A Perfect Brunch

Salon is a small restaurant in a covered market area in Brixton, South London. Self described as ‘fine dining without the fuss’, we put its menu to the test one dreary and slightly hungover Sunday morning.

Outside

You would be forgiven for walking past it without even realising, so unassuming is the store front, I have myself walked past it for the last few years. What initially started as a pop up above an artisinal cheese store became a permanent dining space, followed by the acquisition of a wine store next door.

The vibe is smart and polished, but relaxed and unfussy. Downstairs is a bar area, but upstairs is the dining room overlooked. The convivial atmosphere seems perfect for any occasion, a relaxed lunch with friends or an intimate dinner for two.

Menu

The menu is super varied, utilising local and seasonal ingredients. This is not your typical ‘brunch’ fare early on a Sunday morning, there wasn’t a waffle or pancake in sight. The oat milk flat whites arrived; simple and unadorned, and the food served by the chef himself.

Clockwise top to bottom: buttery corn bread, sriracha, kale and smoked salmon royale, sweet potato hummus on sourdough with confit bacon lardons, and hash browns.

Lemon meringue pie

Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs (we even shared dessert, I mean who has dessert at breakfast?!) but it’s so worth it – and at a fairly reasonable price. The flavours hung on the palate long after we’d left, this is not a meal you want to pop a mint after! It’s really special when you find a spot that really speaks to you, somewhere that you could both see yourself working in and yet also feeling like home. I look forward to visiting for dinner and a glass or two of organic wine!

Desert Dreaming: My Arid Landscape Bucket List (part one)

Throughout my life I have realised I am obsessed with deserts, an arid landscape really seems to inspire me. They make you feel small, yet part of something larger, and provide the gentle stimulation needed to pick up on the subtle nuances that make them so beautiful. I think it all stemmed from my Windows PC screensaver at the time:

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Flickr

So here are my top picks for arid and semi-arid trips, in no particular order:


Karoo, South Africa

The Karoo is an area of semi-desert in the heart of the South African interior. We recently went on a safari at a boutique game lodge there; and both lost and found ourselves in the short time that we were there. The Karoo is interspersed with quaint towns, with iconic windmills that dot the barren landscape. There are so many things you can do in this area of South Africa, from boutique game lodges to humble motels with plenty of outdoors activities in between! Easy access by car from Cape Town, George, or Port Elizabeth make it the perfect mini-break within a holiday.


Kalahari, Southern Africa

africa, animal, antelope

Pexels

The Kalahari desert spans South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana. It’s even possible to visit the point where all these countries meet! Within the Kalahari is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where red sand dunes blend into a vast scrub plain full of wildlife and flora. Here, the moon feels bigger and closer when it sits above you at night, and all you can hear are the occasional noises from nearby animals. Side note: we scattered my father’s ashes here, which adds to the air of myth and mystery as he rests amongst the lions and giraffes. It can be tricky to get here, as it is a nine hour drive from Johannesburg, and internal flights to the tiny Upington airport are costly. However, it is worth the trouble and you will not be disappointed!


Death Valley/Mojave, USA

Death Valley was an experience. We camped there, in December, and nearly found out why they call it that in a very long, cold night. Death Valley National Park itself offers so many interesting things to do, including phenomenal star-gazing (seeing the milky way with the blind eye is pretty cool). The rest of the Mojave, running down the southwestern California, offers beautiful canyons, and hills of multiple sun-bleached colours. Getting to parts of the Mojave is fairly easy, and it can be accessed a drive away from Las Vegas or Los Angeles. To see the best bits, ‘glamp’ in Death Valley, or stay in glamorous Palm Springs and make day trips out into the barren landscape.


Namib, Namibia

Wittered Tree on a Dessert

adventure, alone, arid

Pexels

The Namib is the desert that meets the sea, and remains elusively on my bucket list. I first got curious about it after seeing the aforementioned Windows PC screensaver as a teenager. Namib means ‘vast place’ in the indigenous Nama language, which basically means I need no further reason to visit. There are two main sites to visit: the Skeleton Coast, and Sossusvlei. The Skeleton Coast, or ‘the land God made in anger’ as referred to by the bushmen of interior Namibia, is the inhospitable coastline dotted with shipwrecks from unlucky souls before. Explore that, and then head south to Sossusvlei to view in person the iconic white salt pans ringed with red sand dunes.


Tabernas, Spain

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IES Maestro Padilla

The Tabernas lies just inland on the southern coast of Spain, and is one of the very few arid areas within Europe. The spectacular desert landscape has been the set for many movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, and A Fistful of Dollars. This is the easiest entry on this list for accessibility from the UK/Europe, being less than three hours’ drive from Murcia or Malaga. Keep an eye out on the blog for a trip there in the near future!


Do you think I have I missed any out? Let me know! Part 2 will cover the next few of my dream deserts, coming soon.

Western Cape Safari

Cape Town has safaris near by too! If you didn’t know that, or are planning a similar trip to the Western Cape, please keep reading .

On a recent trip to Cape Town, we wanted to get away from it all. Completely disappear for a few days. I remembered the ‘Little Karoo’ from childhood visits, and thought it’s relative proximity by car to be our perfect solution.

Sun-baked teracotta-coloured sand separates bushes of fynbos like capillaries as we wound down Route 62 (South Africa’s answer to the US route 66) further and further away from the city. We stopped at The Barn On 62 in the quaint little town of Montague, sipping on the most indulgent iced coffees beneath waving banana trees.

