Browse Month by February 2017
Reviews

Catering for multiple food intolerances and allergies at Wagamama

Restaurants should look to Wagamama as an example of how to cater properly for those with multiple food intolerances or allergies.

Yes I know, I know, I moan a lot about how difficult it is to eat out when you have multiple food intolerances or allergies, but I’ll keep on moaning until the message gets through. And it seems that some people might actually be listening, well the manager at Wagamama Canterbury, at least. He contacted me to invite me over:

‘We’d like to show you how well we cater for people with food allergies and intolerances,’ he said.

I liked them already. With a confidence that what they’re doing is a positive thing, they were keen to prove to me that not all food service operations are equal in their approach.

‘I’m in,’ I said, given that I don’t go to Wagamamas, so had no idea what they offer.

As I avoid nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, potatoes) and no longer eat dairy, I wondered how I would get on. My friend who came with me doesn’t eat gluten, so between us, I expected we were going to be a challenge. Not so for manager Lloyd, who sat down with us and went through the entire menu.

Wagamama, like most restaurants, has a complete breakdown of every dish offered. They have one version for the customers and another, more detailed version for the management. There were several positives I’d like to point out that make Wagamama stand out against other restaurants:

  • The manager is the only person who takes with and deals with your order.

Lloyd, as I said, went through everything with us, perhaps in more detail than he might if we hadn’t have been there for this specific purpose. Either way, nothing was a problem and the reason for this is Wagamama’s flexibility when it comes to their dishes. There are several alternative options to their menu items, which means if you can’t eat one of the ingredients (for example, noodles in the Ramen because they contain gluten), they will swap them for something else (in this example, rice noodles).

A 'Free-From' Life
Image courtesy of Wagamama

It’s not enough to give a customer an allergen menu and expect that it’s enough.

My pet hate about eating out is that restaurants give you an enormous allergen menu detailing all their dishes and once you go through it, you find you can’t actually eat anything. Thankfully, Wagamama’s recognise this and make every effort to be flexible with their dishes.

  • The manager marks your place with your specific food avoidance item(s), so there is no mix up when it’s brought to the table.

This is another positive, because even though the manager is the only one dealing with the order, it’s still important, if not life-saving for some, to make sure the right order is given to the right person. With serious allergies, you can’t afford to mess this up.

  • They have a separate gluten free menu.

This is in addition to the full allergen menu and includes dishes that are specifically gluten free. Lloyd checked to make sure what we wanted to order was also dairy free, again this double, triple checking of everything shows how seriously they take things and also the level of training the staff have received.

A 'Free-From' Life
Image courtesy of Wagamama
  • The food is prepared in a dedicated area with a dedicated chef.

This I was very impressed with. You can see the food preparation area at Wagamama, as it’s completely open and with one specific area kept for preparing special orders, it’s reassuring. Lloyd explained we were likely to get our food in waves rather than all at once. This is because each order is prepared separately, with the surfaces being thoroughly wiped down between each one. Again, this shows a deep level of understanding and commitment to customer safety.

My overall impression of Wagamama was extremely positive and I would be happy to recommend it to anyone with multiple food intolerances or allergies. You feel looked after there and equally as important, are never made to feel as though you’re being awkward (we’ve all been there with this haven’t we?). We’re not a generation of overly paranoid individuals, we’re more educated about the food we eat and realise how ill it can make us. Perhaps in the past we just got on with it, ignoring the stomach pains and associated problems, but not anymore and it’s not just gluten that we’re avoiding.

Food service providers, if you’re listening, take a tip from Wagamama’s and wake up to what your customers need.

My one request, as I finish this review, is can you get more creative with some dairy free desserts? If there’s one thing anyone dairy free really misses out on, it’s this.

Desserts

Peach and blueberry cobbler

This peach and blueberry cobbler was something I literally just cobbled together at the weekend – I know, bad jokes aside, this came out of a need for some comfort food, as well as to use up whatever ingredients happened to be available.

I’m trying to teach my eldest daughter about cooking at the moment

We talked about how it’s an intuitive process whereby you must use your senses to guide you. You might add a little more salt or pepper upon tasting, give the pasta a little squeeze to see if it’s cooked enough, or put a splash of water in a sauce that feels too sticky and thick.

I rarely follow recipes, preferring instead to make up my own, but I recognise it’s not so easy to wing it when it comes to baking, particularly with gluten free baking. Baking is more of an exact science, but it doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with flavours and this cobbler is the perfect example of that.

We had some tinned peaches in the cupboard and some blueberries in the fridge that were on the turn.

I thought they’d make a perfect combination, and as we’d already had a crumble recently, I came up with the idea of a cobbler instead. The cobbler topping is very much like a scone mix and this gluten and dairy free version doesn’t disappoint. The addition of ground almonds and almond milk give it a lovely nutty flavour.

Made with ordinary flour, you would be able to shape the dough into rounds and place them on top of the fruit, however, a gluten free version comes out more like the consistency of thick cake mix. This means you have to spoon it on instead, but by using an ice cream scoop, you can still get the cobbled shape upon baking.

