For all the years I’ve needed to steer clear of gluten, my husband and I have managed travel by vacationing in accommodations with kitchens, scoping out local markets and grocery stores, and preparing most of our own meals in our rented suite or apartment. It keeps us away from foods we know we shouldn’t eat and helps us manage our travel budget—both very good things. But that doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes long for the days when we could really immerse ourselves in a destination’s culinary delights and not risk feeling sick and having our vacation ruined.
Well, I have great news for all you trepid travelers who haven’t been able to enjoy the adventure and pleasures of fine or even casual dining in a restaurant for fear of ingesting something sure to make you swell, bloat or barf. There is a place, actually a whole country, across the pond that’s a virtual culinary paradise, where restaurant dining and avoiding allergens peacefully coexist, where it is possible to order something from a restaurant menu and know with confidence what’s actually in it.
My daughter and I visited England this May, with stays in London, Bath and Salisbury (We went to Paris too, but you’ll still need to ferret out your allergens there.) and discovered, quite by accident, that in the UK, starting on December 13th, 2014, new food allergen rules and protocols became the law of the land. Since then, every item on a food establishment’s menu must clearly state in an obvious place, such as a menu, chalkboard, or information pack, whether it contains any of the 14 most common allergens (gluten, crustaceans, eggs, celery, milk, fish, tree nuts, sulphites, soya, sesame, peanuts, mustard, lupine, or mollusks).
Granted, I had done my due diligence, scoured internet blogs and travel sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor for restaurants that are openly friendly to the gluten afflicted crowd, so I already had a list of dining possibilities I was enthusiastic about trying. And even with the new law in effect, I would do that again. I love an adventure, but I would much rather start out with a flexible plan. I hate flailing around when I’m tired and hungry, wasting precious time being unnecessarily indecisive. So if you are bound for London, or Bath, or Salisbury–or Paris, here are some fabulous places to eat that we tried and loved.
Thai Square: a wonderful little Thai restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue in the London theater district. My daughter and I both had the Massaman curry, sweet smelling and delicious, made with lemongrass and rich mild coconut milk (yum!). Selections with gluten and other allergens were clearly marked on the menu.
Thai Square Covent Garden
166-170 Shaftesbury Av, London, WC2H 8JB
Tel: 020 7836 7600 Fax: 020 7836 7622
The Real Greek Bankside: located on the bank of the Thames just a short walk fromo the Globe Theater, the Real Greek turned out to be one of our favorite restaurants in London. We ordered the Peloponnese for two to share, with the Crudités, Hummus, Dolmades, Chicken Skewers, Falafel, Watermelon & Feta Salad, and New Potatoes. The menu had lots of gluten-free selections and every bite was interesting and delicious.
The Real Greek Bankside
Units 1&2 Riverside House,
2A Southwark Bridge Road
London SE1 9HA
Tel: 020 7620 0162
Nearest tube:London Bridge
Vinoteca: On the mall in front of King’s Cross Station we found a posh-looking restaurant called Vinoteca with a promising breakfast menu and went inside. We’d arrived at the tail-end of the breakfast shift and only a few tables were occupied. We already knew what we wanted—for Chris, the homemade granola with poached rhubarb, and for me, the porridge with raisins soaked in ginger wine (really oatmeal cooked in very rich milk), and we shared a huge dish of seasonal fruit (grapefruit, grapes, chunks of melon and strawberries). Everything tasted amazing.
Vinoteca King’s Cross
3 King’s Boulevard
Tel: 020 3793 7210
The Polenteria: – small restaurant where the specialty is all things polenta and everything is gluten free. The prices are super reasonable. I ordered the Vegetables spiedino (grilled polenta cubes, onions, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms dressed with la polenteria sauce). Friendly service, good tasting food, but not great.
