Beauty & the bakery… a blogger’s dream

When my friend and fellow blogger, Emma, were invited to Edinburgh’s Fort Kinnaird to spend the afternoon being pampered at the Body Shop, followed by a meal at well known bakery, Patisserie Valerie, we jumped at the opportunity.

From a young age, I have had quite dry skin. I have to moisturise at least twice a day and if my face was to get slightly wet without instant moisturising, my skin would feel taut and horrible. So on arrival at the Body Shop, sales assistant Gwen asked if I was interested in having a skin consultation. Having seen people have this done before, I was aware that there are certain machines that are able to identify your skin type. This would then rank you, with 1% being abnormally dry and 100% being extremely oily. I sat around the 20% mark, having both dry and dehydrated skin. What surprised me was that Gwen gasped when she saw the reading.

Now, I am the first to admit that I can be quite lazy when it comes to my skin. I tend to just chuck on a load of E45 cream and as I drink around 4 litres of water a day, I expect to get by. Gwen told me that this was not the case and introduced me to a number of different products that I could be using. The range that she suggested being best for my skin was Drops of Youth (how depressing at the age of 26…) as this is full of hydrating ingredients that sink deep into the skin, repairing it. I was lucky enough to try a number of different products and even managed to get myself a bag of samples. As someone with not only very dry, dehydrated skin, I am also extremely sensitive to perfumed products. Therefore, these cute mini samples are great for me as I need to be sure that nothing will irritate my skin.

One of the products that I found really appealing (and was able to take away a whole bottle) was the Drops of Youth Liquid Peel. You work this into your routine twice a week and it gently exfoliates your skin, removing the day’s pollutants. I have to admit, it was quite shocking to see the dirt come away but this left my skin feeling silky smooth and alongside my other goodies – Drops of Youth Concentrate, Youth Cream and Vitamin C Reviver, I’m hoping I’ll be working my way up the hydration chart and hitting 60% on my next visit.

After being beautified at the Body Shop, we headed to the much loved high street bakery, Patisserie Valerie. We had originally been promised afternoon tea but were made aware a few hours prior to our arrival that this was no longer possible. It used to be the case that if you were gluten-free, Patisserie Valerie was your worst nightmare (hello soft bouncy sponge cake). However, they have recently introduced a gluten-free range to cover all tastes – chocolate brownie, butter flapjack and marble slice, to name a few.

We were welcomed by a friendly team of staff and they told us to order as much as we liked. So naturally Emma and myself did just that. Starting with a delicious hot chocolate, I scanned the menu, opting for a ham and cheese omelette. Although the omelette was nice, this was one of the only options for me as the menu was full of sandwiches, quiches and other heavenly goods that you would expect to find in a bakery.

As a food blogger, I obviously couldn’t have left without trying out the new gluten-free range. There were many treats that took my fancy but my cravings were directed towards the chocolate muffin. If I’m being critical, it was sadly not as good as I had hoped however this could have been because I was staring at Emma digging into not one, but two slices of fresh, bouncy cake.

The overall dining experience in Patisserie Valerie was pleasant and is definitely somewhere that I would go again. I am keen to try out the other sweet treats in the gluten-free range and hoping that one day, this range will expand and include the much loved gateau slices.

 

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M&S at Valentine’s… don’t go breaking my heart

So, I have to admit, it has been a while since my last post… I just don’t understand where the months are going! It will be Christmas again before we know it and I still need to write all about my Valentine’s experience with Marks and Spencer. So it may be a month too late but I’m going to share it nonetheless…

To me, Valentine’s Day is all about being with the people that you love – whether that’s your parents, partner or pooch. I am, personally, less interested in the balloons and bouquets of red roses and prefer myself a nice glass of red wine whilst enjoying a delicious, home cooked meal.

To celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, S and I followed in the footsteps of thousands of others and opted for the Marks and Spencer ‘Dine in for £20’ deal. Now, let me start by saying, I love Marks and Spencer. I love their food and think that they are leading in the way with their Free From section. However, I was really disappointed with their choice of food on the Dine In offer. The majority of dishes on offer for starters, mains, sides and deserts included wheat and for those that didn’t, they included other ingredients that were high in FODMAPs, i.e. onion or garlic. Whilst I appreciate that it’s hard to create low FODMAP, pre-packaged food on a large scale for a mass audience, there could have been a lot more gluten-free options. Even the chips contained gluten!

