Monday, 23 June 2014

Eating out dairy free and gluten free? Just ASK!!

I first came across ASK Italian years and years ago, when I was in my first teaching post. Somehow the teaching staff went out for a meal together (can't remember why - it could have been one of our 'Escape Committee' get-togethers). 

In those days, the 'ASK' chain was new, interesting and a bit on the funky side.  

My key memory was devouring a piece of their Banoffee Pie - I thought it was the best thing I had ever tasted!! I mean... what's not to love about caramel and cream??

Scroll on a few years and due to 'Baby's' milk allergy, I'm dairy free all of a sudden!! And then gluten free as well. Surely, one of the last places I'd be looking to eat is an Italian-style restaurant. Y'know pasta, cheese sauce, etc. etc.



Interestingly, I'd heard a few whispers, on Twitter, that they were able to provide gluten free pasta. SO we looked into it and they could!! AND, looking at their menus online (see here), it seemed, to The Hub, that they could do dairy free too! 

SO, on our wedding anniversary, with 'Baby' in tow we thought that whilst we were hanging out for the day, in the historic city of Winchester, we'd give them a try!!

Winchester High Street

We indulged in a bit of meandering at first. 

Winchester's ancient West Gate

I love Winchester. It's a gorgeous place to be, on a sunny day.

ASK Italian's restaurant in Winchester is pretty gorgeous too! When I was a student in Winchester, it used to be a very nice tea shop, but the building itself obviously dates back further than that!

A building with a history!

Somehow they've manged to fuse the ancient and modern within the interior really well.

A Tudor building with some modern twists

I love the scattering of knick knacks too:

Anyone for coffee??

As is our custom, we skip the starters - we're only here for lunch, anyway.

Baby's meal is a simple Spaghetti Al Pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce), embellished with a few of The Hub's chips.

Pasta and chips!

Okay, so it's not the most nutritional meal, but then that seems nigh on impossible if you're a child eating out anyway - particularly if you're dairy free - so many places serve Spaghetti Bolognese made with milk!

'Baby' seems happy enough with what she'd got though!

Meanwhile, for once, I have a choice!! There's more than one thing on the menu that's suitable for me!!

Gluten free options are marked 'NGCI' or 'Non Gluten Containing Ingredients'. This isn't always acceptable to the gluten free, but this restaurant chain appears to be approved by Coeliac UK - according to a sign by the door.


I select the Linguine con Frutti di Mare. I've often watched The Hub eat something like this, with envy.

Gluten free pasta - deep joy!!

As they serve gluten free pasta (okay it's not linguine, it's fusili, but at least it's a pasta I CAN eat), it's no longer off limits, but all mine!! If you're able to eat ordinary pasta, you won't know how good this feels. It's such a simple thing and I don't understand why more places don't serve it - in it's dried form, it can easily be stored in the cupboard for ages (if it's not called for), without going off!

It's satisfying and tasty. I'm happy!

Who needs a dessert?

Well 'Baby' apparently!!

We note that one of the children's options - the Strawberry Meringue Stack - is basically hazelnut meringue with strawberries and ice cream and wonder, if we ask nicely, if they'd be so obliging as to serve it without the ice cream...

It appears they will!!  

'Baby's' dessert - just to warn you - different restaurants present it diffidently!

'Baby's' turn for deep joy!! And we, who've watched her miss out on dessert on so many occasions... enjoy her delight... over our coffee. 

And good coffee it is too :)

Since then, we've visited ASK Italians in other towns and cities. It's become our favourite place to eat - just because 'Baby' can have a dessert.

We've also discovered that if we're hungry enough we can have a starter too:

Spot the 'NGCI'!

I try out Insalata Ottima - a nice little salad with chicken.

It's actually quite generous!

I like it... but unused as I am to having a starter I feel a little stuffed, by the time my main course appears!

'Baby' it seems can have garlic bread strips (we ask for it minus the garlic butter and dip) along with some vegetable crudites. Okay, they're a bit like posh bread sticks, but enough to keep her happy, whilst we wait for the mains.

Ho hum! Don't think 'Baby' will be eating the veg!  :(

Along with one or two or The Hub's Panzerottini Pancetta. They're dairy free too, apparently, so The Hub orders some, just in case! I can't have them, of course, as they're basically balls of dough.

It also seems that 'Baby's' not the only one who can have dessert. I can too - a gelato. Not all the gelatos are dairy free, but my choice - Raspberry Sorbetti is! Okay, so it's not the Banoffee Pie of my distant memory, but it is light, fruity and refreshing.

