A night in Morocco in the heart of Exeter 

A good three or four years ago when I was a student at the University of Exeter, a friend and I discovered a Moroccan gem of a restaurant called Al Farid (www.alfaridrestaurant.co.uk) next to the beautiful Exeter Cathedral. A few weeks later, I introduced it to my boyfriend and he also fell in love with the place, so we just keep going back – even now we are based in London!
Al Farid is a very small, independent restaurant serving authentic Moroccan food, and decorated to match. On this Saturday night, it is already busy, and we are warmly greeted by the owner, Reza, as the familiar faces that we are! 

Interiors: The ground floor of the restaurant is decorated in the style of a Moroccan living room: low mirrored tables surrounded by floor cushions, and a highly adorned ceiling: every inch decorated with gorgeous lanterns. This evening, we are seated upstairs, which is similarly decorated, only here are tables and chairs for a more formal dining experience. There is also a shisha terrace on a covered balcony at the far side of the upstairs dining space which is much beloved by students for a more alternative (and relaxing!) night out.

Atmosphere: As the interiors suggest, the atmosphere is different to the majority of the chain-y restaurants you would expect to encounter in a big city: one of true heart and warmth; the decor serves to transport you out of Exeter and into another land, probably due to the fact that Reza puts the effort in to source the furnishings from Morocco itself. Perhaps when living in Exeter we didn’t truly appreciate the peace, tranquility and altogether different feel that Al Farid has to other restaurants. But, coming from the bustle of London, and now that we have experienced more restaurants than a few years ago, the uniqueness of Al Farid seems even more special.

Menu: Now for the most important part: the food! Once we have settled with our drinks, we peruse the menu, where you have two options: 1) opt for a typical starter and main combination, where we have previously enjoyed choices such as marinated squid and houmous, followed by keftas (more on that later!) or 2) opt to share mezze, for which Reza offers a great deal: 6 mezze for £28. On this occasion, my boyfriend and I choose to share the mezze, and choose the following (all pictured above): 

Hummus Sharwarma (homemade houmous topped with marinated chicken: smooth and flavoursome without being overly garlicky), 

Falafel (crunchy on the outside and ridiculously soft and fluffy on the inside, perfectly accompanied by a small salad and tzatziki), 

Izmir ‘kefta’ (a smaller portion of the above-mentioned meatballs – words cannot describe how delicious these are!: perfectly cooked, succulent beef meatballs in an unusual cinnamon and tomato sauce), 

Lamb shish (a new addition to the menu and what a delight: two small skewers of beautifully cooked lamb shish to share), 

Aradis (grilled tiger prawns with a hint of lemon and garlic),

And finally, calamari (obviously homemade: only lightly battered and served with a harissa mayonnaise). 

As you can see, these are beautifully presented in little terracotta pots, with a side of homemade bread (obviously avoid if carb-free!). Each dish is so unique, and served in a perfectly sized portion, each with a side salad. Six little dishes allows you to sample a taste of the many beautiful flavours of Morocco that Al Farid has to offer, without feeling horribly full, and all for a fantastic price!

Overall, we are already planning to come back for a day trip, to make the most of a whole day session at Al Farid! We have been made to feel so welcome from day one, and it is such a delight to find a restaurant with both charm and delicious food, for which I urge anyone and everyone to visit! 

Food menu (options available): 5*

Food (taste): 5*

Drinks (options available): 4*

Drinks (taste): 4*

Atmosphere: 5*

Service: 5* 

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The Watch House: living up to expectations

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I have wanted to go to the new Shad Thames branch of The Watch House (www.watchhousecoffee.com) ever since I walked past it in its opening stages a few weeks ago. So, when my boyfriend suggested we pay a visit to alleviate our margarita-induced hangovers one Saturday morning, I jumped at the chance!

We walked down the beautiful cobbled street leading up to The Watch House, and arrived quite early for brunch (10am) but it was already heaving. They don’t take bookings (which is a personal pet peeve!) so the option is just to queue and hope a table frees up – thankfully it did!

Interiors: The interiors are quite hygge: all white with gorgeous wall-mounted menus, and I love that their bakery wares – from croissants to huge slabs of millionaire shortbread – are so prominently displayed on the counter as the central focus of the café. These are available to both take away and on offering on their menu.

Atmosphere: Each table (of which there are only a few – hence the queue!) is spaced apart from its neighbour, meaning that you are able to enjoy being in your own brunch bubble without anyone else intruding. The Watch House is far from many of London’s recent brunch offerings that are geared towards huge groups of friends enjoying bottomless brunches. Instead, this space is for couples or families: prams rather than prosecco!

Menu: In my opinion, the menu is perfect. I love brunch menus that are slightly different to the standard staple items you can get anywhere. Many of our fellow diners loaded up on fresh pastries and granola. My boyfriend and I obviously stuck to the protein and both ordered eggs: eggs benedict for him (with delicious, moist hand-pulled ham hock) and eggs, smoked salmon and smashed avocado for me (pictured). The eggs were perfectly poached, with generous portions of their accompaniments, on top of delicious ‘Little Bread Pedlar’ sourdough that’s delivered to The Watch House daily. And each for a very reasonable £7!

Overall, I loved our relaxing experience at The Watch House, where the focus is on good food rather than creating a brunch party atmosphere: something that is becoming increasingly harder to find in London. You could easily have an equally fantastic time by yourself here. So, on that note, I will be back ASAP to sample my next choice from the menu: Knead peanut butter on that delicious sourdough!

