Coori Free From

As my favourite gluten free brand Coori gets ready to open its new shop in Richmond, I wanted to take the opportunity to tell you more about their story and how they came to be the household name that they are today. Many of you will know Coori from their 2013 pop-up in Selfridges Food Hall, which was the pioneer for gluten free space in the famous London department store and is now occupied by London bakery Beyond Bread. Coori closed its concession after several months, leaving customers eagerly anticipating its next move after almost ten years on the gluten free market in various shapes and forms. Others may remember Coori from the large scale Allergy and Free From Show which comes to London’s Olympia every year, where the team would prepare fresh stonebaked pizzas for the masses.

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I first came across Coori (which means heart in Sicilian dialect) when I moved to Tooting in south west London, several years ago. One day walking through my new local market I did a double take when I saw a small hand-written “100% gluten free” sign and realised that fresh pasta was being cooked and arancini being rolled, ready for the fryer. It was then that I met founder Julia, a gluten free scene veteran and cook, who was testing Tooting out as a pop-up space.

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Born and raised in Italy, Julia had always been exposed to good, simple cooking. However, when her sister was diagnosed with coeliac disease and Julia discovered she was gluten intolerant, her interest in food took a different turn and she leapt on what she saw as an opportunity to fill a huge gap in the market. “I wanted to take things back to the basics and start over with gluten free food,” Julia told me in an interview, as we sat enjoying a classic, and naturally gluten free Italian dessert: affogato. “Not only would creating good simple food for coeliacs make people happy, but it would help change perceptions of gluten free products, which for a long time were lacking in flavour and yet packed with additives and excessive amounts of sugar,” Julia said. This mindsight, as well as help and support from Coeliac UK, led Julia to open up a restaurant in 2008 – Bruschetta – in Kingston. The restaurant specialised in Italian classics like pasta and pizza, which back then were still a huge novelty.

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Julia commened that when she launched, she did not initially advertise the restaurant as gluten free, to test out her food on doubting customers. “I invited restaurant critics, journalists and bloggers to try my food without saying it was gluten free. After they ate it, I revealed that what they had just feasted on contained to no wheat, barley or rye and they couldn’t believe it,” she said. Julia continued to work on products and food that not only appealed to those unable to eat gluten, but to a wider audience who simply craved good food made from high quality ingredients. Julia soon became well-known in the gluten free community and after several years, switched her focus to manufacturing, which aided the launch of the company’s online business.

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Coori online began to ship pasta, flour mixes, sweet treats and more across the UK, quickly becoming a booming venture not only in London but in the north of the UK, where a staggeringly high percentage of coeliacs live. Julia still remains dedicated to working with a range of manufacturers, both in the UK and in her home country, to keep the company both localised and true to her own heritage. What makes Coori individual however, is that all recipes are created by Julia herself and then recreated by the manufacturer, as a means of keeping the business, which is headed up by Julia and her two close friends and business partners, “very much a family affair.”

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As business boomed, Coori was able to grow its customer base and venture into new fields, including the catering industry and department store scene. The pop-up at Selfridges was revolutionary. It drew in both gluten free customers desperate to try tantalising fresh pasta with a range of sauces or pizza slices fresh out of the oven, but also people without any particular dietary requirements. “The queues were always made up of a mixture of people, most of whom I quickly recognised as returning, happy customers,” Julia told me, adding that working in a customer facing environment is her real passion. “Seeing people come in on a daily basis and almost cry at the array of safe food they could choose from was really the highlight for me,” Julia said.

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However, after several happy months it was time for Coori to move on and focus on securing its own space again, now that it had so much backing and a fantastic reputation to boot. The new store, which will occupy an old local dairy dating back to 1980, will have a very similar offering to the Selfridges stall. Customers will be able to take their pick from an array of hot and cold snacks, meals and packaged food both prepared by Coori itself and by collaborating brands, including Italy’s Nutri-Free. Please join me in supporting this wonderful company, as it embarks on an exciting and utterly delicious new chapter.

Coori’s Richmond Cafe will open its doors to the public on June 2, 2018.

84 Hill Rise
Richmond
TW10 6UB

Photo Credits: Ilmi Perez-Stubbs

 

Amsterdam: The Gluten Free Suitcase Guide

If canals, culture and good gluten free food are your thing then you will not be disappointed by Amsterdam. Every time I venture to the Dutch capital I count myself lucky, not least because of the spiffing public transport which allows me to hop from gluten free destination to gluten free destination with relative ease. Feast your eyes upon the diverse options in my guide which I have pulled together after several trips to this gem of a city! From traditional Dutch fare to vegan Italian delicacies – Amsterdam has it, so eet smakelijk!

Mastino V

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Vegans and gluten free eaters alike will rejoice when they realise that coming to Amsterdam can include delicious, wood fired pizza. The team behind De Pijp’s trendy Mastino pizzeria decided to open Amsterdam’s first 100% gluten free and vegan restaurant in 2017, when they noticed a gap in the market. Mastino V serves up pizza to-go or eat-in in a completely no frills environment, with 12 tantalising options on the menu to choose from. I can highly recommend the “Love” pizza, which features a sensational vegan pesto. Closed on Mondays.

