Well, here we are – a year on from the imposition of Brussel’s draconian allergen regulations on the catering industry…. Yet, have we seen mass closures of restaurants – or lemming-like swarms of suicidal chefs, their ‘spontaneity, creativity and innovation’ destroyed, racing for Beachy Head? Well, if we have, it has certainly passed me by! Indeed, according to Emma Read from Horizons, speaking at a recent FDIN conference, the number of restaurants now offering at least gluten-free if not a wider range of allergen-free meals has been growing rapidly over the year.
Of course, the ‘draconian’ regulations that were imposed by the 2014 Food Information Regulations were not remotely draconian. All they actually required food service outlets to do was to know what was in their food, to know what the 14 major allergens were, and to be able to tell their customers whether any of those 14 allergens were in the foods that they were proposing to serve them. There was, and is, no requirement to actually offer any allergen-free food at all.
For the chefs who were moaning about their creativity being destroyed, this was ridiculous! Did they not know what was in their food? And if they didn’t, shouldn’t they have? Is requiring them to learn to identify 14 allergens in that food really that major an ask?
For the many chains which dot our high streets selling pre-prepared and pre-packed foods it is not quite so simple as few of their operatives will have much idea of what is in any of the food that they serve. But then most of these chains got their heads around ingredients labelling years ago and have comprehensive lists of what is in each offering available to both staff and customers.
For the smaller independent ‘caffs’, street food outlets, fish and chippers etc etc it has not been quite so easy. This is partly because communication within the food service industry is poor so many of them them have still scarcely even heard of the new food regulations, and partly because awareness of allergy is also very poor. So even assuming that they do know what they are cooking, joining up all the dots is proving quite hard.
However, I am delighted to say that it has not taken nearly as long as I feared for the food service industry to cotton onto the idea that, far from being an imposition, these new regulations were opening up a whole new market! All those many, many people (well over 20% of the population at a conservative estimate) who either need, or have chosen, to exclude wheat/gluten, or dairy products, or soya, or nuts, or nightshades, or, or, or…. from their diet. When they did go out to eat they rarely were offered a meal that was both safe for them and interesting. As a result they ate out far less than the rest of us – and often did not eat out at all. But with the advent of the new regulations, chefs have been forced to get their heads around allergens. As a result they have started to realise that far from allergen-free cooking being restrictive, it is exciting and challenging – and could bring them a whole new constituency of enthusiastic, appreciative and loyal customers.
Even at this year’s FreeFrom Eating Out Awards, where you would have thought that the entrants would long since have got the whole allergy catering thing sorted, two of our winners described how they had started as gluten-free restaurants last year but over the course of the year had realised that the demand was not just for gluten-free food but for a much wider range of allergens-free food. As a result they were now offering, and enjoying offering, not just gluten free, but dairy-free, soya-free and nut free foods and were happy to exclude any other ingredients that potential customers might have a problem with.
But the real proof of success came a couple of months ago when Michelin-starred Chef Dominic Teague at Indigo, the very upmarket restaurant at one of London’s newest hotels, One Aldwych, announced that for the last four months all of the food served in his restaurant and been gluten and dairy free – and no one had every even noticed!!! (Image courtesy of Hospitality & Catering News.)
And if you want to know how good Indigo is, check out Sue’s Diary here and/or Cressida’s report below. Sue (coeliac), Cressida (dairy intolerant) and Alex (veggie) went there for an evening out during the Food Matters Live event – and loved it!
Btw, if you would like to see this year’s overall winner of the awards, Mark Kennett at Oscar and Bentleys, not only cooking but explaining how they build their recipes so as to be able to cater for the widest possible range of allergies, check in to our recipes site here.
Cressida on Indigo….
This place should be sold out weeks in advance, but weirdly, even after all the press attention after the announcement that Indigo is entirely dairy and gluten free, we could still make a booking for any time during the very same evening.
Our party of three included a coeliac, a dairy intolerant and an intolerant vegetarian, so we warned our serving staff of our dietary requirements on arrival. It turns out that Indigo is not actually entirely dairy and gluten free – the kitchen make afternoon teas which are full of dairy and gluten, and the very lovely server advised us of this before we ordered.
As a dairy intolerant I felt very confident that I would be OK with the food, but if I had been allergic I may have questioned the server further.
We were served a delicious herby, warm buckwheat bread with a salted crust – it had been freshly baked in house at 5pm, and had the most divinely soft crumb. Flavoured with samphire, it was served with a rapeseed oil.
My starter of roasted partridge breast came with a sublime cauliflower purée, tiny little steamed cauliflower florets and pickled elderberries – and lots of tasty jus, a rather filling starter, and a good combination of foods.
For main, my pork cutlet was huge, and well matched with a sweet damson compote and a real treat – Sarladaise potatoes – not a recipe that would normally contain dairy but a dish to rival your dauphinoise. My potato was cooked, mashed with parsley and seasoning, shaped into a little loaf and baked again, resulting in a crispy, soft gravy-absorbing side-kick! Perfect.
For dessert we shared all three on offer – fresh roasted figs with an amazing Port granita; a DAIRY-FREE chocolate parfait that sat midway between a brownie and a mousse (with crunchy bits in it) accompanied by a violet sorbet (clever, unusual) and a spiced pumpkin cake with pecan ice cream and salted caramel foam.
Restaurants, please take note: THREE very tasty dairy and gluten free dessert options and not a fruit salad in sight! Fruit salad is NOT A DESSERT!
Well done Indigo – and get there people, it is NOT expensive. The al la carte menu is three courses for £25 or two for £20 – very reasonable indeed for a fancy meal out.
Now Indigo – how about a gluten and dairy free afternoon tea!