Growing up as a fussy eater, being diagnosed as Coeliac at the time felt devastating and totally unexpected. I was extremely ill by the time I was diagnosed and on the one hand was relieved it was something that I could help through diet alone but on the other I had no idea what on Earth I was going to eat! From the moment I found out I went cold turkey on gluten as I feared I would not stop eating it otherwise!
I’m sure many can relate to feeling completely overwhelmed by their diagnosis. However, even since 2009 things have improved dramatically in the U.K. for coeliacs with all supermarkets massively increasing their range and chain restaurants offering gluten free menus. In 2009 none of the chains that I can remember offered gluten free and eating out with friends turned into a nightmare, especially as I don’t really like salad that many restaurants resorted to. I am so grateful that gluten free has become much more widely available and eating out is not as much of a challenge as it once was.
However, with gluten free awareness increasing I have not found the same to necessarily be true for coeliac or cross contamination awareness. With many eating gluten free and not being affected by cross contamination not all restaurant processes are safe and I have found myself caught out and glutened.
Eating out in the UK is so much easier than before but you still need to ask the right questions about the gluten free menu and cooking processes. With so many chains now providing gluten free however, on a short trip to the UK or as a newly diagnosed Coeliac you may wish to stick to those that have been accredited by Coeliac UK for what should be a guaranteed easier experience. With establishments having to work with Coeliac UK to receive accredition their knowledge is generally much better and I haven’t been glutened at any of these places although you do still need to be vigilant.
London locations include Oxford Circus and Covent Garden
With so many UK chains offering gluten free now it has been a while since I’ve eaten at Carluccios, especially as my boyfriend is always annoyed at the fact that they don’t have pizza on the menu despite being an Italian restaurant, something he completely fails to comprehend. However, Carluccios holds a very special place in my heart being the first restaurant that I ever found a gluten free menu and gluten free pasta at after stumbling across the Oxford Circus branch one evening after work. I can not express the pure joy I felt at the time at finding that they could cater so easily for me at a time when I was fairly newly diagnosed and felt that no one else could. The fact I could actually eat pasta in a restaurant even made it to be my Facebook status – I was just so excited!
Since then I have eaten at many Carluccios particularly in Milton Keynes where I live, Peterborough where I grew up and regularly visit family and across London. In that time I’ve had one mishap where the waitress gave me the wrong pasta as she had forgotten to note gluten free when she took my order. Fortunately I realised as the gluten free pasta is a different shape but it could have been much worse.
Gluten free aside I have had a couple of bad experiences with service in Milton Keynes, again contributing to the reason it has been quite a while since my last visit with really slow service and last time the hot dessert hadn’t been heated properly and was cold inside. With lots of other chains launching gluten free menus I found myself visiting those instead.
Top choices for me include sharing platters for starter that are still a rarity when eating out, carbonara one of my all time favourite dishes and a chocolate dessert that is to die for… it is so gooey inside.
Edit: Whilst in the process of writing this blog post I visited Carluccios for lunch with a friend. On this day the service was friendly and helpful but the menu had changed, a lot. Carbonara is out and when I asked if I could have it anyway I was told no as flour is used in the sauce which is premade. How frustrating that they have changed something that was previously gluten free to something that is not, let alone carbonara which I’ve never seen include flour! A double blow was the chocolate fondant no longer being on the dessert menu, to be replaced by ice cream sundaes and sorbets – nothing exciting! The ragu pasta was nice enough but nothing special compared to what I would make at home and although the service was much better on this occasion it was instead their menu that left me with no desire to return.
Many locations through London
As I’ve started with Carluccios I may as well stick with the Italian chains first so next up is Pizza Express – somewhere where Paul is far happier as he can get pizza! There are lots of Pizza Express restaurants so it’s a really easy go to whenever you may be struggling for somewhere to eat. Their pizza is somewhat lacking on cheese for me but I still like them and eat here often for convenience and the fact that they have gluten free dough balls with garlic butter dip – amazing!
