Out and About over the Summer
Weather wise, the Summer has not been great (maybe a Washout would be a better description) but we have been out and about and visited a number of events including the Tall Ships in Belfast Docks.
As always, we attend events with one eye on the event and the other on the availability of Gluten Free food and the Tall Ships event was quite disappointing. Very few of the food stalls we checked had anything suitable and we ended up eating in the Metropolitan College across the way from the Titanic Building. To be fair, their choice of suitable food was very limited as was their knowledge about GF food but they did try to be helpful.
On another day we took a sight-seeing trip down Belfast Lough and on our return to dry land we tried to have lunch in Fed & Watered at the bottom of the Obel building. When we enquired about Gluten Free options it was clear that the staff member had no idea so she went off to ask someone else. She returned to say that they had nothing GF but asked what my wife could eat and they would make her something. That comment immediately raised questions about ingredients, ingredient storage and cross contamination so we decided to play safe and go elsewhere!
When I discovered that there are a number of Fed & Watered venues I made more enquiries and discovered that they are operated by the Mount Charles Group. I came across this comment on the Obel venue’s Facebook page in July:
Called in yesterday morning for breakfast with my mum & few other family members. They all ordered a full fry & cup of tea which cost them £8 something each. I’m coeliac & asked if they did a gluten free breakfast, was told “no” but they would cook me what I wanted so I asked for bacon, beans, scrambled egg, tomato & mushroom (only got 1 on my plate!) plus a cup of tea. Mine came to £10.50! Asked the girl how come mine was more expensive than my mums etc & she said the full fry is a set price & because I ordered mine separately I was charged per item… How do u justify that??? I can’t eat soda bread, potato bread or pancakes but yet mine cost more. Plus I asked if their sausages were gluten free & the cook wasn’t able to tell me. Disgrace! Will definitely not be back!
Apart from the ridiculous cost element in this comment the fact that they couldn’t tell if their sausages were GF is very worrying as all venues are now legally obliged to tell a customer if their food contains any of the 14 recognised Allergens (including wheat containing Gluten). We have written to Mount Charles about the venue and will see what they have to say (if anything). We emailed them on the 12th August but it’s now the 10th September and we have still not had a response!
The new Food Information for Consumers Regulations came into force on the 13th December last year but unless caterers take them on board and apply them in their venues people will continue to be poisoned by Gluten or some other Allergen!
(By the way, if you’re a Caterer you might be interested in an article on our website about a business called Allergy Audited. If you are struggling with the Food Information Regulations you’ll find the Guide from Allergy Audit a real lifeline: http://www.glutenfreeireland.com/community/allergy-audit/)
We also visited the Titanic Centre where GF food was non-existent and the Thompson Pump House where nothing was suitable (but the manager was keen to know more about it).
On another day we took the Enterprise train from Belfast to Dublin but, again, the food trolley had nothing suitable although, with a little bit of thought, it would be easy to provide something.
The Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle was another disappointment as the only street trader we saw providing gluten free food was Blackthorn Foods and fudge isn’t all that suitable with a cup of coffee!
Fortunately The Marine Hotel does provide a great range of GF food so we didn’t starve.
We know that many venues across Northern and Southern Ireland provide GF food but some are not prepared to advertise that fact! That seems strange to us as the owners will have spent time and money creating their GF menu but they don’t seem to want to attract the GF customers?
The new cliff walk at The Gobbins on Islandmagee in Co Antrim is proving to be a very popular attraction and Tina and I gave it a go shortly after it opened. The walk itself requires a reasonable level of fitness as there is a steep access hill to be negotiated, especially on the return journey! However, the café has not catered for Coeliac visitors although we are told they do provide GF soup on the “odd” day! As it happened, they had Bounty bars and Snickers for sale on the counter but were unaware that they are both GF!
If 2016 is to be Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and we want to attract more food tourism visitors it’s clear that we have a long way to go to cater safely for Coeliac visitors!
Where, on the island of Ireland, have you eaten over the Summer and been pleased or disappointed? Tell us in the comments below and help others find or avoid places to eat out and stay.