There is a mix of things that you can do to ensure a successful eating out experience, some in advance and some when you get there. Assuming you have selected where you would like to eat.
Check out their website to see if they mention catering for gluten free or food allergies. Some places put a menu on their website, check to see if gluten free is mentioned.
Even if gluten free isn’t specifically mentioned, sample menus are really useful to give an indication of how adaptable their menu is likely to be.
This is just an initial assessment. I would always double check at the restaurant.
This is an example lunchtime menu from The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds.
I have provided a critique of it to give you an idea of the thought processes I would go through in assessing whether the menu would be ok for someone requiring gluten free or wheat free.
1. Warm salad of pork belly and squid with a sweet chilli and tomato salsa
2. Cream of asparagus soup
3. Pinney's smoked mackerel with new season beetroot and horseradish creme fraiche
4. Coarse country pate with toast and quince
Looking at these starters – the first and third look like they would be ok.
I would need to check about the soup to make sure it hadn’t been thickened with flour.
The pate looks least likely to be ok since, in my experience, pate often contains wheat. Also there is the issue of the toast. Even really good restaurants rarely have gluten free bread.
5. Lambs liver with polenta, bacon and chorizo jame and purple sprouting broccoli
6. Slow cooked pigs cheek with mustard mash, crackling, cabbage and celariac
7. Fillet of hake with a fennel and chorizo risorro and slow roasted cherry tomatoes
8. Risotto of peas, asparagus, baby spinach and ricotta
Looking at the main courses – all of these look ok but I would need to check certain specific items.
Item 5, the bacon and chorizo jame. I don’t know what jame is and a web search hasn’t helped!
Item 6, the mustard mash. Mustard often contains wheat since flour is used to make the mustard flour/paste.
Item 7, the chorizo. Chirozo is usually ok but I would double check.
9. Rhubarb crumble and custard
10. Chocolate brownie with salted caramel ice cream
11. Alphonso mango and lime sorbet
12. Duo of Neals Yard cheese with chutney and biscuits
Desserts are always the poorest area for choices. Here at least there is a sorbet. Fortunately I love sorbet.
There is also the option of having the cheese but a gluten free biscuit option is very very rare.
This is really useful, not only because you can forewarn the chef/cook, which allows them to plan your needs in advance but also allows you to assess the place you will be eating.
If you find yourself talking to someone who immediately knows about gluten free and what you are likely to need then you can have some assurance that you will be well catered for.
However if they don’t know what gluten free is or if they don’t seem to take it seriously then, from my experience, seriously consider going somewhere else.
Get recommendations, either from friends and family or from reviews on the internet.
Tell your waiter/waitress that you need gluten free and that you called ahead about this. Their response will give you a very good instinct about how good the establishment is going to be.
Occasionally they will be able to tell you straight away what you can have on the menu. However more usually they will check with their kitchen and tell you what is gluten free and what can be adapted.
If you ever have anyone who says “I think” such and such is ok, be very wary. Do not trust this and get them to check.
It is worth keeping in mind that working in the food industry is hard work with lots of different demands. I take the view that places want customers and want happy customers.
Trying to accommodate lots of different food requirements and their methods of cooking to avoid cross contamination in a busy kitchen is not easy. So I do try and work with the restaurant/cafe staff to help them help me. It doesn’t always work, sometimes I feel places don’t want my custom, but usually it works very well.
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