Dining Establishments That Cater To Gluten Free Diners

Here is the first installment of a list of places that don’t offer a gf menu but can provide a gf dining experience in a number of areas around Auckland. The food is good at these places (even if there isn’t a huge amount of choice) and the kitchens understand coeliacs and the need for contamination free food preparation.

CIRCUS CIRCUS

Circus Circus Located in the gorgeous little village that is Mount Eden (and that I call home) Circus Circus is one of the most uniquely designed restaurants you will find. Complete with clowns hanging from the ceiling, circus memorabilia, lions big enough to sit on and – get this – circus sideshow sounds instead of music piped into the bathroom, just being there is entertaining. Circus Circus - entrance I can recommend Circus Circus as a place to go for a lovely dinner either with family or that special someone. The eye-fillet steak meal is gluten free and the steak comes with beans and a creamed potato stack that is fantastic on the lips even if it is not so kind to the hips. Most of the dishes aren’t specifically gluten free. The wait staff will however help you alter a meal to suit your needs or ask the kitchen if they need help and the kitchen staff do know what to do to keep everything safe for coeliacs. Admittedly you won’t have a lot of options to choose from but Circus Circus is still well worth a visit. I will say this: be very clear with the staff about your needs and if you have a sweet tooth and wish to try the orange cake or the almond biscuits make sure you specify the need for the tongs to be washed before being used to serve your food and be aware that the counter staff may have dipped into those food containers with contaminated tongs previously. I must also say that the day staff is not as ‘on to it’ as the evening staff and I wouldn’t risk going there for brunch but do still recommend the restaurant for an evening visit.  http://www.circuscircus.co.nz/

THE COTTAGE CAFÉ

I have to say The Cottage Café  at 76 Clyde Court, Browns Bay, has changed hands and sadly isn’t as good as it used to be.  Nonetheless if you are on the Shore and looking for gluten free food that is prepared and served in a coeliac safe way then this is the place to go. The café is a cross between an old fashioned coffee shop and a more modern café. Their counter cabinet has muffins and cakes as well as quiches and lasagna that are gluten free and most items on the menu can be prepared gluten free as well. The coffee is quite good and the food is very nice. There is an open, airy quality to the café, the atmosphere is relaxed and the staff is friendly. They also sell frozen gf pies which are good for stocking your freezer for those unexpected visitors your children may bring home over the holidays or the days you just don’t feel like cooking.

BOLERO

BoleroLocated in Albany on the side of the mall and very close to the movie theatre, Bolero is a very handy, coeliac friendly, Spanish style restaurant. I have only been there once and can say that although the décor is very nice I didn’t have a brilliant evening. The service was not up to standard, the management wasn’t very organised and the food was far from being the best I have had. In their defence, I will say that on the evening I was there, there was a very large children’s birthday party happening and they probably should have had more staff on. Nonetheless my steak was a bit overcooked, my meal was under-seasoned and some of my fellow diners weren’t too happy with their meals either. So why are they in my blog you may ask? Well, I must be honest the food wasn’t terrible, they are as I said in a handy location in an area that doesn’t have very many coeliac safe cafes/restaurants and their food preparation and service is impeccable when it comes to coeliac safe dining. As I said earlier they were very busy that evening so if I am over that way again I might consider giving them another go, after all at least I know I won’t get sick.  http://www.bolerorestaurant.com/

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The Library Café

Winner of the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 Metro Magazine best café in Onehunga award and housed in the beautiful and impeccably restored Carnegie Library building, The Library Café is a wonderful place to visit. The food is beautiful and the kitchen caters to every kind of food allergy or dietary requirement you could possibly think of. The staff is friendly and helpful and the building itself is delightful.

Built in 1912, The Carnegie Library is one of Auckland’s finest heritage buildings showcasing the stained glass, high embossed ceiling and chandelier features of its era. There are two indoor seating areas, one is standard café style and includes a children’s play area (There is also an outdoor children’s play area). The other however, is a lovely ‘reading lounge’ complete with shelves of books and games – a space in which I can easily imagine myself spending a lazy winter’s afternoon. There are also two choices of outdoor seating available, so they have really covered all possibilities and have found a way to keep all their customers comfortable and happy. Despite the grandness of the building the atmosphere is relaxed and casual, a feeling enhanced by the cheerfulness of the staff.

Please note the lounge was being set up for a function when I took this photo and is ususally less formal with cosy, comfy chairs.

When it comes to the food they really have everyone covered. Specialists in gluten free and allergy friendly food, they make delicious dishes that cover every intolerance or dietary need. Honestly, they cover more options than I ever even thought of. As well as the gluten free, dairy free, egg free, lactose free, vegetarian, vegan, diabetic friendly, pregnancy friendly, low calorie, low fat and child friendly options they also indicate on the menu if dishes contain sesame, soy and/or nuts.  Plus they pride themselves on providing organic food and the food preparation areas are carefully monitored so as to maintain a contamination free environment.  Not only do they do all of this but they do it at reasonable prices.  But wait… there’s more, they also do functions (including weddings, anniversary parties, birthdays, corporate meetings, Christmas functions etc) catering and high tea for that special occasion. Oh and for the record they are also licensed and a certified green business. Impressed? I am! 

