The Hidden Mews of London

Fitzrovia, in west central London, is the quiet area hidden between Oxford Street and Regent’s Park. If upmarket Chelsea was a flamboyant socialite, then Fitzrovia would be the bookish cousin. Quietly grand buildings line quiet streets (including the famous Harley Street), and off it can be found a number of quiet mews. These are small streets, or courtyards that used to function as rows of stables with living quarters sitting above. Nowadays, these historical remnants have been refurbished and remodelled into unimaginably pricey townhouses, painted all the pastel colours you can dream of. I love strolling down these beautiful side streets, they both shelter from the hum and heartbeat of the city, yet instead of an escape, take you closer to the heart of it all.

Spare half an hour next time you’re in central London and find these gorgeous spots for yourself!

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!

A Self-Care Story

I read a great article by Brianna Wiest that really reflected and changed how I think about the pervasive ‘self care’ trend. Here are some of my thoughts:

I had a week off, alone, at home. Initially for myself I had planned sauna trips, gorgeous home-cooked meals, long baths, reading novels, and generally frolicking around like women laughing alone with salads. I was going to CARE for myself, love myself and feel great.

However, what I did this week ended up being way less cute and instagram-worthy. I trawled through the depths of my email inbox to deal with outstanding queries, delete old and unneeded emails (625 – ASOS I’m looking at you), and categorised emails that I needed to keep.

I was alone in the house for the longest time in years (a normal everyday reality for lots of people so no self-sympathy!) and it became apparent that I had to just sit in to the quiet. I booked dental appointments, did university coursework, and reflected on past conversations and situations. I repotted plants that were beyond pot-bound (bad mom!), and made plans to re-seal the bathtub (ok I’m behind schedule on that one). I reached out to people I hadn’t spoken to in a while, I also removed from social media those that do not do me any good.

That all sounds pretty normal, and not really noteworthy. But that is the point. I’ve learned that self-care is dealing with the shitty things that are at the top of your to-do list but the bottom of your priority list, and as Brianna Wiest said, it’s often ‘parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness’.

 


Matcha

This resonates so much with me, because if we’re honest it’s easy enough to agree to a salt bath and have a macha latte and just feel grateful. However I guess the real work is dealing with the difficult stuff, being assertive and your own advocate, working to build a better future for yourself. Ignoring credit card debt, toxic people in life, renewal notices and moulding bath seals doesn’t make you feel better long-term because the weight of this cosmic to-do list still rests heavy in the back of your mind, and eventually they will surely catch up to you in bigger and badder ways.

I agree that self-care is owning up to and reflecting on past mistakes, and pushing yourself to do the best possible in any given situation. Sometimes it is a lie-in if that’s what you need, but sometimes it is getting up early for a dreaded gym workout because that may be what you need too. As Poorna Bell points out, it’s also knowing and respecting your own limitations. It’s being kind to yourself when you’ve scheduled to go out but really can’t face it, and I think a big one is knowing when you need some extra support (a cleaner, a friend, a therapist).


I also loved the idea of ‘building a life you don’t have to escape from’ from Brianna’s article. I think with all the great talk occurring about mental health these days, self-care (the REAL self-care) could be one piece in the puzzle of improving symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. Putting yourself first, and truly sorting out controllable aspects of your life, really seem like a great recipe for calm to me.

It IS easier said than done, but that to me is the point. I feel that sifting through the crap, making the right choice even if it is the harder one, and putting yourself first at the end of the day really proves to yourself that you are worth it.

And yes, you are most definitely also worth a matcha latte and piece of cake after all that hard work.

A week of winter hibernation

We were on leave this week, and a planned Berlin trip scuppered by Ryanair cancellations lead us to have the sweetest week off at home. Doing next to nothing, hanging out, laughing, eating and sleeping. Little did I know that that was exactly what I needed after a very stressful and exhausting few weeks. I have just started a more senior role, and my final MSc module has just begun. It’s safe to say that I have had a decent amount of things on my to-do list.

The Saturday before our week off was my husband’s birthday. Family dinner at Ceviche (one of our favourite restaurants – try the Lomo Saltado flame-grilled steak and Don Ceviche) was followed by drinks in a craft beer pub with friends. This, of course, ended with a rowdy late-night pizza session at Voodoo Ray’s Dalston.

