Bristol Coeliac Group – Meet No. 3

The third outing for the ‘Coeliacs in Bristol’ Facebook group, hopefully soon to be renamed ‘Coeliac UK Bristol Group’ if everything goes according to plan(!), was earlier this month when we booked to have a gluten free Christmas meal at The Townhouse on Whiteladies Road.

There are always new faces at every gathering, as well as some familiar ones, and it was great to see that this continued at this meet up.

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We had decided to go for The Townhouse as it was recommended by lots of members of the group, and I’d been there previously myself. On my first visit the food was absolutely stunning, but unfortunately the restaurant let themselves down on the service as it was a very busy day and it seemed that they didn’t have enough staff to cater for the guests. I was keen to see if this had been improved.

There were a few problems from the onset when the timing of the meal was changed from an initial booking of 6.30pm to 7pm, to allow those travelling the furthest to make it on time. Although this was changed long in advance of the meal, at the time of pre-ordering, the restaurant still had us down as 6.30pm and advised that they needed us to be finished by 8.15pm, as they had made another booking for 8.30pm. As our meal was booked for 7pm, we were left wondering how this was going to pan out…..

Unfortunately a couple of the group were no longer able to make the meal, but they had let the restaurant know in advance, as we had all pre-ordered our food.

Not everyone attending the meal is gluten free, but for ease and to help reduce the risk of cross contamination, everyone chose gluten free meals.

Myself and Rich were the first to arrive at the venue and we were greeted with a very Christmassy table on the mezzanine level of the restaurant. It was nice to have our own little area away from the hustle and bustle downstairs.

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Gradually the rest of the diners started to arrive, but at 7pm we were still 5 people short. This wasn’t a concern to me, but it was to the restaurant staff who kept coming back every few minutes to see how long everyone else would be. It seems we were still on a deadline!

Everyone had arrived by 7.10pm and it wasn’t long before our starters were being served.

Despite us pre-ordering and the restaurant being advised that two people weren’t coming, they had still made their starters and brought them out. When I explained that they weren’t coming and that the restaurant knew this earlier in the day, I was utterly bemused that they still brought their mains and desserts out too!!

DSC05767Anyway, back to the starters. I had ordered the Roast Turkey and Chestnut Soup with Sage Cream.

I must admit my started didn’t look that appealing, but soup is soup, and those that had the soup were soon presented with some bread to go with it.

Naturally I double checked that this was gluten free, and was advised that it was.

My starter was very nice, but it wasn’t long before I started to feel a bit unwell with stomach cramps. I ignored it and assumed it was probably due to eating something I wouldn’t normally have had and it was my body just getting used to the new flavours.

As a lot of the group were new, there was a lot of chatting during the meal, however it became very apparent that we were being rushed, even to the point that plates were being cleared away when some people were still eating. I’m sorry, but to me that is out of order. Fair enough if you’re feeling the pressure of another party arriving soon, but we weren’t the ones that messed up the booking…

DSC05771On to the main, and I had Crackling Roast Belly of Middle White Pork with Dauphinoise Potatoes and Roasted Apples. Wow!

Dauphinoise potatoes and pork are two of my favourite things and this meal certainly didn’t let me down. The crackling was amazing too! Yummy! 🙂

When it came to dessert, most of the group had opted for the same thing, Willy’s Wonky Chocolate Nemesis. That had to be the richest chocolate dessert I’ve ever had! It was nice, but you really didn’t need much of it.

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Surprisingly enough, as soon as we had finished (at 8.40pm) we were asked to move downstairs to the bar area, but unfortunately for the restaurant this was the point that everyone decided to leave. I think if we hadn’t been rushed or moved, some of the party may have chosen to stay on for more drinks. It was a shame as the food at The Townhouse is utterly amazing, but the service requires improvement.

If only this was where it ended…..

On arriving home, I felt awful. I was extremely bloated and suffering all the classic glutening symptoms that you all know so I don’t need to share. I knew that this wasn’t the effect of cross contamination as my symptoms were much stronger than I’ve ever had before. I instantly emailed the restaurant to enquire as to what could have happened, as I’m sure something went awry during the starter.

In the meantime I posted a message on the Facebook group just to check on everyone else, and it turned out that two other people were in the same boat. Cue another message to The Townhouse.

It took 4 days for The Townhouse to respond to my emails and when they did they were confused as to what could have gone wrong – ‘everything was definitely made gluten free and we were very conscious of cross contamination but it seems unlikely that it wasn’t our doing as there is more than 1 of you feeling the effects’.

After more emails, I received this response – ‘I’m afraid it’s been a hard lesson for my chefs at your expense, they are all really disappointed as they know how much we value our gluten free folk.

We have looked into everything and can only assume there was some careless cross contamination perhaps when the regular yorky mix was being made and flour was dusted where it shouldn’t have been.

We will certainly learn from this but again my apologies that you had to suffer’.

The restaurant has since provided a full refund to the three glutened members of the group.

I know that this restaurant prides itself on being a coeliac friendly restaurant and have said that it’s ‘a learning process for us as gluten free friendly is obviously very different to being coeliac friendly but we are committed to getting there’.

The food at The Townhouse has always been absolutely stunning, so it’s disappointing that this was the outcome of our visit. I know a lot of people have had great gluten free experiences here, and on both occasions I’ve been they were extremely busy.

As such, I would be willing to go again when they’re quieter and see if there are any improvements. They want to be an example of glutenfreeness in Bristol, so fingers crossed that with some tweaks to their processes they can be just that.

If you’d like to find out more about The Townhouse, you can visit their website or follow them on Twitter.

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It was great to have another evening out with the group and even better to see some new faces!

As things stand the next outing will be the 5th February 2015, as we’ve decided to give January a miss. However, this is dependent on the progress with the official group, as social events will need to interweave with committee meetings if we can get it up and running. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for more info!

In the meantime, Merry Christmas you guys! It’s been great getting to meet you all and here’s to a prosperous 2015 for Bristol’s coeliacs and glutenfreers!! x

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