Top choices are therefore inevitably the dough balls and my pick of the pizzas is the pollo ad Astra. They often have deals available online for dough balls and pizza and they include the gf ones in that offer! They have gluten free desserts including a couple that are bite size for when you want something sweet but don’t have room for a big dessert or are trying not to give in to temptation! They aren’t that inspiring though with the regular gluten free choices of brownie or ice cream, so although I generally have a sweet tooth if I’m limiting the number of courses I pick the dough balls over dessert at Pizza Express.
I’ve seen online that Pizza Express have launched their spring 2017 menu which includes some additions such as gluten free pasta that I may try on my next visit!
London locations include Covent Garden and New Oxford Street
Unlike Pizza Express who heavily promoted the launch of their gluten free menu, Prezzos I didn’t really hear about. It was only when friends wanted to eat there I checked the menu to see they could infact cater for gluten free.
The first time I went I was pleasantly surprised by the menu which included mozzarella and caramelised onion garlic bread and it was amazing! It had been so long since I had eaten something like that and I really enjoyed it.
I followed this with al forno chicken carbonara which was also delicious and again baked pasta dishes are not often on the menu.
I’ve since eaten there several times again across Milton Keynes, Peterborough and London. Their pizza is excellent and one of my favourite dishes is the king prawn risotto with saffron sauce. In the early days of diagnosis before gluten free menus and an abudence of chains serving up gluten free pizza and pasta I ate a lot of risotto so this isn’t something I normally order now, except when it has saffron in as I love everything saffron and this risotto was no exception.
I checked all the websites whilst writing this blog as I went along and when I clicked on the Prezzo gluten free menu for one awful minute I thought it had just brought up the allergen chart to trawl through rather than having a proper gluten free menu. Turns out it’s an allergen chart for all the gluten free items, making it really easy if you have multiple dietary requirements and it seems to include several vegan options.
Dominoes are accredited by Coeliac UK and the pizzas should arrive uncut and with a yellow gf sticker on the box. I was so happy the day that these were launched, as was Paul who had not been getting takeaway pizza because of me despite pizza being his favourite food! It’s also great to have an option when at friends to easily order a takeaway.
I’ve always managed to safely have pizza from here but have seen online that lots of people have had issues though when they’ve ordered from Domino’s so be wary and definitely make sure it’s uncut to prevent cross contamination. I always ring up the branch and speak to someone about my order rather than relying on online systems too. The other thing I’ve found is that gluten free pizzas often aren’t included in the pizza deals but whenever this has been the case after speaking to a manager it’s always been overridden at their discretion so it’s always worth speaking to someone if you want a pizza deal!
London locations include Leicester Square and Baker Street
I’ve only eaten at Pizza Hut a couple of times, it reminds me of all you can eat Pizza Hut parties growing up! The gluten free pizza is oblong so it’s easy to tell that it’s gluten free and I really enjoyed my pizza here but that was after a trip to Japan where I struggled to eat and I came home craving pizza! I don’t think I’ve eaten here since though so should really try it out again soon!
London locations include Oxford Circus and Covent Garden
Cote Brasserie is my top choice of the Coeliac UK accredited chains, every time I’ve been the food has been amazing and the service always been fab in the Peterborough and Covent Garden branches. My family rate this as their top choice for eating out in Peterborough and the fact that they can cater for me so easily as well really does make it a winner.
The gluten free menu is extensive and the food comes with gluten free flags which help reassure me that they have taken care with the order. The menu serves all the French classics – mussels, French onion soup, pate, pork belly, steak and chips and a fish pie as some of the examples that spring to mind. I’ve tried quite a bit off the menu but struggle to sway from my usual order of pate on toast, pork belly with my favourite gratin dauphinoise and creme brûlée if I can manage it. I’m yet to have a bad meal in terms of food or service and highly recommend the chain (which I really hope comes to Milton Keynes soon!)
