In May, I took a solo trip to England and Scotland. While there, I visited London, Stonehenge, Bath, Windsor Castle, and Edinburgh. I spent most of my time in the two cities, and my experience being celiac there was pretty easy and stress-free. I can confidently say that being gluten free in the UK is better than it is in the US. For one, there are more celiacs there- almost 24% of the population (compared to 1% of Americans). While I was visiting, I used the app “Find Me Gluten Free” everyday, which I strongly recommend every GF person download. This app tells which restaurants in the vicinity have gluten free food or menus, and shows reviews like Yelp, as well as whether or not the restaurant has been voted “celiac friendly”, has a dedicated fryer, or other features. I’ll talk a little bit about my experience with eating gluten free and dining out in the UK.
Labeling: Celiacs and gluten free people in the US know that labels here can be a headache. While there are eight allergens identified in the US, there are 14 in the UK, and there they are required to identify the allergens in the ingredients as well as on the label. In the US, sometimes there is vague labeling such as “artificial flavoring.” One of the biggest differences in labeling is that while in the US, the only gluten-containing allergen identified on labels is wheat, the UK labels identify all the gluten-containing grains as allergens. If you are traveling to the UK, you will find deciphering labels to be much easier.
Fast food: There were a couple times I needed to eat something fast while on the go, and London has some good fast food options for GF people! My favorite fast food place I ate at was a chain called Leon. They serve fast-casual and pretty healthy foods. The menu is labeled all GF and DF. They serve things like salads, and hot food bowls with different meats and vegetables all served over brown rice. The fries are safe for celiacs and they even have a gluten free brownie! This is a great option for a quick meal as they are located all over London.
Indian food: I couldn’t visit London without trying some Indian food, one of my favorite cuisines and known to be great in London. I settled on eating at Dishoom, a sit-down restaurant with multiple locations in London due to its popularity. I noticed on the reviews and in the restaurant that there can be a long wait, but since I was dining alone I didn’t have a problem getting seated quickly. They have a gluten free menu, and I ordered the Chicken Ruby, a traditional chicken curry with rice. It was delicious and just the right amount of spice for me (I think I ordered medium spicy!) Overall really good and the server was awesome and very knowledgable of celiacs and the menu. I now understand why the reviews were so high for this place!
Fish and chips: Another food item I had to cross off my bucket list on the trip was fish and chips. I was determined to eat gluten free fish and chips and found Hobson’s in London, which has a dedicated GF fryer. I went in on a rainy night (perfect for some comfort food) and ordered the haddock with chips and a Magner’s (gluten free cider brand) for dinner. The portion was huge. The chips were extra, but I didn’t want to go without the full meal. Overall it was delicious and I didn’t even notice it was GF. Another fish and chips place I was considering but didn’t try is Oliver’s (they do GF just on Wednesdays, which is why I didn’t make it).
Italian: Okay, by far one of my favorite dining experiences on the trip! I found in my research and using the app this restaurant, called Cotta. The reviews were all very high and spoke of the separate menu and the owner with celiac. I went in for lunch in between tours, realizing it was really close to where I was (the London Eye). Upon entering and getting a table for one, I was immediately greeted by the boisterous and very friendly older Italian owner. The server brought over a basket of bread, but I mentioned I was celiac and asked for the gluten free menu. The owner perked up at this and mentioned he too was celiac and got very excited! They brought over a basket of GF bread and the menu and I ended up ordering Pasta Napoli, which was delicious!
Breakfast/Lunch/Tea: Manna Dew bakery located in Battersea is a dedicated gluten free business, so I had to stop in before I left London! It was a cute little hipster cafe, and I had a scone with cream and jam (a traditional British breakfast or tea) for breakfast. As I was taking a long train ride to Edinburgh, I ended up getting a sandwich to go, a tuna melt on GF focaccia. The sandwich was absolutely amazing, really thick slices and definitely some of the best bread I’ve had since going gluten free!
Health food: Edinburgh is full of lots of pubs, tourist traps, and hipster restaurants, but this means that combined with their high celiac population, they are very good about gluten free food. Pumpkin Brown is an entirely gluten free restaurant that specializes in health food and raw foods. They had meals to go in a fridge, and I had the sushi bowl. It was a good healthy meal, and this place would be perfect for other diets like dairy free or vegan as well!
Food truck: The crepes at Tupiniquim are to die for! This food truck is all gluten free (the crepes are Brazilian and naturally gluten free) and they make savory and sweet crepes that are huge and delicious to eat!
Tea: Deacon’s House Cafe is a touristy but cute little cafe that is perfect for stopping in for tea and dessert. They have gluten free breads and baked goods which were delicious. They are not a dedicated facility but I didn’t have any problems eating there.
Breakfast/Brunch/Lunch: Hula Juice Bar is another health food cafe which I ate at twice because of their great options! They have a somewhat limited menu but they toast bread in a separate toaster and have absolutely delicious avocado toast! They also have great coffee and serve traditional toast with cream and jam, acai bowls, and smoothies.
Italian: There are several Italian places to eat at, some of which are chains. I made the mistake of one day going to Made in Italy, because it said it had GF and was closer to where I was than some of the other ones. I was told upon arriving that the pizza is not safe for celiacs as it is made in the same oven (much to y disappointment because I went in craving pizza) but they didn’t mention this until after I had ordered it. I ended up getting pasta instead, as I was told since it is made in it’s own pot it would be a safer option, but it wasn’t very good. I would check out a different place and skip this one next time.
When I visited Stonehenge, Bath, and Windsor Castle in southern England, I took a day trip on a bus tour and was gone all day. I was smart to bring some of my own snacks, not knowing what the food situation would be like. I recommend eating a big breakfast before going on one of these tours, as the place where we stopped for lunch was a train station full of restaurants, but I didn’t really see any fast GF options, so ended up having to get a variety of snacks at a store to tide me over.
Photos: courtesy of author