Hong Kong: The Gluten Free Suitcase Guide

This year I took my very first trip to Asia to visit a friend in Hong Kong. A city full to the brim with amazing Dim Sum and other traditionally glutenous treats, I was sceptical about just how well I would eat when I was there. I had heard endless reports of just how hard it is to come across safe gluten free options and so took it upon myself to research every single place I would be eating. What happened? I ended finding some amazing places and never went hungry. From Dim Sum to Venezuelan Empanadas, from crepes to epic toasties – Hong Kong really does have it all! Check out my guide for a number of options within Hong Kong itself and a bonus addition for Macao, which is just an hour’s ferry ride away and well worth a trip.

Sweetpea Cafe

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Officially Hong Kong’s sole 100% spot, Sweetpea Cafe really found a gap in the market. This gorgeous little cafe is hidden away in the hilly streets of Hong Kong Central and has a menu with more options than you would think from the size of the place itself. Get ready to be wowed by the impressive cake counter as soon as you walk into the shop, which offers a selection of vegan and sugar free cakes too. The sandwiches here are all delicious, and individually made to order, including a selection of toasties. However be warned, Sweetpea Cafe works on a cash only basis and prices are high as, unsurprisingly, gluten free products are hard to source in Hong Kong. I thought this was a great shame however as I would have quite happily eaten breakfast here most days had it been more affordable. Definitely a must-visit, if for nothing more than a wonderful slice of cake and a latte with homemade nut mylk! Closed on Mondays.

Where?
4 Shin Hing Street
Hong Kong Central

Fresca

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Another Hong Kong Central find, Fresca offers up healthy breakfast and lunch options which you can either enjoy in-store or to go. Fresca is most known for its amazing salad bar, which boasts many gluten free options that can be mixed and matched for a decent sized lunch. The cafe also offers several gluten free sweet treats however, which are widely advertised. Their steamed muffins come in several flavours and are made using all natural ingredients. I opted for salted caramel, which paired nicely with a coffee. The gluten free crepes are undoubtedly the yummiest thing on the menu at Fresca however, and come stuffed with either banana and nutella or baked apples and summer berries. Closed on Mondays.

Brickhouse

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Everyone headed to Hong Kong must put one night aside to head to Brickhouse where nearly all tacos are gluten free! Even better, if you go on Monday or Tuesday, the restaurant has a great deal on tacos between 6pm and 8pm and always has a delicious taco of the month on offer. Several starters are also gluten free – just be sure to ask a member of staff for guidance on the menu. Brickhouse fills up pretty quickly most nights so get there early to avoid disappointment. We were lucky enough to sit at the bar in front of the chefs and so got to watch all our delicious food being prepared (which is basically my version of being in a toy shop). Don’t forget to wash your food down with several of the house margaritas – they’re fantastic! Closed on Sundays.

Where?
20 D’Aguilar Street
Hong Kong Central

Yardbird

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For the most delicious rice dishes you’ll try during your entire stay, head straight to Yardbird. This chicken-lovers paradise is located in the bustling Sheung Wan area of Hong Kong and pays great attention to dietary requirements. A number of rice dishes – including the unbeatable Chicken Rice – are gluten free and both incredibly filling and good value for money. While the fried chicken on offer at Yardbird is also gluten free, it is not coeliac safe due to cross contamination and the use of a shared fryer. While this was heartbreaking to learn at first, I quickly got over it when I received my main and a delicious steaming bowl of edamame beans. Top marks for both food and the general vibe at this Soho hotspot. Closed on Sundays.

Where?
154-158 Wing Lok Street
Sheung Wan
Hong Kong

Picada

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I did not expect to find so much amazing Latin American food in Hong Kong but I really hit the jackpot with Picada. Not only does this restaurant offer an amazing variety of meat and fish dishes as main courses, but an impressive starter selection too including (lo and behold) gluten free fried chicken AND gluten free empanadas. Of course we had to order both and we were by no means disappointed. It was hard to believe the fried chicken was gluten free and the empanadas were not only beautiful (pink, green and yellow) but each and every one delicious. Picada also has a delicious selection of cocktails and live music on the weekends – what’s not to like? Closed on Saturdays.

