Reviews Travel

A 16-Course Gluten Free Lunch at Center Parcs

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Taking a day away to the countryside is something everyone should do every now and then. Looking up to see rows of pine trees, bees buzzing around rows of pale yellow flowers and birds singing in the distance made a pleasant change to towering sky-scrapers, puffs of polluted air from yet another Deliveroo moped and yells from angry car horns. Don’t get me wrong, I love London, but everyone needs get away every now and then

When an email from Center Parcs popped into my inbox, I jumped at the chance to return to their Woburn park for an exciting gluten free press lunch. As some of you may know, I visited Woburn last year for the launch of some new gluten free menus & was really impressed with both their attitudes to free from foods and availability on site. It made such a nice change to be understood in restaurants, so I was looking forward to some new dishes they waned to share. You can read my original review visit here.

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As the title states – we were served and ate 16 dishes. This is not an exaggeration. I can eat a lot if I put my mind to it, but adjusting my belt part way through the banquet was a must. Who wears a tight fitting high waisted skirt to a menu taster day. Me, that’s who.

On arrival, we were treated to a glass of champagne whilst chatting to Steph, Eddie, Maddy & Jess from the Centre Parcs team, meeting fellow bloggers Beth (Gorgeously GF) Kim (Coeliac Delight), Lucy and Louise. We all quickly realised we had a shared appreciation for certain gluten free brands (Ryan and his GF donuts, aka Borough 22, were a hit for everyone), and shared annoyance, such as brownies often being the only option in numerous high street coffee shops. I don’t want a rock of sugar, thanks.

After a quick intro from the team, it was very clear Centre Parcs wanted to learn from us as well as showcase how they’ve improved their menus for the better. Eddie from Marketing filled us in on how all the parks are trying their best to improve gluten free eating across a number of restaurants, as well as their on-site supermarket and dining in takeaway menu. Sometimes after a day of activities all you want is to tuck into a takeaway back at the lodge, so why should someone who has to follow a gluten free diet miss out?

I like to think I eat reasonable healthy on a day-to-day basis and choose more and more vegetarian options, but as Eddie explained, people come to Center Parcs on holiday, and so tend to let themselves go a little with food choices. Don’t get me wrong, there are lighter options available, but in general food available in the restaurants tends to be more of a treat, and that’s fine by me. The park supermarkets off lots of naturally gluten free foods, and heaps of fresh veg and meat, so there’s no reason why you can’t cook up some tasty salads for the day time and go a little wild in the evening. You are on holiday after all.

Scanning the menu of what was to come, I couldn’t quite believe how many dishes we were going to be served. Of course there was no way we could physically eat 16 standard portions of food, but instead Executive Chef James and his team miniaturised all the offerings so we could squeeze in as many flavours as possible.

Here’s what we tucked into:

Starters

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Hot cheese, baby artichoke and spinach dipping pot
Available at: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
Thoughts: Quite rich, but a nice starter to share that still gives enough room to fill up on mains.

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Mini mac n cheese
Available at: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
Thoughts: Heaven in a bowl. Mac ‘n’ cheese is such a simple dish but often quite hard to get right. These were perfect, and everyone commented how nice the pasta was.

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Spicy buffalo hot wings with ranch dressing
Available at: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
Thoughts: A little too spicy for my taste, but I know plenty of people who would easily polish these off.

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Huck’s BBQ wings
Available at: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
Thoughts: My favourite starter from the day. I had to stop myself from finishing off the whole plate, and remind myself there were still lots of dishes to come! Probably the best BBQ sauce I’ve ever had – perfectly sweet and sticky.

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Nachos with sour cream, guacamole and tomato salsa
Available at: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
Thoughts: Like a typical plate of nachos. A good starter to share amongst a group to tide you over before mains.

Mains

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Crispy pizza with a range of toppings
Available at: in-Lodge dining service, Dining In
Thoughts: Sadly these didn’t come out well as a mini form. I was thrilled to see takeaway gluten free pizza is available on the Dine In menu, and would definitely like to try a full-size version if I visit again.

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Mini fish and chips
Available at: Sports Café
Thoughts: Hands down the best fish from the day. Everyone round the table agreed that not enough places attempt gluten free fish and chips, chip shop style. The batter coating was perfect and crisp, and chef James explained it was simply made with Doves gluten free flour and Daura Damm gluten free beer. Definitely a winner.

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Grilled Cajun swordfish salad with roasted garlic and lemon dressing
Available at: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
Thoughts: I’ve never tried swordfish before, but really liked the texture. As someone who likes to stick to veggie and fish options where possible, this is a great menu choice.

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A selection of Huck’s burger sliders
Available at: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
Thoughts: A burger, with a bun, and burger sauce. Not often you can get that!

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Mustard-brushed pork loin with mini hasselback potatoes and sour cream
Available at: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
Thoughts: Another winner from the group, with many admitting they wouldn’t necessarily order the pork if they were dining out, but after trying it, definitely would. The hasselback potatoes were also perfectly cooked, and a great way to compliment the soft pork.

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Prawn fajita shells
Available at: Huck’s American Bar and GrillHuck’s American Bar and Grill
Thoughts: A sweet way of miniaturising their classic GF fajitas. As shell-cups they became a little crispy, but would love to try the full-size version. Fajitas are almost always a no-go for gluten free, so it was so nice to see them on the menu.

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Grilled tandoori salmon with a mint and coriander yoghurt
Available at: Rajinda Pradesh
Thoughts: I’m a big salmon fan, so this went down very well with me.

Desserts

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Flourless chocolate torte with bourbon cream and raspberry compote
Available at: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
Thoughts: A favourite all round, I’ve actually tried the full sized version when I visited Center Parcs  last year and loved it. The raspberry compote is a perfect way to break up the richness of the torte.

Ultimate chocolate pancake with cinnamon sugar and vanilla ice cream
Available at: The Pancake House
Thoughts: I’ve visited the Pancake House before, and their pancakes are brilliant. They didn’t quite work so well mini-size, but I can assure you they’re great.

Dutch apple pancake with cinnamon sugar and vanilla ice cream
Available at: The Pancake House
Thoughts: I’d never usually opt for an apple pancake, but this was my favourite from the four taster desserts. Warm and creamy like apple pie, this is definitely getting ordered if I return to Center Parcs!

Mini Daim bar cake with whipped cream
Available at: Sports Café
Thoughts: A favourite with the children at the table.

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A huge thank you to the team at Center Parcs, especially James and his kitchen team for pulling off such a fantastic feast. It’s so encouraging to see an establishment take such care in making sure their menus don’t limit anyone with dietary requirements. Even better that more and more of their restaurants are offering separate gluten free menus to order from. It makes all the difference to browse a proper menu that clearly states what’s totally free from gluten, so instead of choosing one of the two options that should be OK, you’re totally relaxed and able to instead choose something you fancy. James even ate gluten free for two weeks, to learn of the struggles from both dining in and eating out. You can read his original blog post about his findings here.

Hopefully more and more restaurants will take a leaf out of the Center Parcs book. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they develop their menus in the future and what more gluten free goodies they’ll be offering.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Cate
    18th April 2016 at 4:54 pm

    Those fish and chips do look seriously impressive.

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