to ‘feel funny’ and she came out in some hives. We thought it odd as Big S seemed fine, but then she finished off Little S’s and her lips started to swell. So clearly there was a trace of milk in one of the sorbets – possibly from the blender or the scoop. They were both ok in the end, but it did add a layer of stress and kind of ruined the meal. I’m not blaming the restaurant as the rest of the meal had been so fantastic, but it was a lesson to me to never let the guard down, and don’t think because it’s going well that those questions don’t need asking. But even so, I would go back, I would make those questions a priority, but I would be confident of a fantastic meal out.

the offending sorbet

Malaga was a fantastic destination for an autumn city break. There were plenty of things to see and do, the weather was gorgeous and it was just a lovely place to wander around; but it wasn’t the easiest allergy destination. I would advise to pack lots of food – bread! But, if you are brave, safe food can be found 🙂

Hales of Cartmel, Cumbria

We sadly had to postpone our longed for holiday to the Greek Islands due to COVID and have ended up in the Lake District. It’s stunning and we’ve always meant to visit but it really isn’t a hot and sunny Mediterranean holiday – that’ll have to wait until things return to a bit more like normal. We also seemed to time it extremely badly, after two weeks of scorching weather it’s been chilly, unbelievably wet at times and generally ridiculously changeable! But maybe it’s often like that in The Lakes and I guess it wouldn’t be so wonderfully green and verdant if it didn’t rain a lot 😉

We’ve done a lot of the Southern Lakes including Coniston, Windermere and a fell or two and had to have a trip to Cartmel, the home of both l’Enclume and sticky toffee pudding. Sadly a trip to L’Enclume was not on our itinerary but I did get sticky toffee pudding for presents (I’ll also make my own friendly sticky toffee pudding when we get home 😊).

Cartmel is a gorgeous picture perfect Cumbrian village and a lovely place to wander about, but the highlight turned out to be Hales of Cartmel. As usual with ice cream parlours we thought it it would be a ‘oh wouldn’t that be nice’ and then move along. But Little S spied a whole list of vegan Ice creams on offer, so it was certainly worth going in and asking. Sadly on our first visit it was closing time so we had to come back the next day. Oh my we were pleased we had! The owner was so knowledgable and well informed. She has a whole range of vegan ice creams and knew exactly how they were made, with a full run down of how the ice cream machines were thoroughly cleaned between batches. As soon as we mentioned allergies the first thing she did (without prompting) was to go and thoroughly wash the scoop and fetch fresh hot water for cleaning between portions, now that’s the sort of service that makes us feel confident and happy!

Not only were there ice creams, but also a whole list of safe sorbets ranging from lemon to the rather lovely sounding passionfruit and pineapple. All these were made by Luxury Lakes Ice Cream. There were safe cones on offer and even a warning given over some varieties which were made in a facility that handles allergens, plus a variety of safe toppings from marshmallows to sherbet and sprinkles. Again the owner knew immediately which toppings were allergy safe and I even noticed that she kept these in a closed box to avoid any cross-contamination. Why can’t more establishments have care and attention to detail like this?

We were in ice cream heaven! It was such a joy to have a wonderfully allergy aware owner, safe ice cream and an abundance of choice! Since Yorica sadly shut down we haven’t had the joy of an ice cream parlour with a choice, and this find was so exciting we talked about our choices for most of the day and made a return visit for the pure joy of another ice cream 🙂

As we’re so unused to choice it was almost overwhelming, with a stunning array from the usual strawberry, vanilla and chocolate to the more exciting Biscoff, tiramisu and thunder and lightning which was by far our favourite. After all who can resist vanilla ice cream swirled with honeycomb and chocolate sauce?

So if you are visiting the Lakes and are anywhere near Cartmel I would thoroughly recommend a visit even if it’s just a pick up a delicious allergy-friendly ice cream.