Although I was unimpressed with the variety of options, we did end up having a really nice meal opting for chicken pate as a starter, followed by steak, broccoli and potato wedges for our main. This ended with a very indulgent white chocolate and raspberry bomb. It is very hard to criticise the quality of Marks and Spencer’s produce and this is not something that I am doing here. I am merely expressing my frustration that they let themselves down with their Free From options. For a brand that are getting it so right on the day to day aisle, why did they let themselves down on what would have been one of their busiest weekends for food shopping? Let’s hope that next Valentine’s, I’m more in love with their options.

 

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Senza Glutine in Milano

S and I recently went on a Christmas getaway to Milan. Although we found that restaurants were quite hard to come by, we dined in some fantastic places, sourcing out the best gluten-free hot spots in the city and walking miles to find them.

If you are planning a city break to Milan and in the need for gluten-free or should we say, “Senza Glutine” inspiration, then look no further as I have tried and tasted the city, collating some of the best below.

La Porta Rossa

Located close to where we were staying, S and I walked past La Porta Rossa on the first night when heading to our hotel. We noticed that they offered gluten-free pasta and were keen to try. If you are after a traditional Italian restaurant with polite staff and amazing food, this is for you.

I opted for the traditional Spaghetti Carbonara and was advised the gluten-free pasta took an additional 20 minutes to wait and this was due to the fact they made the pasta fresh in the restaurant.

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As I was unaware of the Italian for onion and garlic, I was worried as to what I would be presented with but I would go as far to say that this was the best bowl of pasta I have ever eaten. It was simple, made up of spaghetti, eggs, parmesan and thick, smokey pancetta that melted in your mouth. Accompanied by a 6 euro glass of delicious red wine, I was very satisfied.

La Specialita 

When in Milan, it would have been rude to not have tasted a traditional Italian pizza. With a craving for cheese and tomato, we set out to La Specialita, a good 30 minute walk from our hotel. On a busy Sunday lunchtime, we managed to get a seat, squished next to another couple, which we realised, was the norm.

I had read really good reviews of this restaurant and I was like a kid in a sweet shop when we first arrived. After scanning the menu, I decided on a gluten-free smoked ham and cheese pizza. When it arrived, I realised that I had made an error – there was no tomato on the base. In my eagerness to eat, I had overlooked that all of the other options included “tomato” within the menu. Having said this, the dough was crisp and the smokey cheese complimented the ham beautifully. Although not your ‘normal’ pizza, it was still a delicious meal albeit there may have been too much ham…

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a Peperino e Milano

Having visited La Specialita for lunch, it was only fitting to squeeze in my second Milanese pizza of the day. a Peperino e Milano had come up as being a fantastic restaurant offering a varied menu including gluten-free pizza (which was renowned to be the best option).

Having learnt from my earlier mistake of ordering a pizza without the tomato base, I ordered a gluten-free pepperoni pizza. I can say without hesitation, it was the best gluten-free pizza that I have ever tasted. I may not have tasted a non gluten-free pizza for over a year but I would say that this came close to what that tastes like. The dough had a stone-baked, char-grilled taste but was not dry like other gluten-free dough. It was a perfect mix of crisp and moist.

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In terms of the restaurant’s atmosphere, this is not somewhere I would recommend if you are looking for a cosy, traditional Italian restaurant however it is clearly very popular with the locals and was buzzing. It is definitely worth a visit. I just wish they delivered to the UK…!

Glu Free

Our trip to Milan was full of walking (10 miles a day) and sight-seeing in the freezing cold. We would wake up everyday and not have breakfast as we knew that we would be having big meals for lunch and dinner. However, on the third day, we wanted to try a variety of local delicacies but these were naturally non gluten-free. Whilst S dug into a freshly baked panzerotti (savoury style donut tasting like a pizza), I was dreaming of tucking into my very own gluten-free treat. Luckily, I had read that there was gluten-free bakery en route to where we were next visiting.