Iced coffees in Montague on Route 62

More minutes than I had initially expected passed with our little white VW Polo weaving over dirt roads. The gate to the lodge was unmanned, just a little sign stating this was the right place. There was doubt on my husband’s side that this was the right place, however as the resident South African I took a deep breath and got out to let the car through as I closed the gate behind us, leaving cellphone signal behind. Our little Polo rattled over the dirt, disturbing two Eland buck and causing them to escape across the road ahead of us.

Our arrival at the lodge was accompanied by an immense desert sunset, and the evening improved when we were informed we were to be the only guests for our whole visit, leaving the smiling staff at our sole disposal. As soon as was polite I got into the pool, sipping on crisp gin and tonics whilst admiring the view. Despite being the only guests, we still enjoyed a full dinner service replete with beautifully set table, ending the evening with a bottle of local port beside the fire.

A Karoo sunset on arrival at the lodge

Waking each morning and drawing open our curtains filled me with so much excitement, if there is one thing I have learned about this desert is that you won’t have the same day twice. We had days of blistering heat and keeping to the shade, as well as days where a heavy mist sat just above the low shrubs in the land before us. I still can’t tell which was more mesmerising, and I did not get one opportunity to read my book as I kept finding my gaze drifting over the endless view.

Top and bottom: how just a few hours can give a whole new view

We went for game drives, with morning coffee served alfresco in the bush and sun downers at the top of a ‘koppie’ (hill) for the best view. With all three meals and activities organised by a sweet and helpful staff, all I could do was spend  the time at the lodge in an almost meditative state, constantly staring out at the horizon.

Sundowner view

We saw ostrich, zebra, baboon, eland, kudu, and rare blue wildebeeste on our drives, but most memorable were the animals that approached the lodge themselves. A small herd of impala came grazing by the lodge one morning, and on a short walk around the lodge (with a walkie-talkie for emergencies) we came across a few brave giraffes coming towards the lodge watering hole. It’s one thing to see animals from the game drive 4×4, but is a whole other to spot some elusive creatures on foot and without a guide.

Impala viewing from the deck, centre of picture

Brave giraffes seen on foot, left centre of picture

The desert always teaches me something, I guess that’s why they have such attraction to me. The Karoo tought me about nature and loss, seeing a few old skeletons of animals not able to survive a harsh and long time of drought made me think about the beauty and cruelty of nature, and what might befall places like this with even more intense climate change in the future. At what point does ‘survival of the fittest’ end and extinction start? How many animals have to die before we realise something has to change? I’m not sure if I’ll ever have the answers in my lifetime, but for now this little corner of the Karoo has opened up a little piece of my heart.

 

Let me know if you have visited or have plans to visit the Karoo area!

Day Zero: Water Crisis in Western Cape, South Africa

Earlier this year, the threat of ‘day zero’, the day water stops running from taps, loomed above South Africans locally and internationally alike. Cape Town would be the first major metropolitan city to run out of municipal drinking water supplies as dams are at an all-time low due to a dry winter rainy season.

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Photo via Good Things Guy – Theewaterskloof dam

‘How are you managing with the water restrictions?’ asks every Capetonian I know and come across on this trip. ‘Just fine’, I say. Of course staying within the 50 Litre per person per day limit is easy for us on a two week visit, I mean, we have to right? I have lived in South Africa, Ireland and the UK. I have lived through minor water restrictions; as well as plentiful and low cost supplies. This water limit was for us a part of our visit, but how long would it take before the novelty wore off? Before we were really challenged to accomplish everyday tasks?

In the UK, the average person uses around 150 Litres per day, and I’d say I’m pretty average, so what did it take us to keep within the target?

  • 90 second showers (18 litres), as infrequently as possible, tap off in between for lathering
  • Dry shampoo to lengthen time in between washes
  • Baby wipes for freshening up
  • Showering over a bucket, and using this water for toilet flushing
  • One to two toilet flushes per day
  • Minimising cooking water (baked or grilled instead), reusing water for dishwashing
  • Only fill sink up minimally for dishes and wash as many as possible in one go
  • As few laundry cycles as possible (on average a washing machine uses 50-100 litres per cycle)
  • Many residents have rerouted laundry grey water to use for toilet flushing
  • Using hand sanitizer instead of hand washing in certain settings
  • Using bottled water as much as possible (drinking, boiling food, etc)

Regretfully, a lot of waste is created here in making do with the minimal water resources. Plastic bottles in unimaginable numbers, wipes for face and kitchen cleaning, hand sanitiser bottles, dry shampoo bottles and more. It really struck me as to how stuck we are in this resource management/waste cycle as a society, and how we urgently need to rethink how we move ahead from here.

It’s getting harder and harder to clean the volume of water needed every day, one reason being pollution of freshwater sources (oil spills and microplastics anyone?), as well as seawater desalination being prohibitively expensive to implement at present. I realised while I was out here that this water crisis is not just a South African, nor indeed and African issue. This is something that could happen to any of us anywhere, with increased levels of drought (even in Europe and the USA) being projected in the near future due to climate change.

Two weeks with limited water is doable as a tourist, but we really don’t realise what we have until it is gone! What I’ll take home with me to London is that I, and all of us worldwide, could really reduce our daily household water consumption to help relieve the pressure on our precious water resources.

Could you live on less water? Try following just some of my tips above and let me know your thoughts!