Where?
Bilderdijkstraat 192 H
1053 LE Amsterdam

Luza’s Caffeine Club

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Forever searching for the perfect sandwich, I was delighted to come across Luza’s – a new gluten free friendly café – on my most recent trip to Amsterdam. This gorgeously quaint café will serve you Parisian vibes with your sandwiches and tea and is the perfect place to enjoy a quiet moment in the Dutch capital. While most sandwiches can be made on homemade gluten free bread, you may wish to try one of the gluten free quiche options, which alongside a number of free from cakes are proudly displayed in the café window. All food is prepared in an open kitchen in the corner of the restaurant and could not be fresher!

Where?
Van Woustraat 47
1074 AC Amsterdam

DeLepel

Another fairly new addition to the gluten free scene, DeLepel’s mission is simple: serve authentic Italian gelato to the masses in a 100% worry-free zone. Gelateria owner Massimo opened up shop in De Pijp just last year and produces all-natural ice cream which can be served in either a cup or gluten free cone. Yes you read right! Even better, not a single ingredient containing gluten is present on the premises so ice cream fans can eat in peace without worrying about cross contamination, which is a fear in so many ice cream shops across the globe. Pick from up to 24 different gelato and dairy free sorbet flavours and be sure to look out for the six weekly special flavours. Not in the mood for ice cream? No problem – Massimo even offers freshly-made tiramisu and other chilled desserts to customers. Closed on Mondays.

Where?
Ceintuurbaan 320
1072 GP Amsterdam

Stroom

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In case you fancy a brunch or a sandwich on delicious, homemade gluten free bread you should definitely head to Stroom. Located in the De Pijp area, this Brooklyn style coffee shop come sandwich bar has one of the most gluten free friendly menus in Amsterdam. Almost all sandwiches can be prepared on free from bread, including toasties, which can be paired with a variety of soups too. Perfect spot for a lazy or working lunch.

Where?
Ferdinand Bolstraat 151
1072 LH Amsterdam

Loetje

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Famous Dutch steak restaurant Loetje knows its stuff when it comes to gluten free dining, and lists all allergens in its clearly marked and accessible menu. As this eatery is known for its meat, staff will urge you to try the traditional Dutch beef steak, which comes swimming in a rich and delectable gluten free gravy. French fries, naturally, are the perfect accompaniment to this meat fiesta, and here they are fried in their own oil to avoid any risk of cross contamination with other fried items served onsite. Vegetarians needn’t shy away however as they will be catered for too. Loetje now has several locations across the city but my favourite is listed below.

Where?
Ferdinand Bolstraat 188A
1072 LV Amsterdam

The Meets

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Another new spot to add to your De Pijp list, The Meets is a gluten free, vegan haven with plenty of free from options which not only are delicious but healthy too. It’s the perfect spot for breakfast or lunch with incredibly allergy-aware staff who triple check everything for you according to your allergy or dietary requirement. Take your pick from the clearly labelled menu from a selection of soups, salads and wraps or if you’re feeling something sweet opt for a vegan twix bar and wash it down with a beautifully instagrammable turmeric latte.

Where?
Cornelius Troostplein 3,
1072 JJ Amsterdam

Puri Mas

Many say that the Netherlands is responsible for introducing Indonesian cuisine to northern Europe. For that reason alone, no one should miss out on a proper Indonesian culinary experience when they’re in Amsterdam, even the gluten free crowd. Puri Mas is located in the centre of the city and immediately feels like a fine dining restaurant as soon as you step in. The staff are wonderfully accommodating and take allergies seriously. Given the style in many Indonesian restaurants is sharing plates, I was naturally nervous. However, say you’re gluten free, and the chef will prepare almost single dish without any gluten containing ingredients. I was able to share with the entire group and felt like a regular diner. Puri Mas serves up a mixture of meat, fish and vegetable dishes which are all fragrant and perfectly seasoned and needs to be shouted about!

Where?
Lange Leidsedwarsstraat 37-41
1017 NG Amsterdam

Pancakes Amsterdam

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With three Amsterdam locations, gluten free tourists won’t have to skip the quintessentially Dutch pancake experience when they are in town! Here, most pancakes on the menu – both sweet and savoury – can be made using the house gluten free batter, which is buckwheat-based. Gluten free pancakes are prepped in separate pans, according to staff, and so risk of cross contamination is very low. I can never resist a savoury pancake when I am here and often leave no room for dessert so sharing is highly recommended! Get ready to queue – Pancakes Amsterdam is highly popular with gluten free and non gluten free patrons alike!

