The gluten-free community has been waiting a long time for Romeo’s Bakery. Excitement has been building ever since we first caught a glimpse of the stunning pastries and patisserie goodies on their website. My original post about Romeo’s is the most visited page of all time on this blog, and there have been countless threads on the gluten-free forums asking well…what is going on?!
I have a source, a close friend who lives just across from Upper Street and has been giving me regular updates on Romeo’s progress. She told me excitedly that Romeo’s was finally open, and she had gone in and been given a free scone to sample, and did I want one too, and when was the soonest I could visit?!
Romeo’s had been open for just a couple of days when I arrived, and the staff were outside offering samples of bread and drumming up business. Romeo’s is located in the middle of Upper Street, a thriving place full of independent shops and eateries. Romeo’s sits inbetween Highbury & Islington and Angel station, and is easily accessible from either.
The outside of the cafe is currently masked by scaffolding, but once inside the cafe is minimalist and nicely designed.
We visited at lunchtime and were offered a little menu of gluten-free pizza, pasties and pie and salads for lunch, with a few cakes, scones and breads for sale on the side.
My friend M and I shared lunch; we chose a pumpkin, feta and pine nut pastie, a selection of the salads and a hot chocolate and a juice respectively. Everything was delicious. The pastie was freshly baked and divine, the salads were fresh, delicious and filling – no bland mix of rocket here – and it was such a pleasure not to have to question the staff over whether the hot chocolate was suitable for coeliacs.
The quality of the food was excellent and clearly some care has gone into developing the menu.
The bread seemed to be the product Romeo’s are really trying to push, and understandably so as fresh, artisan gluten-free breads are hard to come by.
I tasted a few samples while I was in the cafe, of their olive bread, tomato bread and plain bread. They were tasty – moist, fluffy and light. The closest comparison for me is to Perkier!’s gluten-free loaf. Though it was a real treat to be able to try the different flavours of bread, I settled for buying a plain white loaf.
They have kept the recipe simple, and it seems to work.
I have been eating this bread all week; dipped in soup, spread with peanut butter, nutella, butter and jam…and it stands up. It does not fall apart at the first touch of the knife, it toasts well, and it tastes good. According to my non-coeliac tester (AKA boyfriend), it tastes like normal bread, but only just. We both still prefer the bread from the WAGfree bakery , and I still love my Antoinette Savill rolls. I would say this bread is tying with the Perkier! loaf in third place.
I also bought a little chocolate and strawberry fairy cake. It was very nice, though it did not taste noticeably of either chocolate or strawberry (?!).
Below is a sample I received via my Islington friend. Yummy scone, very enjoyable but if I am being picky not quite as good as the ones served with afternoon tea at The Kingsway (more on that later). I also really liked the ones I made with Helen’s mix so would probably not rush to buy these normally.
With no beating around the bush: the prices are high. For one (admittedly delicious, freshly baked) smallish pumpkin, feta and pine nut pastie, no sides, it was £6.50. A loaf of bread will set you back £5.99, which is a new record for the already dizzying heights of gluten-free bread pricing. I know that of course the ingredients are more expensive than for ‘normal’ bread, and of course they are making it fresh in small quantities and need to make a profit…but £5.99 is an awful lot. My weekly shop is around £25; it would seem a little absurd to spend a quarter of that just on one loaf of bread. #coeliacproblems amirite?
While I really enjoyed the lunch (particularly the pastie), and it was great to try the different breads, scone and cake, the pricing is simply beyond my reach (and I suspect that of many others) for regular buying. I am used to paying extra for gluten-free foods and for things in London generally (!) but there is a limit. Particularly since there are other gluten-free bakeries (WAGfree in Brixton, Wheatfree Bakery in West Lothian) that offer similar products at a more affordable price.
Islington however is the type of area that may hold enough people who are able and willing to pay. Walk down the road to Planet Organic, and you will see many ‘health-food’ products selling well at the same sort of price point.
The Verdict/ TL;DR
I am so glad Romeo’s Bakery has opened its doors, and the products I have tried have invariably been pleasing, and clearly made by a person with some expertise in the arts of patisserie and baking. The food was of excellent quality, and eating somewhere totally gluten-free does put the coeliac mind at rest. The prices are high, but Romeo’s are going for quality, freshness and craft, and this comes at a cost. I look forward to seeing how they develop and what new products they bring to the gluten-free table.