Food allergies? Here’s where to eat in Kent

Nicky Granger with her son Gabriel and Ali Harper with her sons Ethan and Freddie at Fortify Cafe in

Nicky Granger with her son Gabriel and Ali Harper with her sons Ethan and Freddie at Fortify Cafe in Maidstone - Credit: Archant

Struggling to find anywhere for her young son to enjoy a meal out resulted in one Kent mum setting up a new website for people with food allergies.

A trip to a restaurant for pizza and ice cream or visit to a café for cake are considered normal summer holiday treats for youngsters as well as their parents. But what if you or your child had a food allergy and a simple meal or snack out could result in illness or even a medical emergency?

That’s the experience of Nicky Granger from Maidstone after her four-year-old son Gabriel was diagnosed with not just one but numerous severe and potentially life-threatening allergies.

Her new website launched earlier this year and is aimed at helping people in similar situations.

“Gabriel was diagnosed with nine severe food allergies, including milk, eggs, wheat and nuts, when he was eight months old,” Nicky explains.

“Before then his skin was covered in eczema which was getting badly infected, he didn’t sleep more than an hour at a time due to being so distressed and suffered respiratory problems as well. It was a difficult and upsetting time.”

With visits to her GP and dermatologists not leading to a solution, the mystery was finally solved in a dramatic way when Gabriel suffered such a severe allergic reaction he had to be given emergency medical treatment.

Most Read

A milk allergy was diagnosed and after further tests a paediatrician allergy specialist explained that Gabriel was also severely allergic to many other food groups, which he was being exposed to through his mother’s breast milk.

While some parents may have struggled to absorb the news, Nicky is philosophical. “It was just a huge relief to know what was wrong and that we could do something about it. I stopped breast feeding and Gabriel went onto a special allergy formula; within two months he was a completely different and much happier baby.”

However, she soon realised the difficulties that lay ahead. Many of the usual weaning and toddler finger foods like rusks and chunks of cheese were out and even making non-edible play dough with her young son brought him out in a severe rash due to the flour in the dough.

“However careful I was with his food, when he played with other children I was constantly on alert. Even biscuit crumbs left on a toy he put in his mouth or the tiniest trace of yoghurt caused problems.

“Gabriel has had it drummed into that that before eating anything he has to check with an adult aware of his allergies. I can remember him at the age of just two, toddling over with a Smartie he’d found on the floor and asking was it OK? Obviously it wasn’t!”

While older son Sebastian is allergy free and Gabriel has grown used to the fact that his brother’s diet is far less restricted, Nicky says the one thing mums in her situation are appreciative of is their child not forever feeling left out.

“People asked why I even tried taking Gabriel out to eat given his situation, but so many events for children and family get-togethers are based around meals out. I didn’t want him to grow up feeling they were off limits. No adult with allergies wants to be ruled out either.

“I used to take food for him if we went out to a restaurant and explain why, but gradually I plucked up the courage to ask if there was anything they could provide or if it was a planned event, I’d call ahead to check.”

Nicky found reactions extremely mixed. Some restaurants impressed her with their willingness to cater for and knowledge of a range of allergies. “TGI Fridays was the first-ever restaurant not to blink an eye when I ran through Gabe’s list of what he can’t eat - I almost kissed the manager.”

However, others gave the impression they didn’t want to know or said they didn’t have the time to discuss it. But with new EU directives coming into place at the end of last year, by law any company serving food must now be able to provide information on a range of common food allergens, a move welcomed by Nicky.

Together with her Can I Eat There co-founder Ali Harper, she felt this information would be better compiled into an online database, making it possible for people to establish who catered for what at the click of a mouse.

Ali, from Tonbridge, also has a young son with a food allergy and shares Nicky’s advertising and marketing background. With the help of three other staff, all with their own areas of allergy and restaurant expertise and partnerships with organisations including Allergy UK, the website went live with a directory of 10,000 eateries. Itw now has more than 12,000, including hundreds across Kent, and Nicky says the aim is to have as many UK ones as they can reach listed in the next 18 months.

