[PLEASE NOTE THE COMMENT FROM THE RESTAURANT – I wrote this post a year ago and it seems that things have changed for the better. I haven’t visited myself to verify yet, but it seems legit.]
Last night I was out in Islington with my friend M, on the hunt for food. I am coeliac and she is lactose intolerant, so we needed a place that could cater for us both. Waiters love us!
We found a fish & chip shop on Upper Street that claimed to serve gluten-free fish & chips. Great! But wait…
I asked the waiter on the door a little about exactly how ‘gluten-free’ gluten-free was.
I asked if the fish & chips were suitable for coeliacs? Yes.
I asked if they fried the gluten-free fish in the same oil as the wheat batter? Yes.
When I told him that if the items were fried in the same oil then they would not be suitable for coeliacs, he came back with…
’…the heat is so high that it gets rid of the gluten so it doesn’t matter.’
I told him that I was extremely sceptical, because heat does not ‘neutralise’ or get rid of the gluten protein. He said that this is what the chef had told them, and that FYI, they hadn’t had any complaints from other gluten free customers. He said that usually once he ‘explained it’ to gluten-free customers, they were happy to eat there.
First of all, gluten cannot be ‘fried away’. I find it disingenuous to offer something labelled as gluten-free, and then insist that it is completely safe for coeliacs when upon closer looking, it is not really. It is fantastic that more places are offering gluten-free options, but the importance of avoiding contamination has to be understood otherwise it is not really a gluten-free option at all.
As for his assertion that they had had no gluten-related complaints so it must be OK…
1. It is a fairly new restaurant, don’t speak too soon!
2. Not everyone eating the gluten-free option has coeliac disease. Some people eat it out of choice, or because they are intolerant of gluten/wheat. This means they will not react in the same way to contamination and may not be concerned about the presence of a small amount of gluten. For sensitive coeliacs even a small amount like this can mean days of illness, not to mention adding to invisible internal damage which in the long-term can lead to osteoporosis, infertility and bowel cancer.
3. It can be difficult to attribute a gluten reaction to a particular food item, so a reaction to their fish and chips wouldn’t necessarily elicit a complaint. Personally I do not feel comfortable blaming a restaurant for a glutening when I am not 100% sure they were at fault.
Needless to say, we didn’t eat there as I didn’t feel comfortable taking the risk.
I would encourage all caterers and restaurateurs to read up on Coeliac UK’s guidelines for providing gluten-free food. The last thing I would want to do is discourage venues from providing GF options, but it is so important to be clear about exactly how safe these options are to potential customers.