I may not order it every time, but it's certainly nice to have the option!

Related Posts: 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Eating Dairy Free and Gluten Free in Resort Hotels at Disneyland Paris

If you were to ask me which Disney character I most resemble, although I would like it to be something more glamorous (like Elsa from Frozen), if I were perfectly honest, it would have to be this chap:


It may well come across to you that way, as I share about our experiences of eating at Disneyland Paris, but I'll leave that to you to decide.

The thing is, I'd heard such good things about the Disney resorts in the States, that I assumed/hoped/expected that Disneyland Paris would deliver the same goods - especially as its based in a country that prides itself on its gastronomy. 

You'd certainly expect good things if you read this, on Twitter:

There are a lot of places to eat, at Disneyland Paris, it is true, and we didn't investigate all of them. We did experiment with eating out in well-known franchises, such as The Rainforest Cafe and also in the Resort's restaurants and hotels. But, as for those sixty allergies?? Well I saw sixteen mentioned in the allergy guide, so I'm a bit puzzled about that one!

As it happens, we soon came to understand (it was spelled out to me by staff at one of the resort's restaurants) that the truth is that although they can provide safe food for those with allergies, the choice is not on a par with what I hear about Disney in the States, from other bloggers, such as Nicola. 

What follows is our experience... staying half board. We could have stayed elsewhere and travelled in each day, or stayed in self-catering. Both of these later options will inevitably make your day longer, as you will have further to travel to get in to the parks. Which is why we had opted to stay within the Resort. Hopefully, this post will help you decide which option would be best for you and your family, if food allergies happen to be an issue.

If you look at the website for Disneyland Paris and investigate allergies, you should find this in pdf form, see here.


It outlines the options for those with food allergies at Disneyland Paris. If you are your child is at risk of an anaphylctic shock from exposure to food allergens, you may well be grateful to see this booklet. I can see it would be very reassuring. Planned by a dietitian, it may well be nutritious and balanced, and there appears to be some choice, but when you speak to a member of staff about food allergies and you get handed this:

Yes, that is ice! It's frozen! 

a box of frozen food (I kid you not)! Words fail, even me! 

And I'm not usually stuck for words.

'Baby' loves Frozen, the movie, but not frozen food! This was no place to 'let it go'!

This was in a resort hotel restaurant.

Please note, there was no starter and definitely no choice. It was that box of food or nothing - or so I was led to believe by the staff member I spoke to. He spoke limited English and I even less French. Lack of language skills or no lack of language skills, one thing was made clear - there was no room for manoeuvre!

Absolutely none!

La Cantina
As we were staying half board, we had vouchers we could use at resort restaurants - one for each person, for each day. 'La Cantina' is the name of the restaurant which serves the resort hotel 'Santa Fe.' The hotel 'Santa Fe' is themed around the Disney 'Cars' film characters. 'Baby' loves this film. We had considered staying at this hotel, before opting for the New York, which had a swimming pool, whereas the Santa Fe did not ('Baby' loves swimming). 'Baby' had been disappointed that we weren't staying at the 'Cars hotel,' so the next best thing, we decided, was to visit for food. 

It was a good job there was a small play area, in the dining room, to which 'Baby' was drawn like a magnet, because that deflected slightly the fact that her mother was holding a frozen meal and wondering what to do with it.

It was another guest at a nearby table who noticed my distress, as I explained things to The Hub, who pointed me in the direction of the microwave by the side of the room. 'I think you're supposed to use those,' she said (or words to that affect - English wasn't her first language). 

Meanwhile The Hub, who is not a demonstrative type and does not normally like to create a scene, had attracted the attention of some staff member or another and in his frustration was banging the frozen meal on the table, in order to demonstrate that in its current state it was completely inedible.

The staff member made some half-hearted attempt to heat the meal, but we had to finish heating it up ourselves, as it was still covered in ice particles, when it was handed to us.

I was completely flabbergasted that a paying guest was expected to heat their food for themselves... and in a microwave that worked only in 45 second bursts... and then eat it out of the plastic tray it came in. I might as well have bought some food from Ilumi and heated it myself!

I am guessing that the hands-off approach of the staff was to prevent cross-contamination, but to have to heat food in a microwave that other people presumably heated baby food and milk in? Who knows what splatters of cross-contamination lurked inside - that might then be transferred to the plastic tray?? 