Where?
Berenstraat 38
1016 GH Amsterdam

Prins Hendrikkade 48
1012 AC Amsterdam

Prinsengracht 277
1016 GW Amsterdam

Omelegg

Never have I seen such an homage to eggs! Omelegg (if you hadn’t guessed from the name) serves up everything egg-based and has a humongous menu to boot. While this institution of a restaurant does not have any gluten free bread, the omelettes are so generously sized that you won’t miss it. Just about every omelette combination can be served with delightfully dressed mixed leaves on the side instead of toast to make a delicious breakfast, brunch or lunch. The restaurant also serves Shakshuka and fry ups for those egg fans wanting something a little different to the traditional fare. Luckily for us, Omelegg has two locations. Go early to avoid disappointment!

Where?
Ferdinand Bolstraat 143
1072 LH Amsterdam

Nieuwebrugsteeg 24
1012 AC Amsterdam

La Viña Experience

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La Vina Experience has become a staple for coeliacs in Amsterdam. It labels itself as a Spanish and Mediterranean style restaurant but most diners going may not in fact realise that the majority of dishes are gluten free. Owner and restaurant sommelier Jacqueline is a coeliac herself and so naturally wanted to cater to the free from crowd and provide them with a comfortable and elegant dining experience. Make sure you try the hot spinach dip with gluten free toast to start and then tuck into the freshly grilled squid or Spanish smoked BBQ ribs with frites and plenty of Dutch mayonnaise.

Where?
Maasstraat 72
1078 HL Amsterdam

Cafe Piazza

In case you’re in the mood for pasta, Cafe Piazza has a number of delicious options on its gluten free menu. Sit down and mention you are gluten free and a long list will be reeled off by staff – something which made me feel immediately at ease in this modest Nieuwmarkt eatery. As well as fresh starters and main dishes starring different types of meat and fish, gluten free diners can tuck into a rustic lasagne or a simple spaghetti with homemade pesto sauce, to name but a few of the heavenly carb-loaded options. Save room for dessert – chocolate lovers won’t want to skip the Tartufo Nero.

Where?
Kloveniersburgwal 5
1011 JT Amsterdam

Vapiano

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Sometimes all you need is a chain to get your pizza fix. International restaurant group Vapiano does exactly what it says on the tin – fast, cheap and tasty pizza in a number of locations across the city. Gluten free pizzas are cooked separately and on their own special foil tray to avoid cross contamination and can be enjoyed straight out of the box with a decently priced glass of wine onsite or taken to go for those not wanting to sit in the middle of the hustle and bustle. For your closest restaurant, check out the company website.

McDonald’sIMG_0204Yes, Amsterdam is one of the few cities that offer the Mcdonald’s experience to gluten free visitors and I can confirm it is fantastic. Most classic burgers can be made on a fluffy, sesame seed gluten free bun, served with the classic french fries which I can’t seem to get enough of. If you don’t want to miss out on the more quintessentially Dutch food options during your stay in the city, save this indulgent stop for your route home and enjoy at the Amsterdam Schipol Airport branch. For your closest restaurant, use the online store locator.

Haesje Claes

Typical Dutch cuisine is known for being hearty, warming and often laced with wheat flour. At one of Amsterdam’s oldest restaurants Haesje Claes however, gluten free folk needn’t feel left out – there is a whole menu for you! From a selection of naturally gluten free fresh fish starter plates to filling stews and fried dishes – this canal side restaurant has it all! I asked the waitress what she recommended last time I went and was not disappointed. I started off my meal with some salted herring, smoked salmon and a gluten free beer, before moving on to a Stamppot stew loaded with meatballs, sausage and bacon. Those wanting lighter fare can opt for pan fried fish if they need to ensure room is left for gluten free dessert pancakes!

Where?
Spuistraat 275
1012 VR Amsterdam

Bagels and Beans

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This long-standing Netherlands chain became accessible to gluten free diners a few years ago when it introduced a gluten free bagel. Bagels and Beans now make breakfast or lunch as a gluten free tourist incredibly easy. Stop by and choose from a number of cream-cheese flavours or more sandwich-like fillings, all of which can be prepared on a toasted gluten free bagel. With over 20 locations in Amsterdam, how can you go wrong? Use the online store locator to find your nearest branch.

Shopping

De Glutenvrije Winkel

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Not only is Oostpoort’s gluten free hot spot De Gluten Vrije Winkel your one stop destination for every single gluten free pantry or frozen item you might ever want, it also offers fresh cakes, bread and amazing sandwiches you can eat in or take away, with a number of dairy free options. Owner Nadia has been passionate about bringing the best of gluten free to her customers ever since her son was diagnosed a coeliac. Wonderful family business which I already can’t wait to visit again! Closed on Sundays and Mondays.

Where?
Pretoriusstraat 37
1092 EZ Amsterdam

Meanwhile, general supermarkets in Amsterdam are often fantastic for gluten free options, with the wonderful Albert Heijn firmly in the lead. Here you can stock up on an array of gluten free pantry items, including gluten free caramel waffles or Stroopwafels, which I highly recommend you fill your suitcase with on the way home!

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Marqt, meanwhile, is home to a vast array of gluten free and organic products, including more widely available goods from labels like Schar and Genius. Don’t forget to pick up a packet of chocolate-covered gluten free waffles here by Damhert Nutrition!

 

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)