Now down to the nitty gritty… the taste factor. I consider myself a serious foodie and the food here keeps me very happy. The vege stack is lovely, my husband likes the fish and chips, my Mother-in-law thoroughly enjoyed the gluten free sausage and mash recently and the gluten free french toast is to die for… literally, if I had to choose my last meal it would be that! They also have a cabinet well stocked with cakes, slices and all sorts of yummy choices. I recently had lunch there with a friend (who, for the record, doesn’t have any food allergies) and the conversation completely stopped while I devoured a gf peppermint slice and she devoured a gf caramel slice. The only sounds coming from our table for a wee while were happy mmmm sounds. The coffee is good too and I can honestly recommend The Library Café on all counts.

Empty spaces? Food this good sells fast!

I have one final point to make, if you are an Aucklander and have the opportunity to visit regularly then the loyalty programme is well worth joining. They offer a lot more than any loyalty programme I have come across before, including a free meal up to the value of $20 on your birthday and two free house wines or beers on your anniversary.

The owners claim The Library Café is “a novel experience nourishing body and soul” and I would have to agree.

The Library Cafe – 55 Princes Street Onehunga www.librarycafe.co.nz

I could only get a shot of the corner of the play area. The kids were having far too much fun to stop playing just so some random lady could take a photo!

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.

Coeliac or not? That is the question…

Actually what I am questioning is whether or not it is even viable to ask, am I coeliac or not? What I mean is this: five years ago I went overseas for the first time. Having dreamed of travelling for as much of my (till then) twenty-seven years as I can possibly remember, I jumped on a plane as excited as a seven year old on Christmas Eve, with my husband, destined for Sydney. It wasn’t a long trip but I have fantastic memories of the first few days exploring Darling Harbour, The Rocks, and the city centre and awful memories of spending the majority of the last two days in the bathroom.
Looking back on my life I’ve realized that I have always had difficulty digesting gluten but it wasn’t bad enough that I ever thought about it enough to work out exactly what part of my diet I was having trouble with and on holiday I was also unaware of what had made me so ill. I now know that my 2007 trip to Sydney was the first time I felt the full force of what it meant to be gluten intolerant.
Over the next few months I went through a pretty rough time, struggling with my digestive system and coming to the realization that I could no longer eat gluten… at all. I did have the blood test, however not having any gluten in my system meant nothing appeared in my results. The problem here of course was that any time I had gluten in my system I was too ill to go and have a blood test, in fact I was too ill to go too far from the bathroom. At this point I will say this, I am not “officially coeliac”, but I don’t doubt that I am. I have never had the biopsy to prove it, but I ask you this, why would I? Why have a doctor remove a piece of my intestine and test it only to tell me what I already know? That eating gluten will make me ill, of course I know that already. If I eat gluten, even a tiny amount, I get very sick quickly enough to know what has caused the problem and if I don’t eat gluten I don’t get sick, simple as that.
Eating a completely gluten free diet has been a long journey, interspersed with periods of getting bored with eating the same things simply because they were “safe”. Periods of trying to find new things to eat, of worrying whether or not food will be contaminated and a period of going through a lot of disgusting (yes disgusting) gluten free breads in an attempt to find a good one.
In the last five years there have been huge advancements in the availability and quality of gluten free foods in NZ and things are a lot better now than when I first became aware of my “problem”. I hate to imagine what it would have been like if those environmental triggers I’ve heard doctors speak of on T.V had awoken my intolerance and made me completely unable to digest gluten ten years earlier.
Five years on I have worked out exactly what I can and can’t eat (I found out the hard way that even iced tea can have gluten in it!), am building up a great collection of recipes, have learnt to substitute foods to replace nutrients I would otherwise not get enough of by eating a gluten free diet and no longer fear becoming ill. Well… not too much anyway. Yes, I have a handle on being gluten free but I assure you I am not going to spout on about my “pearls of wisdom” so to speak. This blog is not going to be filled with gluten free recipes, the internet is full of them already. Neither is my blog designed to be some kind of self help guide, teaching the ways of gluten free living, there’s enough of that already out there too and personally I think that’s a journey we all have to walk our own way. No, my blog is about the one thing I have found the hardest in all of this, and that is dining out gluten free.
As anyone with any intolerance will know, the easiest way to eat “safe” food is to make your own. However, having an intolerance should not stop you having a life. We all want to dine out on special occasions, catch up with friends over coffee and cake or drinks and nibbles, grab a burger from time to time and just not have to cook every night.
Over the last five years I’ve done the legwork and been the guinea pig and now I want to share what I’ve learnt. I want to share those precious treasures, those cafes and restaurants that truly are safe for coeliacs. In short my blog is going to be a guide to gluten free dining in Auckland. I hope you find it useful.