Roll up, roll up – today’s post whisks us off on a whistlestop day tour of gluten-free London, taking in no fewer than seven of our capital’s finest offerings for coeliac-friendly eats!
Since starting this blog, I’ve followed a few gluten-free foodie people on Instagram and am constantly seeing new and exciting coeliac-friendly stores and foods that I had no idea existed, particularly in London. I’ve been kind of bowled over by the amount of choice that’s out there, if you just know where to look! Consequently, when a few weekends back I found myself abandoned by both my boyfriend (off on a stag do ‘canyoning’ in Wales) and by my parents (off to Highclere Castle for the day), the plan started to formulate – I would go myself to London, completely my own boss, and I would try and visit as many of these amazing places as I feasibly could in one day.
This plan was generally met with what I would call mild astonishment and vague concern. Like many, I have something of a history of anxiety, which reached a somewhat crippling peak in my late teens but has reared its ugly head a few times since – I am much better now, all the more so for being diagnosed coeliac and not suffering from malabsorption and chronic tiredness. Only three years ago at the worst of a nervous breakdown in the final year of my undergraduate degree, I was sitting in bed, waiting for my boyfriend to come back from lectures, too afraid to even go out to the kitchen, because the world seemed enormous and out of my control – and now, here I was, sunnily planning an impulsive little trip to London all on my own. I wanted to go, and so I went.
And it was wonderful! This took place over that gloriously sunny weekend we had a few weeks ago, and the weather couldn’t have been finer for a lovely day spent trotting around London, tasting some of the best gluten-free treats our capital has to offer. ^^
This is by no means a comprehensive overview of gluten-free options in London, but rather a fun documentary of my efforts in visiting as many as I could in one day out. My inclinations tend towards bakeries and brunchy food – lots of cake and baked goods and even, in fact, a little brioche. As I was on my own, I didn’t go for any sit-down meals proper – those will have to wait for another visit (hopefully, soon!).
Inevitably, there was only so much I could eat in one day, and so I ended up taking a lot home with me, putting together a little ‘gluten-free tasting brunch’ for the following morning. My dad is a fellow coeliac, and so it wasn’t just a treat for me. So I’ll round off the post with the verdict on some of my takeaway London gluten-free bakery goods as well!
Gluten-free day trip in London
Stop One: Beyond Bread, Upper Street
I started the day in Islington, which is something of a gold mine if you’re looking for gluten-free treats, all within a short walk of the Highbury & Islington tube station. My first port of call was the Beyond Bread bakery there, which offers a stunning menu of gluten-free breakfast and brunches (pancakes, waffles, quiches, toasties), plus sandwiches, cakes and baked goods to take away.
It is light and airy inside, very pleasant, and the array of delicious food laid out across the counter will stop you in your tracks while you process that, yes, you can have any one of the things in front of you. Croissants, pain au chocolat, a variety of cakes and breads, little gingerbread biscuits…
I had made the decision to hold off on eating anything that day until I got to London, taking the earliest train possible, and by now I was well and truly ready for breakfast. I ordered waffles and plonked myself down with a coffee at a table to take a look around at my fellow gluten-free diners. There was one other group there for breakfast, and a few people sat around on laptops working away. It was nice and peaceful, and yet there was a pleasant hum surrounding you. Out came my book, along came my waffles, and I enjoyed half an hour of absolute contentment.
The waffles were delicious and undoubtedly a treat; however, the combination with Greek yogurt, cherries and pistachios not only looked beautiful on the plate, but gave it a real lightness and a delicate tang that went well with the sweetness of the waffles. It didn’t make you feel like you’d over-indulged, unlike a maple syrup or whipped cream combo.
Next came the tricky bit: deciding what, of all that delicious spread of gluten-free pastries, puddings and bread, I should take away. The cakes looked very inviting (red velvet cake, oh my) but I was wary of the fact that they had to survive the rest of my day in London, so I didn’t want to get anything with destroyable icing. The heartbreak of opening it up at the end of the day and finding squished what had once been delicately iced perfection…
In the end, I kept it simple: I opted for one of their cute little croissants, plus two of their loaves of bread. The wholegrain seeded loaf and – wait for it – their sweet brioche loaf! Brioche for Belsy has officially been found! More on how those shaped up later. ☺️
Stop 2: The Artisan Gluten-Free Bakery, Upper Street
Just two minutes up the road from Beyond Bread is, can you believe, another entirely gluten-free bakery! I’ve been to the Artisan Gluten-Free Bakery on two previous occasions with Greg and eaten in. They do a great pancakes, and a substantial lunch menu that includes both meat and vegetarian gluten-free lasagnes! I do keep meaning to come back and try some.
Today, however, I was still basking in the glow of my heavenly Beyond Bread breakfast waffles and so I just went in for takeaway. On display they had beautiful-looking danishes, sausage rolls, croissants of several varieties, pain au chocolat, spinach & feta rolls, loaves of bread – I was bowled over all over again.
