In January 2018, Coventry city centre’s historic Golden Cross pub took the momentous decision to make its kitchen 100% gluten-free. Food Covolution talks to landlady Charlotte and head chef Paul about the trials and triumphs of becoming the first completely gluten-free restaurant in the region.
Food Covolution: Tell us a little about the pub…
Charlotte: It was built in 1583 and it’s been a pub since 1661. It’s the oldest pub in Coventry – it’s not the oldest building that’s a pub, but it’s the building that’s been a pub the longest. When we took it over (in January 2017), we wanted to do food because it’s such a lovely building that it seemed a shame not to, but we had to put in a brand new kitchen because the last time they did food was probably fifteen years ago.
FC: So what prompted the move to 100% gluten-free?
Paul: It wasn’t planned. We started with about 30% of the menu gluten-free…
C:…or less. I don’t even think it was that much. But I have a family-member who follows a gluten-free diet, so I wanted to have some options…
P: We had separate fryers. One was gluten-free, one wasn’t, and there was always a risk of mistakes. One day, after a near-miss, I said ‘Right, that’s it! We’re going gluten-free!’.
FC: Has it affected trade?
P: Not at all. We’ve had no complaints, and we’ve had people coming from as far away as Stratford and Birmingham just to eat here. We use gluten-free beer in our batter now, and we’ve frequently been told that we do the best fish and chips in Cov! I speak to as many customers as I can, and they say they can’t tell the food is gluten-free because it tastes no different.
FC: So how would you describe your menu?
P: It’s standard food that everybody knows, freshly-made in our own kitchen, good-sized portions, realistically and reasonably priced – but it’s got that extra, that it’s gluten-free. And our kids’ menu is just as good as the main menu – our fish fingers and chicken nuggets are all made from scratch. Plus, at least half the current menu is also dairy-free; with our next menu, I’m aiming to raise that to 75%.
FC: Tell us more about that…
P: We don’t just take the dairy out; we find ways to substitute it. We use loads of coconut milk because you can cream that up and it’s just like dairy. Four out of five desserts on my next menu will be dairy-free – vegan recipes help a lot.
FC: So this kind of food forces you to be creative, inventive…
P: Every week we play around with something – even if it’s just in our heads – and I’m thinking ‘would that work?’. At the moment, we’re experimenting with a coconut chocolate tart made with avocados. What I would like to say is how inspired I’ve been by Mark Kennett, head chef at Oscar and Bentley’s gluten-free bistro in Canterbury. The knowledge that guy has is unbelievable, and he’s super helpful and encouraging. I thought ‘We’re there! We’re 100% gluten-free!’ Then I saw what he does…
FC: What about future plans?
P: We’d like to put on more special events. We’ve recently done an afternoon tea and feedback was excellent – in fact, we’re now putting scones on the menu as a dessert – so we’d like to do something like that every month or couple of months. Longer term, we’d like to be the first place in the West Midlands that caters for most of the fourteen allergens. Even now, if you have one of the rarer allergies, we can accommodate you if you let us know in advance, or even on the day if you don’t mind waiting a little longer.
But what’s equally important is bringing on the next generation of chefs. I’m working with Henley College to ensure that chefs will be going into their first kitchen knowing that dietary requirements are a serious thing. In ten years time, with a generational shift, I hope we’ll see your big companies thinking ‘you know what, maybe we should…’
FC: What’s best thing about being a free-from restaurant?
P: Our customers are like family. We get to know them. And when you see someone nearly in tears because they haven’t had a scone for twenty years or they haven’t had fish and chips for fifteen years, then you know you’re doing good because you’re helping people stay well.
C: And this is a totally safe environment, with zero risk of cross-contamination. Our bread, for example, doesn’t contain any of the fourteen allergens. It comes from Incredible Bakery in Kettering, which is 100% gluten-free.
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