It seems that sometimes life gets in the way of living.

When I began this blog I was really enthusiastic about it. I wanted to help other people with severe gluten intolerance and thought that if I could help one person find somewhere safe where they could dine out with family and friends without fear of becoming ill, then I had done a good job. Somewhere along the line life got busy and my blog paid the price.

I am happy to say that I am back and determined to stick with my blog. In light of that I must warn of a few changes to previous posts.

Firstly “The Chip Shop” is under new management. Trev and Tina (former owners) informed me that they would fully train the new owners in looking after their coeliac customers, however beyond that it would be up to the new owners as to whether or not they continued the safe practices. Trev and Tina have a new venture, which I will discuss in a blog entry soon and I have to say I have followed them. I haven’t been back to ‘The Chip Shop’ since Trev and Tina moved on and therefore I cannot confirm whether or not it is still safe for coeliacs. I intend to do some research into this but if there is anyone out there who is still a customer and knows whether or not the new owners have kept up with the safe gluten free practices I would love to know. In the meantime please DO NOT take my old post as confirmation that you can safely eat there.

Hell Pizza – sadly I have to report that the last time I ordered a pizza from the Symonds Street store (just a few weeks ago) I became very ill from it. As far as I could tell the pizza was gluten free so I assume one of their staff wasn’t careful about contamination issues. I intend to inform them and ask them to re-train their staff as this is not acceptable. I do have to say that I have had a number of their pizzas and normally they are safe but I do suggest you are careful if ordering from them and are explicit about your needs.

The Library Café is also under new management and again I haven’t been there since the changeover so I cannot say as to whether or not it is still safe for coeliacs so again please DO NOT take my early post as proof that you can eat there.  I will research this establishment again also.

On a brighter note I have some fantastic new places to tell you about and will do so very soon!

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The Autobahn Cafes

Autobahn Bombay HillsIf you are driving into or out of Auckland in either direction then you will come across an Autobahn Café. You will have to leave the motorway to visit of course, but not by much and it is worth the wee detour.  They are popular with both locals and travellers and provide plenty of parking and a petrol station at each café.

I haven’t been to the Papakura Autobahn for a really long time so I’m not sure how they cater to gluten free customers. I usually go to the Bombay Hills Autobahn Café when I am heading out of Auckland for a holiday or road trip so usually go there for breakfast, something I can recommend doing as the breakfast options – such as the Panini with your choice of topping – are very nice and the coffee is good too. We tend not to leave so early when we head north so visit the Dairy Flat Autobahn Café a bit later in the day and usually end up going there for lunch. In this case I usually order a pie as this is a treat. You don’t get a good gluten free pie all that often (and naturally I try not to eat pies too often) and these are good pies.

I have always been too wary to try one of the flourless cakes on offer, simply because they aren’t labelled gluten free  (so I can’t be sure they are prepared in a coeliac safe environment) and are in a self-service cabinet, which makes contamination too much of a possibility for me. If you ask, the staff will present you with a gluten free menu which lists a fair amount and variety of gluten free options, including a roast dinner (minus the gravy of course).  The menu clearly states which dishes are completely gluten free and which need altering, such as having sauces removed or swapped for a safe option, so there is no confusion as to what you can and can’t eat.

It is vital that you explain carefully to the staff the extent of your difficulties with gluten and exactly how you need your food prepared. For example, if you are coeliac rather than gluten intolerant and therefore require your bread or Panini to be toasted on a clean tray under the grill, rather than in the toaster that the (dare I say it) “normal” bread goes in, then you do need to make sure this is clearly understood. Happily, upon explaining such things, I have always found the counter staff at both cafes I have been to recently to be very careful, accommodating and concerned with double checking my needs and making sure this information is clearly transferred to the kitchen staff.

Autobahn Bombay HillsFood aside the atmosphere is relaxed and casual, the décor is simple but pleasant, the staff is friendly and I always enjoy my visit. In fact I have to say, if I am heading off on holiday when I stop in, I find myself walking in and somehow feeling like that is when my holiday begins. So, if you are a local or traveller, the autobahn cafes are worth a visit and if you are travelling then I wish you a happy and safe trip.

Lastly if you are a local and intend to visit reasonably often then you may want to check out the website for information on the Autobahn Loyalty Club.

http://www.autobahncafe.co.nz/

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/

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.