Where?
2F & 3F LKF 29 Building
29 Wyndham Street
Hong Kong Central

Madame Fu

I was told that gluten free dim sum was not a thing. Whoever told me this was oh so wrong. Madame Fu – a beautiful eatery tucked away in the brand new Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts – offers a fully gluten free menu to diners upon request which includes a selection of phenomenal dim sum. A little on the pricier side, this restaurant also has a selection of gluten free main dishes and desserts which are all almost too pretty to eat. I highly recommend a trip here for lunch one day when you’re wanting a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Where?
Shop 03-101A Blk
3 No.10 Hollywood Rd
Hong Kong Central

Mott 32

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Located in the Standard Chartered Bank Building, Mott 32 has two Michelin stars. The menu is mostly designed for sharing and offers up traditional Cantonese cuisine with a modern flair. Gluten free diners will receive an extensive gluten free menu upon request, which is almost identical to the regular menu with the exception of a handful of dishes. We ordered from the gluten free menu and shared everything, including lobster dim sum which was probably the most delicious thing I had during my entire stay in Hong Kong. While the meal was expensive it was totally worth it and an ideal spot for a special occasion or when you feel tempted to just treat yourself!

Where?
Standard Chartered Bank Building
4-4A Des Voeux Rd Central
Hong Kong Central

Pizza Express

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I was as surprised as you to see that not only does Pizza Express exist in Hong Kong, it offers gluten free bases too! With several branches across the city, rest assured you can give into those pizza cravings pretty easily whilst in Hong Kong. We opted for takeaway gluten free pizzas one evening as a no-fuss dinner and the bases were just as good as in the UK and the attention paid to dietary requirements also on a par. Check the company website for your closest branch.

Shopping

Filling up your suitcase with gluten free bread and other essentials before heading to Hong Kong is something I would highly recommend. However, a chain of supermarkets around the city – Market Place by Jason’s – has an impressive selection of sweet treats and snacks that you can top up with whilst you are there. I noticed a number of gluten free bread, cake and pancake mixes so ideal if you are staying in self-catered accommodation during your stay. Important to note there is no dedicated gluten free section in these stores so be prepared to scour the aisles like I did. Check the company website for your nearest branch.

Gluten Free at the Venetian in Macau

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During my time in Hong Kong, we took a day trip to Macau, via the Turbo Jet Ferry which took just under one hour. Known as Chinese Vegas, Macao is home to multiple famous hotels including the MGM Grand, The Parisian, Mandarin Oriental and more. We opted for a bottomless brunch at The Venetian where we sat for three hours plus indulging in The Portofino restaurant’s endless raw seafood, steak, cheese and salad bars as well as limitless mimosas, Bloody Marys and more. The gluten free options here were fantastic and I was given great guidance by staff on duty as to what was gluten free. I was brought my own basket of gluten free bread but I advise stating your dietary requirements when you book to ensure they have bread for you. Check the hotel website for current prices and table availability.

Warm Kale, Sweet Potato and Quinoa Salad with a Lemon, Tahini and Chive Dressing

To celebrate Coeliac UK Awareness Week this year, I’ve teamed up with Knorr UK to create the ultimate gluten free meal using one of my favourite grains – quinoa. I fell in love with this grain when I lived in South America and was delighted when I realised I wouldn’t have to give it up when I stopped eating gluten. It is delicious when cooked in vegetable stock – for this recipe I used Knorr Organic Vegetable Stock Pot, which gives it great depth and flavour. Try out this veggie recipe for yourselves for a perfect mid-week meal or a summery lunch.

Warm Kale, Sweet Potato and Quinoa Salad with a Lemon, Tahini and Chive Dressing
(Serves 2)

Ingredients

40g x Sweet Potato
2 x Garlic Cloves
1 x Tablespoon Olive Oil
Freshly Ground Pepper
80g x Quinoa
1 x Knorr Vegetable Stock Pot
200g x Kale

For the Dressing:
2 x Tablespoons Tahini
4 x Lemons (juiced)
1 x Garlic Clove (minced)
1 x Teaspoon Gluten Free Soy Sauce
Salt & Pepper to taste

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees celsius.
2. Prepare your sweet potato for roasting by cutting into small cubes and then
arranging on a baking tray with the two garlic cloves. Drizzle the olive oil over the
pan and add cracked black pepper.
3. Roast for 20-25 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, prepare your quinoa by washing thoroughly before adding to a pan
with 400ml water. Add the Knorr Vegetable Stock Pot and bring to the boil. Cover
the pot and simmer for 15 minutes or until the water has cooked off and the quinoa
is soft.
5. Separately, wash and then steam the kale for six to eight minutes. Drain.
6. Start preparing your dressing by adding the minced garlic clove, tahini, lemon juice
and soy sauce to a bowl. Stir until all mixed together into a dressing consistency.
Add chopped chives and salt and pepper to taste.
7. Combine the cooked quinoa, kale and sweet potato together before serving and
adding the dressing. Serve with a lemon wedge and extra chives.

