Castel del Piano, Tuscany

A couple of weekends ago I was lucky enough to spend a few days hanging out with friends at the wonderfully rustic Cenno, in a beautiful Tuscan town called Castel del Piano.

Initially I worried about holidaying in the land of pasta and pizza (or Wheataly as some might say), but in the end I had absolutely nothing to fear. It seems the more a country likes it’s gluten, the better they are at catering for those who don’t.

Castello Banfi – La Taverna

Banfi is a beautiful winery and hillside vineyard with incredible views of the surrounding Grosseto province. It also has a lovely restaurant based within the ancient barrel cellars of Brunello castle.

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We booked to have lunch here not only for all the reasons I just mentioned but also because their sample menus clearly identify allergens, which is always a good sign.

When we arrived we were greeted with a selection of bread and a gluteny amuse-bouche. I mentioned to the waitress that I was gluten-free and she rushed off to the kitchen to tell the chef, returning with a basket of gf breads, crackers and an amended amuse-bouche. Happy days!

There were plenty of starters for me to choose from, some naturally gluten free, some gluten free with alterations. I went for the selection of cinta senese cured meats without the mixed crostini.

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When the absolutely massive portion arrived, they’d unexpectedly swapped the crostini with some gluten-free crackers so I could properly enjoy the rich pate and tomato salsa. The meat itself was excellent – fresh and flavoursome, a million times better than the packaged stuff you get here.

Unfortunately I had to skip ‘primi’, as this is the pasta course. But not worry, moving on to ‘secondi’, I chose to have the cod with chickpea, vegetables and red onion.

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The cod was so beautifully cooked it was falling apart on the plate, I really don’t think I’ve ever had a better cooked piece of fish – subtly salty and not overpowered by the onion or chickpea. Very, very impressive and much needed after my meaty starter.

Unfortunately there was only one dessert option that I was able to have – tangerine sorbet and fruit. This isn’t something I’d usually order but thought it was bound to be good in a country that specialises in gelato and granita, and I wasn’t wrong.

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The fruit salad was presented so beautifully I felt guilty tucking in, but the tangerine sorbet was out of this world. I have never tasted an ice-cream that had such flavour, it was so remarkable I wasn’t even jealous of my friends’ chocolate fondants!

We finished off the meal with a delicious dessert wine called Banfi Rosa Regale which I recommend you all immediately go out and buy.

10/10 La Taverna, I hope to visit again some day.

Del Dombi

After wandering around Castel del Piano looking for somewhere to have dinner, we stumbled across Del Dombi, a great family run restaurant serving Italian classics for a very reasonable price.

If you’re looking for something fancy, Del Dombi probably isn’t for you, but it was just what we needed after a day floating around the Saturnia thermal springs.

This restaurant is so Italian, no one speaks English and there were no helpfully translated menus, so we had to rely on Google to decipher them.

For a starter I ordered cozze e vongole con burro all’aglio (mussels and clams with garlic butter).

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The mussels were absolutely enormous, juicy and fresh and the clams the same. For such a back to basics restaurant, I was really impressed with how great this starter was. Special mention to the amazingly garlicky butter sauce, which the rest of my group took turns in dipping their bread in to.

As a main I went for bistecca alla griglia (grilled steak) with a side of melanzane grigliate (grilled aubergine) – usually I’d have fries with a steak but I didn’t have the language skills to explain what having coeliac disease means!

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It arrived just seared and deliciously rare, just how a like it! I’m not sure what the cut of beef was, it certainly wasn’t a fillet as it had quite a bit of fat to navigate but for the price it was delicious and great quality.

For dessert I decided to go full Italy and have a panna cotta con creme caramel (I probably don’t need to translate that one). Another unusual choice for me but I’m so glad I did, it was by far the best part of the meal, despite what it looks like.

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The whole meal including a bottle of prosecco and a carafe of wine cost only €30 each and the food was great, definitely worth a visit.

Coop

Coop or co-op is Castel del Piano’s local supermarket and thought it was worth a mention because it has the BEST gluten free section ever.

