last night, phil and i joined some friends at giraffe for dinner in the southbank, and upon opening the menu i knew i was faced with that constant dilemma people with food allergies face: i'd have to order an item with alterations. i hate - HATE - doing this. even if i was to say that my reason for making these changes was because i was allergic, i'd still get the occasional dirty look from the server, simply because they don't believe you half the time.
it's not as though i WANT to make life difficult. it's not like i am dying to make their menu completely different. i wish i could just order something and leave it at that, not have to say "but..." and continue on my complex list of questions. at giraffe, for example, i noticed a tasty looking vegetarian burrito on the menu. it said it would be covered in melted cheddar (so, really more of an enchilada, but i won't fault a british chain for that...) and i asked the waitress if i could have it without cheese. she said they could make it without the cheese on top, but they couldn't remove the cheese in the middle. clearly not freshly made then. i ended up ordering the goat's cheese flatbread pizza, with no mozz or parmesan. and my friend nick kept adding "she's allergic, so..." -- sweet nick. the pizza was HUGE and tasty, with mushrooms and spinach on top. and the servers were very accommodating, accidentally bringing out a normal pizza to begin with, then immediately taking it away and replacing it quickly with the goat's-cheese-only version.
yes, it can be a real hassle being "that girl" who has to complicate things and hold up the rest of the table with her weird order. but i'd rather do that than never go out to eat. more often than not, restaurants are willing to oblige. in fact, some will even go the extra mile. phil and i had a really special dinner a few months ago at a very posh place in chelsea called rasoi. it was probably the best indian meal i've ever had, and there was no curry on the menu. the waiter took such good care of us, he went through the menu with me while i explained my allergies and said they could tailor-make my meal. i can't remember every detail of my order, but i do know that he said they'd make my mash with coconut milk instead of regular. it's touches like that that will bring customers back. obviously i'd like to eat there more often but i'd probably be living on the street if i did. but i'll definitely recommend it to friends and family, and i'll hopefully dine there again one day.
so i guess my point is... don't be ashamed to change up your order. you may get a couple of glares, and may even have to send back what is brought out to you at first, but that shouldn't throw you off what could be a wonderful night out. focus on who you're with and stay positive, rather than letting your allergies get you down. that's what i've learned anyway :)
image: my dad's kitchen table, taken by phil in august 2009