Center Parcs | A {Gorgeously} Gluten Free Guide

Also known as the 16 course gluten free lunch. 

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I’ve never been to Center Parcs. As a child, we always went camping in the Lake District, which then turned into caravanning and a few difficult years of canal boating (it’s not for me!) so when I was invited to this lovely event day I was excited but with a tinge of uncertainty as I had no idea what to expect. Thinking about it, I would never have expected Center Parcs  or any similar holiday place to do Gluten Free, or if they did to do it well. My preconceptions were that it would be all microwave chefs and “there isn’t a button for that” servers. Oh how I was wrong.

So when my invitation came in the post, I scanned down, reading… fish and chips, mac and cheese, swordfish. I was like “This can’t be real”. “This sounds too good to be true”. “It will be more of a concept thing” like… “yeah this is what we’d like to do but in reality we’ll stick with bun-less burgers”. My next default thought was “well I’ll take some snacks and it will be fine”.

I jumped on the train and then on the little shuttle bus run by a lovely driver called Bob- who brightened up my day to arrive in the wooded wonderland of Woburn Forest.

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After a wander around the beautiful lake, the supermarket (more on that later) and the grounds. I went for a cheeky sneak peek at the restaurants (you can google them too). I was like nahhhh …. This can’t be that good. A sports bar, an American diner and Strada -which we all know is terrible at GF dining. Yeah there was Starbucks and a Cafe Rouge but I can go there any where.

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I want to be honest about my initial thoughts, and it may come across slightly snobbish but it’s actually just lack of information and knowledge of what was available, as well as a lack of understanding of Centre Parcs actually was. I thought it was going to be like Kids Clubs, and Club Houses with discos and giant fluffy mascots. Thoughts which make me feel nauseous. Which is why I’ve been so excited to write this blog post. 

I arrived at the venue full of excitement and was greeted by the team behind the event and who manage food, beverages and Center Parcs in general, with a glass of champagne! We chatted in a group where I met other bloggers, Loriley from GF Sesh (and founder of #fdbloggers) and Kim from @CoeliacDelight, Lucy and Louise.  We hit it off, and had lots in common, particularly our love for Honest Burger, and a combined  intolerance (haha) for gluten free brownies and fruit salad.

After an introduction from the team on the day, it became very clear to me that Centre Parcs are committed to providing food for all. They completely understand the mindset and concept of what Free From-ers want. We want to be included and want the same as everyone else. All they wanted to do was showcase what they’ve achieved so far and learn from us (the gluten free experts) how they can improve.

We all like to be healthy and I love avocado as much as the next person, but when your on holiday you just want to relax and indulge. After a hard days play, you want to sit back and eat a take-out pizza with your family or gorge on mac and cheese with your friends. There are lighter options available; sandwiches, soup and salads, as well as a fully stocked supermarket where you can make yourself a omelette or buddha bowl. There is nothing stopping you making a light lunch, then going a bit crazy for dinner! {Things might get a little heavy if you choose to stay in the hotel, but you could always prep a little salad on the vanity table right?}. Just chill….you’re on holiday!

Scanning the menu I couldn’t believe how we were actually supposed to eat all this food, but Executive Chef James and his amazing team made us teeny miniature versions of everything, so we could squeeze as much in as possible. There was honestly so much food, I even joined Loriley in adjusting my belt half way through. The flavours of the food were incredible and not once did I think, oh thats a good version, they are all amazing stand-alone meals that would give any gluteney dish a good run for their money.

I did not need my snacks.

Starters

IMG_2313Hot cheese, baby artichoke and spinach dipping pot
Find in: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
The verdict: a very intensely flavoursome dip, perfect for sharing with a whole group.
IMG_1974 1Mac and Cheese
Find in: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
The verdict: oh wow. This was the highlight of the meal and only the second thing I tried. Such a simple dish, but not something most people would make at home. Perfectly comforting and delightfully flavoursome. James even told us, they serve the GF option on all menus but just change the breadcrumb topping for the gluten free menu.
IMG_1977 1Spicy buffalo hot wings with ranch dressing
Find in: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
The verdict: pass the milk! Far too spicy for me. The ranch dressing was the perfect fire blanket.
IMG_1976Huck’s BBQ wings
Find in: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
The verdict: much more to my taste. The BBQ sauce on these were delightfully sticky and deeply flavoursome
IMG_1975 1Nachos with sour cream, guacamole and tomato salsa
Find in:Huck’s American Bar and Grill
The verdict: always a favourite with me but it is surprising that in some many restaurants they’re not gluten free. Why oh why? Another perfect sharing plate for everyone to tuck into.