Venus Beach Cafes, Devon

After probably the longest winter in living memory the restrictions in the UK are starting to be relaxed and suddenly we don’t need to stay at home, or more recently stay local. We live in a particularly beautiful area but sometimes you also really feel the need to widen your horizons, and particularly get a bit of sea air!

By a fluke of luck we had a mini-break booked in Salcombe, South Devon to start on the 12th April, the day self-catering holidays were first allowed. Boy, were we lucky! We’d only booked it up as we’d been in October just before the November lockdown and had the most horrifically wet and stormy weather and we really wanted to go back and see what Salcombe had to offer. Luckily for us 3 nights were available (the only available dates until October 2021!) and so back in November we snapped them up. For a while it didn’t look like we’d go, but fate was smiling down on us and all the dates slotted into place and we got our holiday! It was so fabulous to go away, enjoy some beautiful beaches and the cute winding streets of the town.

When we visited in October we went on a day trip to Bigbury on Sea and checked out Burgh Island (famous for Agatha Christie and the setting for some of her novels) and warmed ourselves up with tea in the Venus Cafe. Warming our hands on the steaming mugs we noticed the menu looked pretty awesome for us, all allergens clearly stated, plenty of vegan/veggie options and even a selection of safe ice creams. We couldn’t resist and scoffed down Swedish Glace cornettos despite the in climate weather, and then needed to warm up again. Cue a sharing plate of some of the best chips we’ve ever tasted!

Burgh Island

Consequently we were very keen on return to the Venus cafe on this visit. It turns out there are 4 Venus cafes in the Devon area – Blackpool sands, Bigbury on Sea, East Portlemouth and Millendreath, and whilst I’ve only eaten at the Bigbury one, if the others are just as good then they’re well worth hunting out.

Luna our Cavapoo on Bigbury Beach

The Venus cafe is just what you want from a beach cafe, a good selection of ice creams, cooked breakfasts, burgers and toasties and amazing chips! We had to eat outside as that is all that is allowed right now, but what a treat. Delicious safe burgers (toastie for me) and chips followed by ice creams. We couldn’t have asked for a better beach cafe experience.

Not only is the Venus cafe allergy aware but they’re also pretty hot on sustainability, local ingredients and introducing packaging solutions that are kinder to the environment. Venus cafe, we’re big fans of you, your food and ethos, and in our experience you deserve a big allergy applause 🙂

Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych, London

It’s rare that my girls get to go out for a real fancy treat, one that is food based but also worth getting dressed up for! We’ve previously had a wonderful Afternoon tea at The Langham and have often talked about some of the delicacies we came across. So, to have a repeat experience but in a new venue I did masses of research. There really aren’t that many choices, a fair few offer you a vegan tea option but once you’ve taken out all the nuts and seeds there are less options available, and whilst my girls may be dairy or dairy and egg free, that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to eat the vegan menu.

In my research I came across a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea at One Aldywch. This sounded both exciting and a possibility as they specifically stated that they could cater for any dietary requirement, if given notice. I contacted the hotel and was given a very welcoming contact, who checked with the chefs and confirmed we could be catered for. It sounded so exciting and we couldn’t wait for our tea featuring “fizzy lifting drinks, snowberry jam, chocolate milkshake mixed by waterfall”.

I have to say I’ve really struggled with whether to post this review as I don’t like to be negative, but honesty is the best way and we found the whole experience so deeply disappointing.

The hotel is lovely, with a modern feel and some elegant features like a checkerboard mirrored lift to get to the bathrooms – notably the bathrooms (always a giveaway) were nothing special, you didn’t feel like you were anywhere luxurious.

The service was okay, we were made to feel welcome but it was painfully slow, so slow in fact that we spent a lot of time looking over our shoulders for something to arrive. I know we are tricky as we all have different requirements but I’d given them 2 months notice and they were the ones who said they were happy to cater for us. Honestly, don’t say you can deliver if you can’t!

So onto the food… which was at best only ok, there was nothing that made you go wow.