Just as it started to snow, we stumbled upon Glu Free, a bakery entirely dedicated to gluten-free baking. Excited and hungry, I ordered a slice of gluten-free pepperoni pizza and a chocolate filled croissant. Both had been freshly baked that morning. I really enjoyed the pizza but must admit that the croissant was slightly disappointing as it was a bit chewy.

Although the croissant was not as good as I had hoped, this was a great find and it was great to see that Glu Free is popular with the locals and making good business.

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As you may have guessed, our trip to Milan was very food-heavy with a lot of indulgence on pizza. But as the saying goes, when in Milan…

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Plaice to Be – Pitlochry

  • low FODMAP Edinburgh rating: 8/10
  • What I ate: gluten-free haddock and chips

Let me start by saying the only reason I have not rated the Plaice to Be 10 out of 10 is because any food that is deep fried is not really that good for you. Thus, too much grease or oil can cause some people to have a sore tummy and I can’t encourage that on a blog dedicated to healing irritable stomachs. But, my scoring is in no way a reflection of the quality of the food because the taste is amazing.

My trip to the Plaice to Be came about when I was recently visiting family in Pitlochry (2 hours North of Edinburgh). Not only do I love the play on words that the owners of Plaice to Be have created but I also love the fish. Plaice to Be pride themselves on being able to provide a gluten-free alternative to a British classic and as a result, they have earned themselves a strong reputation within the village. The fish is fried separately to ‘normal’ batter to avoid any cross contamination. I have found with other gluten-free fish that the batter is either soggy or very dry but this is just perfect. Alongside the crisp batter, the chips are everything you would expect from a chippy and compliment it beautifully.

Plaice to Be

The Plaice to Be sadly do not have a website that I can direct you to however I strongly advise a stop off if you are ever in the area. I can almost smell the salt and vinegar…!

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Basement – Broughton Street

  • low FODMAP Edinburgh rating: 3/10
  • What I ate: chicken fajitas with gluten-free tortillas

To celebrate a work colleague’s birthday, a few of us headed to Basement on Broughton Street. Although we only had an hour or so, we had heard positive reviews of the food but more importantly, about the Margaritas. As always, I had taken a look at the menu before heading out to eat so I was aware that there was not much I could eat however, as a Mexican based restaurant, this was to be expected.

To start, we ordered a bowl of nachos however the dips were served on the side so I could benefit from the chips, sour cream and cheese whilst avoiding the garlic based guacamole and salsa.

When chosing my main, I spent most of the time drooling over the various burritos and spicy dishes that were available. Eventually, after much discussion with the waiter, I settled for gluten-free chicken fajitas with the onion and garlic removed. I must add, this was the only low FODMAP option on the menu.

Although in good company, we were disappointed (and hungry) having to wait 50 minutes from having our nachos (shared between 4) to receiving our mains. When my main course did arrive, it was sizzling away and smelt amazing. Both the chicken and peppers were chargrilled and tasted fantastic however the gluten-free wraps were extremely disappointing, tasting like sawdust and falling apart. As soon as the mixture was added to the wrap, it would collapse and run all over your hand. As a result, I ended up eating the chicken and vegetables with a fork and leaving the wraps.

BasementAlthough I had quite a negative experience in terms of the time that we had to wait for food and for that food to then be disappointing, I would go back to Basement for drinks. Even though we visited at lunchtime, there was a good vibe about the place and I’m still wanting to try their famous Margaritas!

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Tupiniquim – Quartermile

  • low FODMAP Edinburgh rating: 7/10
  • What I ate: “Marguerita Ta Ta” – tomato, basil, spinach, mozzarella, avocado & pesto gluten-free crepe

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Although Turpiniquim sells food, you couldn’t really call it a restaurant. It is essentially a food kiosk selling amazing tasting gluten-free, sweet or savoury, Brazilian style crepes. The savoury crepes are slightly more expensive, at around £5 but you do get a lot for your money with ingredients that are fresh and cooked right in front of you.