Peach and blueberry cobbler - A Free From Life

I added the minimum amount of sugar to this recipe, just 25 grams, as the fruit is sweet enough on its own.

You could use an alternative such as coconut sugar, if you wanted to make it refined sugar free. The cobbler topping, I think, would be delicious on it’s own. Scooped into muffin tins, it would work as a gluten and dairy free scone alternative.

Here’s the recipe:
200g gluten free plain flour (I used Free From Fairy plain flour blend)
2tsp baking powder (if you use self-raising flour, you don’t need this)
100g ground almonds
25g sugar
100g dairy free ‘butter’
180ml almond milk
Juice of half a lemon
1 egg
Fruit of your choice

  • Mix the flour, baking powder and sugar, then add the butter and rub in until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • In a measuring jug, weigh out the almond milk, add the lemon juice and then beat in the egg.
  • Add this to the flour mix and stir until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Lay out your fruit in the bottom of an ovenproof dish big enough to serve 6 people.
  • Using an ice cream scoop, add the topping mix on to the fruit, making sure it’s completely covered (tip – start on the outside, work your way around and towards the middle).
  • Bake in the oven at 180C for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown.

Peach and blueberry cobbler - A Free From Life

Serve with dairy free ice cream or custard.

Le Coin de Mel
Uncategorised

Dairy free diaries

Dairy Intolerance - what you need to know - A Free From Life
Image courtesy of tiverlucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My son is dairy and wheat intolerant and although I make most things to suit him, I don’t always avoid these items in my own diet.

Having suffered long-term with IBS, I’ve found my own symptoms are worsened by nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, mainly). Avoiding these foods definitely helps keep my stomach from tying in knots and my skin breaking out in hives, but one thing it hasn’t helped with is my skin.

I haven’t talked about my skin problems on this blog before, but it’s time to finally ‘come out’!

Although I suffered with bad skin as a teen, it cleared when I started taking the pill. When I came off the pill, I went on to have three children, and during this time my skin was clear, which I think was mainly down to the hormones swimming around my system during that time.

It was after having my third child that things began to unravel. A year after having him, I sought help because my IBS was at its worst and my skin was terrible.

Having taken measures to help with both of these problems, I’ve since changed my diet to get the IBS under control and the products I use do a good job of controlling my skin – mostly.

The area I can’t seem to do anything about is my chin.

I’ve looked into it (thanks Google), and found the cause of outbreaks in this area is hormonal related and common amongst women of 30+. Great. Even better news, it’s a recognised form of acne. Wonderful.

So it seems unless I go back on the pill (not going to happen) or take some form of hormone regulating medication (I’m in my early forties, so I’m not going there yet), there isn’t a lot I can do. Or is there?

Some suggestions indicate poor digestion as a possible contributor to these forms of outbreaks (that’ll be me then), with a link to dairy. So it leaves me with little choice but to give this option a try.

I’m reaching the end of week one of my dairy free trial. I tried to kid myself that I didn’t each that much dairy in the first place, but I’ve found the difficulties arise when you go out.

What has changed this week?

  • I went to Costa (once), for a takeaway and had a soya milk cappuccino (wasn’t too bad). Didn’t choose anything to eat because the choice is limited to dried fruit, nuts or some mini cherry bakewells (too sweet for me).
  • I took my eldest daughter plus friends to the local trampoline park on Saturday and it was over lunchtime. Again I had a coffee with soya milk, but there wasn’t anything I could eat except crisps (and I don’t do potatoes do I?) By the time we left and called into town on the way home, I was starving and ended up getting a slice of banana bread from the local gluten free cafe (it was one of three choices that were both gluten and dairy free).
  • Today, I was out shopping with my middle daughter, whilst my eldest and her friends went to the cinema (this, and the trampolining, were because of her birthday, not that I take her to stuff and don’t do anything with the other two – just in case you were wondering). I needed caffeine (as you do when you’ve had three teenagers for a sleepover), so we dropped in to M and S.

Although there were a few choices of gluten free cakes, there wasn’t anything dairy free. Even if I’d opted to forego the gluten free, the choice didn’t improve because all the sandwiches included dairy. I ended up with a gluten free bread bun, spread with margarine and you guessed it, a coffee with soya milk.

I will say one thing for this week, I have definitely eaten less and avoiding dairy has meant not giving into the sugar cravings. I can also appreciate, more than ever, what my son has to live with on a daily basis and it’s the reason why I always take snacks for him wherever we go.

As for the skin (the reason for doing this) I can’t say I’ve seen any improvement yet, although it’s early days and I wouldn’t expect to. The test will be to see how it fairs over a complete cycle because after all, it’s the hormones at work here, and diet may not be the contributing factor.

I’m off to make a peach cobbler now. It’s a simple recipe and will be both gluten and dairy free, plus low sugar. It is Sunday after all, and with the log fire burning away, some comfort food feels like the perfect end to the week.