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This meant not only did I get to enjoy cheese with lots of crackers but also Nutella cake, fresh pasta, and surprisingly gluten free Tenants lager!

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Amsterdam

A few weeks ago I spent the two days in Amsterdam and it was great! Not only because it’s beautiful, friendly and relaxing but also because Amsterdam caters very well for coeliacs.

I wasn’t there for long enough for a really extensive list of options but here are a couple of brunchy places I recommend visiting.

Stroom

Stroom is a kind of a cafe/restaurant which does a really interesting range of breakfasts, paninis, wraps, eggs etc. You can customised each item and swap in THE BEST gluten free bread I have ever tasted!

We went to Stroom for breakfast and I ordered scrambled eggs with cheese, ham and gluten free bread.

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It may not look like it in the photo, but that is actually a really big portion. The scrambled eggs were fresh, light and well seasoned plus they didn’t scrimp on the cheese and as I said, the bread was unbelievable! I hope all coeliacs get to try Stroom’s bread at some point in their lives.

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Stroom’s website is sparse but you can find more information about it on their Facebook page.

Coffee & Coconuts

Our local friend recommended Coffee & Coconuts as a good place to have brunch and it certainly did not disappoint.

With lots of buckwheat on the menu I knew I was on to a winner and so I didn’t even need to ask the waiting staff for a gluten free one.

I ordered the coconut pancakes, made with almond and buckwheat flour and served with banana, red fruit compote and maple syrup. I added bacon for a savoury kick.

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You can’t really see the pancakes in the photo because they are hidden by compote but there are actually three thick ones in there alongside fours rashers of bacon. Coffee & Coconuts are very generous with their portions!

This was one of the nicest brunches I’ve ever had, the pancakes were delicious, I’ll definitely attempt to make them at home. Adding almond flour to the mix really makes a difference. I washed it all down with a ‘watermelon love’ smoothie and a cup of ‘black treasure’ tea.

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Based in a old cinema, Coffee & Coconuts is now a cafe/restaurant/art gallery with a relaxed atmosphere and very friendly staff.

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Other recommendations

Here are a few other places our native friend recommended for gluten free options that unfortunately I didn’t have time try out.

  • Omelegg – an omelettery! The queues to this place were endless which I guess means it’s pretty good.
  • Bagels and Beans – they have lots of stores all over Amsterdam if you fancy a gluten free bagel.
  • Chipsy King – fries and mayo.
  • Moeders – traditional dutch food.
  • The Seafood Bar – fish and seafood

Another Amsterdam must eat are the tradition dutch stroopwafel (thin, toffee filled waffles) and having spent a day longingly watching my friends eating then, I found some delicious homemade ones at the Albert Cuyp Market.

Fish fingers

Having a hangover on a Monday morning is the worst but not being able to indulge in my usual bacon roll from Wright’s Bar takes the (gluten free) biscuit! 🙂

So yesterday, after a hard, baconless day at work, I decided to make myself a comforting dinner and try out some gluten free fish fingers.  The ones I’d bought were Young’s Omega 3 ‘free from’ fish fingers from trusty Ocado.

The verdict:

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Just because you’re eating fish fingers doesn’t mean you can’t take pride in the presentation!
  • Lovely and crispy at first but then become really chewy and the ‘breadcrumbs’ get stuck in your teeth.
  • The fish itself wasn’t the best either, although 100% fillet, it was very watery.

Overall I was a little disappointed, I think I had my heart set on them being as good as the regular BirdsEye ones I was used to or maybe I was hoping they’d have more of a helpful effect on my hangover! Either way, not the best but not the worst, next time I need a comfort food hug, I think I’ll throw in some potato waffles too.

I also did some investigating afterwards and BirdsEye don’t seem to do a gluten free range yet, which is frustrating. Get your act together Captain!!

On a side note, Wright’s Bar is one of London’s great family run, greasy spoons. Everything is made made to order and insanely cheap. I don’t think they cater well for us coeliacs but for everyone else, if you are looking for a cheap, decent breakfast in central London, Wright’s is the place to go.