Eating Out with Food Allergies in Bratislava and Vienna
Travelling with food allergies can be problematic, so it's best to be prepared. On tour with Elmbridge Ladies Choir www.surreymusic.org to Bratislava in Slovakia, our group leader had thoughtfully provided cards for anyone with a food allergy, so Ray and I had cards explaining our dietary requirements in Slovakian for our trip to Bratislava and in German for the Vienna leg. These proved invaluable when we dined out on our own as we could simply show them to our server. A simple effective idea we will be using from now on.
It was our first time at the new Queen's Terminal (Terminal 2) at Heathrow Airport, London, but as it was around 4.45am there was nothing open. We admired Heston Blumenthal's The Perfectionists' Cafe www.theperfectionistscafe.com which we'd heard so much about with its wood-fired pizza oven (not operational this early in the morning) and the Nitro Ice Cream Parlour with its liquid nitrogen-fuelled machine. We'll have to go back and try them out.
Fortunately Leon www.leonrestaurants.co.uk was open and ready for business so we enjoyed a reviving cup of tea and I indulged in a gluten free cake. They served a variety of breakfast options such as poached egg pots with truffled gruyere - all wheat and gluten free. The menu has symbols for wheat free, dairy free and so on which makes life easier as you don't have to go into a big explanation.
Once in Bratislava, a small pretty town reminiscent of Prague on a much smaller scale, we came across a large thriving book shop www.martinus.sk with an interesting English book section and cafe. This reminded us of what was Borders - sadly gone now like many others in the UK.
We wandered the streets looking for somewhere to eat before choosing Cafe Milenium www.mileniumcafe.sk in the centre of Bratislava SNP Square 3 opposite the main post office. Bizarrely, for us, the restaurant had a smoking section at the back of the restaurant and played English pop music. We showed the cards outlining our dietary requirements (gluten free and dairy free). The waiting staff were helpful pointing out that the mayonnaise served in the restaurant contained milk. I had grilled salmon with English vegetables and chips, while Ray had a Milenium burger and chips (Not a preference of his, but a safeish choice)
After choir rehearsal which took place in the lobby of our hotel Austria Trend Hotel www.austria-trend.at/Hotel-Bratislava/en/ much to the delight of other hotel guests who took pictures. Both the Elmbridge Ladies Choir and our sister mixed choir Elmbridge Choir then walked to the 17th century Jesuit Church in Franciscan Square, next door to the Old Town Hall. It was reassuring to see both choirs listed on the poster outside the church advertising that evening's concert as part of the International Festival of Advent and Christmas Music. Our choirs, the only ones from the UK, were taking part alongside 11 others from countries including Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania and South Africa.
It was rewarding to listen to all the other choirs, each with their own distinctive style, appearance and repertoire.
Dinner had been arranged at Zichy Cafe & Restaurant www.carec-zichy.sk in Bratislava which did an excellent job, not only catering for over 100 people but also taking care of our food allergies. For starters, we enjoyed vegetable soup followed by chicken with potatoes and salad. During our stay we noticed that typical Slovakian cuisine tends to be filling soups, casseroles and potatoes to keep you warm!
Breakfast at the Austria Trend Hotel was in the form of a buffet, which always makes life easier as you can see at a glance what you can eat. The buffet comprised an array of cold meats, cheese and fruits, as well as a choice of hot dishes, although we found the bacon rather too streaky. Gluten free bread was available on request, as well as lactose free milk and yogurt. Soya milk was readily available in a jug on the buffet, although we had to ask for a couple of refills.
A tour had been arranged for both choirs to the Red Stone Castle and Trnava City. Red Stone Castle www.hradcervenykamen.sk is one of the best preserved Slovak castles. We were shown over 20 rooms of the castle palace beautifully furnished including the library, chapel and weapons room. The museum houses over 13,000 objects, some of which are highly unusual like this bed.
Lunch was at Hotel Phoenix in Trnava City www.hotelphoenix.sk where they did a sterling job identifying everyone who had food allergies - gluten free, dairy free, vegan, vegetarian. We enjoyed a rice noodle soup to start with followed by chicken, potatoes and vegetables with fruit salad as dessert.
Back in Bratislava, we changed quickly into our choir costume of black coat, red hat, scarf and gloves to walk down to the Christmas Market where we would be performing. I envisaged standing on the pavement outside the church, so I was astonished to find we were going to perform on a proper stage with heating and lighting! As we took our positions, Bratislava's answer to Pavarotti sang some carols so we became his impromptu backing singers and joined in with "Silent Night".
