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!

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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 

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.