I had a wonderful vacation as a gluten free guest at Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort and Spa in Jamaica. In part 1 of this series I shared my experience with the great breakfasts Norman prepared for me and the pina coladas I’d order without straws or fruit. Now I want to share my experience eating gluten free at the a la carte restaurants.
Grand Palladium has seven a la carte restaurants. Having many a la carte restaurants was important for me because they have set menus and the chefs are better able to prepare you a meal from start to finish. My hope going into the trip was that I should at least be able to eat well for dinner.
I have to say that the resort’s Guest Relations team made my stay as a gluten free guest much easier. They always let me make dinner reservations, which I really appreciated since it gave me the reassurance that I would be able to eat at an a la carte restaurant each night and avoid the buffet. It was also really convenient since the two restaurants that can best cater to gluten free guests got really busy each night. They also had each restaurants’ menu for on display, which helped me choose where to eat. Immediately, I eliminated going to the Mexican, Asian and Seafood restaurants. Reasons being the Mexican food was made with flour tortillas not traditional corn, I can’t eat soy sauce, and I don’t like seafood, respectively.
Below is a recap of my experience at the a la carte restaurants that I ate at (or attempted to eat at):
Bubba’s Restaurant (Steakhouse)
“Steak again?” is an old joke between us and it accurately sums up our dinners at the resort. We ate at the steakhouse for three of our six dinners. Not only was it the easiest restaurant to eat gluten free at, in our opinions it was also the best tasting. We were flabbergasted by how good the steaks were. Never in a million years would I have expected to have such a good cut of steak at an all-inclusive resort.
Tanesha, the restaurant’s supervisor, was very helpful in coordinating our meal. She always checked in with us to find out if everything was OK and to ask if I needed anything. For each meal I made sure to speak with the head chef Denver. I explained my dietary restrictions and he immediately reassured me in his quiet demeanour that he would be able to cook me a safe meal. He told me I could select any cut of steak and he would personally grill it to ensure it was cooked separately and had no sauce on it. Then he suggested the side and appetizer that would work best for me. I’ll admit that there weren’t many choices for appetizers or side dishes that were gluten free, however, there was always the choice between fillet mignon, rib eye, T-bone or sirloin. And really, who could get tired of eating good quality steak?
Each night I ordered the filet mignon and it was always a large, choice cut of beef. Each bite tasted like candy. Cooked medium with a nice dark pink colour, it was very tender. The steak was served with sautéed carrots and zucchini cooked specially for me in olive oil. As an appetizer I had either a refreshing beef steak tomato, green bean and pear salad or a house salad with fresh berries. With a fruit platter for dessert.
Reggaetoni Restaurant (Italian)
Our first a la carte dining experience was at Reggaetoni, the aptly named Italian restaurant. Hayes was the head chef and she was lovely. I explained my gluten free dietary restrictions, explained the risk of cross contamination and stressed that I also couldn’t eat soy, which included vegetable oil. She was great – very attentive and asked good questions. You could tell that she cared and wanted to make sure that she made me a safe meal. It’s always best to work directly with the chef to figure out a meal that you can eat safely, and one that you will also enjoy. Here I didn’t look at the menu to see which items had a gluten free symbol. Instead, I worked with Hayes to learn which items she had on hand and how things were prepped in the kitchen. I was happy to hear that they had gluten free pasta that Hayes could cook in a separate pot for me. However, she said that their tomato sauce had vegetable oil in it, so she would need to make me my own sauce. She suggested vegetables in an olive oil served with grilled chicken.
I was quiet surprised when upon finding out there was a gluten free guest, Hayes immediately came out to the table with gluten free breadsticks for me. Since there are other ingredients I need to avoid besides gluten, she was kind enough to bring out the Glutino box so that I can read the ingredients to see if they were safe for me. Unfortunately, Glutino products often contain guar gum and soy, so I cannot eat them. But it was still very nice that the resort has gluten free products on hand for guests. Hayes was very sweet and started to bring out the container of olive oil and pasta for me to read to double check that the ingredients were safe.
For both of our dinners at Reggaetoni, I ate a freshly prepared caprese salad as an appetizer (that I used my own olive oil with). Gluten free pasta with diced vegetables served with grilled chicken for an entrée. And a fruit platter for dessert. The caprese salad was really good and I actually asked if Hayes could make me an extra salad that I could take back to my room. She happily agreed and it was so nice having a caprese salad wrap the next day for lunch in one of the raw wraps I brought with me.
