I used to love trips to Whole Foods in Kensington, and that was before I went gluten-free. Their selection of products is great, and you can get some really hard to find ingredients. It’s a fun place to wander round as well, a sort of Aladdin’s cave of food. UK supermarkets simply do not have the variety you can find there.
Today I went to the relatively new Whole Foods branch in Piccadilly. A sign on the door said that they do offer gluten-free food tours of the store, but I hadn’t been able to arrange one that suited, and I was pretty happy just to wander round and see what I could find. They have helpful “Gluten-free” labels on some of the shelves so finding gluten-free products isn’t too difficult.
My initial impressions of the store were “… HOW much?!” and “Where are the whole foods?”. I know WF has the reputation for being expensive, but the products I usually buy in the Kensington branch are on the cheaper side. I was expecting a bulk foods section, and a variety of grind-your-own nut butters. They did have two stations to be fair, but peanut butter at £6.99 a kg is a waste of time because you can get peanut butter anywhere, and pistachio butter at £23.99 a kg is taking the piss! I was looking forward to some reasonably priced hazelnut and almond butter. Of course they sold these in jars, at a pretty penny. Grumble.
They did have a good variety of gluten-free products ranging from ice-cream cones (and waffle bowls!) to yummy looking biscuits and cookies, cereal, granola, pretzels – even the chocolate covered ones – noodles, you name it! They had about 8 different types of gluten-free pasta, but apparently spelt is the hot new grain and there was a large amount of spelt pasta next to the gluten-free range, so you had to be careful what you picked up.
Speaking of being careful, the flour section. It was all mixed in together! Whole Foods, seriously, if you stock regular flour alongside gluten-free flour it WILL get contaminated at some point. Flour stored in paper bags ALWAYS seeps out a little bit. The Kensington store seem to realise this, as I recall the gluten-free flours were on a separate shelf last time I went.
One of the main reasons I went to this branch was to (of course) scope it out for you guys, but also to meet Amy Ruth, who was doing a pancake demonstration in store. She sells a gluten-free baking mix which is made from grains that are hard to find in the UK: quinoa, teff, flax and chia. It’s a little steep at £6.99 a bag, but I was curious to try it, especially now that I’m trying to be a bit healthier.
The sample pancake I tried was delicious – light and fluffy, not stodgy like I sometimes make. It had a great flavour too, something that certain gluten-free flours lack (I’m looking at YOU, rice flour!). I’ll have a think about what I will bake to review the product – probably something savoury and something sweet! Watch this space for the recipes and review.
My overall impressions of the Piccadilly store were that there was a good range of gluten-free products, but it helps if you happen to be really rich (£28 for manuka honey, anyone?). For a store that is called “Whole Foods” there really could have been a better whole food selection.
I came away with a few choice items: Clipper white tea w/ vanilla and green tea w/ lemon (top left), some gluten-free (and oat-free) granola from Bakery on Main, a US company (top middle), Amy Ruth’s baking mix (top right), bay leaves (79p – bargain!) and 3 flavours of King Soba noodles (front): black rice, sweet potato & buckwheat, pumpkin ginger & rice. I stock up on these noodles every time I’m there, and at £1.79 per pack of 3 portions, they make a great quick lunch.
Have you been to Whole Foods Piccadilly yet? What did you think of the gluten-free selection?