The nice man behind the counter came straight over to ask me what I wanted as soon as I walked in the door and seemed to actually expect me to know, which I felt was wholly unreasonable of him. This is the kind of thing where efficient service is not a bonus – surely they should know to allow at least five minutes for country bumpkin coeliacs like me to process the fact that, not only could I get a gluten-free homemade artisan croissant, but that, moreover, I could choose whether I wanted it to be regular, almond or chocolate. I’ve not had a croissant since being diagnosed three years ago, and suddenly I can pick from three kinds?! That’s not the kind of thing you can just roll with, you know?
On the counter again were some very delicious and fancy-looking cakes, but I was still leery of destroying them on the rest of the day’s travails.
Once I’d got past my croissant-inspired ‘moment’, I took great pleasure in placing my order. Here I got a pain au chocolat to go with the Beyond Bread croissant, a sausage roll for Dad and a spinach & feta roll for me. Well-satisfied, I marched back down the road to my next destination, which was…
Stop 3: Romeo’s Sugar-Free Bakery, Upper Street
Well, there’s no denying it – Upper Street is truly a coeliac’s spiritual home. Not one, but three bakeries with homemade, delicious gluten-free baked goods to choose from! All the products at Romeo’s Sugar-Free Bakery are refined sugar free as well as being gluten free, and they offer an array of beautiful homemade cakes and snacks, including plenty of vegan products.
They also have a sister bakery, named, appropriately, Juliet’s Gluten-Free Bakery, but unfortunately that was too far away from my planned route to fit in. If you want to eat in here, they do buckwheat crepes, a full breakfast menu with gluten-free bread, and a variety of gluten-free quiches and pizza slices, plus more!
I picked two of the hardier-looking cakes: a blueberry cheesecake (Mum loves blueberries) and a scrumptious and substantial-looking apple and almond cake. Mmmmm.
After this, it was finally time to move on from Upper Street. Well-laden, I hopped on the tube and made my way to my next location: Camden.
Stop 4: Cookies and Scream, Camden Lock
Camden was something of a shock to the system after the mellow tranquility of the Islington street in the morning sunshine. By now, it was lunchtime, and both the sun and the people were out in force at Camden Market. I’ve not been to Camden before, and was completely taken aback – it was bustling; full of noise and colour and people. Completely different to the kinds of places that I normally go to – little towns, or bigger shopping malls or organised town centres with the exact same shops, peaceful country walks. It felt like suddenly being in another country, in an amazingly vibrant and interesting way. Clearly I should get out more.
Cookies & Scream is located in Camden Lock Market Hall, just by one of the entrances. It’s not really a proper café, more just a counter with a couple of barstools tucked into one of the alleyways. You’ll need cash to buy something here, which you can get from one of the machines further into the hall.
Despite being vegan and gluten free, don’t be fooled into thinking that their thing is well-tousled kale or quinoa or what-have-you – the food all looks rather wickedly indulgent. It’s very American and contemporary in style, kind of like a Krispy Kreme counter, and entirely made up of sweet things – ring doughnuts, chunky cookies, American-style pies (peanut butter and chocolate slice). It’s all just a lot of fun and not at all grown-up – the kind of thing you’d want at a sleepover with friends. Cookie dough, the lot.
Directly opposite it, moreover, was a small Honest Burgers restaurant – another name I’ve heard bandied around a lot since starting Brioche for Belsy. They do gluten-free buns, burgers and, a major selling point for a lot of people it seems, onion rings, too! It smelt delicious and the chips looked divine, I must say, although it was super busy. There doesn’t seem to be much on the menu that’s vegetarian, though, and the other thing I noticed is that, despite its rep in the gluten-free community, they do have a cross-contamination warning on their website. So, I’m not 100% on that one – might be worth trying to fit in if you’re a meat lover and not a diagnosed coeliac?
Back to Cookies & Scream – despite being once again confuddled by the amount of choice, I went for a chocolate and orange ring doughnut with a very healthy amount of glaze. The hallway is quite cramped and, with so many people passing by at lunchtime, I decided to take it away instead of chancing my luck on a bar stool. I had been intending to take it to Regent’s Park to eat, but the girl at the counter expressed her doubts at whether it would withstand the journey. The doughnut was quite cakey in texture – a bit more fragile than a traditional doughnut – and, even after a couple of minutes, I could see that the sun was beginning to melt the icing a little bit.
Consequently, I sat in the shade by the canal, where a lot of people were having their lunch, and munched my way through it. My goodness, it was good. So sugary and chocolatey, with just a tang of orange. Sometimes you just want something that tastes indulgent, that tastes like a good old American sugar-filled doughnut. This was that.
