Since I started this blog, one of my main gripes has been about how hard it is to eat at restaurants when you have an ‘intolerant child’. I cannot deny things are improving and certain chains are revising their menus, labelling their ingredients very well and even buying in gluten free foods but dairy intolerance is not really even considered.
Last week, I decided to try Carluccio’s, as many of my ‘GF colleagues’ have assured me that they have a gluten free menu and are very considerate around allergies. We went to the one in Central Milton Keynes. As ever, I had a packed lunch for Zac, just in case, as I knew that even if there was one dish he could eat, there was unlikely to be anything to ‘nibble on’ or enjoy as a dessert.
It was a good job I did really. The service was medium to slow and when I ordered his gluten free pasta, I was informed it would take up to 15 minutes to cook. I wish she had told me that when I first asked to see the gluten free menu, as I would have instantly told her what he would like.
Here is a link to the menu.
As you can see they have just clearly flagged the foods from the main menu that are ‘naturally’ gluten free, which I am sure most could work out anyway. They do have a list of the special pastas but do not have a children’s gluten free menu – which surprises me, as we are all hearing that more and more children are being diagnosed with these problems. So I just asked for a child’s sized (and priced) portion of the pasta in tomato and basil sauce.
I did inform the waitress that he was also highly dairy intolerant and I needed assurance that the tomato sauce had no butter or cheese added. She went back and checked and told me it was fine. So all we had to do was wait! Fifteen minutes feels like a very long time to a hungry and bored three year old boy. Unsurprisingly, Zac got fed up quite quickly, so I let him have a slice of his special bread while he was waiting. He was however quite nicely entertained with the children’s drawing pack, which ironically had lots of words and pictures to do with making bread!
When the food arrived, everyone’s dish apart from Zac’s appeared. The waitress said the chef had made a mistake and right at the last minute put pesto on his pasta – which of course has cheese. I asked her how long it would be and she said another ten minutes but hopefully less. Disaster really. My food intolerant child is also a ‘waiting for anything’ intolerant child and being faced with a table full of other people’s food just irritated him even more. Thank goodness for iPhones, I don’t really like giving it to him, but the promise of a game of Angry Birds distracted him very well.
Thankfully, his meal did come out in less than ten minutes. The waitress apologised again and then asked if he wanted parmesan? I tried not to laugh, I just politely reminded her ‘he can’t eat cheese’. I think it was just habit that made her ask, I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t because she was so ignorant and didn’t understand that cheese is dairy. But I have to admit I was slightly anxious when he started to eat, because it seems that they were all having a bit of an ‘off’ day in that kitchen and no-one seemed to really get that dairy free means cheese free. I am happy to report he suffered no ill effects, so it must have been dairy free, but that is the thing that makes dining out such an anxious experience, you want the serving staff to emphatically reassure you that nothing is going to get into the sauce that shouldn’t!
Of course, the pasta was steaming hot when it arrived and it was another few minutes before Zac could even start, so I am sorry to say he was a bit ‘over it’ all by then as we had been in the restaurant for about half an hour by that point. So that is the reason I am feeding him in some of these pictures. He was doing his best sulky face to start with and it took some work to get him going, but once he had a few mouthfuls and was confident it was ‘safe’, ‘delicious’ and not too hot, he really got stuck in and enjoyed it very much. I finished what he couldn’t manage and can say that I would recommend it to anyone. It was a perfect gluten free, dairy free dish and if it had been out sooner our whole experience would have been worthy of a ‘big well done’ to Carluccio’s Milton Keynes.
I would definitely go back again. It has a great menu for a gluten free adult, less so for a child and very little for a dairy free child, but it is a step in the right direction. He can and will eat at least one dish on the menu which is more than he can in most places we go to, so perhaps eating out is something we may get to enjoy again in the future.
At Carluccio’s Milton Keynes, I would say that all they need is a bit more training for the staff – to think about issues such as waiting time on the cooking of the pasta etc, and basic ingredients information, but apart from that they were very good. Perhaps some more interesting child friendly, GF and DF desserts would be a good addition to the menu. I am a big fan of Carluccio’s (the chain and the chef) and I know we should be grateful to them for taking these first steps, I would just encourage them to continue and make sure everyone else knows about it. I will certainly tell everyone I know that I think it is worth a visit.