Hello and happy Wednesday! I returned yesterday from my fortnight-long excursion across the pond, and I hope you all enjoyed following along with me as much as I loved being there. In case you missed anything so far…
Tomorrow I’ll be sharing my further thoughts on the trip as a whole, but since this is the day of the week when lots of us like to showcase our eats, I figured I’d take the opportunity to talk about what it was like to eat gluten free in England, both in London and in the countryside.
Grocery Stores and Shops
It was easy to navigate grocery stores in both London and the Lake District. Most of the major chain supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, and Booths had dedicated aisles for “Free From Gluten” foods. Some made their own GF breads and baked goods, and all sold gluten free products made by British labels. I was very happy to find Nairn’s made gluten free oatcakes and biscuits, since these were essential hiking snacks! And of course the majority of what I needed to buy is always gluten free anyway, like fruits and vegetables, yogurt, cheese, fish, and chicken.
The clear labeling was a major plus. On most nutrition labels, all allergens were bolded so it was easy to check for wheat or gluten or tree nuts (dairy, egg, and soy were also marked, as were allergies I hadn’t thought of, like mustard). I discovered Proper Corn while up in the Lakes and all of the flavors I tried of this delicious popcorn, whether Sweet n’ Salty, Coconut Vanilla, or Simply Sea Salt were also clearly marked. That and the oatcakes, biscuits, and sliced bread were the range of packaged gluten free products I sampled. All were decent, and the bread was actually quite soft, which is not always the case.
Even when I was pretty sure there was no gluten, it was nice to have a firm “GF” stamped on a carton, as it was with the YooMoo frozen yogurt I took a liking too. After lots of ice cream in the Lake District, I found myself missing the after-supper ice cream shop trip when back in London. It just isn’t a thing there like it is in the United States, which I think is a shame. However, sharing pints of frozen yogurt with my friend/host to end an evening was its own special treat.
Casual Chains and Grab-and-Go
I had brunch on Sunday at Le Pain Quotidien, where gluten free bread was easily provided and they did not charge extra. This was something I very much appreciated in Britain – whereas in an American casual restaurant they tend to charge for making substitutions or accommodations, I didn’t find that to be the case anywhere I went.
And as you can see from the Boots Meal Deal, there were a few times when I needed to grab lunch or a snack while on the go. Fast-casual chains like Pret A Manger and EAT offered many options suitable for allergy-free diets, and helped customers by listing the ingredients on little signs right in front of each tray of soups, sandwiches, and salads. The only place I found a gluten free sandwich wrap was at Boots, a British pharmacy that also sells snacks. But the salad options at the other places were hearty and exactly the kind of thing I would want to eat anyway, like this smoked salmon, potato, and bean salad.
All were much pricier than purchasing the ingredients in supermarket, of course, but when you’re traveling and out and about they are great options and did hit my wallet a little less than all the dining out at restaurants! Speaking of which…
Lake District Restaurants
I was pleasantly surprised by the options available when eating out in the Lakes. We ate dinner at a restaurant every evening after munching on grocery goods all day, and each time when I mentioned I had a wheat allergy the staff seemed informed about what to do and were able to explain my choices.
I suppose it helps that I typically choose dishes that are already gluten free, like fish or chicken with potatoes and vegetables, rather than wanting gluten free pasta. I don’t think it would have been available anywhere, which is hardly news to any gluten free eater traveling in a rural area. But accommodations were easy to make – when I ordered a chicken burger with melted cheese, I just forwent the bun (the chips were enough on their own!) and I was lucky that at most of the pub-style restaurants, the chips have their own dedicated fryer so there is no cross-contamination with breaking for fish or meat.
In London, I ate even better than while hiking up north, if that’s possible. My first evening back, I had dinner with an Oxford friend at Brasserie Cote, a small upscale chain with locations in several London neighborhoods. When we asked if they would be able to accommodate my allergies before deciding to dine, they presented me with a separate and extensive gluten free menu! Again, the choices were generally naturally gluten free, and many dishes you would have to eat without the regular sauce or dressing, because they didn’t offer a gluten free substitute. But just knowing that I can eat safely is plenty good for me. I don’t expect everywhere to offer a gluten free roll with my salad like Disney.
I was particularly happy that I got to enjoy a gluten free cream tea when a half-dozen other friends and I went for afternoon tea on Saturday, August 22 at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. We did call ahead to ensure that they could accommodate a gluten free diner with something other than just tea, and they were able to provide gluten free scones with 24-48 hours’ notice depending on the day and size of your tea party.
While there are many high tea locations like Claridge’s, Fortnum & Mason, or Brown’s Hotel that can do up an entire afternoon tea including sandwiches and cakes for a gluten free diner, these are all on the much pricier side, whereas Gallery Mess is more casual, as it’s a lovely eatery attached to a Chelsea art gallery. Their rendition of afternoon tea for two was perfect in the trays shared by my friends. And I was happy with my scones, which were good but really just vessels for delivering massive amounts of clotted cream and raspberry jam to my tummy.
As in the Lakes, I was able to enjoy several pub meals complete with chips from a dedicated fryer. I honestly think I consumed more chips/fries on this trip than I have in the past six months put together. It’s just tough to find places that have a separate fryer for potatoes versus breaded items, and I usually choose sweet potato fries when given the option, so it tends to be awhile between servings. I had a healthy helping nearly every day here, though – all that moving around required energy-dense food, I think.
In all, I ate very well throughout the course of my trip, and I would definitely say that England is a gluten-free friendly destination! Be sure to look out for a few more posts on the experience in the coming days 🙂
How do you navigate eating gluten-free or other allergy-free in a new city?
Is there anywhere you consider a must-do spot for a gluten-free foodie?
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