La Cantina served food buffet-style

I helped myself to a clean plate from the servery (it turned out 'La Cantina' served food from a buffet) and scraped the food off the plastic tray and onto the plate. Once heated, it looked a little dry, but it wasn't too unappetising. However, it wasn't a large portion by any means! Being a pre-schooler, she doesn't need too much, but bear in mind that these portions would be served to the allergic child or adult alike.

We took a risk and supplemented the food with boiled rice from the buffet (luckily we were some of the first to arrive, so it was relatively untouched).

Beef with olives (plus rice).

'Baby wasn't that keen. It was a good job that she didn't have siblings to contend with, who had unlimited choice. As it was she helped herself to some ham from The Hub's plate. I wasn't happy, as I know that some cooked hams are cooked with dairy, but thankfully she survived!!

I ate the beef with olives. Despite looking dry, the beef wasn't tough and it actually tasted alright.

Dessert was interesting! 

I had to approach the staff again. 

I was pointed in the direction of this, 'apple compote':

Apple sauce anyone??

Yes, that's right - the apple sauce placed bang smack between two options containing dairy.

Perhaps not! Cross contamination risk, from people slopping it about, maybe??

Thankfully, there was another option:

Safely sealed in their own packaging!

Also thankfully, and to my complete surprise, 'Baby' who doesn't always like bananas was more than happy to eat one on this occasion.

The Hub, mindful of 'Baby's lack of choice, skipped dessert.

The Manhattan
The following night, we opted to eat in a restaurant at our hotel. The Manhattan Restaurant.

It certainly looked nice!

We hoped that as it appeared to have a more plush appearance, there might be a better experience.

Well, we had table linen and table service and we didn't have to heat it ourselves, but the food was straight out of the allergy menu, once again!

There was a pile of bread on the table. It looked very appetising. Not knowing what was in it, I had to keep 'Baby' off it. She wasn't impressed! Luckily, we had some ciabatta left over from our trip on Eurostar, I'd brought it down to the restaurant, to keep her busy, whilst waiting, so she had some of that, instead.

Lovely looking bread - but only The Hub could eat it

Bearing in mind that this restaurant was the same at which we had eaten breakfast, I was disappointed not to be offered some of the allergy free bread that we had at breakfast, instead.

This time we were offered one of the starter's from the allergy menu. There was only one option (rather than the two indicated on the menu). It came like this:

Straight from the fridge

Et voila!

It was cold. 'Baby' wouldn't touch it. I ate it purely for the experience. It was very tomatoey. I wouldn't recommend it, unless you were desperate to top up your 'five-a-day'.

For the main course there were two options this time (there's four on the allergy menu). Thinking swiftly, I ordered the meatballs and rice for 'Baby' and the sausages for me - I didn't mind which I had, but thought there was more chance of 'Baby' eating something if she had a choice between the two. 

Baby's meatballs

She did actually stick to her own choice, she seemed to enjoy it but she did tail off after a bit! I sampled some and it tasted better than it looked, but the meatballs were a bit rubbery.

Mine came like this: 


An improvement on the day before in terms of presentation, to some extent - at least there was a plate!! However, the sausages tasted bland and rubbery. The mash was bland too. Without any vegetables, I considered it rather unbalanced as meals go. Good job I ate that starter!

Looking better!?

Meanwhile The Hub was served this:

A simple chicken dinner

He couldn't understand why we couldn't have been served something similar, to this, may be without the gravy.

Dessert was this, for 'Baby':

Cold apple compote

Or this, for me: 

Cold caramelised pear

Both cold again. The apple was basically stewed apple. It was quite grainy in texture and very sweet. Obviously commercially produced, it had none of the flavour you'd get from home made stewed apple. I only got 'Baby' to sample it by bribing her with a dairy free chocolate lolly.

The 'Caramelised Pear' was basically small chunks of pear in a sugary syrup -just like you can buy fro the supermarket. I ate it purely to balance out the lack of vegetables in the main course! You could tell it was real fruit, because small fragments of peel remained on some of the pieces.

The Hub opted for this:

Anyone for fruit?

Again, we failed to see how that couldn't be served to people with allergies, as long as the staff were properly trained in the right kind of protocols.

I looked around. Other kids were eating chips and ice cream. Fortunately I don't think 'Baby' noticed! When we got back to our hotel room, I had a sneaky suspicion she was still a bit empty. Good job I had brought these:

Plastic spoon courtesy of Starbucks

Oh, I forgot to say that the value of the voucher for the meal was €33. 

