27 Feb 2008

LEON labels gluten free meals...!

Yum yum pigs bum...No idea where that saying comes from, but it’s what I said on finishing my treat of a lunch today. Nipping to Oxford St in my lunch hour – it can be done, just – dashing through the new John Lewis food hall to escape the leisurely paced shoppers of Oxford St, I suddenly realised I was near one of my most favourite restaurants.

When I was working for Burger King in product development, I was convinced there was a huge gap in the market for healthy fast food. Ironically, it was through my market research for the fast food giant that I came across this “new concept”. Leon takes the principles of American style fast food, with quick service, but offers a more European style menu, that makes naturally fast food. One of my firm favourites, particularly since being diagnosed with coeliac disease, I just had to ditch the home made lunch - just this once.

Leon was set up by Allegra McEvedy, who I think can be called celebrity chef these days, and provides lucky Londoners with Mediterranean inspired soups, salads, flatbreads plus their signature bigger dishes such as Moroccan meatballs and the Leon Gobi (sweet potato and cauliflower curry). A growing empire, which now stands at ten outlets since 2003 serves up breakfast, lunch, and anything in between, and some of the locations now serve dinner complete with proper plates.

The best thing about Leon, for me anyway, is that they label all their foods with wheat free or gluten free logos. On this particular lunchtime visit there were only 6 items on the menu that I couldn’t eat. Spoilt for choice I eventually opted for the Leon Original Superfood Salad, with a side of open-sesame slaw, which I just love. Like a bear in the woods, overwhelmed by such unprecedented choice, I also picked up a Lemon & Ginger Crunch cake, but only after debating whether to have the brownie instead, and just before I spotted the “ooo” inducing rosewater rice pudding. Bank that for my next visit I think.

Leaving before I bought enough for supper as well, I headed back to the office, eagerly anticipating my lunch, and boy, it was gooooood. The Superfood Salad was an interesting mix of sweet peas, feta, blanched bright green broccoli, quinoa, toasted seeds and a zingy lemon and olive oil dressing; perfectly balanced, really more-ish and completely gluten free. As I write this, I am eyeing up my cake, wondering if I can hold out till afternoon tea time…nope, too late. Its delicious, and you wouldn’t know it's “gluten free”.

A far as I am concerned, Leon is the future of fast food. The fact that the Regent St branch was opposite an old Burger King site, is testament to this. And if you can’t get there, then check out Allegra’s regular column for the Guardian in G2, or her season inspired cookery book. All I can say is…. I can't wait for my next visit.

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