After our repertoire of nine cheerful Christmas songs, Ray led a small group of us to a restaurant he had researched with the hotel reception staff - Zylinder Cafe and Restaurant www.zylinder.sk situated on Hviezdoslav Square. As we entered, grateful for the warmth, the sound of live piano music greeted us. It was an informal restaurant serving a combintation of Austro-Hungarian cuisine. After showing my card telling the serving staff I was gluten free in Alovakian, they confirmed I could have Hungarian Goulash (9.90 euros) with no bread dumplings while Ray had the same with the dumplings. It was exceptional with a strong meat taste - just the job after standing around in the cold (even though the stage purported to be heated!)
Next day the choir rehearsed at 8am in the Mirror Hall of the Primatial Palace, Primatial Square. This was followed by our competition performance at 9.18am, a nerve-wracking experience as the panel of judges was seated in front of us behind tables. They studied us closely and made copious notes during our repertoire.
That evening we collected in the main square at Bratislava to wait for the results of the choir competition. Elmbridge Choic, our sister choir, won a 'silver' in their category. Elmbridge Ladies Choir was presented with a 'bronze' - and this was the first time we had entered a competition. Fantastic news! We all jumped up and down with excitement and enjoyed a few Gluviens from a market stall. The overall winner was St Cyprian's Choir from South Africa's St Cyprian's School which also won several other prizes.
We were pleased with our results and went to celebrate at the choirs' Christmas party on board the Admiral Tegetthoff boat www.ddsg-blue-danube.at/eng/ships_ms_admiral_tegetthoff.php as it cruised down the Blue Danube. On arrival at the boat, we were given a warming Gluvien with berries. The boat, on three levels, was spectacular. Downstairs was a seating area while upstairs was the restaurant and two bars. The top deck was open providing excellent views although very much on the cold side! A magnificent buffet had been laid out, although Ray and I had been specially catered for, as most of the dishes had wheat flour or dairy in them. For starters it was asparagus, olives and gluten free bread; baked potatoes and roasted aubergines for main course and fruit salad as dessert. Local music entertainment was provided and there was lots of dancing and celebrations including a conga!
Next day some of our party returned to the UK, but we had decided to join the tour to Vienna and we were so pleased we did. Vienna is breathtaking and spectacular. Ray was pleased as he could view some of the art nouveau work by Otto Wagner, who designed a special sunflower motif, which can be seen all over Vienna. As we were too early to check into the hotel, the guide took our coach on the ring road around Vienna giving us a preview of the following day's tour.
Once we had checked in, it wasn't long before we found ourselves at St Stephen's Cathedral via the excellent metro underground system. We chanced upon a Lebanese restaurant Turkis City www.tuerkis.at where Ray had lamb skewer with rice on flatbread (13.50 euros). We showed our cards to the server about being gluten free and dairy free. When he asked Ray what he would like to drink, he suggested with a grin "a glass of milk"? I enjoyed Tavok Sis marinated grilled chicken skewer garnished with rice, tomatoes and grilled peppers (11.50 euros).
Our hotel was the Austria Trend Hotel Ananas www.austria-trend.at/Hotel-Ananas/en a very convenient location near a metro stop. Breakfast was similar to the hotel in Bratislava (they are in the same chain). Alpro soya milk www.alpro.com was provided in little packets which was very convenient and portable - why can't we get these in the UK? The gluten free bread, curiously, was presented wrapped in cellophone as though it had been heated up.
Our time was short in Vienna, but we did manage to visit the Klimt exhibition in Belvedere www.belvedere.at It was an adventure getting there via underground and tram, but great fun!
Enjoying a cup of tea in the cafe, Ray chanced upon the answer to a question that has long puzzled him. Why in Europe is the teapot often only filled half-way? The waiter explained that the teapot is filled automatically from a dispenser in the kitchen which is connected to the cafe's computer and dispenses only enough water for one cup or mug. So it only fills the teapot half way. But if you use it a second time to fill the teapot up, the system charges you for a second pot of tea. So, no second cup of tea from the pot. What a bombshell!
That evening we asked our hotel for restaurant recommendations and they referred us to Newpoint www.newpointlounge.at where I opted for cashew chicken ("with your own level of severity" as written on the menu) and Ray chose Bombay duck on bamboo shoots and rice with teriyaki sauce.
On our last morning we admired Otto Wagner's work at the Karlsplatz underground station and visited the wonderful Secession an art nouveau style building designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich in 1897/8 as an exhibition gallery. it features the Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt.
We also visited the exterior of Parliament Building, on the Ringstrasse, an astonishingly beautiful building, highlighted by an impressive fountain at the front.
For our last meal in Vienna, we found Xcelsior Caffe Bar, near the museums, a typical Australian konditorei, rather better than some of the indifferent town centre ones www.xcelsior.at
Here Ray ordered spaghetti with chicken and olives (5.90 euros) and I enjoyed risotto with chicken and vegetables (8.90 euros) helped with the German version of our allergen cards.
We loved Vienna and will be back. Watch this space!