Reviews Travel

Gluten Free at Center Parcs

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If you have to follow a strict diet due to allergies, going on holiday can often be a bit of a hassle. When heading out and about, my handbag will almost certainly contain either a Nakd bar or a pack of oat cakes chucked in the bottom for snack emergencies, but holidays are another story.

Common phrases when packing often include:

“Have you packed the gluten free bread?”
“Got enough snacks for the week/weekend?”
“Did you email the hotel about gluten free options?”
“What restaurants nearby have allergy menus?”

But when arranging a holiday, the aim is to relax, not to fuss about what you can and can’t eat. You want to feel like everyone else does on holiday. Feel at ease when you look on the menu that there’s not only something you can eat, but something you want to eat. Feel comfortable that chefs and waiters know what you mean by ‘gluten free’, rather than just a confused nod and awkward smile. Feel you can easily pick up a few bits and bobs at the local shop to snack on and not wish you packed ‘that extra few cereal bars.’

One holiday experience that could potentially be a minefield is Center Parcs. Limited to the food on-site when eating out or dining in, you hand over your trust by the suitcase load. Either that or you pack a car so full of free from food, that there’s barely any room for anything else, and let’s face it, who wants to do that?

However when arriving on the Friday afternoon at Woburn Forest to a tailored gluten free family hamper neatly presented in our cabin, I knew this holiday might just be different.

Here’s a little more about what we got up to on our weekend stay. where we ate and where I’d recommend:

Friday 

Within minutes of arriving I was already tucking into a of pack gluten free chocolate bourbons. It was like Christmas and birthday at come at once. Peering into the kitchen, which was packed with every kind of pot, pan and cutlery, the fridge was filled with milk, orange juice, free from spread, local gluten free sausages, bacon and eggs. Although there are no ‘free from’ food packages currently online to pre-order before you arrive, the team at Center Parcs are very open to tailoring a food package that’s right for you and your party. Just drop them an email prior to your visit.

After a brief cycle ride to get our bearings, it was time to venture out for dinner. We forgot to book in advance for our Friday meal, so we browsed online (wifi in the room – phew!) to see what was available. Not wanting to visit a standard chain restaurant, we opted for Sheering House located inside The Plaza, which boasted a menu full of locally sourced food.

Unfortunately there wasn’t as much choice for gluten from options as I’d hoped, but the menu was relatively small. Staff were extremely helpful, scanning through the ingredients of all the dishes to find me something I’d enjoy. I opted for thyme roasted chicken with homemade coleslaw and potato wedges. The chips that were suppose to come with dish contained gluten, so the chef cooked me my own portion of wedges, which was a really kind gesture.

Saturday

 

Using the ingredients we received in our family pack, along with some mushrooms my Mum picked up from the Parc Market, we started with a filling fry up before a day of activities. Top points for the Woburn Country Foods gluten free Lincolnshire sausages; possibly the best sausages I’ve ever had. When it comes to a cooked breakfast I’d always opt for quality over quantity and these ingredients sure did impress.

 

After a highly competitive archery session, it was time to suss out what the Parc Market had to offer. As lovely as the fry up was, I definitely fancied some cereal for breakfast for the next day, so headed on down to see what I could find.

To say I was impressed was an understatement. For a relatively small on site supermarket, there was a great amount of choice when it came to free from. From cereal, to pasta, biscuits, sauces, crackers, bread, other savoury snacks and even cake mix, there was far more than I would ever need for a few day’s stay.

What you should also remember is just because this was the gluten free section of the supermarket, it didn’t mean you were restricted to this section alone. Other products such as the fresh meats and crisps section also had clearly labelled gluten free goods, along with hundreds of other options that are naturally gluten free.

Although I’ve tried the new Nestle Gluten Free Corn Flakes, I was amazed to discover their Honey Flakes. Not wanting to miss out, I transported them back to the cabin by bike, using the bike lock to hold it in place! I wasn’t going to let a little transportation issue get in the way of munching on these the next morning!

For a spot of late lunch, my jaw hit the floor when I read The Pancake House offered gluten free pancakes. Although not as puffy as the original American style pancakes, these sure hit the spot. I opted for chocolate sauce, honeycomb and cream, but a wide range of combinations are available so you can pick whatever flavour you fancy. Omelettes and savoury pancakes were also available, and could be made gluten free too.

