This month the law is changing. It is going to have a big impact on restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, shops, supermarkets across the country, and The Grove is, of course, no exception. The impact will be felt most in kitchens where chefs are being asked to list everything, yes everything that is in a dish. This may sound like an easy task, but it is not. For example, if a cafe buys in a stock, those ingredients need to be added to an exhaustive list. Where beer or wine is served, all the ingredients of the drink need to be readily available to customers upon request. All sauces, vinegars and oils must be checked and if and when their ingredients change, a restaurant needs to adapt its allergy list accordingly. Of course, when there is a menu change, and new and exciting dishes are added, these must also comply with the new regulations.

This leaves us with two questions. Firstly, how, as a society, did we get this vulnerable to the food we have been eating for years? And secondly, isn’t this an over-reaction?

Well, the short answer to the first question is that nobody knows…..yet. There are lots of studies into this, one of the latest is very interesting, indeed. Studies have shown that there is a link between food allergies and low levels of good gut bacteria. Although this is yet to be accepted throughout the scientific world, it is a significant step forward. There are also theories as to why this might have come about. One put forward is the use of antibiotics on the very young, another is that we are not getting our young children out and dirty enough anymore, not exposing them to the bacteria present in mud pies and horse muck. But again, these are yet to be accepted. And whether these are true or not, one fact remains, we, and more importantly our children, are increasingly susceptible to food allergies and intolerances.

Which leads me nicely on to answer the second question: isn’t this an over-reaction?

In a word, no.

I can’t think of a single person who would choose to have a food allergy and miss out on some of the glorious tastes and flavours that are on offer. A great number of people are very lucky in that they don’t dislike anything and can eat anything of the menu. For most this is narrowed down, by either a distaste for a certain food, or for the simple reason that it doesn’t fit their mood or penchant at that particular moment in time. But for some, on most menus there are big swathes of dishes that you can simply count out through allergy, leaving a very few plates that will not end in a trip to A&E, or feeling like a balloon has been inflated inside you. Leaving you to choose from one or two. In those cases, your taste has to come second, and your mood last, in the priority list.

We, at The Grove, have had first-hand experience of this. One of the fourth generation of Grove-Gravelings is a celiac and another is seriously allergic to milk proteins and sesame, these dispositions have resulted in many trips to the local hospital, and numerous unhappy menu-choosing experiences for little ones, when the answer to what a certain dish contains has come back from the kitchen as “we can’t be sure”. To rectify this, when we designed our current menu, which was launched in mid-October, we made it as gluten free as possible. There are a few dishes that contain gluten still on the menu, but not many. We are also looking to increase the amount of dairy-free desserts for the next menu. On our current á la carte five out of six starters and six out of nine mains are gluten free, including Oven Roasted Norfolk Pheasant with fondant potato and blackberry jus…..yum.

Until a treatment can be found that will allow us all to have the choice generations gone by have enjoyed, this phenomenon is here to stay. And although we can’t claim that The Grove is Cromer’s first allergy-free restaurant, we are trying to go some way to make life more enjoyable for as many allergy-sufferers as possible.