Ceru: A Fully Gluten Free Taste of the Levant

If you’re a seafood fan and a gluten freer, you’ll know those food envy pangs all too well when someone in your party orders a round of deep fried calamari. You’ll smell it first, then hear the crunch and it will rapidly becomes all too unfair to bear. Thanks to Ceru in South Kensington, your envy can now come to an end, which is worth the trip for its spiced battered squid with harissa yoghurt alone.

Ceru is a fairly new addition to the London dining scene and models itself on authentic Levantine flavours. The restaurant, founded by former director of the Yalla Yalla Lebanese restaurant group Barry Hilton, offers an entirely gluten free menu. The only no go for gluten freers is the bread, but  with the plethora of choices on the menu, you won’t even give it a second thought.

The restaurant’s friendly and informative staff recommend that customers choose up to three small plates per person, with an idea to share everything and therefore partake in an indulgent round of mezze. All bases are covered with a wide array of dips, salads, warm vegetarian dishes, meat, seafood, sides and do not forget dessert!

As a party of four we did not hold back. We started with a bowl of fadi – a dip made up of roasted zucchini, yoghurt, lemon, tahini and garlic which is served wtih fresh crudites for dipping, alongside a spice roasted beetroot and fennel salad. It was immediately clear just how fresh and well flavoured everything is from these two plates alone, which were then followed by grilled halloumi and red peppers with a harissa dressing. Soon came another top favourite of mine – zucchini and feta fritters with a mint and dill yoghurt. The fritters were rich and delicately spiced, with enough for at least two small helpings each. As a meat option we opted for the Persian kafta – a type of aromatic spiced beef, moulded into patties and served with edamame beans, caramelised onion and a tarator sauce. This we paired with a serving of the fragrant house rice (Orez Ceru), peppered with crispy onions, sultanas and parsley, the sweetness of which blended perfectly with the rich kafta flavours. 

While there was barely room left for dessert after all of the sharing plates we tried, I didn’t pass up the opportunity to sample some refreshing Lemon Sorbet, which Ceru brings in from The Ice Cream Union. It was the perfect way to end such a satisfying and entirely stress-free meal.

If you are looking for somewhere to eat quickly, or slowly, but calmly and deliciously – pick Ceru. I already cannot wait to go back to this place which goes out of its way to make allergy sufferers feel at ease.

7-9 Bute St
London SW7 3EY
Tel: 020 3195 3001
(Tables bookable over the phone and via opentable)

Leggero: An Italian Gluten Free Shrine

Eating in a worry-free environment when gluten is your enemy mustn’t be under-rated. Even in London – the city of diversity when it comes to dietary preferences and requirements. From the moment I sat down and glanced at Leggero’s 100% gluten-free menu, I knew I was in wonderful hands. I arrived a whole 30 minutes ahead of my friends. “Don’t rush, I’m perfectly fine,” I messaged them. I had my gluten-free Peroni to occupy me (and had forgotten how good this beer was).

I proceeded to tuck into one of Leggero’s homemade hemp bread muffins, served warm with fresh salted butter. While steep at  £3 pounds a pop, I didn’t think twice about ordering a second – the texture and flavour were spot on, and not once did I feel like I was eating gluten-free bread.

Upon the arrival of my two non gluten-free friends, we decided to share two starters from Leggero’s small-plates list. We opted for the Polenta Gnocchi with porcini mushrooms, truffle oil, cheese, butter and sage and a portion of the “Gnudi” or ricotta and spinach balls dressed with fresh tomato sauce.

While the dishes really were on the small-side, we all felt fulfilled after sharing. The gnocchi was rich but light, and not by any means over-powered by the truffle oil which can often steal the limelight when added to pastas, rice dishes and the like. I can reveal that this was my favourite dish of the night, and given the chance I would have ordered one to two more portions. Gnocchi reminds me of being little and travelling with my family to Italy during the school holidays – I was reluctant to try many things but one day, at a family restaurant just outside Naples, my mom managed to get me to sample her gnocchi.  I proceeded to order gnocchi alla Sorrentina (its recipe I’ll share at a later date) in every restaurant we went to for the remaining 10 days of the trip. The Leggero Gnudi meanwhile were rich and flavourful, with the density of the ricotta balanced by a moreish tomato sauce.