Côte Brasserie: A Coeliac UK Accredited Gem (Invite)

While eating out for gluten free folk in the UK is becoming easier in terms of the variety of options available, places that adhere strictly to standards safe enough for coeliacs are still a rarity. UK chain Côte Brasserie is one of those exceptions, and is fully accredited by Coeliac UK. To celebrate Coeliac UK Awareness week, the team at Côte invited me along to try their extensive gluten free menu with some of my wonderful gluten free friends. I have always been a fan of this restaurant, which offers up traditional and modern French dishes with a twist. Côte has recently however revamped its gluten free offerings and even now has a dedicated Gluten Free Prestige set menu so coeliacs need not feel left out of the two and three course deals offered in all branches.

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While perusing the menu, we ordered a selection of mixed olives and saucisson sec to start, which paired perfectly with Côte’s wonderfully crisp sparkling wine Blanc de Blancs Brut. I then opted for the Prawn Gratinee as a starter: king prawns baked in a white wine, garlic, chilli and tomato sauce. This came with a serving of gluten free toast on the side and was one of the most delicious starters I have had in a restaurant for quite some time – not least because of the blue gluten free flags that came in the dish to indicate that this was indeed coeliac safe! My friend Jessie and I also shared a chicken parfait, which came with a serving of cornichons, spiced apple chutney and more gluten free bread, toasted to perfection.

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For my main, I could not resist ordering a fillet steak, recommended to me by the manager. Perfectly cooked, the steak was served with a generous portion of Côte’s trademark coeliac safe fries and truffle hollandaise sauce. To add a touch of greenery to our meal, Jessie and I also ordered some creamed spinach and French beans to accompany our meal. Again, our meals came with gluten free flags intact, allowing us to be fully relaxed without having to ask the usual twenty questions that follow the arrival of food for most gluten free diners.

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What’s important to note about Côte is that you will need to save room for dessert. Forget the usual single ice cream option all of us gluten free diners are far too familiar with in most restaurants – Côte offers a great selection including Creme Brulee, chocolate compote, crumble and more. I finally decided on the mixed summer berries with warm white chocolate sauce, which I would quite happily eat everyday if I could.
To conclude, I urge you all to head to Côte as soon as you can to see for yourselves just how wide a variety they have on offer for gluten free diners. If you have any other dietary requirements, intolerances or allergies, Côte will also go above and beyond to ensure you eat well and safely. Thank you again to the team for taking such good care of us – we all can’t wait to come back!

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We dined at the Soho branch of Côte Brasserie on Wardour Street. Tables bookable on the company website and on Quandoo.

Vichenzo Sin Tacc

Last year, I made my bi-annual pilgrimage to Buenos Aires – also known as the Europe of the south. This beautiful, hectic city was my home for almost three years in my twenties and will continue to draw me back every so often, not least because some of my bestest friends in the world live there. A huge part of my time in Argentina revolved around food – cuisine which is traditionally gluten-heavy. Yes, steak is the main act but when Argentines aren’t eating steaks, they’re usually tucking into amazing fresh pastas and milanesas – a tradition passed down from the Italian community that settled there at the turn of the 20th century. So, returning to this city has often made me nervous, for obvious gluten-related reasons.

What I discovered upon returning was a complete surprise however. The city’s gluten free scene in the last three years has totally exploded, with a long list of 100% gluten free eateries and bakeries sprouting up in multiple areas. Luckily for us, that explosion includes the 100% gluten free bakery and pasta factory Vichenzo, tucked away in the Montserrat neighbourhood, which is a hop skip and a jump from Avenida de Julio.

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Vichenzo opened its doors to the public in October 2015, primarily as a pasta producer. “The original idea was to create a high quality and delicious product that would, in addition, be gluten free and safe for coeliacs or those intolerant to gluten,” Vichenzo co-founder Gaston told me. “We saw the gluten free market as a challenge, and one that would make us grow,” Gaston said. The pair therefore put their learnings from their pasta maestro and store namesake Vicente Fabiz to use and created a range of fresh, gluten free pastas using traditional methods and machinery. The range of traditional pastas on offer in store quickly expanded beyond spaghetti and gnocchi to delights including spinach tagliatelle, beetroot ravioli, salmon casoncelli and more. Today, the store acts also as a bakery, offering a huge array of fresh bread, pastries, cakes and beyond.

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“Many of our products came about because of what particular customers requested of us and they became permanent,” Gaston said, who told me when I visited the store that the store’s only enemy is time and the limitations that it creates. The duo have successfully overcome the trials and tribulations of creating gluten free dough for their pastas and pizzas. However, as everyone and anyone gluten free will know, this is a science, given that a change in the humidity of a kitchen or the slight over-pour of an ingredient can leave the dough unusable. Having tried and tested a multitude of the store’s offerings I can vouch for Vichenzo and the success it has had in creating top notch gluten free products, not least the ready-made pasta dishes and fresh Milanesa sandwiches on crusty bread that you can take to go and eat right then and there in the street.

