allergens, coeliac, gluten free, korean grill, london restaurants, tapas

From one extreme to the other

One of the joys of my job is that I get to go to lots of different restaurants – both with media partners and clients. But, since becoming a diagnosed coeliac sufferer it does mean that I clearly have to be more careful about what I eat.

With new regulation coming into force last December in the UK, it has meant it is a lot easier when going out to eat – in theory all restaurants should now have a specific allergen menu detailing exactly what is in each dish that is available but I’ve found that’s not quite the case yet.

Last week I went out for a couple of lunches, the tables were booked by someone else so I had no input into the choice; one was good (no, not good, they were brilliant and the food was terrific) and one was definitely not!

Koba, 11 Rathbone Street, Fitzrovia, London, W1T 1NA

Koba opened in 2005 and has been offering a mix of Korean food ever since. Each table has a central BBQ / hot plate which is used for barbecuing a mixture of meats and veg.                            photo courtesy of

It’s a smart, sleek restaurant – lots of dark wood and clean lines and was busy with lots of diners on a Friday lunchtime. A good sign.

On arrival we were given menus and I asked if they had any gluten free / allergen menus that I could look at to help work out what I could and couldn’t eat. I was told that they did not have any menus like that.

Looking through the menu it became clear that there was a lot I couldn’t eat – as most dishes contained soy sauce…but not to worry as I could ask them to change some of the food slightly.

Unfortunately this was not the case – they were unwilling to change any dishes.  A lot of the food is marinaded in a sauce which contains soy sauce and I asked that I may have the dishes without the marinade – to no avail. It turned out that out of 20 odd starters I could have part of one – seaweed. For main courses there was lots of options but again unfortunately I was told I could have 3 of the BBQ dishes only – ribeye steak, pork belly and salmon which were all to be grilled on the central hot plate. So not a lot of choice plus, using one hot plate for everything to cook on meant lots of cross contamination from the other dishes.

Still I did have a bowl of steamed rice.

My five companion diners were able to enjoy a real mixture of dishes – spicy squid, a hot stone pot with rice, noodles and various grills. But they also came away unimpressed. I know I had reason to be disappointed but they felt that the food was not up to scratch. Service was indifferent – the waiter did little to help out on what I could and couldn’t eat and they were dismissive of the other diners in the party.

So, learnings from this – I should have rung them beforehand to make sure they could cope with a gluten free option BUT they should have also had a clearer menu with allergens detailed. Beware, if you do suffer from coeliac disease do not go to Koba.

Navarros, 67 Charlotte Street, London W1T 4PH

This is a mainstay of the restaurants on Charlotte Street in central London – it’s been there for years, I first went in 1999 but I had not been since being diagnosed so was interested to see how they would do.

This time, a phone call beforehand did alert them to my gluten free needs. And they were prepared!

On arrival I was given a full menu with details of all allergens – really clear on what I could and couldn’t eat. I was also informed that any of the dishes with ‘traces of gluten’ could be cooked for me as they had a separate fryer and pan ready to cook!

You can see the full menu here:

We had real mixture of dishes. This is tapas at its best, not trying to be too fancy, good honest food as it was meant to be.

– classic pimientos de padron, a hot one hidden within

– patatas bravas, slightly spicy, good tomato base on perfect potatoes

– tortilla espanola, still gooey in the middle but firm around the outside and real comfort food on a cold day

– gambas al ajillo, lots of perfect prawns in garlicky sauce, delicious

– chorizo picante al conac, rich Spanish sausage

– brocheta de pollo, chicken breast skewers with tasty steamed veg

I was gutted not to be able to eat the calamari – it looked (and my companions said tasted) delicious and unfortunately I could not have the bacalao a la rotena, chunky cod in a tasty tomato sauce. But, we did have seconds of the brocheta de pollo, chorizo and patatas bravas.

Time was against us so we didn’t try the deserts – but I would have no hesitation about going back, a good excuse. Service was impeccable, they were knowledgeable and understanding of what I was after.

Thank you Navarros – to be absolutely recommended for anyone with any dietary requirements.


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