SO, here it is – my run-down of our top allergy friendly meals out in 2014. A bit late, but timely in the aftermath of the ‘100 chefs rant against EU allergy laws’ thing. I’ve been tweeting my thoughts on this for a week, and am frankly bored of the moaning. Compelling caterers to declare which allergens are in their dishes doesn’t make anywhere more able, or likely, to cater for us, but it’s a first step on the road to greater understanding. It means that at least we have the right to ask, and to be told. I think that’s fair enough.
Anyway, enough about that. From never having the confidence to allow anyone bar family to cook for Sidney, in this past year we’ve managed to find a clutch of places happy, willing and able to cater for his multiple allergies. They are living proof that it is possible and, for that, I love them longtime.
So, in no particular order, here we go:
1. Locanda Locatelli, W1
The experience that sparked a revolution! I won’t repeat my previous post, but the triumph of eating at Locatelli’s gave me the confidence to seek out more allergy-friendly places. There’s no way we could eat here regularly (££££) but the staff are mega-sussed on cross-contamination and, with advance organisation, everything on the table was safe for Sidney to eat. Beyond brilliant. Am still hoping for a cheap and cheerful offshoot, though. 8 Seymour Street, London W1H 7JZ, locandalocatelli.com
2. Carluccio’s, WC1
We first gave this branch of the Italian chain a go on the recommendation of a fellow allergy Mum, ringing and emailing in advance and popping in 15 minutes before our booking to speak to the manager and head chef. Sidney had egg free penne pasta (they do gluten free, too) with a plain tomato sauce, followed by a fruit salad, all prepared from scratch. There were crayons and activity pads for the kids and it’s also minutes from Coram’s Fields, which is an ace playground for little ones. We’ve been back a few times – a winner, even if choice remains very limited. We found the Islington Upper Street branch accommodating, too, and have eaten there once or twice. One The Brunswick, London WC1N 1AF & 305-307 Upper Street, London N1 2TU, carluccios.com
2. Nando’s, N16
If five years ago you’d told me I would be an advocate for Nando’s I would have pooh-poohed your Piri-Piri ass. I had the grumps with the brand from the minute it shunted out a much-loved local jazz bar, becoming one of the first chains to invade what has historically been one of London’s most independent high streets. Then we had Sidney and I found out Nando’s is one of the most allergy-friendly restaurant chains in the country. As a company, they are probably the most clued-up on cross contamination. Every branch has a fat allergy booklet, which you should request on arrival. It lists the allergens (including – this is the key – any potential ‘may contains’) in every dish.
We spoke to the manager and ensured Sidney’s food would be prepped on thoroughly cleaned surfaces and away from any of his allergens, and had chicken, fries, mash, avocado, cheese and a frozen yoghurt pudding. We’ve felt able to walk in off the street (albeit for an early sitting in an empty restaurant), which is a rare, rare thing. 139-141 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0UH, nandos.co.uk
3. Leon, SE1
I was super-nervous about Leon as the menu is stuffed with nuts and sesame, but other allergy parents had enjoyed successful meals so we gave it a shot. I went in to speak to the manager on duty, listed Sidney’s allergies and asked if they could prep the food free from cross contamination. He understood exactly, and Sidney had chicken, broccoli and rice from the kids’ menu (minus the tomato chutney which is a ‘may contain’ product). Haven’t made it back again, but we will. I’d always speak to the manager first, though, as branches may well be variable. 7 Canvey Street, The Blue Fin Building (behind Tate Modern), London SE1 9AN, leonrestaurants.co.uk
4. Byron Burger, N1
Another chain recommended by a fellow allergy sufferer. They have a comprehensive list of allergens that every staff member can consult. While the buns contain egg, Sidney was able to have a chargrilled chicken breast or a plain burger with fries and courgette fries, and avocado on the side. Always check what the fries are cooked in, though, as on our second visit we were told that the fryer’s oil had been used that day for potentially egg-containing foods. 341 Upper Street, London N1 oPB, byronhamburgers.com
5. Smokehouse, N1
On first glance this converted Islington pub would be a downright dumb choice for a vegetarian (me) and an allergy kid. A carnivore’s fantasy (piggy nuggets, shortrib, cow burger) its menu sings of tahini sauces, duck egg-topped dishes and nut-packed puddings. I first took my husband there for his birthday (he having to suffer a fate equal to tofu sausages most nights on account of me) and they were so accommodating with my vegetarian request, and the food was so delicious, and the set-up so chilled, and the people so nice, and I heard they did family-friendly weekend lunches, and the write-ups had been brilliant (and… breathe!), I thought ‘what harm is there in asking?’