 

After an afternoon of being thrown around the rapids and flumes in the tropical swimming pool, we soon worked up an appetite again by the time evening came around.

My favoruite meal of the weekend had to be Huck’s American Diner.

With a separate gluten free menu dedicated to those with allergies, it was a breath of fresh air to have a full list of choices to debate over. It’s not often you could so simply choose three courses.

Whether I fancied a burger, pasta, fajitas or even beer, there were plenty of options on the separate gluten sensitive  Huck’s menu, with gluten free bread, pasta and wraps. So instead of picking the menu apart, unsure what contains gluten and what doesn’t, everything was perfectly displayed, making a huge difference to the dining experience.

I went for:

Hucks’ Gluten Free Nachos
Warm nachos with American cheese sauce, jalapeños, melted cheese, salsa frontera,
sour cream and guacamole

8oz Fillet Steak (served with gf chips)
The prized cut of beef for many our fillet steaks are aged for 28 days,
arguably the most tender of steaks

Chocolate Torte
Simple and elegant with a knock-out chocolate flavour.
This flourless and gluten-free chocolate torte is for you. Served with raspberry
compote and Huck’s whipped bourbon cream

 

 

By the end of the meal I could barely move, which is always a good sign! It was great to feel like I could indulge, rather than being limited to plain, dry, flavourless dishes often associated with free from food.

Sunday

 

A cold start began with bowl of Honey Flakes I’d picked up from the Parc Market, followed by a relaxing Spa Session. Before my treatment I was a little peckish, but managed to enjoy a gluten free fruit flapjack at the spa cafe.

On our way out, we met my brother and Dad at the Sports Cafe, who caught the end of the West Ham game. I’m gutted I didn’t grab a spot of lunch, as it turned out the Sports Cafe too had a separate gluten sensitive menu, filled with an array of sandwiches and snacks I could have tucked into. A perfect excuse to return, I say!

For the Italian lovers out there, Bella Italia and Strada chains also offer gluten free options on-site, along with French restaurant Cafe Rouge.

The Future

What was different about Huck’s and Center Parcs is the effort that staff put into making sure everyone is catered for. To create the gluten sensitive menus, Executive Chef James Haywood lived as a Coeliac for four weeks. In a blog post on the Center Parcs site, James revealed how eating out left him feel like ‘a second class citizen’ when trying to find something available to eat. When chatting to him over the phone, a real concern for this issue shone through in the way he described some of his experiences when eating out.
“Inside the walls of my home, I could live a gluten-free lifestyle fairly easily. But step outside and it’s an absolute minefield,” he admitted. ” But overall, I was most surprised – astounded, really – just how neglected coeliacs are. Some high street coffee or sandwich shops couldn’t offer me more than a brownie and a single wrap.”
This is where Huck’s differs. James revealed what a big difference it made it him as a diner when a separate free from menu was available to browse, and so this was the direction he believed Center Parcs needed to take. Updating the menus with new dishes every 3-4 months, James and his team hope to have six separate free from menus in every restaurant on site, including gluten sensitive, lactose free and vegan for both adults and children. This is a huge step, not only for Center Parcs, but for free from dining, and I can only hope all UK restaurants follow in this necessary step, so that everyone can experience the same enjoyment of eating out.
 
*A big thank you to everyone at Center Parcs for such an enjoyable stay. Although our trip was complimentary, we did pay for some meals and all thoughts reflect that of my own experiences.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    4th February 2015 at 9:27 pm

    So are you allergic to gluten then?

    • Reply
      fdbloggers@gmail.com
      5th February 2015 at 11:10 am

      I have an intolerance to gluten, which leaves me feeling very unwell if I eat it. Although (thankfully) I wasn't diagnosed with coeliac disease, after feeling constantly ill for a long period of time, I went for allergy testing and discovered the intolerance. Cutting gluten out of my diet made me feel like a new person. I tried to re-introduce it back into my diet gradually not long ago, hoping that perhaps my body just needed a break from it, but unfortunately the side effects returned. I avoid it completely, and have done for the last year.

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