We discovered, in fact, that the allergy menu would be presented to us at pretty much all of the resort restaurants, no matter how much the meal cost. Even if we booked a table at the Disney Princesses restaurant, Auberge de Cendrillon (which is pretty pricey), as we had been planning to, we discovered that the same meal would have been served. The Hub was not happy about the idea of paying that kind of money for what amounted to a reheated ready meal (however safe it may be), while other little princesses, at close proximity, would be noshing on other delights.

As we discovered you could have a picture taken with a princess for free (well you have to pay for the photos, although you can take your own), by booking a slot at the Princess Pavilion in the park (it's by the 'Small World' ride - you need to queue for a ticket, first), we decided to pass that one up. 'Baby' not knowing about the existence of the Disney Princess restaurant was blissfully unaware of our decision - we made no mention of it, just in case it didn't work out. Which was just as well. If she was a bit older, or had older siblings, or if we went with her cousins, I don't think we would have got away with it.

As for me, as an adult, who could reason about the need for safety - over the lack of choice, the experience was completely dispiriting. I would go as far as to say that it ruined my holiday. I tried to be grateful that I had something safe to eat, but having had much better experiences of eating in hotels and restaurants at home in England. I failed miserably. It was a good job that we had the fireworks and light show to look forward to at the end of the day. It was an amazing experience and I was glad not to miss it. But would I do it this way again? I think not. I'd prefer to save my money for now and go to the States.

The actual thing was spectacular - pictures do not do justice!

So am I an Eyeore, or not? 

Compare our experience, with that of Nicola's (see here) or to get a fuller picture, her blog (here), at Walt Disney World in the States, before you decide...

Related Posts: 

Travelling with the Dairy Free Baby

Breakfast at Disney

Travelling Eurostar with the DFB

Why we're lovin' McDonald's... at Disneyland Paris

Eating Dairy and Gluten Free at Walt Disney World

Further reading:

An American blog post about eating with allergies at Walt Disney World in America

A daily Mail article on how to get a better deal, at Disneyland Paris if you're a UK resident

An article from The Independent on how Disneyland Paris is trying to lure the Brits

Monday, 16 June 2014

Dairy Free and Gluten Free Sweet Treats at Disneyland Paris

You may well be on holiday, but wondering around the vast Disney Parks in Disneyland Paris can take a LOT of energy! 

Be prepared for a LOT of walking! Comfy footwear is a MUST!

But... fear ye not! 

Disney is careful to make sure that there are plenty of places to provide you with a little refill! But if you're looking for anything healthy, you might need to look away now and take your own!

Apart from this stall in the Disney village:

Fruit to go?
which sells things that are fruit based. 

We didn't actually investigate it, as 'Baby' is not a natural fruit eater and I was a little bit wary of anything unpackaged and unlabelled. This might seem mad, and over cautious to some of you, but do you really want a reaction on holiday??

The only other place I saw that sold fruit was McDonald's - where you could buy a small packet of apple.

If you are staying half board (like we did), you are given a voucher for a 'Pause Gourmand' which amounted to a hot or cold drink and a bite to eat - one for each day that you are resident. This can be exchanged at selected venues throughout the parks. It took a while for us to work out just where these venues were. Unfortunately, although the drinks were useful, none of the muffins or snacks in these venues were dairy free for 'Baby' or gluten free for me. Just as well we brought some of our own, then!

Food on the move!

Throughout the Resort, there are lots of places to eat; including restaurants, fast food outlets (bizarrely themed as Victorian, in Main Street - that was a little surreal), food stalls and moving food carts. Of course, it was sometimes tricky finding food that was allergy friendly, it was nowhere near as good as Nicola's experience in the States (read about it here, or on her new blog, here), but (probably because a lot of the treats we found involved sugar), we still found a few things that 'Baby' and I could have.

The key thing was to buy packaged products - then we could check the label and be certain that there was no chance of cross-contamination.

Not labelled or pre-packaged? We wouldn't take the risk!
When checking labels, the main thing to look out for was sans lait or sans lactose' regarding milk and sans gluten regarding gluten free. You were more likely to see sans lactose than sans lait - perhaps showing that lactose intolerance has a higher profile in France than milk allergy. However, it was always a good start, when it came to examining labels. Knowing other related words like buerre (butter), fromage (cheese), or, for me, ble (wheat) also helps. That doesn't cover everything, of course, but is a start! 