For the standard vegetarian savouries (that I had and I’m mentioning first as these didn’t need to be tweaked to be made safe and should be the knock out dishes they wheel out daily) there was a relatively tasty cheesy tart, the driest brioche you have ever eaten filled with something unidentifiable and purple, a very earthy beetroot wrap and a rather nice coronation cauliflower in matcha bread. There were cheesy scones which were good, but I’ve had better. So one nice savoury.

For the girls they got avocado in bread – honestly I couldn’t believe the lack of imagination. There was also a very plain chicken sandwich and a rather challenging beetroot wrap. Big S got some nice hummus topped with a carrot puree but it came with a spoon rather than something to dip in. Who eats hummus with a spoon? Then there’s the scones. Oh my goodness they were bad, like hard biscuits you could hardly swallow, you really couldn’t imagine a worse scone (and vegan scones are so easy to make!)

The sweet course looked prettier, it had it’s own stand and came with some candy floss which did make everyone smile but the flavours and execution were nothing special.

The standard options were some tasty little lemon sponges, chocolate financiers and fairly good scones with jam, there was an Eton mess which would be nice if you liked cream (I don’t) and a very milky chocolate mousse and super minty chocolate drink. The there was a red velvet cake pop which was just unpleasant – sorry but when you’re charging £45 per head I think you need to do better than unpleasant.

The girls sweet course was far worse, I just don’t know how they made dairy and egg-free food so horrible. I know I’m probably far more experience in cooking free-from but I’m not saying I can cater or people and then charging them 5* prices for horrible food. On the plus side the little chocolate sponges were quite nice. But then the chocolate mousse was the most bitter chocolate I have ever tasted, the same awful scones appeared, the chocolate drink was again far too dark and worst of all both girls reacted to traces of milk and needed antihistamine. All that and they charged adult price for little S when she should have  been charged the child price.

Sorry One Aldwych but we came away so disappointed and underwhelmed; this special occasion was anything but special, cost a fortune and has put us off trying somewhere else new. Maybe we should have made a fuss on the day, but eating out with allergies is challenging and we try to make the experiences as pleasant as possible, and making a fuss in front of the girls just makes the whole thing worse.

So all in all I wouldn’t recommend afternoon tea at One Aldywch, even the standard version was anything but magical and only had a vague hint of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; save your money or save up and go somewhere like The Langham where you will have an experience to remember.

Wagamama – a truly great experience when eating out with allergies

I’m going to continue my ‘eating out with allergies’ series as it’s an area where I’m always looking for help and recommendations, so maybe my comments and reviews may help others too. Click on the ‘Eating Out’ tab for previous recommendations 🙂

I don’t know about you but eating out causes us some serious anxiety. Often we’ll think, oh wouldn’t it be nice to not have to cook for once and eat out instead. Then I spend ages trawling through the options online with the following thoughts running through my brain; ‘is there anything safe on offer, how seriously will they take our requirements, is it going to end badly, is it worth going out if it’s for something so simple and plain it would be easier to make it at home?’

More often than not we stick to one of our usual favoured chain restaurants which can seem more reliable in catering for allergies, or we just stay at home. Whilst it can be successful, the stress of trying a new location can simply be too much, tipping the meal from enjoyable to tense and uncomfortable. Little S often goes very quiet in restaurants, it’s like she isn’t at ease and is carrying a load of worries. Do any of you find this to?

Often the easiest and most relaxed way to guarantee a good safe meal is by staying at home, but that’s not so much fun….

When people first mentioned Wagamama as a good allergy friendly destination we inwardly scoffed – how could a Japanese style restaurant which actively sells a lot of food with sesame, peanuts and other nuts be suitable for us? So we dug our heels in and didn’t try it for ages. Then one opened near us and we took the plunge with Big S (just milk allergic so Japanese food is a fairly safe option) whilst Little S was on her first school residential (which had it’s own stresses, but that’s another story!)

Wow, were we impressed! The whole service is incredibly slick, and caters for allergies in a caring but professional manner. The manager is the only one who will take allergy orders, ensuring responsibility is taken by the person in charge and they always refer to the allergen menu which is a great reassurance. Big S can have a lot of items on the menu and now she’s a teen it’s fab to have a cool, safe and really popular restaurant she can head to with friends.

