This year I was delighted to be able to join in with judging the Freefrom Eating Out Awards and even more delighted to see there were entries from the South West.
The standard of food available for people with food allergy, food intolerance, coeliac disease and other conditions is improving all the time. However, it is still a postcode lottery and depends very much on the businesses operating in your local area.
The Freefrom Eating Out Awards look for all kinds of food businesses that excel in providing both safe and tasty options. The recognition and publicity that they give encourages and rewards people for promoting great food for everyone. I hope there is a business in your area listed that can provide you with great service. If you already know of a great business who is not included why not let them know about the awards.
The categories judged were:
Three Runners Up
- Cafes, Coffee Shops and Tea Rooms
- Fish and Chip Shops
- Pub Restaurants
- Corporate Hospitality and Venues
- B&B's and Guest Houses
- Schools, Colleges and Universities
- Food Manufactured for Food Service
You can find all the winners, runners up and commendations right here
Personally I had a great experience at RockFish in Dartmouth, Devon. The knowledge of the food they serve is impeccable. If you want an excellent fish supper then RockFish provide a gourmet meal. There were a few areas that need improvement and I would highly recommend talking to any restaurant before you eat to check their knowledge for your needs.
My Judging Experience
After checking the Rock Fish website and looking at the downloadable menu with allergen key, I decided a phone call to ask further questions was essential. Although the menu was confidently labelled with the allergens present in each dish if you used this information alone a customer with allergies would be left with very few or no meal options. Contrary to the written application there are no freefrom options labelled on the menu.
The waiter on the phone was very confident, knowledgeable and helpful. He was able to answer all of my questions and checked with the chef where appropriate. He knew the ingredients for the batter on the children's menu did not contain milk and added that he would honour the children's meal deal with a sorbet instead of the usual ice cream.
The waiter was able to give suggestions for adult meal options and knew that a gluten free customer may not be able to have food cooked in the same oil as gluten containing food. Rock Fish offer a gluten free batter but sadly it is still cooked in the same fryer as gluten containing foods. The chips do not contain gluten or dairy and are cooked in a separate chip fryer.
The waiter suggested making a booking ahead of the day of our visit so they were well informed.
On arrival we were seated at our table as per our booking. No mention was made to our dietary requirements by the staff. We were left with the menu which stated “a gluten free batter is available but not suitable for coeliacs due to being fried with other gluten containing foods”. The waiter who served us had a thorough product knowledge of the dishes served including the daily specials. I told him of our dietary needs, lactose free for my son and gluten, lactose and dairy free for me. He suggested childrens options. The fish fingers could be made lactose and dairy free by having battered fish fingers. He knew that the breaded fish fingers were rolled in milk before breadcrumbs. We also ordered chips and plain peas for my son.
I guessed that from the menu the crab or scallops would make a possible starter if adapted slightly. Our waiter was able to recommend the dressed crab with watercress instead of the scallops. Although the scallops could be cooked in oil the chef found that they weren’t as good as they could be when cooked that way. The dressed crab was ordered to share between myself and my son.
For a main course our waiter suggested grilled fish with chips and salad or plain peas. I opted for skate after discussing the texture and flavour of the fish. I was also able to check the salad dressing and vinegar on the table which did not have ingredients listed. The waiter knew which allergens they contained and offered me balsamic vinegar and tomato ketchup for my son.
My husband, who can eat what he likes, ordered a prawn cocktail to be followed by the battered hake, chips and mushy peas which all contained milk and gluten.
The starters were brought over by a younger female waitress. Our crab came plain with a side bowl containing mayonnaise. She knew the mayonnaise was gluten free but had to check for dairy. It unfortunately contained milk so was removed from our table with an apology.
The main courses were brought by another waiter who appeared to be more knowledgeable and experienced. There were no problems with the main courses and we all enjoyed every last bite. I was confident that the food I was eating had been considered and served correctly to the order we discussed.
The desserts menu was very dairy heavy with ice cream or cream in every dish except for the sorbet. There were three flavours on offer all of which were suited to grown up tastes. We ordered a pear and elderflower sorbet after checking that there was no dairy, lactose or gluten present. Despite my concerns my son enjoyed the sorbet so much I had to ask nicely for a spoonful!
Overall we had a very pleasing experience at Rock Fish. The food was undoubtedly of a high standard and staff were confident, knowledgeable and friendly. They were able to recommend relevant dishes and understood our concerns over cross contamination and product traceability. Any difficult questions were checked with the chef or ingredients list. The staff were willing and happy to check and double check foods and we were treated like any other customer. It was lovely to feel happy and confident about a meal provided by a restaurant.
The only negative aspects to our meal were the changes to our waiting staff and the subsequent mayonnaise mix up. I wonder if this could have been avoided if we had kept the same experienced waiter from start to finish. The online menu was very off putting as there were no indications that meals could be tailored for people with dietary requirements. I feel the menu, especially for children, would benefit from a good dairy free ice cream or a more popular flavour of sorbet.