London locations include Oxford Circus, Wardour Street, White City Westfield and Covent Garden
Pho is a chain that has many branches across London but is also in other big cities. I was Pho’s number one fan as 99% of the menu was gluten free and the food was excellent. After an incredible holiday in Vietnam this was one of mine and Paul’s favourite restaurants as the food brought back so many memories, I could eat spring rolls to my hearts content and it was a worry free experience. However they recently had their accredition revoked as they changed supplier, which shows how important it is to always check your food is safe for you. They are now accredited again but the spring rolls are no longer safe which is soooo disappointing as they are not something that can be found easily.
Previously my top choices were spring rolls and calamari starters followed by Pho or a cracking curry. Everything except the spring rolls still seem to be on the safe list so there is plenty to be found for an excellent meal and can still be recommended!
London locations include Soho, Oxford Street and Euston Station
Eds diner also has an extensive gluten free menu and can cater so easily for coeliacs. The vibe of the restaurant is fun and uplifting and their milkshakes are the best ever!
However, that’s where the praise ends as having tried several things off the menu I’ve not really enjoyed any of them with all the burger and hot dog buns somehow turning soggy. I’ve found the food expensive for what it is and Paul refuses to eat there. Whenever I do eat there now it is for convenience whilst waiting for delayed trains as they have a restaurant at Euston, the station I commute in and out of.
It may be ok if you have kids with things like hotdogs on the menu, but I personally wouldn’t choose to eat here.
Frankie and Benny’s
London locations include Carnaby Street and The Strand
Growing up I used to love Frankie and Benny’s although that may have been down to a limited choice at the time of restaurants in Peterborough! However when I moved to Milton Keynes pre Coeliac diagnosis me and my friends had a couple of bad experiences here with the service and wait times and we stopped going.
When I saw they had a gluten free menu I decided to give them a go again (went to the one in Xscape for anyone who knows Milton Keynes) and we entered the restaurant where we were left standing. Staff were passing us but none said hello or even acknowledged us. There were empty tables but other staff were busy cleaning tables despite some being already made up and we were basically ignored to the point we gave up and went elsewhere.
As I was writing this I decided to give them a go for lunch and had the half rack of ribs from the Bletchley branch. They don’t do gluten free chips and it came with a dry, unappetising jacket potato and some coleslaw. Their menu wasn’t that extensive although it had some pizza and pasta options that I’ve seen criticised online. As we went on a really hot day my friend had a goats cheese salad that looked awesome so maybe that’s the pick of the menu, although not really what I would personally go to Frankie and Benny’s for. The service on the day was still incredibly slow although our actual waiter was very quick, efficient and friendly given how busy he was, the food was extremely slow coming from the kitchen, the drinks slow from the bar and no one seemed to be helping him cover a lot of tables so it’s still not my pick of the chains.
Hard Rock Cafe
London location – Mayfair
The Hard Rock Cafe has Coeliac UK accredition but I’ve never actually eaten at one in the UK! I’ve had two recent experiences with them, once in Japan where they were a saviour in a country that struggles for gluten free food and once at the Vegas branch where they served me the wrong burger and I had to wait ages for a new one to be cooked. The food was pretty good when it arrived but I was a bit over eating as everyone else had finished their meal and I get a bit fed up at times of my gluten free order going wrong! I often visit Hard Rock Cafe in other cities though so for anyone visiting London the Hard Rock Cafe is in a Central location and the Coeliac U.K. Accredition hopefully will mean you can get a safe meal there.
Handmade Burger Company
London locations – Wembley
I’ve never actually eaten at Handmade Burger Company so one for the list to try, I’m not sure there even is one in Milton Keynes or Central London. I have seen good reviews though of the chain and their burger bun is served still in its packaging to help prevent cross contamination. I can’t see myself eating here over Honest Burgers though on a short trip to the UK/London.
Fish and Chips
London locations – none central, nearest one – Romford
Fish n Chickn is the fish and chip chain that are accredited by Coeliac UK. Milton Keynes has a branch that started doing gluten free on Sundays. Speaking to the staff it is not accredited yet in this particular branch but they have gone through the same training as the other branches that have received it. My order was taken so seriously with separate fryers and the staff washing their hands before serving the food they seemed clued up and I was comfortable eating the food which is a good thing as I am a huge fan of fish and chips. I also used to love battered sausages as a child and was ecstatic to see these also on the gluten free menu which also seems good for dairy free and other allergies. It’s a good thing I often work on Sundays or I would want to eat here all the time!
