Friday, 27 July 2012

Is IKEA designed for us?

Well, if my posts are somewhat sparse in the next month, I'm sure you'll understand, when I tell you that it looks like we could be moving quite soon. It's an event that saw us make a trip, last weekend, to IKEA. 
Would love this in our new abode. How do I  persuade The Hub?
I was a bit stunned that The Hub was so keen to visit IKEA as well. But at the moment he is a man with a mission - Operation Move Us! 

My obsession with IKEA started long before I ever set foot inside their hallowed halls. I would spot a nice thing in someone else's house and admire it and they would airily say, 'Oh yes, that came from IKEA.' The problem, for me, was that I didn't live anywhere near any one of their stores... until more recently. 

Ah yes! There's always chips!
Even now, we don't live that near and so, as we planned our little trip, it soon became apparent that it would help out a lot if we were able to eat whilst we were there, in their onsite restaurant. Despite not being able to find information online we decided to risk it. I was sure I 'd read something by someone, somewhere recently about having allergies and being able to eat there (if that's you, and you're reading this, please remind me who and where) which surprised me, but made me keen to give it a go myself. Although we thought it might not be all that easy, we knew that at the worst they sold chips - so we wouldn't actually starve.

Busy, busy, busy
It's a bit of an understatement to say that IKEA on a Saturday is busy. It was teeming - mostly with young families and the expectant. On reflection it was odd that we decided to go at all. A few years ago, we sore off ever going to IKEA on a Saturday, for that reason alone. However, I thought Baby might enjoy bouncing on other people's beds, for a change. 

Their self-service restaurant had already been doing a brisk trade by the time we arrived, and it was only just past midday. Already most of the tables seemed occupied by at least someone. 

So we joined the food queue straight away. It's well organised - you are funnelled past tray trolleys, trays, cutlery etc. then desserts and pastries, some cold plates of food, drinks, children's food, then hot meals and finally a salad bar. I soon spotted something I thought might be safe - a bowl of jelly, priced 50p, but I was hoping for something a bit more filling than that to sustain me on my shopping trip! 

My choice
Fortunately, I spotted a plate of gravadlax, then a plate with salmon and salad and some pot of dressing. That together, with a portion of chips was probably my best bet, I decided. Not knowing what was in it, I could always pass on the dressing. The question was, what to feed Baby?

Not the salmon, obviously, but maybe the fish and chips? 

The chap serving the hot food seemed clueless, but passed us on to someone else. She looked slightly panicked and disappeared (always a bit worrying). It turned out that IKEA do not have a folder with allergy information, but she had the next best thing in her hands - the box the fish had been packed in. From this I soon worked out that the fish was pollack, there was no dairy but there was wheat in the breadcrumb. 

Baby's plate
As it had taken the lady a while to locate the box for the fish, I decided to take a bit of a risk and not ask about the fries. There was a queue backing up behind us and that always worries me, so I had to just hope they were OK. They didn't look coated with anything, and if they were, hopefully it wouldn't be very much of anything - especially as Baby seems to react less severely these days. 

Obviously, you can't afford to do this, if you are incredibly sensitive to allergens, and were likely to have an anaphylactic shock. But then, if you were, I wouldn't suggest that you eat in the IKEA restaurant anyway - due to the obvious lack of knowledge on the part of the staff that I met - I think the risk of cross-contamination would be too great. 

Baby's free fruit. Drink not free.
The lady did however helpfully inform me that children's meals came with free piece of fruit and that with each adult meal that was purchased you could help yourself to a free Plum baby pouch, that were located by the tills. 'Most helpful,' I thought, 'if you've got a real wee one!' There was a choice of two, one of which was strawberry and banana.

IKEA clearly have the whole family thing well thought out. For, as we seated ourselves in a corner of the restaurant, I noticed a baby nursing area  - there for those who like to feed their babies in private - which was screened off from public view. From what I could see, it appeared to be equipped with a bottle warmer. There was also an unsupervised children's play area (equipped with IKEA toys) ideal for little one's letting off steam.

