Monday, 24 February 2014

The Best High Street Chain Restaurants to Eat Gluten Free

Suggestions for eating out at High Street restaurants if you have a gluten intolerance...

If you're avoiding gluten because of an allergy or because of a special diet, you'll probably have mixed feelings about eating out at restaurants. Everything is pasta these days. Or salads, sprinkled with croutons. Breaded chicken or fish, battered fish, battered sweet and sour prawn balls - they're all out, unless specifically altered to be gluten-free-friendly. And that's why ordering at restaurants - especially chain restaurants where menus often can't really be altered too much - can be a bit of a minefield.


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First, let me start by saying that a gluten allergy can be quite a serious issue. Because of the way gluten reacts in the body, and depending on how sensitive you are, it could take something like six months for it to leave your system. So, if you're gluten intolerant, it's not always ok to just tuck into that lasagne with garlic bread just because there's nothing else to order. And, quite frankly, you shouldn't have to.

Restaurants are, however, getting much better at catering for gluten-free peeps. Here's my pick of the best chain restaurants to visit if you're intolerant to gluten.

Mission Burrito
Mission Burrito is a smallish chain of Mexican restaurants with restaurants in places including Reading, Bath and Oxford. I love them, and you'll often find me in there for a post-yoga lunch (perhaps not very 'zen' you might argue, but sometimes after an hour and a half class I'm starving). As well as the usual flour wraps, they also give you the option of having your fillings as a salad. It's a really filling meal, with a choice of chicken, pork or beef (or just veggies if you want), with your choice of beans, rice, lettuce, guacamole, salsas, sour cream, cheese... If you're in any doubt about if any of the ingredients or specials are gluten free check with the staff. Pick up a loyalty card from the till and collect stamps each time you order too, to get your tenth burrito - or burrito salad - free. 

Carluccio's
Carluccio's are well ahead many of their fellow Italian restaurants, because not only do they offer a full gluten-free menu (including starters, mains and desserts) but the quality of their gluten-free pasta is actually really good. In my local restaurant you have to ask specially for the gluten free menu, which comes as a laminated page - but I love how you don't need to spend ages poring over the regular menu trying to work it all out for yourself. And it's not all pasta either. When I go in I always have their chicken liver paté with gluten-free bread. And their risottos and meat or fish dishes are worth a look too. Quick tip: you won't want to miss the Cioccolato Fondente: 'a warm chocolate pudding baked with almonds and kahlua and served with vanilla ice cream.' *faints*

Wagamama
You might think it's ok to stick to rice if you're eating at Wagamama if you have a gluten intolerance. But then other ingredients in the dish might contain gluten. It's interesting to note that Wagamama's fried rice dish - Cha Han - isn't labelled on the website as suitable for those who are gluten intolerant. So what do you do? Well Wagamama have a nifty filter on their website for excluding any allergy-causing foods. And it's not just gluten (select 'cereals' on the filter) but shellfish, sesame, peanuts, and others as well. It's true, your choices are dramatically reduced once you opt out of gluten, (no Firecracker Chicken or gyozas for you) but you do have some delicious options. Try the Chicken Itame or the Chilli Squid. And the gluten-free dessert is one of my favourites anyway: the Coconut Reika. Bonus.

Handmade Burger Co
Again, you might presume it'll always be fine to order a burger without the bun. That makes it gluten-free, doesn't it? Well not always. Breadcrumbs might have been used as a binder in the burger itself, while it might come with a couple of breaded onion rings stuck inbetween the burgers. And if you're super sensitive to gluten just picking them out isn't enough. The Handmade Burger Co have made it easy though, with their allergy menu. At a glance, you can pinpoint where the gluten is in a meal and avoid it. I've never seen - or been offered - one of these menus in my local restaurant though, but it is on the website to help you choose, and I bet you'd be given one if you asked for it. Gluten is often found in milkshakes and sides too, so do check the menu before you set off. 

Pizza Express
Gluten-free pizza. What a treat. And Pizza Express do cater very well for people that need to eat gluten-free. They have a whole gluten-free menu on their website, so you can check before you set off to eat. The menu is driven mostly by pizzas and salads though - it would have been nice to have included some gluten-free pasta dishes too but I'll let them off, because on the dessert menu they offer a gluten-free brownie. Oh, yes. 

So there you have it. Restaurants are beginning to offer much more for people with food allergies - not just gluten, but fish, nuts and soy for example, as well. But most restaurants that I looked at couldn't be included here - some didn't acknowledge gluten-free eating on the menu at all, only in the small print, as in: 'our kitchen works with ingredients that contain gluten', urging you to speak to a member of staff before you order if you have a food allergy. There's still quite a long way to go, but some restaurants are making it much easier than others. 

Did I miss any? Where do you like to eat gluten-free? 


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