So I tweeted a tentative query, listing Sidney’s allergy catalogue, and the response came back from the head chef, saying he’d be very happy to cater but would prefer to prep the meal himself, so could we make ‘x’ date and could he suggest a panfried duck breast or a mackerel fillet followed by a handmade panna cotta? Not once did anyone utter the arse-clenching words: “We can’t guarantee no traces.” Get this for an email from front of house: “Myself and [chef] will be here making sure you and your family have the best possible dining experience. You are in good hands.” Amazing. 63-69 Canonbury Road, London N1 2DG, smokehouseislington.co.uk
6. Bull & Last, NW5
A gorgeous foodie pub just a hop from Highgate’s Parliament Hill, we’ve had two brilliant meals here. Again, we emailed in advance and, after discussions with the manager and chef, pre-ordered Sidney’s meals – roast pork, mash and veg followed by panna cotta the first time, and a burger, veg and family-sized crumble the next. What more can I say? 168 Highgate Road, London NW5 1QS, thebullandlast.co.uk
7. The Living Space, Watergate Bay, Cornwall
This, extremely unusually for us, was actually a walk-in-off-the-street thing. Well, walk-in-off-the-beach: The Living Space is a sunny terraced restaurant in the oceanside Watergate Bay Hotel. We had a safe packed lunch with us but I was curious as to whether they could cater after a fellow allergy parent recommended them on Twitter. I spoke to the manager and she went to speak to the chef (who I could see in the open kitchen) and I was happy enough with her response – confident, knowledgeable, with no back-covering mumbles – for Sidney to have grilled fish with fries, peas and strawberries and clotted cream for dessert. On the Beach, Watergate Bay, Cornwall, TRB 4AA, watergatebay.co.uk
8. GB Pizza Co, EC1
I love love love this place. We’ve been quite a few times and they’ve always gone out of their way to prep a safe pizza for Sidney. Our first visit was preceded by the usual exchange of emails interrogating them about ingredients, and the responses were always jolly and forthcoming – never a hint of ‘nob off you fusspot lunatic’. We’ve pretty much stuck to the simple margherita, given that Sidney wolfs it down every time. These are authentic pizzas using top notch British produce, in a relaxed setting perfect for a quick stop-off with kids. I’m plotting a trip to their Margate outpost this summer. **UPDATE** So sad to say GB Pizza Co’s Exmouth Market site has now closed – it was amazing to have them on our doorstep. But they are fighting fit in Margate and planning new premises in nearby Cliftonville. That trip to the seaside just got even more pressing. 14a Marine Drive, Margate, Kent CT9 1DH, greatbritishpizza.com
9. Full of Beans Play Cafe, N5
A very recent addition to our allergy-friendly black book, this small but perfectly formed play cafe ‘got’ allergy from the outset, when it opened last year. The menu lists the biggie allergens in each dish (egg, dairy, nuts etc) and, after I queried whether they could make anything safe for Sidney, the manager suggested they could prep a special nut free pesto, or a tomato pasta, or a ‘toddler tapas’ (a chosen combination of things like raw veg, cheese, cucumber, fruit, dips). We’ve had one penne with pesto so far – I brought in Parmigiano Reggiano because their Grana Padano contained egg – and it was a hit. They sell a few allergy friendly kids’ snacks, too, including Bear dried fruit loops, Pom Bear crisps, Whitworths raisins and fresh fruit. Plus they don’t make any food with nuts or eggs on-site, which is always an added bonus. 69 Highbury Park, London N5 1UA, fullofbeanscafe.co.uk
10. Café Rouge, Center Parcs, Elveden
As a ‘training café’ for other Café Rouge branches the staff at this Center Parcs outlet were very clued up. I spoke to the manager and she organised safe grilled salmon, fries and veg for Sidney. The chips are cooked in their own gluten free fryer in pure sunflower oil. Pretty straightforward stuff. Center Parcs, Elveden Forest, Brandon, IP27 0YZ, caferouge.co.uk
I can’t sign off without giving special mention to two holiday spots…
In England, Fowey Hall Hotel, one of the Luxury Family chain of hotels. We stayed for three nights last summer during a fortnight in Cornwall (which included for the second year running the ever-amazing Higher Lank Farm). In the run-up I had a series of emails and calls with Fowey’s head chef, James Parkinson, where he took notes on all the safe breads, yoghurts, cereals – you name it – he could buy in for Sidney and we organised a full menu in advance: crumpets, porridge and fruit for breakfast; teatime mains of spaghetti bolognese, roast chicken, veg and gravy, and grilled fish, chips and peas, followed by puddings of banana split with fresh berries, jelly and fruit, and panna cotta with fruit. In fact, the portions were so huge and Sidney was so stuffed that by day three he announced, gob full of something or other: “There’s too much pudding pie at this hotel. It’s too big for my mouth.”
And in Greece the Sani Asterias Suites at the Sani Resort. Not anything like a cheap holiday – huge thanks to my parents – but I never thought I would be able to have a week’s hot beach break with Sidney and every meal safely catered for. The entire team were amazing, from hotel manager to food and catering manager, room service manager and head chef. It’s not easy in Greece to source allergy safe pre-packed foods, such as cereals, so we brought our own and delivered them to the kitchen to be served up beautifully every morning. And there was fresh fruit and yoghurt, pasta, grilled fish, egg free calamari, lamb chops, salads, vegetables and even – beyond my wildest dreams – freshly baked bread rolls every morning for Sidney and the rest of us to eat that day.
We stuck to the Asterias Suites restaurant, Water, and room service to be on the safe side, but one evening even ventured out for a Greek night elsewhere in the marina resort – where a Sidney safe meal was delivered in a golf buggy to our table by the Asterias team. Gobsmacking service and, though I was keyed up to the hilt on arrival (I’d packed a Remoska in my bag), by midway through the holiday I was actually, very nearly, astonishingly, relaxed about the food. That’s some feat. Sani Asterias Suites, Sani Resort, 63077 Kassandra Halkidiki, Greece, sani-resort.com