Monday was his actual birthday, which brought us to St John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields after a lazy day at home; and a fabulous 4 plate sharing meal of smoked mackerel, ox heart & chips, butternut & pearl barley, and a beautiful lamb stew. We paired this with a dry (and strong!) crisp rosé.

St John Bread & Wine

Drinks at Black Rock Bar in Spitalfields never disappoints for whiskey fans. It was voted UK’s Best Specialist Bar 2017 in the Class Bar Awards, and this is definitely well deserved. The staff are always so knowledgeable, and they just do make the finest cocktails around.

Black Rock whiskey bar

Tuesday brought another cosy day in, followed by a Queens of the Stone Age gig at the O2 (this doesn’t sound like a very relaxing week so far, but I swear we did very little during the days!). They played a furiously tight and yet chaotic set, my favourites being ‘The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret’ and ‘Sick Sick Sick’. The sound was incredible, and even from our seats the heavy bass was deeper than anything I’d heard at a gig before.

QOTSA at the O2

Wednesday and Thursday were more home-based. I desperately needed to find time for some quiet so enjoyed having the TV off (once I’d finally finished Netflix’s Punisher), and listening to the birds out in the large oak tree in our garden. I tried a gym session but my body was telling me it needed rest, so I did more stretching-based movements instead.

Friday, we relished in another lazy lie-in, and a slow meal at a great local Pho place (apr and concisely named) Pho in Balham, South London. The spring and summer rolls (not pictured – eaten too quickly!) were fresh, tasty and just what we needed. The beef steak pho (look away vegetarians!) was so warming with plenty of five spice and star anise – of course I then add a good shot of sriracha to make things interesting! The lunch deal was fantastic, £20 for a two course meal for two.

Pho

We stopped in at Milk Cafe down the road for a relaxing post-lunch coffee. I was disappointed to find out their only milk alternative was soy, so opted for a black espresso instead. The vibe was great though, as was a cute little card served with our coffees explaining the flavour profile of the blend used.

Milk Cafe

Today was a day that felt lazy and like time wasted, but how often do people dream of an aimless lunch on a weekday, watching the world go by? We laughed and strolled and actually tasted the flavours of our food, more than I can say I’ve done in weeks.

Slow in the City – the beginnings of winter

Today we nipped out to Pop Brixton for some food. It is a lively market created from the skeletons of repurposed shipping containers, filled with nearly any kind of food stalls you’ve ever wanted to try. It’s somewhere we’ve always popped to as it is so nearby, but I never really took the time to take it in before. It definitely has settled in since it’s inception, and seems to fit right into the Brixton backstreet where it kind of stood out before.

There are also things I don’t like too much about the place (the whole idea of it feels a bit too hipster and like a symptom of gentrification at times, thus making me feel uncomfortable for being a part of that process), but there are things I like about it too. I like that it’s a place that is trying to give something, however small, back to the community it sits in. A lot of the stalls in Pop Brixton use compostable food packaging, and/or reduce food waste by donating extras to a local food pantry. Even if it is just a hipster fad, hopefully these little things will become the absolute norm in large city society.

Pop Brixton, made out of shipping containers

It was also a nice surprise to find a little herb garden out the back, like a return to something more simple than having an imported Belgian blonde beer alongside your Japanese gyoza. It may just be for that ‘rustic’ vibe, but I enjoyed perusing the chard, Thai basil, strawberry, coriander (nearly dead as usual – how does anyone succeed in growing one of them?!) and various salad leaves.

Top and bottom: makeshift planters at Pop Brixton

For him, the Miso pork ramen was on the menu from Koi Ramen; and for me some fantastic real-deal tacos from Maria Sabina (slathered in so much hot sauce that the chef showed concern. Edit: I not only survived but LOVED it!)

Koi Ramen Bar

Brixton Village market, a lot quieter than it’s newer, flashier cousin, had some pretty chilli peppers that I might go back for some day this week – I bet they’d make a mean hot sauce!

Brixton market chilli peppers

Walking home past Electric Avenue

 

Now to return home after a very low-effort afternoon, and think about the Thai basil I could be planting in my teeny-tiny window box ready for next summer.