Our mains came quickly (and why not, since fresh pasta takes a matter of minutes to cook), mine a serving of the handmade “Sorghum” large ravioli stuffed with prawns and asparagus and topped with saffron cream. My pasta was perfectly cooked, complete with a poppy seed garnish that gave the dish a fun texture I hadn’t experienced before. While I would have loved more of the prawn and asparagus filling, I reminded myself that the more full a homemade ravioli, the easier it can fall apart. My friends both enjoyed their “Sourgum Tagliatelle” which they ordered with two different sauces: lamb and asparagus and avocado, pecorino cheese and egg. Their portions were very generous and I would recommend them to those who perhaps opt for lighter starters. Both of my friends gushed over the pasta, and said they couldn’t believe it was gluten free! For those of you not wanting pasta for a main course, Leggero also offers such main dishes as fish and duck, served with adventurous vegetable sides.

Of course we ordered dessert and to avoid any food envy all very un-originally ordered the same thing, which was our waiter’s acclaimed favourite on the menu – the classic cheesecake. It was flavoured with white chocolate and topped with an option of chocolate or strawberry sauce. The cake was of the baked variety and not at all dense, unlike a lot of gluten-free cheesecakes I’ve both eaten in restaurants or made myself. I left not one crumb behind.

Leggero is a winner and somewhere I will return to for an easy and guaranteed delicious dinner. The mains aren’t what I would call cheap at £14- £18 but the quality comes through in the flavour and overall dining experience. I’ll review the new summer 2017 menu, which is launching soon. Watch this space glutinos!

Leggero (formerly La Polenteria)
64 Old Compton Street
London W1D 4UQ
Tel: 0207 434 3617
(Tables also bookable on bookatable and opentable)

Il Piccolo Focone: Barcelona’s Hidden Italian Gem

My first trip to this hidden gluten free gem was back in 2015 when I was in Barcelona on business. While some say travelling on business without colleagues is lonely, I never complain about having the option to be entirely selfish and pick all of my restaurants and meals without having to reach a compromise! Il Piccolo Focone was top of my list then and remains top of my list now for an unassuming yet sure of itself restaurant. I loved it so much that, a year later, I took my best friend back with me for a lunch on a touristy weekend.

Located a mere four blocks away from Gaudi’s gothic masterpiece Catedral de la Sagrada Familia, Il Piccolo Focone is always full of eaters but stays peacefully tranquil – a sign of just how serious and concentrated its patrons are about the food. We were quiet too, as we tried to decide what in heaven’s name we would order after being given so much choice. The eatery’s extensive menu offers most pasta dishes and pizzas as gluten-free as well as a selection of hot and cold starters, risottos, meat and fish dishes. We decided to share the Alcachofas Fritas (fried artichokes) served with lemon which was no starter for the faint-hearted. What arrived was a mound of perfectly crisp and flavourful artichokes which tasted so good I asked [in fear] for a second explanation of the batter’s ingredients. “No se preocupe Senorita,” our waiter told me, warmly confirming that everything I ordered would be gluten free guaranteed.

Despite my friend being a fully able gluten digester, she opted for the gluten free pizza base also. “If it’s as good as you say it is then I’ll love it”, she said. I wasn’t one to argue because I knew what was coming. I opted for the Capricciosa with artichokes (couldn’t get enough), mushrooms, olives and ham, while my friend chose the Mamma – a pizza covered in ham, chorizo and frankfurters.

The pizza arrived so piping hot that we had to let it cool down – a rare luxury for someone partial to home pizza delivery. The combination of a perfectly seasoned tomato sauce and the creamiest mozzarella I had tried on a pizza in as long as I could remember made the rest of the toppings seem un-necessary at first and I silently wished I had just ordered a Margherita to indulge in satisfying simplicity. I soon moved on from that thought however and remembered just how good the mushroom-artichoke-olive-ham combination really is. We sat there until we had finished without leaving a single crust on the plate, before entering into a satisfying food coma. I had not wanted it to come to an end.

The food coma did not stop us from sampling a gluten free tiramisu – a traditional Italian coffee-flavoured dessert now more widely available as senza glutine but easy to get wrong. We were not disappointed – the dessert, packed perfectly into a glass jar, was rich yet refreshing, and even gave us a much needed caffeine boost to continue our afternoon of sightseeing.

All in all, Il Piccolo Focone is perfect at lunchtime or even at dinnertime, alone or with company. All it requires is that you come hungry to tend to the generous portions. Saying I did not find it hard to adapt to mainstream gluten-free pizzas afterwards though would be a large and unconvincing fib. You have been warned.

Il Piccolo Focone 
Carrer del Dos de Maig 268
08025 Barcelona, Spain
Tel: +34 934 50 24 52
(Tables bookable over the phone)