Sant Yago, Southsea

As I get older I find that organising a night out with friends is becoming more and more difficult. We no longer have the time that we once had. Children, work and other commitments invariably get in the way. So I was lucky to spend an evening last weekend with some of my favourite people.

After a long and somewhat bizarre WhatsApp group chat we eventually settled on a date and a cuisine that we fancied. Our faithful group leader booked a table at Sant Yago in Southsea, which is on the south coast on Portsea Island. Sant Yago is a tapas restaurant and cocktail bar, located in one of the trendier areas of Southsea. I love tapas, and having spent several years visiting family in Spain, I am quite comfortable with Spanish food and generally know what to avoid. Regardless, I also like to forewarn an establishment that feeding me can be a challenge, so I decided to contact Sant Yago well in advance of our visit.

I sent a message explaining my many allergies and asked if they had an allergy menu that they could send me. And that was that. I heard nothing more and then forgot to chase up a reply.

On the day, my friends asked if I’d managed to speak to the restaurant about my allergies, and when I told them I’d not had a reply we all thought the restaurant had not seen my message.

When we got to the restaurant we were welcomed to our table and while we were ordering drinks, the server asked who in the party had the allergies. I was gobsmacked. They had seen my message after all. Not only that, they’d written me a list of everything on the menu that I could have. Double gobsmacked!

The list was extremely helpful, but I was surprised that dishes were missing that I would expect to be ok. Bread, for example. Also, there was no chorizo on the list, which in my view is a staple tapas ingredient and Mr Allergy and I virtually live on it at home. The slow cooked rib meat was also missing from my special menu, which was rather disappointing as it sounded amazing.

The other disappointing thing was that the menu advertised on the website was not the menu being offered in the restaurant. Some dishes were still offered, but others had been swapped for new dishes. This meant no chorizo in pear cider, braised pig cheeks or venison stew. I’d particularly been looking forward to the chorizo in pear cider as I’d eaten it here once before and it was divine.

I spoke to the server about my list and questioned why some things were missing. The rib meat and chorizo and chicken skewers apparently contained dairy. Now I know that some chorizo recipes do contain a bit of milk, but on the whole it’s such a small amount that it wouldn’t hurt. The bread was bought in, so they couldn’t guarantee it didn’t contain nuts. I said that as long as nuts aren’t part of the recipe, I’m happy to eat it (otherwise I’d have to avoid most foods made in a factory or environment where there might be nuts), but they were really nervous and not willing to let me try. I’m pleased that they took my allergies seriously, as many establishments don’t, and I understand that they have to manage their risks as they see fit. The last thing they would want is to serve someone potentially fatal food. But when an item on a menu may contain an allergen because of the environment where it is made, and not because it is in the recipe, I think the choice should rest with the diner.

I also wondered if one of the dishes ought to have been on my list. The steak skewer says it is served with pesto, which usually contains nuts and dairy. There was another steak dish that I wanted to try, so I didn’t ask about the skewers, but I can only imagine they wouldn’t have served the pesto.

I chose the pork crackling, sweet potato stack, potatoes in tomato sauce, bavette steak and pork belly from my list to share with Mr Allergy. He also ordered the slow cooked rib meat, chicken and chorizo skewers and mixed bread for himself. When my dishes came out, they had been specially prepared, which is very reassuring.

I have to admit that I was a bit naughty and tried a bit of Mr Allergy’s bread with balsamic vinegar dip. It was a risk I was happy to take, and I was armed with two epipens which my Navy medic friend was prepared to use.

The food was very good, in particular the pork belly and sweet potato stack. My only criticism about the food is that it wasn’t overly Spanish; it seems to take the idea of small dishes from tapas but then diverts into different cuisines. The service was excellent; attentive, professional and very friendly. I would definitely recommend this restaurant. If I was looking for traditional Spanish food I’d go to Nicholson’s on Albert Road in Southsea, but otherwise I would be very happy to go back to Sant Yago. J

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No bananas here

Last week I wrote about how to cope when you have allergies and a subsequent medical issue requires you to restrict your diet even further. This go me thinking what about when you have allergies, but you just really don’t like something that you’re not allergic to?

Sprouts and Marmite are the really obvious foods here. Some people really hate them, and that’s fine, people are entitled to not like something. I personally love them. But if your diet is already massively restricted because you’re allergic to major food groups, is it ok to refuse to eat something just because you don’t like it?

There are things I don’t particularly like: tomatoes, bananas, cucumber, ketchup/brown sauce, fatty bacon. I’m sure there are more. I don’t mind tomato based foods such as chilli or bolognese, but I won’t eat a raw tomato; the seeds are sloppy and the feeling when you bite through the skin makes my teeth feel funny. Likewise with bananas, I’ll eat banana flavoured things like banana cake or those squishy foam sweets you get in pick n mix, but an actual banana is horrid. The texture is just weird and claggy in your mouth. I’ll eat cucumber if it’s given to me, but I don’t like it, unless served in a duck wrap with hoisin sauce. I’ve never liked ketchups or the sauce you get in takeaway burgers, it’s just too sweet and covers up the flavour of the beef. And bacon fat should either be crispy and rendered down or cut off. Limp soggy bacon with stringy white fat is really unpleasant and it makes me gag just thinking about it.