Sudden Stranger, 2017

A Little Bit Wild: Wilderness Festival 2017

Wilderness festival is held every summer in the rolling fields and forests of Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire, UK.

Wilderness festival is perhaps the only one I know I can survive (with at least some dignity). We went last year, were completely overwhelmed by everything on offer, and resolved to do it right this year.


The swimming river
With last year’s tent (complete with little spider skeletons within) and this year’s self-inflating mattress (we splashed out) under our arms, and a cooler bag full of beer, we arrived. Thankfully, the campsite layout was familiar so we were no longer the new kids in school, and set up camp exactly where we did last year (near-but-not-too-near to the toilets). The first night, Thursday, we stayed right in our little tent and barbecued sausages sheltering under our parasol. They tasted delicious with a side of tomato salsa and a gleeful, childish sense of freedom at the prospect of the weekend in the ‘wild’.


The view from our tent
Now, I am from South Africa originally, so I’m aware that being Cotswold-adjacent is not necessarily wild. However, now I live in London, so sipping warm cider barefoot in a light drizzle was pretty out there.

With an early night the first night, we were ready for Friday. I have eliminated wheat and dairy from my diet, so Deliciously Ella’s pop-up was a safe bet as opposed to the countless ‘Bacon Buttie’ signs. Yes, there were many yoga panted, lithe and beautiful young professionals discussing the merits of almond vs. oat mylk. And yes, we were in shabby converse and vans but devoured our avocado-on-rye hungrily.


Me on a shell at a clothes stall


A talk on lonliness in literature in the Books Tent


A pop-up in the Greencraft Village

The food and clothes stalls are a kaleidoscope of noise and colour, smells and people. It sometimes feels quite strange and overwhelming being in an environment geared fully towards creating pleasure. The best food we had were the beef short rib tacos, on real-deal tacos, and buffalo wings with a tequila and blue cheese sauce, which we had to have both nights. The location of Man Meat Fire‘s food truck, at the top of the main stage hill, meant we could listen to the other acts from the comfort of a picnic table (replete with margaritas).


Tacos and hot wings at Man Meat Fire


Hip hop karaoke

On Saturday night, we watched Bonobo play the main stage under a slowly fading pink sky. It was a dreamy sight, all of us gleeful at the lack of rain originally forecasted, dancing under a nearly full moon.


Celebrating the lack of forecasted rain watching Bonobo at the mainstage.


Bonobo after night fell

Afterwards, came The Spectacle, an annual performance. This year was a bewildering light show, accompanied by an astronaut revolving above us. Saturday night was bitterly cold, the clouds we had so desperately wished away in the day now nowhere to be seen. We were glad to get into the tent that night.


A lightshow in the night
Sunday morning, we were planning a fairly early departure, and so a lot of thoughts came to me on that last stroll to Deliciously Ella’s. Afterwards, we sat under a billowing art piece, enjoying the stillness in the early morning breeze. I thought about my career, where that will take me next; about how we will continue to create our own music back home. Really though, I thought about what the festival meant to me.


Where we sat early on Sunday morning, collecting our thoughts

I thought about how crazy it seemed to me to have all these ‘city types’ retreating to a field once a year to feel free, wear glitter, and learn how to climb trees. Surely we should feel we have the same freedom the other 360 days of the year, away from the strains of a 9 to 5, gym and kids? I wondered if I had lost a bit of that side of me in the last few years.

Trying to be a more ‘responsible’ festival-goer was the most tough aspect of it for me. We were two people who ate out the whole weekend, and still generated a bag of rubbish back at the tent. It also seems slightly crazy to me to want to ‘return to nature’ but still have running water, hot showers, and fresh avocado on toast. I thought about the people who were really ‘in nature’, and not out of choice. No tent, no showers and no flat whites. It seemed a little rich of me to need to escape from a full time job, and a little flat in the heart of London, when people are looking to escape the horror and fear of a life torn apart by war.

Mostly, though, I will just take it for what it was: that we are so fortunate to be able go have a brief little break from normal, and that we need to be kinder to people in every way that we can.

Rejoice in quality time to reconnect with nature and each other, and don’t forget having a chance to do hip hop karaoke whilst sipping cider in a field.

www.wildernessfestival.com