Swedish meatballs for The Hub
In case you're worried about The Hub, yes, he ate too - he loves the meatballs, for which IKEA seem well-known. It's his 'payment in kind' for agreeing to shop there. I dread to think what's in them, but it doesn't seem to bother him! You can get them without gravy - if you manage to stop the serving staff from dolloping it on top! 

It's worth knowing (I perused the food packaging in the IKEA Food Market - the food is exactly the same) that their meatballs contain wheat.  Their chicken meatballs also contain dairy but the others don't. Who knows what's in their gravy! I didn't get to ask.

It was in the Food Market that I discovered the dressing on the salmon was also completely safe (just in case I needed some reassurance). I could have ate the dressing too. Oh well! I'll know for another time!

Another genius thing about the Food Market is that they sell ready frozen ice packs and cool bags, so if you get there and decide you want to buy some of their frozen food but are worried about how you'll get it home, without it defrosting - well the solution is right there before your eyes. See, they are clever, they think of everything, don't they? Some joined-up thinking like that at The Allergy Show, this year, would have been incredibly useful, wouldn't it? I can't be the only one who wished they could take some frozen ready meals home on the train, but worried about the consequences. Anyway, I digress...

A range of cold drinks is available in the chiller section of the restaurant. My choice was a Belvoir Organic Lemonade.

If you fancy tea or coffee, well that's 95p a cup and you can refill for free. Similarly soft drinks are also refillable, at 85p a cup.

How much?
Our meals broke down as follows:

Marinated Salmon £2.75
Chips £1.25
Belvoir Lemonade £1.60

Kids Fish and Chips £1.75
Peas 50p
Drink £1.75

Meatballs £4.50
Belvoir Blood Orange £1.60

Pretty reasonably priced, hey?

Anything to add?
Well it's not haute cuisine, obviously, so the food wasn't that great (from my point of view - my salmon was flavourless and dry). There may have been other options, that I didn't fully investigate - like the salad bar, but I get weary of asking and holding up queues. If you want a dessert, don't hold your breath - unless you like jelly. BUT, the bottom line is - we ate,  we didn't starve, we didn't suffer any nasty consequences.

Great as IKEA is, at design an at providing resources for their family clientale, with thoughtful play areas, nursing areas etc. (I so wish more restaurants would do that) I do wish that they would do something for the allergic customer - educate their staff a little more and provide clear labelling on the self service food. It would help so much, if they stated the ingredients in the food, or at the very least, whether their food contains any of the eight most common food allergens. Ah well! I can but dream!

No idea where it's come from, but since writing this post, a comment has been left below which provides a link to a nutritional information chart. The chart outlines what's in IKEA's food. Interestingly enough, it covers not just the major allergens, but also sodium, Vitamin C and Calcium too! 

Unfortunately, though, another comment suggests this might apply to IKEA in the US. Bah! That might explain why I couldn't find it online, before!!

Let's hope the UK staff have access to this chart, or similar (no more rooting around for empty cardboard boxes) and let's hope that the staff have also been properly trained about the importance of avoiding cross-contamination!

What might be even more helpful, would be a chart to which the public have easy access, when selecting their food - just as Debenhams do!! Here's hoping - the times they are a-changing!

Other posts about eating out dairy free:


  1. I found this online, hope it helps:

  2. Pocahontas McGinty21 November 2012 at 20:35

    Unfortunately I think that chart applies to US IKEA and not UK?- could be wrong, though

    (found your blog via Google on a -so far- fruitless search for gluten free meatballs)


    1. Ah! Wonder how I could find out? Might explain why I couldn't find one online before!

      Re. Gluten free meatballs, if you're in the UK and can get to a Waitrose, you might find meatballs by Laverstock Park. If not, Ocado sell them. Very nice too!!

      Hope you get this message - no more wailing :)