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Sunday, 26 October 2014

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Gluten-free challenge - day five

Today I decided to take my gluten-free challenge to a new level.

That's right, I decided to venture out of the house to source some food.

As long as you know where to find suitable alternatives to wheaty foods like pasta and bread (or get handed them in cardboard boxes like me), catering gluten-free in your home is relatively easy.

Eating out could be another matter, though.

What do you do when you haven't had sight of every ingredient that's going into your meal?

Will the staff and the place you choose to eat be considerate of your needs or will you be made to feel like a troublemaker?

I purposely didn't want to go somewhere I knew catered well for coeliacs, like Wetherspoons, where I've been plenty of times before with my mum.

I asked Gary where he fancied going and he opted for the Royal George in Workington.

Not a bad choice if it has something suitable, I thought.

I was a bit concerned it might not qo too well when Gary returned having enquired about the gluten content of the pub's menu and informed me that the one item on the menu listed as gluten free had, in fact, turned out (after the menus were printed) to contain gluten.

Wanting to give it a fair try, though, we headed off to the pub, aware we might have to move on and try somewhere else.

I warned Gary not to look too hard and the menu in case he set his heart on something then found we had to leave unfed.

My fears were unfounded, though.

I took a look at the menu, immediately ruled out the pies, fish and chips, burgers and anything with onion rings or Yorkshire puddings.

Duck breast with Cumberland sauce caught my eye...but would it be gluten free?

I asked a waitress, who popped to the kitchen to ask.

A nice man quickly came out to tell me he'd checked the ingredients of the sauce, which is bought in, and the only thing he wasn't sure about was tapioca starch. If that was gluten free the meal would be fine for me.

I dashed outside to ring my mum (no network coverage in the pub, unfortunately) to ask whether tapioca starch contained gluten.

She wasn't sure but said she didn't imagine it did.

The man said there would only be a trace if it did so I decided to risk it.

The food was delicious.

I opted for a baked potato with the duck, although the man had confirmed that the chef did not use flour on the chips.

Gary made up for my lack of gluten with a massive burger in a bun, complete with onion rings.

Our meals were quite filling but this was an official experiment and I felt I'd be cheating coeliacs the world over if I didn't ask for the dessert menu.

The waitress was clearly quite switched on and as she brought the menu she informed me that everything contained gluten except for ice cream and the ice cream bombes.

The sticky toffee bombe looked tempting so I thought I'd better order it, just to be able to report back to West Cumbria's coeliacs, you understand.

It turned out it was delicious. I even let Gary taste a bit and he loved it.

It was toffee ice cream, with a little bit of toffee sauce in the middle, covered in chocolate with a little toffee on the top. It was served with squirty cream around the outside.

From previous discussions with coeliacs, I understand that puddings can be a sore point when it comes to eating out, with ice cream and fruit salad being the only options in many restaurants.

There's only so much ice cream and chopped fruit you can eat and I imagine it must feel a bit deflating when that't brought to the table along with interesting looking cakes, crumbles and gateaux for everyone else.

I was a bit saddened myself when I heard the woman at the next table order chocolate fudge cake and realised it would be out of bounds for me.

The bombe, however, was more than just a dollop of ice cream.

It was presented like an interesting pudding and provided a blend of tastes and textures.

All in all, I liked it.

At the end of the meal the staff asked how the gluten-free meal was and they genuinely sounded like they wanted to know.

I'm going to give the Royal George 8/10 for gluten-free dining.

To get those extra two marks details on the menu to tell people what's gluten-free would be a big help, I think.

That way coeliacs could know straight away what they could and couldn't eat, they wouldn't feel awkward having to ask and they wouldn't risk setting their heart on a dish only to find it's got a hidden element of gluten in it.

By Sarah Nicholls
Published: May 18, 2012

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