Guest blog – Gluten Free by the Sea
Well I’m just back from another trip to London for the Allergy and Free From Show 2013. The trip provided a great opportunity to find some new gluten free suppliers, stock up with products from some old favourites, eat out at some of my favourite London restaurants and meet up with fellow coeliac Twitter friends. We’d had such a fantastic time last year that I was really looking forward to it.
Like last year we decided to make a few days of it in London, as it’s quite a trek from Plymouth. This year we stayed at a Premier Inn at Earl’s Court which worked out really well. The hotel was right next to Earl’s Court tube station which was served by the Picadilly and District lines so made getting around London really easy. It was only a mile from Olympia so we able to walk to the show too.
I travelled up to London on Thursday afternoon to meet my wife, Abby, who had been working in London so was already up there. We went for some delicious Mexican food at Wahaca in the evening, not to mention some lovely margaritas! On Friday we went for gluten free breakfast at pod before a walk around Kew Gardens to enjoy the London sunshine. Sadly it started to rain about five minutes after we went in, and stopped five minutes after we left. It was still great though and the we managed to duck inside for the heaviest showers. A quick break for a fabulous Honest Burgers followed before a trip to Zoo Lates, which is a trip around London Zoo where alcohol replaces children
Saturday and of course the main event! After a 20 minute walk from our hotel we got to Olympia and thought they must have been hosting a rock concert at the same time. The doors were not yet open and the queues were massive. The picture shows part of the queue, and it was the same around the corner and shortly after behind us too. The queues cleared fairly rapidly once the doors opened and before we knew it we had picked up our goodie bags and programs and were inside. This year the event had moved to the larger National Hall due to the previous years success. This year there were over 200 stands to visit.
First stop (where else?) was to visit friends Ann and Steve on the Perkier stand. I’d met these guys at a couple of previous tweet ups in London and they are
a lovely couple, and their products have such amazing branding. Happily their products are great too and I am a big fan of their brownies, rocky road and popping tiffin. Whilst I’m not a porridge fan, their breakfast treat has also featured on Gluten Free by the Sea previously. I got to try their bread for the first time and it was fantastic. The closest gluten free bread I’ve tried to the real thing to date, and I bought a loaf to take home. I was also lucky enough to win the final Perkier goodie bag on the day too!
We stumbled upon the Venice Bakery UK stand pretty soon after. I’d heard lots of good comments about these products recently, but must admit when I read they were gluten, wheat, dairy, soy and egg free as well as being vegan I was a little sceptical about how good these could really be. We tasted a fair few pizzas at the show, but this was the best by a long distance for me. The base had great flavour and the texture was superb. Pleasantly soft but with a good crunch on the outside. The large bases are pricey, usually two for £7, but we happily picked up two for £5 which was the offer price for the show. They also had smaller bases and flat breads available. Certainly one to watch.
I was also eager to try the wraps from BFree, an Irish company who are shortly to start selling their wraps at ASDA. These were very impressive and I bought a couple of packs to take home. Whilst slightly smaller than the Newburn Bakehouse wraps, they do have six in a pack for £3. I think I actually slightly preferred them to the Newburn version. Again we bought a couple packs to take home, and like last year the bags were suddenly getting a bit heavy within the first hour!
11am came which gave a chance to have a sit down in the cafe area during a planned meet up with some coeliac Twitter friends. For me this is one of the great reasons for going to a show like this. There are so many people on Twitter I “speak” to on an almost daily basis, it’s brilliant to have a chance to have a chat in person. It was lovely both to catch up with some familiar faces and also meet some new ones. An hour passed all too quickly though and I didn’t really have time to chat to everyone properly, so sorry for the ones I didn’t really get to speak too. Brilliant to see you all in any case.
Back to the shopping and it was good to see Devon represented by Clive’s Pies and Tideford Organics. I first discovered Clive’s at last years allergy show and have been a regular eater since. This was the first time I had got to try the Tideford products though and I will certainly be seeking them out again. I tried a minestrone soup made with GF pasta, which was a previous pre-coeliac favourite of mine. I think this is possibly the first time I’ve had it since being diagnosed and it was fantastic. The flavour of the soup was great and I can’t wait to try some more of the range.
Another company which I think we will see big things from this year is ilumi world. These guys are giving some heavy promotion to their free from ready meals at the moment, and I have to say I’ve been very impressed with the ones I’ve tasted so far. They are offering £10 off orders over £20 during June and I think I will be stocking up based on the products I’ve tasted so far. I got to try a few of their products at the show and came away with a sample of Spanish rice and vegetables which was very tasty, with all natural ingredients. The beauty of these meals is they do need even need to be refrigerated.
A great thing this year was seeing friends working on the stalls too. As well as the Perkier guys, it was also nice to see Sam (The Happy Coeliac) working on the Isabel’s stand. It was also good to meet up with a few that I’ve long time Tweeted but never met before. These included the guys from Live Gluten Free, CELIA Lager and the lovely Helen and Lisa from Sweet Mandarin. It was interesting that CELIA have removed the prominent “gluten free” wording from the front of their bottles due to suppliers saying some people have been put off, though the crossed grain symbol remains for all coeliacs to see. Also great to catch up with Alex Gazzola on the Skin Matters stand, a true gent as always! It was really good to see Caroline of The Free From Bakehouse again, especially as she was selling Lemon Meringue Tarts which were nothing short of sensational, I wish I’d have bought more.
At this point the show was getting busy, really busy! It was getting quite hard to move around without being buffeted which I could live with, but my real frustration came from not really being able to get to the store holders as they were just being mobbed. I gave up trying to get to a few of the stands and from seeing other people’s Tweets I think I missed quite a few of the producers as a result. I think in hindsight we should have gone on the Friday when it was a bit quieter, but we had plans to meet friends and I’d have hated to have missed the Tweet-up. I think next year though I’ll definitely be aiming for the Friday to help preserve our sanity!
One slight concern I had was the proximity of the V Delicious show. Apparently there were different coloured stand hoardings and carpets to mark the different shows, but I have to say I didn’t notice these. We went to one stand right next to the allergy show and were offered a taste of a chutney on a gluten free oat cracker. However the spoon being used to serve up was also being used to spread on spelt bread. A lucky escape which we made them aware of, and we hope others were not caught out. It wasn’t until checking the program afterwards that I realised this company wasn’t actually exhibiting at the free from show at all.
Overall though I really enjoyed the show and it’s so good being able to walk around and indulge in so many gluten free treats, meet old friends and find new tasty products. I will definitely be going back next year. After a quick rest stop at the hotel we enjoyed a gluten free pizza at Otto accompanied by a CELIA Larger before sampling some live music and a few ciders in Soho during the evening.
Sunday saw a (slightly hungover) trip around the Science Museum before having some lunch before catching the train home. We decided to hit Honest Burgers again after enjoying it so much a few days before. Who knows when I’ll get my next fix? Hope to see you all at the show again next year folks.
See more photos at the Gluten Free by the Sea Facebook page.
Kevin, Gluten Free by the Sea