Main Courses

IMG_1980 1Crispy Pizzas with a wide range of toppings
Find in: the in-lodge dining service (like a take away)- Dining In.
The verdict:they didn’t work as well into mini versions but Eddie (in charge of Food and Beverage) assured us the full size bases were delicious.

IMG_1970 1Mini fish and chips
Find in: Sports Café
The verdict: I think I can speak for everyone when I say these were everyones favourite. Such a delicious, crispy batter and presented so beautifully. James wouldn’t divulge too much of his secrets but told us he makes the batter with Dove Farm flour and Daura Damm beer. Would give any sea-side chippy good competition.
IMG_1979 1Grilled cajun swordfish salad with roasted garlic and lemon dressing
Find in: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
The verdict: A light relief from the super rich foods. Would be perfect for a lunch or if you were feeling some leafy greens! I’ve never had swordfish so it was a brand new experience for me! Would highly recommend if you wanted to try something new.
IMG_1981 1Huck’s Sliders
Find in: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
The verdict: these are actually mini-versions of their Burgers from Huck’s which actually come with Buns! Yey! Very juicy burgers, would love to come back and try the full size!
IMG_1985Mustard-brushed pork loin with mini hasselback potatoes and sour cream 
Find in: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
The verdict: Another group favourite. Now, in all honesty…I would have turned my nose up at this dish if I’d seen it on the menu. I’m convinced I don’t like pork loin or pork belly. But James must be magic as it was absolutely beautiful and I’ll defiantly try to make those potatoes at home.
IMG_1983 IMG_1984Prawn fajita shells
Find in: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
The verdict: Another miniature version, this time of their fajitas. Not a gluten free option normally, but nothing is impossible when James in at the helm. We loved how these little shells were made and even suggested he put them on the menu as a permanent feature!
IMG_1986Grilled Tandoori salmon with mint and coriander yogurt
Find in: Rajinda Pradesh
The verdict: I was getting a bit full now, so I didn’t appreciate them as much as I would have done. Deliciously different, salmon is always a winner for me! And..hello…how cute is that banana leaf!

Dessert

IMG_1987 1Flourless chocolate torte with bourbon cream and raspberry compote
Find in: Huck’s American Bar and Grill
The verdict: Now we all get bored with chocolate brownies but this was actually on another level. That raspberry compote just added a tangy edge.
Ultimate chocolate pancake with cinnamon sugar and vanilla ice cream
Find in: The Pancake House
The verdict: Not great in their miniature size, but Loriley and Kim assured me they were amazing full sized. 
Dutch apple pancake with cinnamon sugar and vanilla ice cream

Find in: The Pancake House
The verdict: Same as above, but the flavour of this one was amazing! Mmmmmm… would make an amazing cheeky brunch!
Mini Daim bar cake with whipped cream
Find in: Sports Café and The Super Market
The verdict: Who doesn’t love daim cake?

Restaurants mentioned | Huck’s American Bar and Grill | Pancake House | Sports Café | Rajinda Pradesh | Dining In |

Parc Market ~ A quick look around the on-site super market~

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Gluten free sausages and burgers | cereal, biscuits, bread and snacks | frozen deserts | dairy free options | greek salad | marshmallow and chocolate dipping sauce | vegetarian options |

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A huge thank you to the team at Centre Parcs for an amazing day. Well done to James and his team for not only making this epic feast but being dedicated to making delicious gluten free food. Read about James’s gluten free experiment here, where he went gluten free for a while to discover just how difficult it can be. Its so nice to see a big company take such care to make everyone feel welcome, relax and enjoy their holiday. They really do understand how much food has an effect on that, and how everyone just wants to eat what they want when they want, with easy to understand menus which are full of choice. They have separate gluten free menus on offer. We did highlight our disappointment that they are named “Gluten-Sensitive”, but they did explain this is a legal thing as there isn’t a separate gluten free kitchen- but that’s more a reflection on the world that we live in rather then their commitment to dealing with cross-contamination. They know that they’re not perfect yet but they’re committed to improving, but I think they’re doing an amazing job.

Have you been to Center Parcs? Have you been to any of these restaurants? Have you avoided Center Parcs because you were worried about the GF options? Let me know in the comments below x

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