Considering I live a stones throw from Turpiniquim, I have only had 2 crepes in the year that I have been living in Edinburgh – both times during the Edinburgh Fringe festival. Last year, before I started on my low FODMAP journey, I opted for the Chicken Curry Piri-Piri crepe and it was heavenly. So when I returned this year, with fellow low FODMAP blogger Sarah (The Wee Foddie), I was slightly disappointed to discover that it was pre-made with onions. On reflection, the staff of Turpiniquim are operating from a hut, at an extremely busy time of year, so food preparation is key to their business.

Pushing my disappointment to one side, I settled for the “Marguerita Ta Ta”. This is made fresh with tomatoes, basil, spinach, mozzarella, avocado and pesto. Although pesto is not always low FODMAP, it is applied sparingly to the toppings so I did not worry about this too much. As Turpiniquim is so popular, especially at 7:30pm on a Saturday night during the Fringe, there was a wait of about 20 minutes but it was definitely worth it. Your crepe is served piping hot which allows the cheese to melt and avocado to soften. Like the name suggests, it does taste very similar to a Margherita pizza but due to gravity and the way the crepe is served, a lot of the ingredients are pushed to the middle/bottom of the crepe so you enjoy a variety of flavours as you eat.

Although there are not many low FODMAP options, it’s amazing to have gluten-free crepes so readily available. It may have taken me a year to re-visit this fast food hot spot but I’m likely to return this weekend to indulge and settle my sweet craving.

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Symprove your life? Sadly not for me.

Having recently undergone the Symprove 12 week challenge, I wanted to share my findings. Before I delve into this, I will start by trying to explain the science behind the product and how it has been created to improve digestive health. I must stress that these views are my own and from my research, know that other users have had a different experience.

As an IBS sufferer, when I heard about Symprove, I thought that my prayers had been answered. In short, IBS is often caused by a lack of ‘good’ bacteria that sits within the gut. Symprove has been designed to tackle this, with customers taking one shot of the liquid bacteria each morning before eating. This is carried out across a 12 week period. As explained on their website, “Symprove is a water-based multi-strain supplement that contains 4 unique strands of live activated bacteria. These include:  L. rhamnosus, E. faecium, L. acidophilus, and L. plantarumNormally a healthy gut would already contain all four of these, however when it doesn’t, it can soon become unbalanced”.

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By pushing ‘good’ bacteria through the body, Symprove has been created to combat digestive issues and the balance of bacteria in your gut. To do this, Symprove must do three things – Arrive, Survive & Thrive.

1: ARRIVE alive right from the start so it’s ready to get to work

2: SURVIVE the strongly acidic and hostile environment of your stomach.

3: THRIVE in the intestines and targeted areas of your gut quickly and effectively.

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Naturally, before jumping on board, I wanted to know more about this marvel product. I had read a lot of very positive reviews but I wanted to carry out my own research, ensure that these tales were legitimate and not generated/sourced by Symprove themselves. But, the more that I read, the more I wanted to try it. Across blogs, forums and national publications, Symprove was receiving rave reviews. Some customers had even gone as far to say that, thanks to Symprove, they were now able to eat foods such as onions, garlic and whole-wheat pasta without any ill effects… now that is the dream.

Over the past year since starting the FODMAP diet and taking Fybogel twice a day, there have been many ups and downs. However, I feel like I’ve finally got to a good place with my IBS; I understand my body more; know what stomach cramp is good and what’s bad; when my stomach needs a bit of TLC; and when to not push myself. I kept asking myself; am I going to rock the boat by taking this supplement?

Erring on the side of caution, I contacted Symprove to ask whether I would be able to continue taking my daily fibre supplements and expressed my worries. They were quick to reply, gave helpful feedback and reassured me that I could go about my day as normal. I was even given the first 12 week course free of charge to see how I got on. I was very grateful for this as the four bottles (12 week course) is not cheap, setting you back £158.

I must admit, when the package arrived, it sat on my bedroom floor for about 2 weeks. I was nervous and constantly finding excuses not to start the course. Important meetings at work and weekends away were interrupting my daily routine and I did not want to risk having side effects. Knowing my body, if I was going to react to Symprove, it would be within the first 3-4 days of taking the supplement. So I found a time that worked, starting on Wednesday when my work diary was clear and I had a quiet weekend ahead.

