The Ancient Mariner

The Ancient Mariner 4

They’ve done it again! Trev and Tina, former owners of “The Chip Shop” have created a glorious new fish and chips haven in Mt Eden.  The Ancient Mariner at 157 Mt Eden Road is not only a delightful place to visit it is also the home of the best fish ‘n’ chips in town, possibly anywhere.

You couldn’t find friendlier or more community minded owner/operators than Trev and Tina, which means there is always a warm greeting and jovial atmosphere at The Ancient Mariner.

The décor is, in a word, fun. From the ocean going ships, hot chip stealing seagulls and the story of the “creation” of fish ‘n’ chips on the walls to the ocean sounds piped through the restaurant, it is a great place to be. Whether you are dining in (yes you can dine in) or just waiting for your takeaways, you’ll spend a pleasant time there and believe me, just walking through the door puts a smile on any kid’s face.

The Ancient Mariner

Now for the food… Oh the food. I’ll start with the business side of things. As always Trev and Tina are every bit as careful with preparing and cooking your gluten free goodies as you yourself would be. They keep everything separate and really do understand coeliacs and the dangers of food contamination, not just gluten free ingredients. This means coeliacs and those with gluten intolerance can feel completely safe eating there and I can personally assure you of this.

The menu for the gluten free among us is more varied than you get from most takeaway outlets and even many cafes or restaurants. There are tuna, prawn and salmon skewers (for those keen on watching their waistlines) as well as paua fritters, battered oysters (seasonal of course), scallops and mussels. On top of that there’s the usual and delightful snapper, terakihi and fish of the day, which you can have battered or grilled. The fish is always really fresh and top quality and the batter is deliciously light and crispy – seriously you’d never know it was gluten free. They also have hotdogs and Angus beef sausages. For the vegetarians, or again those who want a lighter or healthier option there are mushy peas, salads, corn fritters and kumara chips which sit on the menu alongside the potato fritters and hand-made, thick-cut potato chips. Plus if you have a sweet tooth there are pineapple fritters. What a list and what more could you want? For the record I can personally recommend the corn fritters, potato fritters, salads, kumara chips and those hand-made, thick-cut chips, not to mention that fabulous fish. Plus I intend to slowly work my way through a few other options as well. On top of all this they only charge a one-off gluten free surcharge of $1.50 to your entire order, no matter how big it is, very generous if you ask me.

The Ancient Mariner 2

Of course even with the healthier options, fish ‘n’ chips isn’t something you eat all the time, but I have to confess that when I realised it was gluten that was making me so ill and that I had to give it up for good, the thought of never having fish ‘n’ chips again was almost more than I could bear. Now that thought is banished and I am once more a happy camper. Go on, be honest I know you feel the same.

 

On top of all this, the children’s playground at the bottom of Mt Eden is literally a minutes’ walk away just across the road. A long play on the swings and things followed by fish ‘n’ chips in the park sounds like the perfect family Sunday afternoon to me. Plus there are plenty of other, quieter areas around the mountain for couples or groups of friends and even an area specifically allocated for dogs so it really is the perfect setting, whatever your situation, to sit in the afternoon sun or the dying light of the evening and enjoy your delicious fish, chips, fritters or whatever else has tempted your tastebuds.

http://www.theancientmariner.co.nz

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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/

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.