64 Old Compton Street
London W1d 4UQ
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7434 3617 / +44 (0) 77 601 02240
Mildred’s: — in Soho is an outstanding vegetarian restaurant. If you go, be sure to come early or expect to wait in line. It’s very popular and they don’t take reservations. The menu offered several gluten free selections that were clearly marked. My daughter and I both ordered the Sri Lankan sweet potato curry with roasted lime cashews, pea basmati rice and coconut tomato sambal. The presentation was beautiful. It smelled amazing and tasted as good as it smelled. We had tickets for a show, but if we could have stayed longer, we would have ordered dessert.
45 Lexington Street
Soho, London w1f 9an
Tel: 0207 494 1634
The Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen: –is an attractive cozy restaurant. We were there on a Monday evening and it was crowded, so it’s best to make reservations in advance. The dinner menu was set and changes from day to day. We chose two courses for 24.50 pounds each. For starters, Chris had the carrot and cashew pate and I had the new potato soup, and we both ordered the cauliflower fritters for our main dishes. Each dish was beautifully presented and, to our taste, absolutely perfect.
The Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen
2 North Parade Passage (just off Abbey Green),
Bath BA1 1NX, ( a short walk from Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths)
Tel: (01225) 446 059
Greengages Café: –is a pleasant small restaurant and bakery with lots of gluten free selections. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived, about 3:30, and they close at 4:30, so many of the items on their menu were not available, but the waitress said we could order sandwiches or jacket potatoes which was fine with us. Chris decided on the blue cheese and apple baguette (definitely not gluten free) and I had the lentil and vegetable goulash jacket potato, and we shared a pot of tea. We were very hungry and all the food combinations were inventive. Everything tasted delicious and we came back the next day and ordered exactly the same things.
31 Catherine St, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 2DQ
Tel: 01722 349934
Finding restaurants that accommodate diners with food allergies in Paris was more challenging—probably no different than scoping out gluten free options in New York or San Francisco but with the added complication of a language barrier. I had done my research ahead of time (thank you all you gluten-averse savvy traveling bloggers!), and I had my list. But the list came with headaches: there were only a handful of eateries to choose from, many were expensive, and most of them were nowhere near the Marais where we were staying. All that said, we found two restaurants that helped make our Paris experience practically perfect.
Noglu: —a 100% gluten free restaurant and bakery located in the Passage des Panoramas, the oldest of several covered passages of Paris, a charming covered promenade of boutiques, small specialty shops and restaurants. We showed up at 6:30 on a busy Friday night and we didn’t have reservations We practically begged to get on the list, and the staff were kind and sympathetic and said they could squeeze the two of us in at 8:30, but only if we didn’t mind sitting at the bar. By 8:30 we were hungry and irritable and truly, we got the worst seats in the house (at the bar right by the door and facing the cash register). But our waiter was friendly and solicitous, he translated the menu for us, took our order and brought us a complimentary plate of cheese puffs fresh out of the oven, each one an airy divine little mouthful. Chris’s main course was the chicken burger, actually a sliced broiled chicken breast on a gluten-free bun served with frites. I had the vegetable plate (eggplant, white asparagus, sundried tomatoes (the sweetest), and tiny steamed potatoes. We had been so hungry, the food was so good and the staff were so friendly, we left happy and wanting to go back. Noglu is worth a special trip.
Noglu Restaurant & Épicure
16, Passage Des Panoramas
Tel: 01 40 26 41 24
Café du Ginger: —is vegan, artisan, and small, with room—maybe—for 20 diners squeezed in tight. It was staffed by two very charming busy and eager to accommodate young women who were as amused and challenged by our English as we were by their French. After being seated we were treated to a complimentary plate of hummus with crudités and crispy gluten-free crackers . The menu changes daily and we ordered from the specials, empanadas for Chris (not gluten free) and I had a vegetable roll in a rice wrapper). Both came with dipping sauce and were surrounded by a delicious array of raw vegetables—the whole dining experience was amazing, and one of our favorite Paris memories.
Café du Ginger
9 Rue Jacques Cœur,
75004 Paris, France
Tel: 33 1 42 72 43 83,