Had lunch at the Brasserie Blanc in Oxford. I've been wanting to try one of these restaurants for a while, but there isn't one close by. I had heard they had a gluten free menu, and I was also very impressed with the way Raymond Blanc talked about the need to keep people with food intolerances safe. I had seen him on a TV programme where he was giving people an opportunity to run a restaurant, and he was very angry when the contestants were dismissive of people specifying no gluten.
We arrived about three minutes after the place opened so were first in. I asked about gluten free food and the waiter immediately handed me the gf menu. It also listed the dairy free options, so if you needed to be gluten and dairy free you just needed to pick something that showed on both lists.
I had an excellent array of salads as a starter, while TT enjoyed an delicious glass of wine. He then had a steak to see if they could do one as good as those he had in France or the USA. He doesn't normally bother with steak in this country. I had some beef strogonoff - I have never had it before and thought it would be good way of finding out what it was supposed to taste like. It was available as a half portion, so I thought it would be ok to order even though I wasn't hungry.
The staff were attentive and friendly. I said they needed to be extra careful with my food and not even touch my plate if they had touched bread. It was a little surprising, therefore, that when TT's vegetables arrived the waiter warned me that the cauliflower had bread crumbs on so, depending on how sensitive I was...she just thought I should know. So full marks for warning me, minus a mark for forgetting what I had already said.
TT thought his steak was as good as the best he has had in the UK but not as good as the US or France. He thought the carrots were too firm - which meant they were perfect for me apart from the butter. My strogonoff was uninspiring, but if that is how it is supposed to be that is just a matter of my taste. I think there were finely sliced cornichons which added a good bit of crunch, and I could taste paprika- it had a mild but long and complex flavour. I thought the salt overpowered the rest of the flavours, but I don't cook with salt so it would be hard for a normal restaurant to avoid that as an opinion.
TT thought his bread was very good. After we had finished the waiter wiped away the breadcrumbs from his side of the table, and then came and wiped away the (non-existent) crumbs from my side of the table using the same cloth. Immediately my whole area of table cloth was contaminated. As the fabric cloth was covered by a paper table cloth I just folded it over and explained what had just happened - I just wasn't expecting this behaviour and hadn't the wit to stop it - I had presumed she was just going to fiddle with my cutlery or some other sign of attentiveness.
I didn't ask what kind of vinegars were used in the salad dressings. In any place without a gf menu, and one where it specified the chips weren't gluten free- this shows they know about cross contamination in the oil, I would have checked. I don't know what caused trouble, but I soon got a bit of stomach ache so I took a glutenzyme just to help.
After leaving the restaurant we went to the Ashmolean Museum, where I learnt rather more than I wanted to about the toilets while TT had a coffee. I took paracetamol to help with the gut ache, and did manage to enjoy the rest of my day, but had a very large belly and shiny patches under my eyes by the evening. I didn't get enough gluten to give me the four day fever and brain fog, so I don't think that there were any gluten bearing ingredients in any of the dishes, but this was more than the mild discomfort I get when I only have a cup of tea in a friend's house while they eat cake.
I was disappointed in this. Somehow I had got some contamination.
The other thing which disappointed me is that they make things available for people with gluten intolerances by stating which things you cannot eat. All over the menu it said, no bread, no biscuit, no croutons, no chips....A good phase one approach, but I was surprised they they didn't have a single treat food that was safe.
For example, you could have icecream, but without the biscuit...it can't be very difficult to have some individually wrapped gf biscuits, which have a long shelf life, available for people if they want them. My own shortbread biscuits, which I supply to the local art centre, have a best before period of four months, and are perfectly reasonable for a long time after. It wouldn't take much to feel that one wasn't just having to avoid things, but were catered for with some aplomb.