Little S’s options are fewer (free-from milk, eggs, peanuts and sesame) but still she can have an actual dish from the menu which is always fresh and tasty and doesn’t require us to bring bits from home, or for copious alterations to make it suitable. For reference Little S has the grilled chicken Katsu with Amai sauce and it’s been successful every time she’s had it (and that’s loads of times).

Children’s grilled chicken Katsu with Amai sauce

The only problem we’ve come across was the disappointment when the breadcrumbed chicken Katsu started to be cooked in the same oil as a dish containing cottage cheese, making it unsuitable if you have a dairy allergy. This was pointed out by a manager and then suddenly it all made sense why Big S had been sick a couple of times after eating the regular Katsu; there was a new dairy cross-contamination. This had been Big S’s favourite dish so she was mightily disappointed to forego her choice, but she’s got used to the grilled version now.

Grilled Chicken Katsu with sticky rice

Wagamama has grabbed with relish the rising popularity of vegan food and created an entire veggie and vegan menu, giving plant-based spins on their traditional favourites. This is a big bonus for me as a vegetarian as I’m more used to very little choice when eating out.

Vegetarian Yasai Katsu

So all in all, Wagamama is now a family favourite, relied upon for a safe and tasty restaurant experience. So much so we even visited a branch in Holland when we were struggling for safe options! If you haven’t, I’d recommend you to give it a go, it’s so nice not to have to cook every day!

Children’s Menu

Malta and Gozo with allergies

We’re just back from a wonderful, relaxing and very sunny summer holiday and I thought I’d pass on some thoughts on Malta and Gozo as holiday destination from the point of view of a family with food allergies to cater for. Whenever we go somewhere new I do a search on the supermarket availability for safe foods and allergy-friendliness of a destination, frequently coming up with nothing useful or only snippets of information. So maybe if I write my thoughts , other people may find it helps them in future.

I haven’t been paid in any way for this review, it just to help others who travel with allergies by passing on my thoughts 🙂

Similar to most families with allergies, we went self-catering; even if we could easily go to stay in hotels or all inclusive I’m not sure it would be my chosen option. It is not an issue and I think I just like cooking too much, and the trip to the local supermarket is always an interesting holiday activity for me. On this occasion we splashed out on a private villa with a pool and much needed air-con. This proved to be a highlight and certainly helped us relax and cool off. See below for our beautiful villa and pool in traditional Gozitan style.We used a company called James Villas and I have to say that the whole process from booking to returning home worked like clockwork. If you’re looking for a Mediterranean villa holiday I’d really recommend having a look at their site.

The first notable feature that made this holiday so easy was the language. Although everyone speaks Maltese, the official language is still English and that made getting our message across so much easier. It’s so reassuring when trying to convey such important requests to know that the person you’re talking to is really getting the message. I should add that the Maltese people as a nation are incredibly laid back, friendly and welcoming. I’m not sure I even heard a car horn in anger.

As we were staying on Gozo which is a small island only 14km long by 7km wide, there wasn’t a huge selection of food shops, but we did come across a Lidl, one supermarket in a shopping centre called Arkadia which we used and various little convenience stores. The selection of brands available was excellent; they even had Waitrose own-brand products!

We found the range to include products from the UK, France, Italy and Malta. The free-from brands we came across included Alpro, Pure, Valsoia, Misura and Schar. A really impressive range for a small island you might visit on holiday. So we were very well catered for, for buying dairy-free margarine, dairy-free yogurts, ice cream and milks, free-from biscuits and croissants.

We don’t need gluten-free products ourselves, but that range was even better. Amazingly, even the small convenience stores had a few free-from products available.

