5 minutes with...award-winning restauranteur Victoria Hall

5 minutes with...award-winning restauranteur Victoria Hall

Neeach catches up with restauranteur and baker Victoria Hall, owner of gluten free restaurant 2 Oxford Place in Leeds, which has just this week picked up a Free From Eating Out Award in the restaurant category

Restaurant owner and baker Victoria Hall is one of the growing number of coeliacs in the UK, which is why her Leeds restaurant, 2 Oxford Place, is entirely gluten free. The restaurant offers a home-cooked bistro-style menu that aims to give gluten free diners (and those with other allergies) a "normal" dining experience that people without food allergies or intolerances take for granted, but it's not only popular with local coeliacs because of the high quality food, which is always cooked from scratch and emphasizes seasonal and local ingredients.

2 Oxford Place is more like a cosy dining room - it's warm, friendly and intimate and it's clear that Victoria's bubbly personality and enthusiasm for great food has a huge influence here. This is where we caught up with Victoria to find out a bit more about her food, life and the tricky art of gluten free baking - as well as what it's like to be a winner in the UK Free From Eating Out Awards 2015!

When and where were you born?
I was born in Doncaster, but came to university in Leeds. After that I moved to London for a few years, where I trained as a speech therapist and worked in learning support in a prep school, but alongside that I also ran a gluten free bakery, supplying Whole Foods and offices in the city. So I was baking in the evenings to get all the orders out as well as working during the day! Eventually it became too much and I moved back to Leeds to open 2 Oxford Place.

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Well, I'm not a chef exactly - I'm more of a baker. It was baking that I loved and that's what made me decide to go into the industry full time. Whatever I was doing, I was always thinking about baking, so I thought that must be telling me something! 2 Oxford Place has been open 2 years now and I do all the baking here.

Who taught you to cook?
I'm self-taught. When I was diagnosed with coeliac disease aged 18, I decided I wanted to master the art of gluten free baking. I wanted to make nice things! I was at university at the time of my diagnosis, so being the one who was always baking was great for making friends too. It's been years of trial and error mostly, but I did do a gluten free baking course at Leiths once.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
It has to be winning Best Restaurant in the Free From Eating Out Awards 2015! We were runners up last year to Oscar and Bentleys, [a gluten free restaurant in Canterbury] but this year we were joint winners with them. We were also a finalist for the overall award, which was great, but Oscar and Bentley's just edged past us again. We were also in the top 10 restaurants in Leeds on Trip Advisor for about a year, which for a gluten free restaurant is brilliant. Every good review is a highlight though. We often get our best feedback from non-coeliacs who come here with their friends or family, they often don't expect the food will be that good because it's gluten free and they are pleasantly surprised.

Tell us about your restaurant in one sentence
Great food without the gluten!

What's your favourite dish to cook/eat?
To eat, I love the southern fried chicken dish that we have on the menu here. I missed southern fried chicken so much when I had to go gluten free. My favourite dishes to bake are the real classics, the comfort foods that people love - bakewell tart, sticky toffee pudding and mince pies at Christmas. People who have to follow a gluten free diet often miss out on those things.

Where is your favourite food destination?
I love eating out in London, because of the street food. The street food markets in London often have gluten free options and things you can't get in other places in the UK. There are always new restaurants to go to in London too. My dream food destination would be India, because so much of the food there is naturally gluten free.

As a chef, which person do you most admire/look up to?
I love Nigel Slater and Nigella Lawson because their recipes are great but they are also really easy to follow, they are so simple for home cooks. My favourite cookbook is by the Roux brothers - which might be surprising given it's full of classics that usually contain flour, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to adapt them to be gluten free. I've done that a lot.

Which ingredient could you not live without?
Butter - it just makes everything taste better.

Your favourite bottle of beer or wine?
Well I do love champagne if money is no object, but I'm more of a gin and tonic girl.

What's the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
Check my emails. Sad isn't it!

What do you do when you're not cooking?
Go to the gym, I also like eating out and going to the cinema.

If you weren't a chef, what would you be doing instead?
I'd still be in teaching.

Some of Victoria's delicious sweet creations on display in the restaurant

2 Oxford Place is in Leeds in West Yorkshire. It's open Tuesday-Saturday and booking is recommended, especially in the evenings. You can find 2 Oxford Place on Twitter @2oxfordplace. Watch out for Victoria's gluten free bread mixes, coming out soon - fans of Victoria's bread will soon be able to make gluten free bread that tastes and feels like the real thing. We can't wait!

Images - provided by and used with permission of Victoria Hall

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