The Mezze Bar

I have tried to write this post a number of times now and I have to confess I am finding it hard not to gush. The Mezze Bar at 9 Durham Street East in central Auckland is one of my favourite gluten free haunts. The food is a mixture of Spanish, Mediterranean, Moroccan and Greek fare. The décor is inviting and the atmosphere is relaxed and casual. If you happen on a quiet time the Mezze Bar can be quite romantic, but if a more vibrant energy is what you are after then just come on a Friday or Saturday night when the place is full and buzzing – just be aware that the place fills fast as it is a hot spot for gluten eaters and gluten free-ers alike, although they do reserve tables if you book ahead. The staff is friendly and helpful and the food is really good and varied.

Rather than having to pick out the gf options on the menu, if you ask they will give you a full gluten free menu complete with starter, tapas, salad and meal options. The Roasted Chicken, which is served on a spinach and red pepper risotto with a citrus dressing topped with parmesan, is a personal favourite.  I also enjoy indulging in tapas and mezze with which I can have small servings and try lots of different things – the lamb tapa is lovely as is the patatas bravas. I haven’t been there for brunch but I do know that they don’t do gf bread. I can tell you this – the coffee is good and being so aware of gf diners I am certain they would alter an existing brunch option or find a way to provide for you.

I am also delighted to say that not only is the Mezze Bar a bar (obviously) and therefore offers an appealing and varied list of alcoholic options including good wine, cocktails and even sangria they also… and this is the best bit… offer the best gf cakes I have ever eaten and not just the orange and almond cake that you find everywhere (although they do have one of these). The chocolate torte which is served with berries and cream is fantastic (personally I love it with the berries as they are perfect with the chocolate but leave off the cream). The orange cake is very nice and if you are lucky enough to be there on a day when they have the banana and chocolate cake (and get in before it disappears) you are in for a treat bordering on a little piece of heaven on Earth. Yes I am a chocoholic, however I would normally not desecrate chocolate by adding anything to it but this cake is the one thing that changes my mind. My husband (who doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth and isn’t gluten intolerant but does love banana) also loves this cake and wishes they made it more often.

Finally I can say this: the counter and kitchen staff is very aware of the needs of coeliacs and although I insist (because bad experiences in other places have made me paranoid) on reminding them every time I eat there that they must use clean or separate utensils etc I don’t really doubt that they know this. I must say too that they are really patient and never get annoyed by this, even though we are there often enough that we are now recognized by the regular staff.  I can assure you if you dine at The Mezze Bar you will not have food contamination issues, however the staff will be most accommodating of any questions you feel you need to ask. I can also assure you that you will have a great time. Maybe I’ll see you there.

The Mezze Bar – 9 Durham Street East http://mezzebar.co.nz 

Guilty about gluten intolerance?

Anyone for a picnic?

I know I promised a guide to gluten free dining in Auckland but I feel I have one more topic I need to address before I get to the cafes and restaurants themselves.

No-one likes a third wheel getting in the middle of anything. Whether that ‘anything’ is a romantic dinner, a girly chat or a family picnic, it often feels like gluten intolerance is that unwanted third wheel. Not only that but it can be really hard not to feel like being gluten free takes all the spontaneity out of life. When a loved one wants to spoil you or some friends call wanting to catch up what you want to say is “great, let’s go”. What actually goes through your mind is “Where will we go? What will I eat? I can’t get sick, I just can’t”. It’s hard not to feel like your life has to be planned out from now on, like there’ll no longer be spontaneous road trips, or lunch on the fly. Picnics take planning and often cooking, and anyone who has ever eaten gluten free bread without toasting it will understand that (not something I will ever do again!). There’ll certainly be no more popping into the supermarket and grabbing fresh bread rolls and deli meat and salads, you can’t eat any of those things.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, you also feel guilty because you can’t help thinking that not only do you miss out but you are the reason your loved ones miss out too. Any time friends or family want to spend time with you they end up going to the same old places all the time because at least you know it’s safe, especially if there are other people with food allergies or food related ethics or picky eaters among the group. It’s always hanging over you, always there, a problem that always has to be addressed. You want to try somewhere new for yourself and them but it can be really scary. Knowing how accidentally ingesting gluten makes you feel, how long it takes to feel normal again and (if you have done the research) what it does to your body and the health problems it can cause are enough to make you run for the hills rather than risk eating at a new place. You only have to have experienced having gluten in your sensitive digestive system once to know that taking risks just isn’t an option.

Then comes the situation of a friend or family member who rings you all excited saying they want to try this new café or restaurant. You of course are hesitant but they say don’t worry they have rung ahead and the manager said there are some gluten free options. Of course the last thing you want is to be the party pooper who throws a dampener on your friend’s enthusiasm so you say nothing, hang up the phone and immediately ring the place yourself. You ask the questions you know you have to but worry your loved one may not have asked, and what do you know… “No they don’t toast gluten free bread in a different place to ‘normal’ bread” and “no, they can’t guarantee that there absolutely won’t be any cross contamination of foods in the kitchen”. Not only do you feel really bad that you now have to call your loved one and throw cold water all over their excitement (so to speak) but you have to do this having just finished a difficult conversation with some tool of a café manager who made no effort to hide the fact that they think your “intolerance” is just a fad and that you’re being a difficult customer who is snobby and demanding and whose custom they are probably better off without. Oh happy day.

At this point it’s very important that I say that even though you know your friends and family don’t blame you and certainly don’t want you to feel bad or guilty about the difficulties you have eating out, it can still be hard not to feel that way. Of course I am going to tell you that you have no reason to feel guilty and that there’s a reason our loved ones are called our loved ones, it’s because they love us and understand that this is hard for us and just want us to be happy. I am also going to tell you that this guilt is something that still bothers me from time to time and something I just have to keep working on. Of course the more coeliac safe dining establishments I come across the easier it is to have variety in the dining experiences I share with the people I care about the most, but wherever you live and however many places you have found where you can safely dine, my advice is this, don’t take the guilt to dinner with you, it will only act as yet another unwanted extra wheel. 

I will finish with a promise. From now on my posts are going to be the fruits of my gluten free labours, the results of the last five years spent being a gluten free guinea pig. They will be honest reviews of Auckland cafes and restaurants by someone who is possibly coeliac but definitely, completely gluten intolerant. Someone who knows what questions to ask and what it sounds like when a café or restaurant manager doesn’t really understand your needs and therefore cannot provide enough certainty for me to risk eating at their establishment or suggesting anyone else does either. So I assure you I will find out for all our sakes whether or not an establishment is truly safe for coeliacs and whether or not it is worth the visit. I’m looking forward to posting my first review, I hope you are looking forward to reading it and maybe trying out a new café or restaurant.