We did however have a problem with bread. I didn’t find any sliced loaves that didn’t have ‘may contain sesame’ labels and that wasn’t a risk we were willing to take on a small island. I only managed to buy some UK produced pittas that we survived on, along with the supplies I’d brought from home! More concerning was the fact that the peanuts were bizarrely kept within the bakery cupboards – that really wasn’t a welcome sight.

A lot of the ice cream parlours advertised vegan ice cream, but again we weren’t taking any risks whilst on an island with no big hospital, so opted for very cooling, iced ‘slushies’ instead which were available everywhere.

We ate out a couple of times. Lunch whilst visiting the Citadella in Victoria, the Capital, and one in a restaurant near our villa called Il Girna by Peppe. Both occasions were successful. The staff were very accommodating and we felt confident that they took our concerns seriously. Both adapted the menu to suit our needs, and whilst the resulting dishes were fairly plain, they were safe, so we were happy customers. If you’re after gluten-free or vegan food, the provision was excellent with dishes available in all the establishments we checked.

So, all in all, it was a really good destination for a holiday with allergies/food restrictions and I’d definitely recommend considering it as an option. We only visiting Malta once to go to the excellent aquarium, but I believe it offers more of the holiday resort type holiday. Gozo was much quieter, with stunning architecture (and really interesting house names – our favourite was ‘Reality’!). It’s fairly rocky with dramatic cliffs, stony bays and always beautiful crystal clear sea and inlets. Seafood lovers will be very happy, many very simple looking beach cafes and shacks seem to be turning out the freshest seafood. Sandy beaches are few and far between, with the red sanded Ramla Bay being the favourite. It should be noted that we had some fairly hairy drives with roads suddenly ending in front of us, or being so steep that the car couldn’t make it up in 1st gear, something I have never experienced before.

There’s also plenty of culture from pre-historic temples which pre-date the pyramids of Egypt by one thousand years, to hilltop Basilicas aplenty. It seemed to me that Visit Malta has invested a lot in their tourist attractions and they were all modern and top-notch. I’d say we did everything in Gozo in one week, but then we like to be busy and you could happily stretch it out with more ‘relax time’, and that would be rather lovely in the wonderful southern Mediterranean climate.

‘The Diner’ Review

The Diner (also known as Goodlife Diner) has fair few branches scattered all over London and also one in Southampton and is temptingly styled as a retro Diner with booths and neon lights a plenty, but also boasts an extensive veggie and vegan menu. I think this is one of the few American diner style restaurants that we have eaten at as a family. Somehow all the milkshakes and sesame-seed buns makes us feel they won’t be suitable. Anyway Big S (milk allergy only) had been to a party at The Goodlife Diner and they were not only very helpful and accommodating on the phone when I scoped out the options before hand, but she also came home raving about the meal. This was the kind of destination that a teen wanted to go to.

On her recommendation we returned as a family and it was a very pleasant experience. The waitress was extremely well trained on allergies and immediately brought out the allergy folder. Naturally, as a Diner, it’s a burger and chips kind of place, not a place for exciting gastronomy – but that suited us for a simple family lunch. We always take our own rolls if we think burgers might be on the menu as invariably the bread isn’t suitable. But to our delight the Vegan gluten-free buns were safe (no egg in sight which is unusual for gluten-free). The girls said they were tasty if a bit crumbly, but what a joy to have a burger without the Home supplied bun.

The meat eaters of the family said the burgers were delicious and chips particularly fine (although looking at the allergy folder you might want to step away from the egg and dairy-free onion rings as they had a whopping 3,000 calories per portion!!)

I had a veggie burger which was only ok, it had that musty flavour of health food shops and dried herbs which I’m not particularly keen on. But there is an entire veggie and vegan menu to choose from, so I wouldn’t dismiss it as a unsuitable restaurant for vegetarians.

To our delight there was a dairy-free milkshake on the menu but we didn’t try it out as it was coconut flavoured and not to our taste.

So if you fancy a family meal in a proper ‘diner’ style setting with neon lights and milkshakes and burgers, I’d say The Goodlife Diner is a pretty good choice, not too expensive and caters well for all dietary requirements.