Discovering that neither Gaston nor Pablo were themselves gluten free makes the story of Vichenzo all the more exciting. In my experience, gluten free businesses come about because of health issues in the owners or founders themselves and so having the opportunity to visit a shop where gluten free is just considered normal in the eyes of two non coeliacs really was an eye opener. Luckily for the people of Buenos Aires, Vichenzo will continue to grow as a business. While plans are still not finalized, it looks possible that the north of the city could be home to a new shop in the future. In the meantime, those reading this from outside of Argentina: get on a plane to Buenos Aires and head straight to Vichenzo. You will not be sorry and I can say with confidence you will never have had a gluten free experience like it!

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Vichenzo Sin Tacc (Closed on Sundays)
Salta 529
C1074 Buenos Aires
Argentina

Free From Christmas Range by Co-op

It’s the most wonderful [foodie] time of year! Food has always been the central part of Christmas for me and my family and some of my fondest memories from my childhood involve the delicious tastes and smells of the festive season. Since going gluten free however, it has not always been easy to source Christmas treats.

Co-op – a supermarket I have known and shopped in for years – is really ahead of the curve this year, and has introduced a delicious range of sweet treats which, unlike most free from items available in the shops these days, are totally affordable. More importantly, they’re 100% coeliac safe and honestly do not taste gluten free. So, I suggest you have a read below about the products in the range (which I’ve listed in order of personal preference!) and give them a whirl with your family and friends. Gluten free or not, your crew will definitely appreciate these! These products are all available in Co-op stores across the UK now!

1. Cranberry and Orange Tiffin Stackers

I am a massive fan of Tiffin bars in general – there’s something amazing about combining crushed biscuits with chocolate and dried fruit… These Christmas-tasting Cranberry and Orange Tiffin Stackers have a wonderful tang to them, whilst staying true to the origins of a Tiffin. They’re also gorgeous, and covered in edible glitter. What’s not to love?

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2. Iced Fruit Cake Stackers

Another traditionally festive item that Co-op has nailed. I am particularly a fan of these as they come in bite-sized form. As fruit cake is traditionally rich, the size means you can indulge without going overboard (or, eat more of them – whichever works!). Beautifully presented and wonderful on a platter.

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3. Ruby Reindeer Cupcakes

I don’t need many excuses to tuck into a cupcake, especially not if they’re as cute as these! Delicious moist vanilla sponge topped with fluffy marshmallow and a chocolate reindeer. It’s not always easy to find a gluten free cupcake that is springy and flavourful so I am over the moon with these! Perfect with a cuppa!

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4. Free From Mince Pies

Most of you who know me well will know I have never been a massive fan of mince pies. I have grown to realise however that this meant I just had not had a good one! Co-op’s Free From Mince Pies have won me over and are WONDERFUL warmed up in the oven with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side. The pastry is so flaky you will not believe it is gluten free and the filling is tangy, sweet and perfectly spiced for Christmas.

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5. Irresistible Spiced Salted Caramel Cookies

Another winner, these decadent cookies are not only jam-packed full of caramel goodness, but are also partially covered in Belgian chocolate, making them very decadent indeed! They are also incredibly moreish, so be warned that the pack will not last long! I would recommend enjoying these with a post-meal coffee!

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6. Hand Finished Yule Logs

Co-op has also delighted us with their free from take on a classic – the all mighty Yule Log. Conveniently again, these beautiful yule logs come in small slices, the size of which makes them even easier to polish off! The chocolate sponge base is moist and light, completed by the rich fudgy chocolate topping, decorated beautifully with more glitter. A real crowd pleaser!

This post has been sponsored by Co-op.

Empanadas by Lincoln’s Cafe, Holborn

Where From? Lincoln’s Cafe, Holborn
Available in Store from Monday to Friday

As a massive empanada fan, I cannot tell you my delight in coming across what Lincoln’s Cafe has to offer. This modest eatery tucked away behind Holborn station in the West End of London not only offers gluten free bread as an option for its vast sandwich menu, but a selection of homemade Colombian savoury treats too. Pictured, the Empanada de Pollo (Chicken), is a must-try if you’re passing, and even if you’re not, I would recommend the trip purely for this! This empanada is corn based and is perfectly crispy on the outside when heated and soft as a pillow inside, jam-packed full of flavour. Whilst you’re there, you would be silly to not also try some of the Pan de Bono (traditional Colombian cheese bread), an arepa or a vegetable stuffed empanada. This store closes early every day so make your way there before 4pm to avoid disappointment!