It can be sort of terrifying to travel with dietary restrictions. The good news is that it’s so much easier now than it ever was, and it’s getting even better. I spent a semester in London with abundant options and never had to touch gluten, dairy, or soy. Here are my favorite spots: (All of these places are vegan-friendly too, woo!)
Leon: Fast, healthy, and cheap for London. They have lots of variety and everything is delicious. Special shout-out to the completely gluten-free baked goods section (and the cranberry bakewell). This was my go-to place. It’s a chain, so you can find it from Regent Street to the South Bank.
Planet Organic: Heaven in a sweet little store. Also a chain, but I frequented the Torrington Place location. In addition to a well-stocked grocery, they also have a smoothie and hot foods bar, baked goods, tons of prepped lunches to go, AND a fantastic hot drinks selection a la Cafe Gratitude in LA so you know it’s good. It’s kinda pricey but my guess is that if you’ve been living with dietary restrictions for a while, you’re used to it. And this stuff is great so it’s worth it.
Vantra: VEGAN HEAVEN. Also everything is gluten, sugar, GMO, etc. -free. Menu + treats + hot and cold drinks + hot foods self-serve buffet. You sit on tree trunks which is cool but they’re also very heavy (don’t say I didn’t warn you). A great oasis on the always crazy Oxford Street.
The Attendant: Have I mentioned this place before? Probably several times and several more to come. My favorite spot in London and they always have at least one gluten-free baked good PLUS they have almond milk. In the winter, their almond milk porridge is a must. This place is also located underground in a Victorian era toilet and has the friendliest staff, but that’s beside the point. Go here.
Beatroot: Another small chain with great healthy options. They’ve got a salad bar, juices, and prepped snacks if you’re on-the-go. Great option for a quick fix.
Waitrose: Known as a slightly upscale grocery store, though the prices aren’t awful. Their gluten-free section (known in the UK as “Free-From”) is pretty outstanding, with options ranging from proper scones to crumpets to jaffa cakes. Very British and also gluten-free? You’ve gotta go.
Borough Market: A really great London spot. Lots of options here, including:
- Free-From Bakehouse: Oh so many delicious baked good options. So tempting and SO worth it. Look out for them in the area closer to Southwark Cathedral with tents (not the permanent part).
- The Veggie Table: Yummy veggie & vegan burgers w/ the option of having it served with lettuce in place of a bun. Filling and delicious. Find them by the Southwark Cathedral in the line of hot foods vendors.
- Mini Magoo: They make an insane gluten-free granola. Pricey, but such a great treat. Find it near the Free-From Bakehouse.
Other tips and places to check out:
- Mildred’s: Never made it there, but I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about this place.
- Lots of places now offer tea suited for folks with dietary restrictions, but be wary of requesting both gluten-free and dairy-free/vegan. I tried this once and had fruit and sorbet — not really an English tea. The next time I just asked for gluten-free and had a wonderful assortment of pastries at the Montague, even though they weren’t vegan. Kind of a tricky one. (But if you’re cool not going out for tea, get goodies from Waitrose, Planet Organic or the Free-From Bakehouse and stage your own!) If you do go out for tea, be sure to phone in your request a couple of days earlier to be sure they are prepared to accommodate you.
- Cider is widely available at bars. Some, like Princess Louise, even offer specifically gluten-free/organic versions on the menu.
- Check out street food! Most stalls serve ethnic fare and often doesn’t include bread or meat. Popular street-food destinations include Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane Market (my favorite!), and Camden Market.
- Many other grocery stores have small “Free-From” sections, including Marks & Spencer (great salads!) and Sainsbury’s. Waitrose’s just happens to be the largest (though only at their larger locations).
I am more than happy to answer any questions on this, so please don’t hesitate to contact me! firstname.lastname@example.org