“We are uploading more every day, businesses either contact us for a free listing or people tell us about a great experience at a restaurant and we then approach them. Users search by restaurant, location or cuisine which includes vegetarian and vegan and can then filter menus by the 14 most common food allergens. They can also leave reviews about the meals they’ve had.”

Nicky says her priority remains helping others with allergies by providing easy to access information. “We accept not every restaurant or café will be able to provide meals suitable for people with allergies, particularly if they have several.

“I’m not on a soapbox, but our site is aimed at flagging up the ones that can or will do in future. With four per cent of the UK population needing or choosing to avoid certain foods, they are likely to attract a significant number of customers.”

Nicky’s favourite allergy-friendly Kent Eateries

Fortify Café, 32 High Street, Maidstone ME14 1JF, 01622 670533

This little vegan café clearly indicates the presence of nuts, soya, wheat and gluten in dishes making it easy to avoid them. Nicky has particular praise for their chocolate brownies which are amazingly free from almost all 14 allergens and a firm favourite with Gabriel.

Pizza Express, 32-34 Earl St, Maidstone ME14 1PF, 01622 683548

This chain’s out-of-the-box solution to gluten contamination in the kitchens (they use gluten-free flour for dusting all pizzas) sets a new benchmark for restaurants. Gabriel is a big fan of their gluten and cheese free pizza with ham, followed by fruit sorbet.

TGI Friday’s, South Village, Bluewater, Greenhithe DA9 9SG, 0344 692 0281

Great allergy approach: they have separate allergy prep areas in the kitchen, and good staff training. There are also separate gluten-free and lactose-free menus. Handy for a break from shopping or bite to eat before seeing a film.

The White Hart, Tonbridge Road, Sevenoaks TN13 1SG, 01732 452022

Delicious food and a clearly labelled allergy menu. The first ever Can I Eat There team lunch was held here!

The Chaser Inn, Stumble Hill, Tonbridge TN11 9PE, 01732 810360

A beautiful country pub just outside Tonbridge which is great for long family lunches on Sundays. Fabulous menu and a good choice of dishes for people with food allergies.

Finch House Café, The Pavilion Shopping Centre, High Street, Tonbridge TN9 1TE , 01732 367770

Scrumptious cakes and other baked goodies and they even display allergens on the blackboards in the window, making it easy to identify what you can eat.

Oscar and Bentleys, 10 Guildhall Street, Canterbury CT1 2JQ, 01227 454544

The Winner of the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards 2014 Restaurants category, Oscar & Bentley’s caters for coeliacs (everything is gluten free) and dairy intolerance. And their allergy menu for children deserves a special mention.

Zizzi’s, Horsebridge Road, Whitstable CT5 1AF, 01277 274152

Cosy, vibrant and near to the beach: great for grabbing lunch or supper after a walk along the shore. Staff are trained to deal with allergies and the food is good – Gabriel has also enjoyed gluten-free pizza here.

*Nicky stresses the importance of always stating any food allergies before ordering wherever you eat out. “Tell your server and double-check ingredients as these can change.”

Find out more

Food allergies are increasing in children according to Allergy UK, with five to eight per cent now affected; cow’s milk being the most common in infants and peanut allergies affecting one child in 50 in the UK. So what do parents do if they think their child could have one?

Maureen Jenkins, Clinical Director of Allergy UK says that a GP should always be the first port of call to discuss referral to an allergy specialist.

“A diagnosis should be made by a paediatric allergist, taking a detailed allergy history, considering the symptoms together with relevant testing.

Testing alone without expert interpretation is dangerous as there may be false positive or false negative test results. It really helps the process if the parent keeps a detailed record of food, drinks and symptoms with accurate dates and timings.”

For more information on Allergy UK, visit or call the helpline on 01322 619 898.