I should start by commenting on the taste. You would imagine it to be disgusting, but it actually was not too bad. I had opted for the mango & passion fruit flavour over original as I had read this was more pleasant. For the first two days, I felt normal. I had partly forgotten that I had even taken it. Then came the third day. The Friday. I started the day as always – gluten-free toast with peanut butter. My stomach felt a bit gripey but I just put this down to to the fact that I might have eaten something iffy the day before. It was not until after lunch that I felt the pain: waves of nausea, stomach cramps and awful dropping sensations. It came in sharp bursts that lasted about 2 minutes and within that time, all you could think about was the punching sensation happening within your stomach. After about an hour of this, the pain was getting more intense and I knew that I was going to be ill. I explained the situation to a colleague and took myself home. Let’s just say, it was a wise decision.

Waking up on the Saturday, I felt fine. I decided not to take my daily shot of Symprove as I had figured out quite quickly the day before, that it was causing the problem. I went about my day with no bother and S and I even went out for dinner. After finishing my main meal and 2 glasses of wine, my stomach started to churn*.  I must stress that this is pretty common for me but there was something about the punching motion that was all too familiar. We left pretty sharpish and were back at my flat within no time at all. Sitting on the sofa having opened another bottle of wine, I tried to forget about the rumbling motion in my tummy. But the churning got more and more intense. I was flat out on the sofa, having stomach pains that I have never felt before; similar to those of the day before but this time they were heightened. I felt hot, sweaty and curled up into a ball. This lasted for about 30 minutes before I had to rush to the loo and well, you know the rest. The following day I was so scared of what might happen that I didn’t eat for the whole day (for those who know me well – this is very odd behaviour).

I thought it was really important to share my findings of Symprove. I’m sure that it is helping a lot of people with their digestive troubles but, for me, it was just too much. I have come to realise that, maybe, there is no immediate cure for me and I should perhaps stop eagerly awaiting this. Like I said, I feel I’ve got to a good place; and yes, although I have bad days and hate the fact that I cannot drop into any restaurant of my choosing, I’m managing, so why rock the boat?

*Note – I had not drunk for the whole week up to taking Symprove. Saturday was the first day of drinking alcohol and only 2 glasses of wine were consumed. On the Symprove website, it states that although alcohol can have a negative effect on gut bacteria, it does not say that you cannot drink alcohol. It merely states that you shouldn’t take it for a few hours after taking Symprove.

To learn more about Symprove, visit www.symprove.com

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Gustos – George St, New Town

  • low FODMAP Edinburgh rating: 5/10
  • What I ate: “Garganelli Arrabiata” – gluten-free pasta with tomato, chilli, mozzarella, fresh basil & pepperoni. Followed by, pistachio and chocolate ice cream

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I should start by highlighting that pepperoni is not necessarily low FODMAP. And yes, I knew this, but sometimes you just can’t resist the things you want (within moderation).

I recently visited Gustos when my family and friends were up for a long weekend. Our friends have twins aged 10 and so we wanted to find a restaurant that was not only close to where they were staying but offered a wide selection of food which could accommodate their desire for pizza as well as catering for my needs. Gustos menu is quite vast and they have a nice mix; from meat and seafood to risottos, pizzas and pasta.

I opted for the “Garganelli Arrabiata” with gluten-free pasta and ensured that this would be cooked without onion or garlic. The waitress was very attentive and even brought an allergen list to the table so that I could check what was in each dish. Unfortunately I am yet to find an allergen menu that shows onion or garlic as an ingredient to avoid, it’s always the same; ‘lactose’, ‘gluten’, ‘eggs’ etc. However, the fact that restaurants are now producing these lists and taking the time to read through the menu with you, is a very positive step in the right direction.

My pasta was absolutely lovely (although quite spicy) and I savoured every mouthful. My only criticism would be that I ate it too quickly and could have eaten more. However, this is a classic example of being greedy and over-eating. On the bright side, it saved space for dessert!

I would definitely recommend Gustos to those who are gluten-free. Although I did not try one of the “main” meals, I would hazard a guess that the meat is pre-marinated and therefore hard to adapt for low FODMAP needs. But, you’ll never know, until you ask!