I really appreciated the care and careful preparation Hayes took in preparing my meal. She even carried each course out to me to make sure there was no cross contamination from kitchen to table.
Xaymaica Restaurant (Jamaican)
All week for lunch I watched Ryan happily chow down on a huge plate of jerk. “A little bit of everything” being his normal request, meaning a combination of white and dark chicken and jerk pork too. I desperately wanted to try it. I had already inquired and knew it was not safe for me to eat. However, I wanted to see if by chance I could eat it or some type of traditional Jamaican dish at Xaymaica, the Jamaican themed restaurant. After the great service at the steakhouse and Italian restaurant, I was optimistic that perhaps they could modify the jerk chicken in some way for me so there was no soy sauce used.
At the restaurant I spoke to the chef, who I guess was really new or substituting in for someone else because unfortunately nobody knew his name. Thankfully he was really helpful. After explaining that I really wanted to try something Jamaican, he said that they would be able to cook me jerk chicken without the soy sauce or brown sauce to make sure that it was gluten free and soy free. He also said the beans and rice were safe – but the plantains were not because they were fried. When the chef found out I wanted to try plantains, he went out of his way to walk to the Italian restaurant to get a small bowl of olive oil that he could use to pan fry me my own plantain to try.
I realize that the jerk chicken didn’t have the same taste or authenticity as the chicken made in the drum out by the beach. But I was really happy that I was able to try some of the spicy Jamaican flavours. It was very nice of the chef and kitchen staff to specially prepare my meal. I am grateful for the wonderful service at the resort. The chicken was very spicy and my mouth was on fire, but everything tasted good and I liked trying the plantains.
Bhogali Restaurant (Indian)
I was hopeful when I found out there was an Indian restaurant, having just spent five weeks in India I knew that the vast majority of Indian food is naturally gluten free and soy free. Well, just keep in mind that Indian food in India is clearly not Indian food in Jamaica. Make sure wherever you go, regardless of how many times you have had a dish before always ask the ingredients. Ask very pointed questions and do not take anything for granted. As the F&B manager said this is still Jamaica after all and people might just say yes to try to please you. Another tip whenever you need to speak with a chef, make sure that they come outside of the kitchen to speak to you. This way they are focused on you instead of being distracted and in the middle of food preparation. The chef at the Indian restaurant wouldn’t come out to speak to me, I had to go to her. She seemed rushed and not very willing to speak with me to find a gluten free option. This was very unlike the experience I had at the other restaurants. I didn’t have a good vibe from the beginning and as it turned out we didn’t end up eating there.
After going through the menu I settled on an appetizer and entree that had tandoori chicken. But while reading through the menu more, I noticed that it said that there was sour cream in the appetizer. Many sour creams have guar gum in it so I went back to ask the chef if I could see the ingredients and she reassured me it was yoghurt not sour cream. OK I can deal with that. But thankfully Ryan said I should double check the yoghurt ingredients just in case. I reluctantly did so thinking plain yoghurt wouldn’t have gluten. The chef came out (with flour smeared all over half her face mind you) and brought the jug of yogurt which in very large letters said “may contain soy”. So that’s a no. We couldn’t settle on something else to eat and as I didn’t have any faith in this chef we left. I was very unimpressed at how nonchalant and uninterested this chef was. If you know a guest has dietary restrictions or allergies you would think they would also double check that the ingredients don’t contain those foods. The difference in service and treatment was startling compared to what I received from Hayes at the Italian restaurant and this chef.
Thankfully, I knew there was a chance we might not be able to eat at the Indian restaurant, so we booked an earlier reservation so that worse case we would still be able to get in at the Italian restaurant. That’s exactly what we did, and was I ever glad to see Hayes smiling at me, welcoming me back and reassuring me that she would take care of me.
All in all, looking back on my trip to Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort and Spa, I had an absolutely wonderful time. The resort and beaches were beautiful, the staff was friendly and helpful, and I was able to eat safely and well the whole time. Thank you Grand Palladium for such a lovely stay and for reassuring me that it still is possible to enjoy an all-inclusive vacation as a gluten free guest. It took a lot of preparation, planning and I was always ‘on’ during my stay, never growing complacent…but it sure was worth it!