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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Peter

This week I was away for work in glamorous Loughborough, so as always I went to Google to research potential dinner venues. Not much was coming up other than the usual Pizza Express, Nandos etc and a few cafes that closed too early. Then I stumbled across Peter, a cool looking pizza place that does gluten free bases.

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The menu had a good selection, nothing too out of the ordinary but thankfully not a pineapple chunk in sight!

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I ordered the Diavola on a gluten free base and a glass of house white. I’m always relieved when you order gluten free alternatives and the waiters don’t flinch or look confused, it’s very reassuring. Thanks Peter staff!

The kitchen was open and I was sat next to the pizza oven, which was lovely as it was 0 degrees outside and all the regular pizzas being cooked looked delicious, so I had high hopes.

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It arrived with the look of a high quality gluten free pizza, however when I cut in to it I was disappointed. I’m not sure if the base was under-cooked or it just wasn’t very good but the centre of the pizza was very dry and gritty.

I probably would have complained if I wasn’t so hungry, so instead I ate the outer edge and the topping, which was actually very good.

I think Peter just suffered from a bad base because all the other customers were happily dining and the ingredients they used for the toppings were clearly great. If I were to find myself in Loughborough again, I’d give Peter a second chance and actually say something if I found the base under-cooked. Plus, your bill is delivered by a cute little dragon which is worth a repeat visit alone.

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Peter also has a branch in Leicester if you are an East Midlands resident and fancy giving it a go.

Coori

After posting about my disappointing outing to La Polenteria, I got a tweet from Coori suggesting I try out their new gluten free deli in Broadway Market, Tooting.

So on Saturday, having finished a tough 10k in Southwark Park, I headed to Tooting Broadway for some much needed refuelling.

After wandering around the market for a while, we finally found the Coori deli just as my ‘hanger’ peaked and was delighted by the range of pasta, breads, cakes, beers etc on offer.

I had one of Coori’s cheese burgers and my friend James ordered a mix of ham and cheese tortellini and spinach and ricotta ravioli.

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The burger was absolutely delicious, juicy, massive and topped with roasted vegetables, rocket and cheese, one of the nicest burgers I’ve ever had! I tried James’ pasta too and it was definitely the best gluten free pasta I’ve eaten, and certainly level with the posh packets of fresh filled pasta you get from Waitrose or Marks.

Still hungry from my race, we decided to have some apple bunt cake (made with buckwheat) for pudding. It was light, spicy and moist and served with cream.

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I can’t recommend Coori enough, the quality of their products are second to none and the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable. I’ll definitely be back for lunch again soon and after I’ve finished with this, I’m going to order some goodies from their ‘free-from’ online store.

If you’re coming from Tooting Broadway tube station, you can find the Coori deli in the first section of the market, the entrance just before you reach Aldi on Tooting High Street.

Thanks to James for taking the photos using his superior phone.

La Polenteria

Rushed, pre-show dinners aren’t easy for a coeliac, especially in Soho where almost every restaurant has a no bookings policy.

So when La Polenteria opened on Old Compton Street me and my coealic buddy Ed rejoiced. A 100% gluten free Italian that takes reservations OMG!

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As it turns out, we OMGed too soon. La Polenteria may be gluten free but it tastes bad and a bottle of Daura Damm (gluten free Estrella) cost £6 each!

Unfortunately because I was in a hurry to see a show (Marcus Brigstocke at the Soho Theatre), I didn’t have a chance to take any photos so I will attempt to describe the disappointment for you.

Starters

I had the parmigiana with burrata mousse served with crispy polenta. Unfortunately what arrived was not a parmigiana but 2 slices of rubbery aubergine, 3 sun-dried tomatoes and a soggy polenta crisp. The burrata mousse was nice but not nice enough to save the dish.

Properly made parmigiana is one of my favourite meals ever, there’s an easy recipe on the BBC Good Food website, which smashes La Polenteria’s version out of the water.

My friends had the poached spicy egg with polenta croutons with a tomato and garlic infusion (not spicy) and olives, bread and oil – which bizarrely was actually a plate of crudités with about 5 olives scattered on top and supermarket sliced gluten free bread. Outrageous when you can buy really amazing gluten free sour dough from Ocado.

Mains

Most of us ordered the home made beef ravioli with balsamic reduction, pine nuts and raisins, which was fine but not very warm or very big. One friend had the polenta with stewed beef, which looked lovely until we realised the polenta had developed a skin from being sat under a hot light for too long.

Needless to say we didn’t stick around for dessert, just paid up and legged it to Patisserie Valerie for some of their gluten free brownies, which we didn’t realise they even did.

As well as this gluten free revelation we also found out the The Crown and Two Chairman on Dean Street stocks Duara Damm too and is much cheaper than La Polenteria.

So not a completely disastrous night out in Soho.