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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Tried and tested: Livia’s Kitchen Raw Cookie Dough Nugglets

Shopping in my local Tesco I found this new treat from Livia’s Kitchen in the Free From section. Not one to pass new things by, I thought I’d give it a try. I really like the Salted Caramel Raw Millionaire Bites, so I had high hopes for these cookie dough Nugglets.

The serving is a good size for a not-too-naughty perk me up on the commute home, but there is quite a lot of sugar in the recipe (although from good sources including dates, maple syrup and coconut sugar). At £1.50 for 35g it’s quite expensive, but most Free From foods generally are.

The recipe is dairy, egg, nut and gluten free, however it is produced in a factory that handles nuts and eggs.

The packet was a little tricky to enter, as once I’d ripped at the indicated area, I was l left with only a small gap to get into.

Not wanting to let that deter me, I wiggled a finger in and expanded the opening. Having freed the Nugglets from their trapping it was time to taste. They’re a good bite-sized, chocolate-coated morsel, probably about Malteser size. The chocolate coating wasn’t entirely even and didn’t look quite as perfect as on the packaging, but it looked ok. I took a bite.

The filling is very sweet from the dates, with a hint of saltiness from the Himalayan Pink Salt. Although tasty, unfortunately the filling is rather dry and not as squishy as I was expecting from cookie dough – instead it was quite crumbly. On the packaging the chocolate is described as ‘velvety.’ I’ve had more velvety chocolate (Ombar, for example), but it wasn’t bad chocolate.

My verdict is that they’re ok. They’re not terrible, but neither are they my favourite. Will I buy them again? Probably not, especially if given the choice between these and the Millionaire’s Bites. I have a Chocolate Brownie flavour to try next, so watch this space for my next review!

Tried and tested: Swedish Glace Caramel Toffee Cones

Ok, so I promised I would review Swedish Glace’s new Caramel Toffee ice cream cones. Here goes ! (Any excuse to eat ice cream!!)

The recipe is dairy, nut and gluten free, but does contain soy.

As with the strawberry and vanilla cones, once removed from the wrapper, the ice cream looks just like the one in the picture.

Unfortunately the bottom of my cone was missing, but I guess that might happen with any cone, as they can be quite delicate and easily bashed during transport. Luckily there is a thick chocolate coating inside which stopped the drips!

The chocolate topping is the same as the strawberry and vanilla cone so I won’t repeat what I’ve previously said, and instead concentrate on what’s underneath. The ice cream is creamy and rich as expected from Swedish Glace, but the toffee flavour is quite subtle. I think that if I didn’t know it was toffee flavoured I wouldn’t have guessed. The caramel is also quite subtle, possibly because my tastebuds have got used to salted caramel, but the flavour is good and, as with the strawberry sauce, it is generous.

I think personally out of the two I prefer the strawberry, but both are very enjoyable and made a nice change from Tesco’s own brand Free From cones.

I bought another pack recently and I found this new batch to have a more intense toffee flavour, so perhaps I was just unlucky the first time around.

I’ll definitely buy these again, and it’s great to have more choice in a fairly limited market. Thanks Swedish Glace for another good quality product. I look forward to seeing what comes next!

Tried and tested: Swedish Glace vanilla dairy free ice cream sticks

It’s been a while since I posted anything, as I’ve not really tried anything new for a while.

With the recent spell of warm weather, it’s been perfect for ice cream.

I usually buy Tesco’s dairy free ice cream sticks, but finding myself in Sainsbury’s and in need of ice cream I thought I’d give the Swedish Glace ones a go.

They come in a pack of five (compared with Tesco’s three pack), but they are really tiny, like a mini Magnum. Two bites and they’re gone.

The chocolate flavoured coating is a bit too thin and not chocolatey enough for my liking. I like a crisp dark chocolate coating that cracks when you bit into it. This one just sort of melts as soon as it gets anywhere near your mouth.

Once inside though, the vanilla ice cream is fantastic. It’s really creamy and full of a rich vanilla flavour. It’s definitely high quality ice cream. But it’s gone so quickly!

If you’re looking for great ice cream and don’t mind the size, these are probably for you. If you want a decent sized lolly with a good coating of chocolate on mediocre ice cream, go for Tesco’s. If only we had Mercadona supermarket’s own brand Hacendado in the UK. They tick all of my ice cream boxes.

I’ll have the air biryani with a side of O2 bhaji

I went for a curry this evening…..or so I thought. Here’s the story of what happened when I got there.

A group of us were going to belatedly celebrate the new year, and we chose an Indian Restaurant where I’ve eaten many times before and they’ve been really good with my allergies.

When the waiter finally came around, after about an hour of waiting, I gave my order for starter and asked to speak to him about the main because of my allergies. I normally have the lamb lahorei but fancied trying something different. To my astonishment he replied that because I’m allergic to dairy I couldn’t have any curry from the menu as every single one has milk in the sauce base.

I argued my very valid point that I’ve eaten there many times before, and even have written correspondence from the restaurant saying which dishes are suitable. The only thing they could offer was a dry vegetable dish.

This provoked a reaction in me that hasn’t arisen for quite some time, and I’m not proud of it. I was hungry and just wanted to be able eat a nice meal with no problem. So I simply got up, took my coat and bag and left.

I hate it when situations bring this reaction out in me, but I just don’t know what to do. It’s a mixture of frustration, disappointment and shame that once again I’m feeling victimised for having an allergy. So I leave.

I usually come back, feeling slightly sheepish and wondering what was said while I was gone.

This evening I walked out of the door not really sure where I would go. I didn’t really want to get in the car and drive home as I’d miss out on the conversation and fun of a night out with the group. So I did something I’ve never done before. I went into the Indian restaurant next door to see if they could do me a take away (which I thought I could take back into the original restaurant and eat)!! It turns out they couldn’t cater for me either, which really baffles me. I’ve been eating Indian food for 20+ years and I’ve never before experienced an entire menu that I’m allergic to, never mind two menus!

I went back in to the original restaurant and they agreed to make my starter a large portion, so I could have it as a main. It was ok, but not what I wanted.

The restaurant clearly understands about allergies as the waiter knew the difference between allergies, intolerances and people who just don’t like something, so I just don’t get why they do not offer allergy friendly options, particularly when they previously did. I am being discriminated against for being born differently to normal people, and I don’t think this is right. It put a complete downer on my night and that of the people I was with, when it could have been easily resolved. Don’t put the milk in it. Simple.

I feel I should mention the name of the restaurants so other allergy sufferers in the Portsmouth area don’t get caught out. The restaurant we ate at is Massala Room. Interestingly, one of the reviews on their website mentions how well they catered for the reviewer’s Vegan niece. How did they manage this, then, if all the sauces have milk in them? The restaurant next door is Indian Cottage.

I can safely say I won’t be going back any time soon. After all, what’s the point?

Rant over.