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10Dec

This has been a bit of a whirlwind year for me, what with eating out in Copenhagen and Birmingham and now as a roving judge for the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards 2014 which were announced in November at Food Matters Live at London Excel. FreeFrom Eating out Awards 2014 I am a little late with my review due to massive amounts of work and I have also been writing up the main panel sessions from Food Matters Live so watch out for links to those on social media soon.

So what did I think of the Alford Arms?

Being what you might call, a bit of a challenge in the kitchen department, makes eating out a daunting prospect but I can honestly say, my meal out at The Alford Arms blew me away. To discover that they not only won their category, the pub restaurant winner, but also were awarded the overall prize was fantastic. I was very proud having been the sneaky judge on this one.

Well done to The Alford Arms – winner of the first ever FreeFrom Eating Out Awards 2014.

The Alford Arms menu - freefrom nuts, dairy, soya, wheat, celery and tomato

The Alford Arms menu – freefrom nuts, dairy, soya, wheat, celery and tomato

They really did incredibly well, providing me with three choices of starter, main and pudding. Just check out the menu on the right. The chef proved to be more than up for the challenge. I was blown away with the creativity and taste.

This kind of choice is unheard of! Now I had done the usual, phoned a few weeks before, spoken to staff about what I couldn’t eat, been assured that they had a special menu for those with allergies or gluten free diets and that the chef could make that whole menu suitable. I was a bit nervous and not least because I was going in cognito as secret squirrel freefrom eating out judge!

I am quite happy with a very well cooked medium rare steak (which was on the menu) but since I always choose steak as it’s the safest option for me, I decided to go wild and read the rest of the menu.

The only thing crossed off from the special menu was the Wasabi nuts which are gluten free for those coeliacs out there.

They also stood up to the very exacting standards of Mr Whatallergy who is probably more demanding and fussy than I am on my behalf. He’ll eat anything (apart from snails which give him anaphylaxis – I know, we’re a right pair) but he is far more careful and suspicious when we’re eating out.

Everything they said throughout our visit made us feel comfortable, cared for and no trouble at all. They had great processes in place and clearly understood cross contamination and allergens really well.

To find out more about the FreeFrom Eating out Awards click here.

I know what you all really want to know though, what did I get to eat?
So here goes…

This was the starter I chose from a choice of three completely wheat, nut, dairy, soya, celery and tomato free options.

Seared 'Studham' pigeon breast with apple and watercress and elderberry dressing

Seared ‘Studham’ pigeon breast with apple and watercress and elderberry dressing

I haven’t had pigeon before and I loved it. It went really well with the watercress, one of my favourite salads and the elderberry dressing was really fruity and complimented the strong taste of the pigeon.

THIS is what I had for my main. I couldn’t decide what to have so they prepared me the pheasant main but with the sweet potato gnocchi – it was A-MAZE-ING. I can’t even describe it. It was just so delicious, the pheasant was melt in the mouth but I absolutely loved the sweet potato gnocchi.

Local pan fried pheasant breast with confit pheasant leg, sweet potato gnocchi and savoy cabbage

Local pan fried pheasant breast with confit pheasant leg, sweet potato gnocchi and savoy cabbage

By this point I was pretty much full to bursting, but I had a job to do. If the pudding wasn’t just going to be a choice of fruit salad or fruit salad, I was going to have it.

Poached pear with muscat soaked raisins

Poached pear with muscat soaked raisins

The perfect end to a fantastic evening out, this pudding was just my thing. I love a poached pear and the addition of muscat really brought the dish alive. They also had a very interesting selection of sorbet but I thought I’d try them next time, because I am most definitely going back.

I was so impressed. Not just with the food, the chef clearly had a real passion for creating healthy, simple but creative freefrom food, but all the staff. Everyone from the first moment we walked in was welcoming. They were expecting us, we had our own waitress for the evening who knew what was going on and if she didn’t, she immediately asked the manager.

I was also impressed with the manager who went through each dish with me, checking that each component of each dish would be safe for me.

This place is a gem, and so well worth the visit.
And the ultimate test? Did I get ill when I left? Because that is often what happens. If I don’t get instant swelling and warning signals that there is a large trace of allergen, I can begin to feel unwell on the journey home and have a horrendous night’s sleep being ill and waking with a face that’s been burnt in an oven. The answer is NO. I was absolutely fine, if a little over-full but I can’t blame them for that! I was the piggy that had all three courses.

And this meal so nearly didn’t take place, as I popped what I thought was a safe prawn cracker into my mouth earlier in the day and knew instantly that it contained milk. Not good! Not good at all! Anti histamines, and sitting very calmly with lots of hot tea and drinking and drinking and I got over that one with nothing more than a mild asthma attack and itching lips and some horrendous swollen hives on my neck and chest. I had spat out the cracker without hardly biting into it but it still gave me a mild reaction! Warning – do not eat Sainsbury’s prawn crackers if you have a dairy allergy – however they are amazingly egg free for those who can’t eat eggs. I managed to hide the horrendous rash with a scarf and no one was any the wiser.

But I digress. This blog is about The Alford Arms, who are now my favourite restaurant and only up the road in Berkhamsted in a tiny little village up in the hills called Frithsden.

To find out more visit: www.alfordarmsfrithsden.co.uk/. If you are going, do phone ahead and tell them what you can’t eat so they can prepare and plan something really special.

It was so lovely to see them get the award on the night because when I was serving one of their staff with gluten free beer earlier on at at Awards ceremony (I knew it was them, I was reading badges cos I’m nosy like that), one of them was feeling very despondent, having seen the badges of the likes of Pizza Express and Costa he was quite sure they hadn’t done very well. I had to hide my smile because I knew it was well worth their visit ;o)

So whose up for a meal at The Alford Arms with me? Cos I’m going for my birthday treat :)

Watch out for my review of the most amazing hotel in the Lake District. I also reviewed Ravenstone Manor in the FreeFrom Eating out Awards, based in Bassenthwaite in the most beautiful quiet spot overlooking the lake, this hotel really impressed me, mainly because they have the most amazing chef there, Chris Bridges, thank you! They won the B&Bs and Guest Houses section of the awards and very well deserved too – not only did they cater for me on one night, they had me for a whole week! You’ll have to wait until I have time to write this one up, but it’s worth the wait, it’s a goodun and well worth a holiday if anyone is visiting the lakes. They catered for me without any problems, are completely gluten free and managed to be freefrom all my other allergens too. Watch this space…

  

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