Stop 5: Whole Foods, Camden
The other stuff that gets a good write-up in the gluten-free community is Whole Foods Market. Happily enough, there was one smack-bang on my route from Camden Lock to Oxford Street, so I popped in to have a mosey around. There are a variety of Whole Foods Market locations around London, so this one in Camden is not your only option; we also do have one back in Cheltenham, but I’ve never visited before – I’ll have to track it down, as I was too overladen from my morning’s bakery extravaganza to pick up any extra treats here!
I didn’t have time to explore fully all the gluten-free options – I’ve read that there’s a lot of variety here – but I did see a whole array of gluten-free cakes and treats, including gingerbread from Beyond Bread. The cakes were refined sugar free as well, and there was a huge amount of variety!
My only purchase here, alas, was a fancy Monty Bojangles chocolate Easter egg for Greg (unfortunately not gluten free – their chocolate comes with a cross-contamination warning) that I’d had trouble finding elsewhere. It’s his favourite! 😅
Gosh, the walk through Regent’s Park in the sun – it was just lovely. I stopped at one point and just sat down to enjoy the sun, eating an apple in the process. Unfortunately, I’d finished my book on the train up (The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy – I didn’t rate it that much), but the sun was glorious and it was fun to people watch. One excited tourist (I couldn’t place his accent) came up to me and pointed to my Whole Foods bag – he so wanted to go there – he didn’t know where it was – could I tell him? Why, I was excited to be asked – it was only a ten minute’s walk away – and I could tell him exactly where it was. I rambled off comprehensive and detailed instructions; he thanked me profusely, it was all crystal clear; we were both very gratified and happy; and then I watched him walk off in completely the opposite direction.
Am I that useless at giving directions? Or did he completely oversell and mislead me as to how desperate he was to go to Whole Foods? I shall never know. After pondering the question sadly for a few seconds, I moved on my way through the park.
The sun was gorgeous – beating nice and strongly but not too hot. Everyone else was relaxed and sitting around, and there are so many beautiful trees and flowers as you walk through. It’s a 40-minute walk or so from Camden to Oxford Street but, on a beautiful day like this, it went in a flash. I was on Oxford Street before I knew it, and heading to my next destination – tourist hotspot Selfridge’s.
Stop 6: Selfridge’s, Oxford Street (Lola’s Cupcakes and Coori)
Selfridge’s is a bit of a goldmine for the coeliac taking on Oxford Street, with several different options for gluten-free cuisine tucked away in its superlative Food Hall. One of my favourites to visit there pre-diagnosis was Lola’s Cupcakes, with its beautiful, decadently indulgent cupcakes. I am absolutely that kind of person who is written about in the food world with such derision, the kind who completely goes in for the full-on American-style cupcake, with mountains of pastel-coloured buttercream. The kind of Homer Simpson-esque caricature of a person who hears the news story – ‘Did you know that one cupcake contains 500 billion % of your daily sugars?’ – and just goes, ‘Mmm, sugar’. I eat healthily enough for the most that, when I do, I just go ahead and enjoy them without a care in the world. That’s the way to do it.
Nevertheless, finding a gluten-free American-style full-on cupcake can be tricky. Most coffee shops will throw that pre-packaged brownie your way and have done with you. Lola’s, however, have heard our call – the cry of coeliacs everywhere for fancier, cuter sweet treats. They’ve brought out a full free-from menu, which not only offers three different gluten-free cupcake flavours, but vegan and sugar-free options too.
The cakes are packaged separately to avoid cross-contamination (nice one, Lola’s) and you can choose from red velvet, chocolate and raspberry, or plain chocolate. I had just had my Cookies & Scream doughnut, and so there was just no way I was going to be able to fit a full cupcake in as well. I settled for wistfully hovering around the counter for a bit, eyeing up the cupcakes. They looked beautiful! Definitely top of my list when I next come to London. They had these at the little Lola’s pop-up in Oxford Street’s TOPSHOP as well, btw.
If you’re looking for lunch on the go on Oxford Street, then Coori at Selfridge’s is definitely for you. This is a fully gluten-free stand in the Food Hall that you have to see to believe. There is such a spread of delicious-looking food, with some vegetarian options too.
There are some delightfully picnic-y things – arancini, different kinds of pizza slices, and a variety of posh sandwiches, including baguettes, paninis and egg mayonnaise rolls just waiting to be assembled. Cakes, too. I didn’t even know this was there before I started having a look round, so it was rather an amazing surprise. Again, this is another one on my to-do list for a future London visit!
Stop 7: LEON
Finally, after a lovely long day in sunny London, wandering through parks and stocking up on gluten-free delicacies, I made my last stop, at the LEON just off Oxford Street. LEON market themselves as a ‘natural’ fast-food chain, offering healthier, nourishing foods to grab on the go: veggie black bean chillis, sweet potato and okra stew, thai green curries, to name a few. They’re fast, affordable, wholesome and delicious. What’s not to love?
