Six Bells, Boreham, Chelmsford

When a pub restaurant is absolutely heaving on a Wednesday evening, and every table is booked, then you know you are somewhere good.  I was here as part of a club meal with AllergyDad.  The organiser had chosen the Six Bells because they like the food there, but it was a good venue for me as the website proudly proclaims “gluten free and coeliac friendly kitchen”.  There is a complete gluten free menu; there are even gluten free beers behind the bar.

For starter, I ate Homemade Chicken & Liver Pate served with Fruit Chutney and gluten free toast.

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For main course, I chose Seabass with a tomato sauce served on stir fry vegetables and sauté potatoes.

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I was pretty full, but it’s not often that I actually have a choice of dessert.  I chose a chocolate brownie with a warm chocolate sauce.  In the interest of a full review, I did my best and polished off the lot!

20180112_120558There was nothing flashy on the menu, but everything was cooked with skill.  The novelty of having a choice on a menu is almost enough to keep me happy!  The only negative was the lack of vegetarian or vegan dishes on the gluten free menu.

The Olive Branch, Wivenhoe, Essex, UK

A crucial part of the Christmas story is people making long journeys from the Middle East and finding themselves without accommodation.  It seems in keeping with the season to review a Syrian restaurant in the UK.

The Olive Branch (1a Station Road, Wivenhoe, CO7 9DH; 01206 615741; website) is in a fairly unprepossessing building.  Despite this, on a Friday lunch time on a cold, drizzly December day, there was nearly no room at the inn, or tables in the restaurant.  Luckily, the customers were feeling positive, and strangers ended up sharing tables so everyone could fit in.

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I (gluten and dairy intolerant) visited with my friend (severe nut allergy).  When we stated our food needs, there was absolutely no sign from the welcoming staff that this was in any way a problem, and it wasn’t.  The only physically uncomfortable feeling was eating slightly more than we should have because it was so delicious!

We ordered a platter for two, and were given the choice of vegan or vegetarian.  My friend had a hankering for halloumi so we went with the vegetarian option.  We were so eager to get stuck in that I forgot to take a photo so the platter is already looking a bit wrecked in the photo.  Our platter consisted of hummus, falafel, marinated halloumi, tabbouleh, warak inab (vine leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables), marinated olives, baba ghanouj, midammas (seasoned fava beans in a sauce), green salad, and pickles with flat breads or, in my case, toasted gluten free bread).

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To accompany the platter, we had freshly squeezed orange juice and minty lemonade.  The food was excellent.  This is the sort of vegan restaurant to take a confirmed carnivore to.  They will be so excited by all the different flavours, textures and spices that they will completely forget that there is no meat in the meal.  The only things I can think of to improve this meal are that, although it was great to have gluten free bread available, it would have been nice if it was more like the flatbread normally served; this would be perfect.  The only improvement to the restaurant would be moving to a slightly bigger building so more people can enjoy this fabulous food.

 

Fork and Wine Restaurant, Brightlingsea

Fork and Wine is a non-chain restaurant situated on the High Street in Brightlingsea (a small coastal town in North Essex, UK).

UPDATE – On 28/11/17, Fork and Wine received a 0 rating from the Food Standards Agency.  The restaurant is currently closed.

I had previously eaten breakfast there and was impressed that they had a gluten-free breakfast menu.  Allergy Dad and I decided to try lunch there.  Our waitress was new to the job so wasn’t quite sure which meals I could order, but went off with a menu to find out.  The chef quickly annotated it with which meals were already gluten free and which he could adapt to be gluten free.  I had a choice of almost the whole menu so that was excellent.  I chose baked cod loin topped with lemon crust, and served with Dutch mussels, triple cooked hand-cut chips and seasonal vegetables.  It was finished with a creamy garlic lemon butter sauce.

forkIt was really delicious and flavourful.  The fish was cooked to perfection.  If I was going to be picky then I would have liked the meal overall to be a little hotter, as the sauce was lukewarm and cooler than the cod.  I was also confused because it was served with both new potatoes and chips, which seemed a bit like spud overkill.  However, it was excellent value for money and a very good meal for a family restaurant.

We really appreciated the “can do” attitude of the waiting and kitchen staff, with regards to allergies.  We had an early lunch so they weren’t too busy; we took advantage of this to ask about the children’s menu.  Again, the chef was consulted and he seemed to think that he could accommodate the Allergy Brothers’ needs.  Obviously, we will give them fair warning when we book, and we won’t attempt this during their busy Christmas season.  However, there is the tantalising possibility that the Allergy Brothers will have their first restaurant meal in 2018!

Tempura prawns with onion rings in the distance.

The Brook Inn, Washbrook, Suffolk

Allergy Dad and I have decided that our best bet for some quality time is to go out to lunch together (date lunch rather than date night).  For our inaugural date lunch, we decided to head for The Brook Inn in the small village of Washbrook.  The Brook Inn is, to all intents and purposes, a fairly regular pub that serves food, just like you would find in any village or town, except for one thing: this pub is accredited by the Coeliac Society as a gluten-free caterer.

The Brook Inn exterior.