So what did we find?

One snacky treat that we sometimes have a home is popcorn. However, knowing that sometimes butter is used to help coat popcorn with flavour, I was pleased to discover that the popcorn sold in tubs was suitable for both 'Baby' and me. Even better, you could get it in tubs with characters that 'Baby' loves... i.e. Mater!!

'Baby' friendly popcorn

Packaging states: 
gluten free, nut free, lactose free, soya free

Sweet: corn, sugar, glucose syrup, vegetable oil, natural colouring agent: beta-carotene
Salted: corn, vegetable oil, salt, potassium chloride, seasoning extract, flavouring powder.

Large sugary lollies! 
I couldn't eat one, but you see plenty of people wandering around who do!

Bound to catch the eye of  princess mad little girls!

Sugar, glucose syrup, acidifier: citric acid, colourings: beetroot red - curcumin, flavour.

A very familiar-looking Pez sweetie dispenser - 'Baby' loves these!

Various characters available!

Packaging States:
No lactose or gluten

sugar, glucose syrup, citric acid, acidity regulator (sodium-citrates), hydrogenated vegetable fat, emulsifier (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), flavour colouring foodstuffs: Lemon: concentrate of salflower), lemon juice concentrate; Orange: (concentrate of paprika); Cherry: (concentrates of grapes, black currant and black carrots); Strawberry: (concentrates of black currant and black carrots).

Pure sugar, I know, I know, I know, but we were on holiday and we made sure that she didn't get to eat it all by herself, or even all in one go. A definite advantage of once again sticking to a packaged product that was clearly labelled, rather than one which was freshly prepared, was that we could stick the lid back on and save some for another day!

Loving the fact it's got a lid!

Sugar, colourings: E100, E101, E120, E131, Flavouring.

Price: €3,99

Haribo Marshmallows
Another hit with 'Baby,' but I didn't buy them on this occasion!

These stayed on the shelf!

Glucose syrup, sugar, water, gelatine, Humectant: sorbitol syrup, Maltodextrin, rice and potato starch, Acidulant: Citric acid, flavouring, Colour: carmine.

More Haribo!
Bought for 'Baby,' but she didn't actually enjoy these and I wasn't sure that I should have them. I had to translate the label from French, as the ingredients weren't listed in English, and I'm not sure whether they contain wheat or not.

Disneyland Haribo

Glucose syrup,sugar, dextrose (from wheat or maize), pork gelatine, flavouring, inverted sugar syrup, carouba fruit extract, concentrates from fruit and plants (apple, kiwi, spinach, nettle), acidifier E330, coating agent: E901, E903, dyes: E120, E161b.

Price: €2,99 

Found in a shop on Main Street

Sugar, glucose syrup, acidifer: citric acid, natural flavouring, colouring: carmine acid.

Price: €1,99

So, there were options, but as you can see, they're full of sugar!

One thing sadly lacking, at Disneyland Paris was a decent dairy free ice lolly. In fact, there were none that I could find. I didn't mind that there wasn't dairy free ice cream - I knew that would be unlikely, but an ice lolly...

Not a great deal of choice anyway!

The nearest thing I could find, that looked hopeful was the 'Super Twister'. It boasted three fruit flavours, but the ingredients list included buerre (butter). Hoping that it might be some kind of other 'butter' (i.e. cocoa butter, isn't made with dairy) I interrupted a French couple who were eating one, so I could ask for their help in translation. Startled as they were by my leaping upon them, once they grasped what I was after they were most helpful... but soon confirmed that it was unsuitable. 

This was disappointing, as the weather was hot that day and plenty of other folks were wandering around with tubs of Ben and Jerry's. 

It was harder for 'Baby'. 

'But why don't they have one for me?' she wailed repeatedly.

'Good question!' thought I, trying to 'jolly her along'.

There were some 'Slush Puppy' type drinks, available from some stands, but although logically they should be OK (ice, right), I wasn't prepared to take this for granted and was fed up of asking questions by this time. I suspected that they were full of additives anyway and as 'Baby' had no idea what they were or if she was missing out, we passed those by!

Good job 'Baby' likes balloons, is all I can say!! Expensive, but a great tool for distraction!!

Treats don't always have to be food!

Related Posts:

Travelling with the Dairy Free Baby

Breakfast at Disney

Travelling Eurostar with the DFB

Why we're lovin' McDonald's... at Disneyland Paris

Eating Dairy and Gluten Free at Walt Disney World