The Norton Dog, Suffolk, UK

The Norton Dog is a traditional-looking pub in the tiny village of Norton in Suffolk, except it has a slightly less traditional sign outside.

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Yes, that’s right.  The Norton Dog offers a full gluten free menu at lunch and dinner. I chose a Norton Hog Roast – Old Spot Pork Belly, stuffing, apple sauce and crackling served with a gluten free bun and chips.  Oh my, it was good.  The pork belly literally melted in my mouth.  The apple sauce was tart and cut through the unctuousness of the pork.  I would eat it again right now, if I could.

20180410_212359In the name of research, I made room for dessert.  I chose a chocolate brownie served with cherries and ice cream.  It was rich and satisfying, although I sort of wished that I had shared this with my friend instead of ordering one each.  The chocolate was quite “heady”.

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The food was very good for a pub, but it was the little details that really showed the quality.  My friend ordered tea with dessert.  When the tea arrived, it was loose leafed and the milk came in a little churn.  A whimsical detail and the extra effort involved in using loose leaf tea took that from a regular drink to something a little special.

20180410_212453.jpgIn summary, I love where I live, but I wish I lived a little closer to The Norton Dog.  I wonder if they would consider adding a North Essex pub to their portfolio…

A secret weapon for gluten free/vegan eating on the road!

The Allergy Family recently made the journey from our home in the South East of England to visit family in Yorkshire.  We travelled along the M1/A1, which is the main route up the middle of England.  Usually, it is hard for us to eat in motorway service stations.  We were very pleased to discover a new chain of restaurants, El Mexicana, which has  several branches around the UK, including several service stations.  It is possible to eat gluten free, vegan, and even gluten free and vegan there easily.

You start by choosing your base; both the salad and corn tortillas are gluten free.  You then add your filling, with a choice of chicken, pulled pork, beef, and two vegetarian options.  You add the extras that you want rice, refried beans, cheese, sour cream, etc.  Finally, it is topped with a salsa of your choice.

 

20180307_135309The front tortilla in the photograph above is vegan and gluten free.  The base is a corn tortilla.  The filling is vegetable chilli with rice, pinto beans, onions, peppers and lettuce.  It is topped with tomatillo salsa.  It tasted amazing.  Fresh and flavourful.  I really can’t understand why there was a queue for McDonald’s when I could walk straight up to the counter here and get something much healthier that tasted so much better.

Unfortunately, their gluten control was a little variable.  We visited two branches: Peterborough and Cambridge.  The staff member at the Cambridge branch took great care.  She put on fresh gloves to make our order and wrapped the tortillas in foil so that when they went in the griddle they didn’t touch the same metal surfaces as the wheat products.  The staff member at Peterborough was clearly new to the job and wasn’t quite sure what she was doing generally.  She didn’t know to put the tortillas in foil before heating them, for example.  At both branches, the corn tortillas were stored in a separate sealed box away from the wheat products.

Thanks, El Mexicana, for making it a little easier for us to visit our family!

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!

The Visitor Centre Café at Abberton Reservoir, N. Essex, UK

This just shows how mainstream gluten free eating has become.  We took the Allergy Brothers to visit Abberton Reservoir (CO2 0EU for your sat nav).  We had planned to go for a walk, but we honestly got no further than the play area because the boys were having such a good time there.abbertonAnyway, the boys were pretty hungry after all that climbing.  Luckily, the café had crisps and drinks that the boys could eat.  I had a choice of two types of homemade, gluten free cake: a chocolate cake and a Victoria Sponge.  The cake was pretty sweet and reminded me of the kind of baking my Granny used to do before healthy eating was a thing.   I think I really need to do a walk next time to justify the cake, but full marks to such a small café catering to gluten free customers so well.

AbbertoncakeTo find out more about Abberton Reservoir, click here.

 

The Den, Vegan Cafe – Colchester

Vegan food can be really helpful if you have a dairy or egg allergy. As a great bonus, this vegan food was delicious too. I had a flat white coffee and a smokey chickpea salad. Both were delicious. The salad was so generous and filling that I didn’t get to try the low gluten cupcake I was intending to eat. I will just have to return for cake and coffee another time!

I found the owners to be very allergy aware. Items without gluten in the recipe are marked on the menu as low gluten rather than no gluten because they are concerned about cross contamination in their small kitchen. I thought that was honest and showed an understanding of how small quantities of gluten can potentially affect people. They were also happy to spend some time reading ingredients lists with me and I think we found something the Allergy Brothers could eat and drink at The Den!