Being gluten-free in Australia – is it really better than NZ?

Lovely weather, great views from our hotel balcony, excellent 4 days of work. That was Sydney. I was looking forward to going as I’d heard that “it was much easier being gluten-free in Australia”. I was sadly disappointed.

I went to 4 different restaurants for evening meals and 2 different cafes for breakfasts. Not a single one of these had any food allergy labelling. Neither of the cafes offered any gluten-free bread for the breakfasts or could offer me any options (like hash browns). On the plus side, I did manage to find something to eat at each of the restaurants that I THINK was gluten-free, although it’s always hard to know exactly what might be in a sauce.  The restaurants were Thai Express, which had plenty of things I could eat. Monday night was the Lowenbrau Bier Keller – entertainment so bad it’s amazingly good; lots of pork; beer brewed locally and served in up to 1 litre glasses (almost too heavy to lift with one hand) and wonderful baked pretzels. Nom, nom, nom. I had to have a beer and a small piece of pretzel (no reaction the next day – yippee!). Tuesday night was a restaurant called Hurricanes Grill, where I ate the biggest slab of ribs I’ve ever seen! Yes, they were so big that one of our dinner guests took a photo! That’s me just behind the ribs. Both of these restaurants offered large servings, although they were a little lacking in vegetables!

Wednesday night, to be fair, we were at an Italian restaurant and realistically at a place where the menu is largely pasta and pizza, you can’t expect too much in the way of gluten-free dishes. They did have one chicken and one steak dish that I could eat, and I was very happy with my steak in a pepper cream sauce.

Anyone who reads this regularly will know that I have a real bee in my bonnet about conference food at hotels. We were at the Sydney Hilton in George St, which is a fairly large convention centre. The lunches were good and if I looked very carefully, there was a very small GF printed on the labels. The labelling otherwise wasn’t terribly good. Despite our conference organiser asking them to ensure there were gluten-free options, there was nothing at morning and afternoon tea either day that I could eat. On the second day, there was one ‘dessert’ option which was gluten-free. So it could have been worse, but could have been better. The breakfasts were good – no labelling at all, but they had mushrooms and bacon which made me very happy 🙂

So did I think Sydney was better for a gluten-free person? Well, based on my sample size, which was admittedly small, no. The lack of labelling and level of knowledge amongst the wait staff was abysmal. In many cafes here if you ask, they’ll be able to say “yes we do have gf bread” or “no we don’t but our hash browns are gf”.  None of that was obvious.

Finishing on a positive note though, I went into one of the convenience stores on George St and found that the labelling on packaging was really good. There were crisps and reconstituted potato snacks labelled gluten-free and a wide selection of gluten-free muesli bars, far more than you see in NZ. I didn’t make it to a supermarket to check one of those out – will try that on the next visit!

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