Unfortunately for London visitors, this chain hasn’t made it into Central London yet!
London location – Leicester Square
Chiquitos have only recently received Coeliac UK accreditation so see my blog post on my experience! In summary though, the menu is not that extensive but I had some delicious potato skins for starter followed by fajitas that had terrible gluten free wraps. The cocktail menu was ace and look out for the 2-4-1 deals on them. I had good, friendly service and enjoyed my meal so would visit again although it doesn’t top the list over places like Cote.
London location – Covent Garden
Browns Brasserie are on the list for recently receiving accreditation. As part of the restaurant group Mitchell’s and Butlers this was interesting to me as my brothers pub is part of this chain. I’ve always managed to eat safely at his pub through his knowledge of coeliac but not a lot of training seemed to have been given. His pub does have a gluten free menu but with lots of disclaimers that it can’t be guaranteed that it’s gluten free and as a result I’ve always been wary of anything that is part of the chain.
Due to the accreditation I recently tried out Brown’s Brasserie in Covent Garden that was large and busy as it was pre theatre time! This meant the waiter was incredibly effecient but it didn’t make for the most relaxed friendly meal as it felt like we were being rushed through.
I had crab meat on toast which was nice enough, the crab meat was tasty but the bread wasn’t really toasted making it all seem quite mushy. I made the most of my brothers 30% off ordering the lobster, which was absolutely delicious with chips, I could have eaten it all twice over. My sister in laws lobster risotto also went down very well which was on the gluten free menu. I finished off the meal with Creme brûlée, which was nice and creamy but the sugar topping was really soft and had no crunch to it like the best creme brulees do!
The meal was lovely and one of the higher end restaurants within the Mitchell’s and Butlers chain making it quite expensive for what it was had we not had the discount card. The meal though was good, there were some fab cocktails on the menu and the location ideal in Central London with fast service should you be on your way to a show!
London locations include Wardour Street (Soho), Baker Street and Charing Cross Road
Chipotle in the UK has six restaurants in London and they’ve just been accredited by Coeliac UK. Read my recent blog post to read all about them but in summary they are a Mexican fast food restaurant where everything is gluten free except the burrito wraps with gluten free choices including tasty corn tacos or rice bowls and fab for a quick meal with no hassle!
Independents accredited by Coeliac
This is a post about chain restaurants in U.K. aimed at people newly diagnosed or visiting the Uk who may not be aware of our chain restaurants or what they can offer gluten free. If you are living or visiting outside London it is also worth checking the list for local independents around the country that are also accredited.
Ones to note for London visitors are Niche and Indigo which are gf restaurants in London and regularly recommended. Naturally Chinese is also frequently recommended to anyone searching for a Chinese restaurant but it is not really in London but in Surbiton which you can get a train fairly easily to. I’ve not been due to the location but I have seen so many recommendations that I plan to go here and would recommend anyone wanting Chinese to look it up if they can get out there!
Most of my instagram and London recommendations are to help people eating out in London focus on places that can only be found in London. Living in Milton Keynes and only travelling to London for work I know what it’s like living outside London – if I want gluten free food then generally it is from one of the chain restaurants, which means I don’t want to eat at these when I am in London. However, those visiting London from outside the U.K. or on a longer trip to see the country may like to try out some of our chains as well. My top choice for all UK visitors in that case would be Cote, the food is just awesome!
As with all places staff and menus change so please still ask all the same questions as you normally would when eating out to make sure you feel confident with eating there, recent changes to the menu at Pho are a good reminder of this!
I hope anyone new to eating out gluten free in chain restaurants across the U.K. had a successful experience! Which is your favourite of those accredited by Coeliac UK? Has your experience been different to mine? What are your favourite dishes? Leave me a comment so I can give them a try!
The Sightseeing Coeliac x