I’m writing a piece on my favourite gluten-free-friendly chain restaurants currently, so I won’t say too much about LEON here – especially when, really, this is the independents’ time to shine. However, I will note the excellent-looking vegan and gluten-free billionaire’s slice they had out on display, along with the brownie and other nibbles – in addition to the great range of gluten-free and veggie main meals they have, it’s handy to know that they’re also good for cake‘n’coffee.
There’s a variety of independent gluten-free options in London at which you can enjoy a meal out but, at the end of what was getting to be a long day, I picked LEON as it is easy to get to from Oxford Street, great for delicious, gluten-free veggie options, and very casual – eating on my own wouldn’t be a big deal. There were plenty of other people in there alone, actually, taking refuge from the sun and relishing the quiet cool of the restaurant. I went for my usual, which is the sweet potato falafel box. So delicious, and really filling! I definitely did not need anything else to eat that day after eating it in its entirety. ^^
Then, it was time to settle in on the train back – one and a half hours back to Stroud, happily mulling over the success of the day, with plenty of sunshine left outside to make staring out of the windows at the countryside rolling past rather dreamy. I hadn’t managed to eat as much as I wanted to, but I had plenty to take home and the pleasure of knowing that the next morning I’d be continuing the gluten-free-ness of it all. 😋
Sunday’s gluten-free tasting brunch
The next morning, the fun began all over again. Armed with cups of tea and coffee, we unpacked the gluten-free goodies I’d brought back for a tasting mid-morning brunch. The good weather had carried over from the day before, and the garden was warm, and bathed in morning sunshine. The scene was set.
We laid out the cakes and pastries, taking a slice of each and filling up our plates: croissant and brioche bread from Beyond Bread; pain au chocolat from the Artisan Gluten-Free Bakery; blueberry cheesecake and apple & almond cake from Romeo’s Sugar-Free Bakery. As a spread, it all certainly looked very inviting, as Mary Berry might say. They’d held up very well after a day of being carted around with me in London, too…!
Let’s start with the beautiful-looking cakes from Romeo’s Gluten-Free Bakery. Unlike the other things I brought back, these are free from refined sugar as well as gluten. They work only with natural sweeteners such as fruit, and clearly they have perfected their art – everything I took home from London was delightful, but these cakes were perhaps my favourites, particularly the apple & almond. It was tart and sweet, with a delicious hint of spice, and a great crumb.
I have to say, it was a wrench to have to share it; I could have eaten the whole thing, perhaps with a little drizzle of cream. The blueberry cheesecake was also excellent, and tasting the two together made for a nice contrast, as it happens – the cheesecake was a lighter complement to the denser apple cake.
Next, we come to my loot from Beyond Bread, starting with my croissant. Its flaky layers of pastry had become a little squashed from the journey around London, which was a bit of a shame, but that distinctive, delicious buttery taste was there; none of the dusty artificiality that you taste in a supermarket gluten-free pain au chocolat. This croissant tasted like the real thing.
The brioche loaf, however, was even better. We toasted it in slices and had it with apricot jam, and that was divine. It was soft and sweet, with a great texture. I did also get a seeded loaf from Beyond Bread, but this was less brunch-appropriate and so I saved it for later.
To finish off with, we have a couple of offerings from the Artisan GF Bakery. I already knew that I could expect good things, having eaten there a couple of times on previous visits to London, and I wasn’t disappointed this time.
This pain au chocolat had held up to its rough treatment a little better than my Beyond Bread croissant, and the flake had survived beautifully – and the addition of a little dark chocolate was perfect. France has such memories for me, having been there most summers with my family when I was little, and so it was wonderful to be able to taste a little slice of that again. Food has powerful associations, and one negative of being coeliac is not being able to conjure up some of those past moments and experiences again through taste… Sitting outside in a pretty garden in the sun, eating pastries – it really did feel like one of those long-vanished French holidays, a little exercise in nostalgia.
Finally from the Artisan Gluten-Free Bakery, we have my spinach and feta veggie sausage roll. This I didn’t chop up at brunch – instead, I had it all to myself for my tea the next day. It was gorgeous served warm with some herby potatoes and a light green salad. I’d love to know how they managed the flaky puff pastry. So good!
And that concludes this little monster of a post! I highly recommend recreating my tour, as it was so much fun – I’m actually dragging Greg up with me again very shortly, although I don’t think we’re going to do another full-on day tour. ^^ But we will certainly be hitting a few gluten-free eateries, and maybe trying a couple of new ones – I was disappointed not to be able to fit in Yorica, which is a free-from ice cream parlour that’s getting a lot of buzz on social media at the moment. So, I’m already up for gluten-free London round II!
Have you tried any of these places? What recommendations do you have for gluten-free London?