Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dinner in London...Gluten-free

Gluten-free dinner in London is easy if you do your homework, and I’m here to help with that. What kind of food do you like? Do you want Fish and Chips? Indian? Thai? Please tell me you don’t want Italian. Italian is so boring. (Shakespeare would never have eaten Italian. Definitely a curry for Will. It is the British national dish, after all.)

Eating gluten-free in restaurants sometimes means eating things you wouldn’t normally eat. Gluten-free pasta is usually rubbish. Gluten-free bread—unless it’s the new Genius Bread—does not taste like food. When you tell your waiter you’re a Coeliac, he leaves all the sauces off, you get a piece of meat with dry vegetables for 16 pounds. You’re a culinary leper basically.

But it doesn’t have to be that way...if you know where to go. I'm going to tell you where to go. That might not sound nice, but it is.


If you’re visiting London as a tourist, chances are you’ll end up in Soho. Here’s where to go for excellent Indian food:

Imli! Have a look at the menu. They even tell you clearly which dishes are gluten-free. It’s a beautiful restaurant, and the food, as you can see by clicking on their menu, is prepared with love (and mostly without gluten).

The MasalaWorld of restaurants and Masala Zone are also quite good. When you arrive, tell your server that you would like to speak to the manager about their gluten-free menu. The managers are trained to help. 

The dishes you’re most likely to come across:

Pompadum (Everyone spells this word differently, so just look for something that sort of looks like this word.) = paper-thin lentil flour crackers served before the meal and eaten with a variety of sauces: mango chutney, mint raita, and sometimes coconut/curry relish (my favorite). Usually poppadums or pappadums should be completely gluten-free, but Indian restaurants now often buy them premade. The very light ones have wheat flour in them. If they look light and mass-produced, don’t eat them. Always ask the waiter if the poppadoms are all lentil flour. If he doesn’t seem to understand what you mean, don’t eat the pupadoms! And very very important: always ask if they make the sauces themselves. Don’t eat shiny sauces. Mango chutney and lime pickle should be fine, but make sure the waiter knows you can’t eat anything that has been thickened.

Vegetable Fritters called Pakora or Bhajya (also, Pokora or Pakoda). These can be delicious or awful, depending on the restaurant. Deep-fried vegetables in a gram-flour batter. Yum. And crunchy. And gluten-free. Just make sure you confirm first that the restaurant fries them in gram flour.

Main dishes. After reading hundreds of Indian recipes (yes, this is how I spend my time), I’m happy to report that wheat flour is a rare visitor in the list of ingredients. Sauces are thickened with yogurt and butter. They should be fine.

Naan bread. Don’t even think about it. NOT gluten-free.

Gluten-free flours:
Garam (besan or gram) flour = chickpea  
Bajra flour = a form of millet. Also jowar, ragi (finger millet), kheri, kodo & jhungori
Singhara/ shingoda = water chestnut
Moong flour = mung bean
Juar flour = sorghum
Urad dal flour = lentil
Muth flour = pulses
Powa flour = rice
Urid/ Urad Flour = dehusked black gram dal (hordsebean).

NOT Gluten-free flours!
Chapati = atta. Atta flour is made from wheat flour and malted barley.
Maida flour = finely milled wheat flour
Rawa/rava/Suji = semolina

More Info and Restaurant Reviews:

To read more about Indian Cuisine go here.
An excellent review from the Gluten-free Foodie of Namaaste Kitchen in Camden,


The Blue Elephant on Fulham Broadway is a good Thai restaurant. When you book your table, let them know you require a gluten-free diet. They’ll take care of you. Ask to sit near one of the fountains or ponds. A lot of the restaurant looks like a jungle.

You shouldn’t have a problem ordering something gluten-free at a Thai restaurant in London. The questions you must ask are “Is your fish sauce gluten-free?” or “Can you tell me exactly what is in your fish sauce?” and “Is this dish made with soya sauce?”

Then the noodles. Make sure you ask for rice noodles. The yellow noodles are a no-go.


Traditional British

The Mermaids Tail on Leicester Square. I haven’t been to this restaurant, but I have called them to make sure they still offer gluten-free fish and chips, and they do. The next time I’m in London, I’m going there. I’ll update this post when I’ve tried the fish and chips. It will be my first fish and chips in six years, so it had better be good. 

Cotto Italian restaurant says on their website that they need a heads-up to cater for guests with coeliac disease, but they also publish a gluten-free menu. (020 7928 5535)
Hell Pizza offer a gluten-free pizza. Delivery. 

This the last post in my series on gluten-free dining in London. If you missed the previous posts, simply search for "gluten-free" on the site and you'll get them all: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and the pub--all gluten-free in London. Next time we're off to see how difficult it is to eat sans gluten in la Grande Nation

I must be off,