When I go to a restaurant or cafe to eat I’m limited to maybe one or two things on a menu, but if those one or two things happen to include cherry tomatoes for example, is it right to ask for the dish without them? It makes for a very drawn-out conversation. First off I have to explain my allergies. Then I have to ask for the dish without the tomatoes. This confuses people, they ask if I’m allergic to them. I answer, no, I just don’t like them. Sometimes I’ve pretended I am allergic to them just to make things easier.

I think there is a perception that I’m a fussy eater, which I’m not. I love food, it’s just that certain foods don’t like me. The fact that there are a handful of foods that I don’t like doesn’t make me fussy. If I didn’t have the allergies I’d have many more options and would be able to make food choices like any other person.

While writing this blog it did make me wonder about people that choose a restricted diet such as a vegetarian or vegan diet, and restrict themselves further by not liking a particular food. Does this make them a fussy eater? No. They have a belief or health reason and are entitled to make those choices. What about someone who has a food phobia? I used to work with someone that only ate cheese and chips or cheese sandwiches. Some might say that’s fussy. I say it’s a psychological issue and out of their control.

My final thoughts on this are that, above all, people should have choice. We all need food to survive, but we spend our entire lives eating to survive and should be able to enjoy it, regardless of what allergies, beliefs or phobias we might have.

As always I’m interested to hear from readers that have experienced similar issues and how you deal with it. Please do leave a comment and let me know what you think.

What happens during an allergic reaction?

I was unlucky enough to have an allergic reaction yesterday. I have no idea what caused it. I ordered take away from the usual Indian restaurant and had the same dishes as usual. I realised something was wrong about five minutes after finishing my meal, which got me thinking…….

No two allergic reactions are ever the same, and they vary based on the severity of the allergy and the amount of allergen the person is exposed to. I guess they also vary from person to person as everybody’s allergy will be different. For example my brother, Allergy Boy, tends to have bad eczema after eating something he’s allergic to, whereas I tend to have a more anaphylactic style reaction (although once when he was a baby he touched a raw egg and swelled up like a red ballon. Not good).

Dust and pollen allergies usually affect the eyes and nose, and anyone that has suffered from hay fever will recognise the symptoms. Asthmatics may also get wheezy with these allergens, and may need to use their ventolin (blue) inhaler.

Allergies to animal fur and feathers can present themselves in a similar way to dust and pollen allergies, but they can also cause anaphylaxis. One of the most serious reactions I ever had was to dog fur one Halloween. I was at a house party when someone knocked a bowl of crisps onto the rug, where a very hairy dog had been sitting. I helped clean up, and almost immediately my throat started swelling, my nose began to run and I couldn’t breathe properly. My friends (still dressed in their Halloween costumes) took me to A&E where I was put on a trolley in the corridor and left there for four hours. By the time I finally saw somebody, most of the symptoms had died down. I think I finally got home at about 6am, and slept for the rest of the day.

Nearly every food allergy I’ve ever experienced has started with what I can only describe as a funny taste in my mouth. It’s like a tingling sensation that also tastes weird. As soon as I get this taste, I take an antihistamine tablet. Sometimes this will knock it on the head early and the taste will disappear with no other symptoms. If I haven’t got to it early enough or I’ve consumed too much of the allergen, the following will often happen:

  • Swelling/lumps in the throat
  • Runny nose and sneezing
  • Swelling of lips
  • Lumps under the skin, starting at the hairline and gradually spreading around my head. Sometimes I’ll also get these on my arms, back, stomach and chest.
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen face and eyes on very severe occasions.

Last night I had everything apart from the swollen face, although I did have lumps under my nose, which was fairly unpleasant.

When I have an allergic reaction I generally use cetirizine hydrochloride to treat it. I don’t know how many tablets should be taken as a recommended dose, but I ended up taking four yesterday. In addition I have Fexofenadine, a daily antihistamine, which can be taken at the same time as the cetirizine hydrochloride. I also carry an Epipen for very severe reactions. Luckily I’ve never had to take my Epipen, as usually the combination of antihistamines does the trick (which is good news, as all four of the Epipens I found in my handbags were out of date!). Apparently I should have taken the Epipen the night I ended up at A&E, but I was only told this when I finally got to see a doctor.

In addition to medication, drinking lots of water can help flush it through. Sucking on ice lollies or ice cream can also help to soothe the soreness of the throat and reduce the swelling.

The day after an allergic reaction I often feel extremely wiped out. The allergic reaction attacks the body, so I sometimes have flu like aches and shivers and am drowsy from the antihistamine. If my throat has swollen during the reaction I will have a sore throat that sometimes lasts a couple of days.

Allergic reactions aren’t always visible to other people, so if someone tells you they’re having an allergic reaction, ask them what medication they have in their bag, find it for them if they need to you to and get them a glass of water. If they are having trouble breathing and they have an Epipen, use it. The instructions will be on the packaging, but it should be noted that once an Epipen has been administered to a person they should attend A&E. Allergic reactions can be deadly and can come on very quickly, so the most important thing is to act quickly and keep calm.

So, that’s what happens when I have a reaction, hopefully this might be of some use, but fingers crossed you’re never in the situation where you’re either having a reaction or with somebody that is.