The Brook Inn street sign.The pub itself is fairly standard.  The interior was halfway between standard British pub (dark wood furniture, horse brasses, vinyl placemats), and Scandinavian modern (off white walls, light coloured soft furnishings).  I found this a bit confusing.  I would prefer that it jumped whole heartedly in one direction or the other.  I don’t mind which, well I would prefer Scandinavian modern actually,  but the combination made it seem like it was a bit unfinished.  However, the dining room was full for a Wednesday lunchtime with several bookings so the atmosphere was convivial.

The sheer novelty of being able to choose from many options on the menu was exciting.  Some items are gluten-containing, such as pies, some items can be either, such as burgers, and some items are gluten-free, such as fish and chips.  I decided to order the Tempura-battered prawns, as I thought this might present an interesting challenge to the chef.  These came with chips and a salad (because this is a British pub and everything must be served with chips or, at least, some form of potato!).  Allergy Dad and I ordered two side orders to share: some gluten-free onion rings, and some gluten-free garlic bread.

20151007_122912Allergy Dad really enjoyed the garlic bread.  There’s a piece missing from the photo because he couldn’t wait to try it.  He also enjoyed his meal.  I was impressed by the crisp, lightness of the tempura batter as I was sceptical that you could get that texture from gluten-free batter.  Unfortunately, I found the batter rather bland.  The meal portions were very generous so I grew tired of eating the batter.  In the end, I just released the prawns and left the batter.  This was probably not helped by the fact that the onion rings used the same batter so I had ended up ordering rather a samey meal.  The chips were thick and crispy, and the salad was good too.

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I was quite full, but, in order to write a complete review, I decided to selflessly try a dessert.  The entire dessert menu was gluten free.  I chose a baked white chocolate cheesecake.  This came with dark chocolate drops and sauce, and a plum compote.  It was good to eat some seasonal fruit, but I was not entirely convinced that the plum compote worked well with the white chocolate.  Maybe something like a ginger cheesecake would have worked better and brought in some earthier, Autumnal flavours.  Certainly, the cheesecake itself was excellent with a rich, crisp biscuit base that I would not have guessed was gluten free from the flavour and texture.  Unfortunately, I was very full so could not finish my generous wedge of cheesecake.

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The bill worked out as £20 ish per person for a main course, side order, dessert, and soft drinks.  We were happy to add a generous tip as the waitress had been helpful and polite without being overzealous.  It didn’t feel like we were being charged a premium for eating gluten free.  We will definitely return because the range of gluten free options was so good, but I think I will choose the lighter lunch options so I am not overwhelmed by the portion size, and less battered food.

Two young boys are on a beach. They are facing away from the camera and are a bit over dressed.

People Say The Strangest Things…

The weather has been glorious for the last week.  The Allergy Brothers and I have been taking full advantage of the unseasonal sunshine.  We are very fortunate to live in walking distance of the sea.  This means that we can go to the beach and make sand castles after school.  The problem is that most of the Allergy Brothers’ food requires cooking from scratch and this cuts down on our playtime.  I had noticed that a local fish and chip shop was advertising that they can use gluten free batter and had other dietary options.  I thought I would give them a ring and see if they could cater for the Allergy Brothers as this would be a perfect post-beach, no cooking treat.  This is how the phone call went:

Me: Hi.  I need to ask some questions about whether you will be able to cater for my sons, who have multiple allergies.  Are your chips cooked in a separate fryer to the other food?

Lady: Yes, they are.

Me: (getting a bit excited) And what oil do you use?

Lady: Sunflower.

Me: (getting quite a bit excited): And they are definitely cooked on their own?

Lady: Oh yes.  Hang on, we use a chemical to stop the potatoes discolouring after they have been cut.  I’ll go and check the label.  [She comes back and reads me the label.  It’s basically some sulphites, which, although a problem for others, do not seem to affect the Allergy Brothers].

Me: (really very excited about a night off from cooking)  That sounds great.  We’ll see you soon.  (I’m about to put the phone down and tell the Allergy Brothers the good news when…)

Lady: (on a roll of helpfulness) We do jacket potatoes and salads too.  Or they could have something with gluten-free batter because that will be okay because we cook them with the chips.

Me: (inwardly yelling “Nnnnnnoooooo” while falling to my knees in slow-motion) So the gluten-free battered items are cooked with the chips?

Lady: (sheepishly): Yes.

Me: Okay, well thanks for your time, but unfortunately we won’t be able to eat at your restaurant. Thanks, and goodbye.

Two young boys are on a beach. They are facing away from the camera and are a bit over dressed.

Allergy Little and I have been using his non-nursery days to enjoy local tourist attractions without the crowds, but with good weather.  We have a season ticket to an animal park.  On our latest visit, I noticed that they now sell non-dairy ice cream.  I asked the sales assistant if he could tell me the ingredients.  He looked at the tub and seemed really puzzled.  Finally, he said “Well, it says it’s non-dairy, but it’s got egg in.”  This is not the first time I have heard this and I have never really found a nice way of replying that doesn’t make the other person sound silly.  So I just said “Well, cows don’t lay eggs, but I agree this might be a problem for vegans.  Thanks for your help.”

These were just the silly things people said to me about allergies and food this week!  What is your favourite or most hated comment you have ever had about allergies or your food choices?  I would love to hear that I am not alone!  Also, if anyone has a gracious response to the dairy and eggs situation, could you share it with me as I don’t like to be unkind, but the correct response is alluding me?  Finally, if you have had an allergy disappointment this week then don’t forget to cheer yourself up by entering our amazing Free From giveaway!