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The Wee Restaurant – Frederick St, New Town

  • low FODMAP Edinburgh rating: 3/10
  • What I ate: flat iron steak, sauteed potatoes and spinach
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Yes I know, you just look at that picture and know this sauce is not low FODMAP….

My colleagues and I took clients to The Wee Restaurant earlier this week. It’s recently opened on Edinburgh’s Frederick Street and we were keen to see what it was like. On entering the room, we were greeted with fantastic smells, smart decor and friendly staff. So far, so good.

After starting the meal with a delicious bottle of white Rioja, I was confident that the rest of the meal would be a success (maybe the wine went to my head). Having looked at the menu prior to our visit, I went with no illusion that the food options were going to be low FODMAP. The dishes were quite fancy (including food I’d never even heard of!) and appeared to be complemented with rich sauces and flavouring. The one dish I knew would be okay was the steak. Even within the company of family and friends, I still get embarrassed about pulling menus apart and asking my usual 20 questions, so you can imagine this is heightened when in the presence of clients.

As it was lunchtime, I went for the “lunchtime special” of flat iron steak with sautéed potato and spinach. I was torn between that or the mackerel salad and was told both could be adapted to suit my low FODMAP needs, with a special effort to exclude garlic or onions.

When the food arrived, I was surprised at how small the portions were. I believe my colleague had about 1 baby potato on his plate along with a small helping of mackerel. Granted, this was the lunchtime menu however the dishes were not cheap.

As soon as I had the first mouthful of my steak, the taste of garlic filled my mouth and overpowered my senses. Having not eaten it for so long, my sense of smell and taste has intensified. As I already felt uncomfortable having asked so many questions of the waitress in front of people that I did not know that well, there was no way that I wanted to complain. Silly, I know. As a result, begrudgingly, I ate the majority of my food. I cannot begin to explain how the taste of garlic stayed in my mouth for the rest of that day, up until I went to bed, and it was awful. It’s so bizarre how your body gets used to something and when that’s stripped from your diet for a prolonged period of time, you can really notice the difference.

On reflection, I wish that I had said something to the staff as I should not have had to eat something that I was intolerant of. If I had said I had a peanut allergy, I’m sure they would have taken my request a lot more seriously and bent over backwards to ensure it was kept off my plate. This is one of the common struggles that low FODMAP and IBS sufferers have when not in control of what they are eating: you place a lot of trust in those who are serving you.

Now don’t get me wrong, my fellow diners could not sing The Wee Restaurant’s praises any louder – fantastic wine and great quality food. The only negative that we had was the portion sizes, however my colleague referred to her dessert as being one of the best she’d had in a long time and if she was not in the presence of colleagues, she would have “licked the bowl”. Now, that’s a compliment.

For those who are on the low FODMAP diet, I would not recommend The Wee Restaurant. However, if you do not suffer from IBS and the need to restrict your diet, The Wee Restaurant has plenty to offer.

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Smoke Stack – Broughton St

  • low FODMAP Edinburgh rating: 6/10
  • What I ate: salmon fillet with olive tapenade butter and crushed potatoes

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I recently went for a client lunch at Smoke Stack on Edinburgh’s Broughton Street. Having been once before, I was aware of what the menu had to offer (along with staring at it repeatedly before my trip – as always). On my previous visit, I did in fact have the same meal. Having spoken with the waitress, I was aware that this particular dish did not include any garlic or onions. The only aspect of the dish which I was slightly concerned about was the olive tapenade, however this turned out to be absolutely fine and totally delicious.

On my second visit to Smoke Stack, I went with the intention to try something different, opting for the cajun chicken salad. I assumed that this would be an easy low FODMAP option however the waitress informed me that the chicken was marinated in garlic prior to cooking, so was automatically ruled out. In that moment, feeling under pressure to make a decision, I reverted back to the salmon dish – if it’s not broke….

Smoke stack offer a great, varied menu along with a lunchtime “express” menu for lighter, cheaper alternatives. Now that I’ve found this restaurant, that is only a short distance from work, I have a feeling I will be visiting more often. Although there are not that many low FODMAP options, the Asian beef salad has definitely caught my eye and I will be trying that on my next visit.

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