Personal Journey: Gluten-free is easy going in Scotland's north

Lemon cake in tiny Braemar.
Lemon cake in tiny Braemar. (KATE WUNNER)
Posted: August 26, 2013

With a newly diagnosed gluten allergy, I had no idea how I would manage on a gluten-free diet during a recent visit to Scotland. While Edinburgh and Glasgow have fine restaurants and a vibrant ethnic food scene, tourists traveling north often have to rely on the familiar comfort foods. But fish and chips, meat pies, and scones were no longer an option for me. Surprisingly, this proved to be no hardship.

Scotland has embraced gluten-free dining with a capital GF. Our first surprise was being welcomed at the home of friends with hot, buttered GF toast. My friend Lola explained that most supermarkets have a section of well-stocked aisles that are labeled "Free From." There you could find almost anything free from gluten, dairy, nuts, or soy. And as we discovered, gluten-free options are plentiful, and willingly provided, from the smallest roadside cafes to the most luxurious country house hotels.

Traveling north, we were amazed to find Café Riala, a modest cafe on the main road to the Highlands, offering delicious homemade GF soups and fresh salads. On arrival at the upscale Culloden House Hotel outside Inverness, we were served tea and shortbread. Weeks before, I had indicated on the online reservations site that I was on a GF diet. This resulted, almost two months later, in our starched and bow-tied waiter serving our first afternoon tea with two china plates of shortbread, saying, "This one, madam, is gluten-free." At dinner that night, the chef invited me to choose whatever I wanted from the menu, promising to adapt it to gluten-free. My roasted halibut with braised fennel came with a delicious GF lemon sauce.

At our next two hotels, the Dornoch Castle in Sutherland, and Kinloch House in Perthshire, GF breads and rolls were always available, and chefs were prepared to adapt their menus to an amazing degree. There was no suggestion that requesting GF was a burden, or an annoyance, or anything out of the ordinary. Indeed, the hotels seemed to take a pride in being able to provide the same enjoyment in GF eating as in their regular menu.

Perhaps the most surprising thing was the availability of GF menus in the little village cafes and coffee shops. Highland villages like Braemar and Crief are tiny places, less than a five-minute drive end to end. And yet in both, we found coffee shops with delicious GF options. Taste, a small, contemporary, coffee shop in Braemar, offered several soups, salads, and lunchtime main courses. The highlight, however, was a GF iced lemon cake that tasted just like regular sponge cake. Delicious! The Red Squirrel Café in Crief, another small, cozy place usually packed with locals, also offered GF main courses, soups, salads, and desserts.

It's good to know that anyone traveling to Scotland's glens on a GF diet can look forward to some delicious fare.


Kate Wunner writes from Berwyn.


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