Wetherspoons Gluten Free? Really? Incoming surprises! This is a surprising story. Surprising that it happened at all and surprising how it turned out. By rights I should never have found myself eating at a Wetherspoons. Why? Reasons!
- I combine foodie passion and intermittent fasting with the implication that I treat every meal as an opportunity to take pleasure in something special or new
- I live in London, definitely a city in the top 5 places on earth for gluten free dining pleasure. Los Angeles and Rome are other top 5 picks. I’m leaving space for 2 more (recommendations welcome!)
- I don’t drink alcohol. I was an archetypal binge drinker in my teenage and university days but realised, age 21, that I simply didn’t like alcoholic drinks very much. Nor did I like being drunk. Once I realised I neither liked nor had to drink to be social I stopped!
- Next up, I am coeliac and must eat gluten free and I favor plant based nutrient dense food
So, London based foodie, non-drinker, flexitarian & nutrition minded coeliac. Surely Wetherspoons, the nationwide chain of Pub Restaurants, has nothing to offer me, right?
Wetherspoons Free From Eating Out Award
Surprise #1. Wetherpoons has won a Silver Free From Eating Out Award. Anything that gets an Award catches my attention and many of the winners are stunning eateries that combine free from excellence with superb food, service and venue. Other Award Winners I have eaten at include the fantastic Indigo and Leggero.
Award judges visited six separate Wetherspoons in 2016 and were all round impressed. Quoting from one judge –
Wetherspoons should certainly be commended for making such an effort to cater for people with food allergies. Other pubs please take note! It was a breath of fresh air to find different menus catering for different allergies even though, if you had multiple or rather more obscure allergies than dairy or gluten, you might struggle.
Intrigued and encouraged I ate out at a Wetherspoons, the Pommelers Rest at Tower Bridge.
How Free From friendly is Wetherspoons?
Surprise #2. Wetherspoons are making major efforts to be free from friendly! The first sign I found of this was discovery of large, colourful, dedicated Free From menu sheets. There are Gluten-Free, No-Dairy, Vegetarian and Vegan Menus. There are 30+ dishes on the Gluten Free and 25+ dishes on the Dairy Free menu.
There is a caveat printed on the menus. No food is guaranteed to be free from allergens. As a coeliac diner I would love a guarantee. I do not expect one unless a venue has completely eliminated gluten from their kitchen and supply chain. Confidence is possible but a guarantee is not. What I do expect is thorough risk assessment and robust practices to minimise the risk. Some of the things that Wetherspoons has to ensure allergen safety are –
- Till buttons that enable allergen messages to be sent direct to the kitchen along with food orders
- Use of gluten free flags on gluten free dishes
- Regular testing for gluten in gluten free dishes
- At the Pommelers rest there are also separate grills for use preparing gluten free foods such as grilled halloumi
If you seek both gluten and dairy free choice is limited. The two dishes most interesting to me do qualify, Quinoa Salad and a Sweet Potato, Chickpea & Spinach Curry. Meat eaters could order a Sunday Roast served with veggies and potato. Alas Fish & Chips are not gluten free and there are no options offered to adjust dishes to make them gluten or dairy free.
Wetherspoons Venue & Style
As I was told when I asked at the counter on arrival how to order food – It’s a pub. Tables have numbers and there is table service but ordering is done at the till counter. This does mean that the allergen messages sent from the till to the kitchen are matched against specific tables which will help prevent mistakes.
Serve me up, Wetherpoons!
Surprise #3. I rather enjoyed the food!
A side order of combined crispy & crunchy Nacho chips with creamy, hot & spicy dips.
Quinoa Salad was pleasingly rainbow like, fresh & flavoursome. I would quite happily enjoy this anytime. Another side of Coleslaw was bright, crunchy and zesty.
Love Grilled Halloumi? I was eating with my mother and she certainly did! No need for gluten here and the Halloumi was prepared on a grill not used for anything containing Gluten. So I could have eaten it. My mother might have objected.
For the benefit of others I can report that there were two bottled gluten free beers. Brewdog Vagabond and Estralla Galacia. Are these any good? I have no idea, tell me!
Surprise #4 – There is Gluten Free Apple Crumble! This is also one of few dishes offered with a Vegan option albeit this means having it without the Ice Cream or Custard which seems like a really poor deal. Wetherspoons, get some some Soy or Coconut cream! The Crumble was definitely not as good as that my Grandma made that is an unfair standard! It was thoroughly enjoyable, warming, crumbly, not too sweet and all the more welcome for being so rarely found gluten free.
Wetherspoons Gluten Free Rating and Recommendation
Surprise #5 – with some caveats I recommend Wetherspoons to other gluten free eaters, coeliacs and flexitarians!
There are caveats. As with any chain there will be variation and consistency will be a big challenge for Wetherspoons to manage. Not all venues will have the kitchen space for separate grills. Not all staff will be as capable and helpful as those I was served by. After just a few visits gluten and dairy free diners will exhaust the menu variety. There are far fewer and less certain options suitable for other allergies such as nuts and egg.
I did learn that Wetherspoons intend to further improve by removing unnecessary allergens. Examples are the gluten in salad dressing and eggs from their house dressing. Great move.
Dishes offer generous quantity, are well priced and taste good. There are healthy options. At the Pommelers Rest I found the staff to be incredibly attentive and careful once I explained I was coeliac. Most positively though having a huge chain like Wetherspoons offer gluten free and dairy free dishes means that so many more people around the country have a safe and enjoyable place to eat out. Eat out solo, as a couple, family or group of friends. I think this is the most compelling benefit of the Wetherspoons efforts and I applaud it. I could be almost anywhere in the UK and have the option of eating out at a place that can safely cater for multiple allergens and dietary preferences.
So go to a Wetherspoons and you too may be pleasantly surprised! If you have already do your experiences match or differ to mine? More importantly, how do you rate the Apple Crumble!?