How rude! I go and move away from my home of 8 years near Angel, and they only go and open a blooming gluten free bakery on my old doorstep – in fact opposite beautiful Islington Town Hall where I married my Gluten Eating Husband! Over a year later, I finally managed to get back to town and test out their wares.
Their opening was long-delayed and steeped in mystery. Coeliacs across the twitterverse (who make it their business to know EVERYONE gluten free EVER) had no idea who the mysterious Romeo was, much less how he came to have a shiny new shop so near the middle of London. A bit of google digging reveals he is a local entrepreneur, not a ‘freefrompreneur‘ in the truest sense, but a professional seeking to fill the growing gap in the market he saw in his local (wheaty) bakery. So let’s cut to the chase – are they any cop, and why have we heard so little about them?
The modern, tasteful (if a little green) café-cum-shop wasn’t exactly buzzing when I trapsed in on a Wednesday afternoon, I queued behind two lovely old ladies who were excited about the tempting varieties of fresh bread on display, and sat myself next to two much younger ladies who were discussing juice-cleansing. I inwardly rolled my eyes and set about demolishing an incredibly good wedge of carrot cake. It was nearly a fiver. I focussed on enjoying it EVEN MORE to justify the price. Lucky it was that good, because it worked out at about £1 per minute of munching!
There is a good selection of cakes, including some vegan and dairy free options (although considering the bakery caters exclusively to one type of special diet I didn’t see much evidence of contamination controls for other special diets on the open display), and a brunch-ish menu offering hearty gluten free items including full cooked breakfasts and homemade quiche. It’s all on the upper end of the price range. This is no doubt due to, not just the usual factors behind the high price of gluten free alternatives, but the the overheads associated with this prime location and lovely premises. It’s nothing you’d baulk at spending if you were heading to Ottolenghi, opposite; and it certainly beats scoffing your gluten free treats outside of a draughty market stall or pop up concession.
So why the quiet café? And why so little hype online? Granted, I only went once, but a similarly timed sample visit to the new gluten free café in Reading saw it buzzing.
My speculation is this – they haven’t quite put their finger on the market’s pulse. As I have written before, the
growing demand for gluten free isn’t coming from coeliacs. As such, you shouldn’t be listening to normalising coeliacs about what they want. Don’t get me wrong, I was delighted to find some of my old favourites rendered (expertly) gluten free, and if I still lived in Angel I’d be there all of the time; but if the customers they want to tap into are those following a gluten free diet for ‘lifestyle’ or weight loss reasons (my juice cleansing friends?), they’ve probably also ditched dairy and the demon ‘refined sugar’ too. They’re probably not going to be shovelling in the (delicious looking) blueberry cheesecake, nor the wonderfully crusty baguettes. They’re probably at nearby Planet Organic buying some goji berry based concoction, or a raw kale salad. Romeo’s can’t be ignorant to this – I noticed their nearby ‘normal’ café has been rebranded a ‘sugar free’ bakery; but I don’t think they’ve quite hit the nail on the head if they’re after this market. The trouble is, the ‘regular’ business are starting to get this too and stealing the naturally gluten free market under their noses. (See: Leon, Pod).
So my summary is this – lovely café, great products, a little on the expensive side but what isn’t in London? Us coeliacs need to represent and support them if we want this kind of thing to stick around, otherwise we’ll be back to our homemade cakes and carb-free salads before we know it.