Food menu (options available): 5*

Food (taste): 4.5*

Drinks menu (options available): 5*

Drinks (taste): 5*

Atmosphere: 5*

Service: 3.5* (you have to order at the counter so service isn’t the most dominating characteristic of this brunch spot… yet!)

Psycle: the party on a bike

Psycle (psyclelondon.com) epitomises all that is good about fitness: it looks good and it feels good. Most negative preconceptions around fitness are that it solely focuses on the exterior. Psycle correctly places equal emphasis on how fitness makes you look, and how it makes you feel, which is what makes it so great.

Atmosphere: I have to admit that I am a Psycle addict, so this review is not of my first class. However, as it’s my first class with Psycle instructor Joe (psyclelondon.com/instructor/66), I thought it could pass as a first review of sorts.

This Saturday morning I headed to Psycle’s studio in Canary Wharf. As you enter the studio reception, the music immediately hits you, as  do the gleaming smiles of the reception staff, who have definitely been employed based on both looks and personality; there are no bitchy blonde waifs trying to intimate you here. Once checked in, you have the option to pre-order a shake from Psycle’s Energy Kitchen (psyclelondon.com/energy-kitchen) for after the class (more on that later), and are given your cleats. I then carry on through the gorgeous white reception into the equally gorgeous white changing rooms to get ready, with every amenity possible at your fingertips.

Content: Now for the good part: the class itself. To say Joe brings the feel good factor is an understatement. As I took my seat on the front row (naturally), Joe came up to me to greet me personally, as he hadn’t seen me at one of his classes before, and he definitely made everyone feel just as welcome. I then spent the next few minutes before kick off adjusting my bike before it begins: the 45 minute party on a bike. Joe immediately epitomises what I have said about Psycle: looking good and feeling good. His body is as flawless as his smile.

For the duration of the class, each track brings something different: you could be seated (although this is unlikely), out of the saddle, doing press ups on your handlebars (whilst still pedalling of course) or tapping back (tapping back into the saddle to return to standing on the next beat). One thing never changes, however: you are always on the beat. Which means the sprints are to the most heart-pumping tracks, and you have no choice but spin your legs faster than you thought possible.

There are two other constants in a Psycle class: 1) there’s always a track where you close your eyes and focus on you and what you want to achieve and 2) the penultimate track is a weights track where you take a seat and curl and press your dumbbells until your arms burn just as much as your legs. Despite sheer exhaustion, in the final track, the entire class was whooping, and Joe genuinely threw his towel into the air in all the excitement!

At the end, the whole room is grinning from ear to ear, and all I can think of is how good I feel and how much I want to return to Joe’s class ASAP.

Afters: As mentioned earlier, I pre-ordered a shake for after the class and, after a ridiculously luxurious shower with complimentary Sachajuan products, I go to collect my favourite bespoke, low-carb shake (pictured): almond milk, cinnamon, chocolate protein and peanut butter. Without fail, Psycle make this combination better than anywhere else in London.

So, smiling and elated (with legs as worked as they’ve ever been), I begin my Saturday morning refuelling with Energy Kitchen deliciousness, to head home to swiftly rebook my next class.

Sweat-rating: 5*

Studio quality (amenities): 5*

Music quality: 5*

Smoothie quality: 5* (will never be topped!)

Overall rating: 5*

Yoga, but not as you know it

I am most definitely a wannabe yoga bunny – in theory. But I always prefer to leave a fitness class dripping in sweat than relaxed.

However, every now and then (usually when I have been stressed at work and/or struggling with DOMS) I book into a yoga class for the future, to force me to take some time out and do something different.

This weekend, I went to the only place I will ever go for an enjoyable yoga experience (aside from Amante Beach Club www.amanteibiza.com/homepage  in Ibiza!) and that’s Yogasphere’s City branch at Matt Roberts’ gym near Bank (www.yogasphere.eu), specifically the class that Olivia Marley (Instagram: yogawitholivia) teaches on a Saturday morning. As it’s a weekend, the City is dead, which means your head is already in the right place for an hour of yoga.

Atmosphere: Matt Roberts’ gym is as luxurious as you might expect: the changing rooms contain gorgeous Percy and Reed products for relaxing post-class, and the room is spacious. However, I think it would be a nice touch if some background music was added.

For the yoga itself, this is conducted in a single-room studio, where the yoga mats are spread in the middle of the room which is otherwise dominated with gym equipment (pictured). The mats are close together but, as you are focusing solely on you this doesn’t bother me too much.

Content: Olivia’s Saturday Yogasphere class is a mixed level Vinyasa yoga class, meaning that, after warming up, you move from one pose to the next, coordinating the flow with your breath.

As I am very much a yoga novice, there are two things that I love about Olivia’s class that differentiates her from other yoga instructors, and that keep me coming back (oh, and that she has a fantastic yoga-given figure is a great bit of motivation too!)

  1. Each pose is offered to you in stages. If you can’t progress to the next stage, you can easily remain at a more basic version of the pose. For example, at the end of the class we graduated to Bird of Paradise pose but, as Olivia explained each part of the pose step-by-step, the room was all posed into different variations that suited them as an individual, rather than the class as a whole.
  2. Olivia has a very relaxed attitude towards instructing. She will often be laughing as she explains the pose, and has never once forced anyone into a pose that they do not feel comfortable in. So many yoga instructors force bodies into positions that they aren’t ready to do, meaning that would-be yoga converts are scared off from returning for a second class.

Rest is offered between poses in the form of child’s pose, downward dog or, for those of us who want to keep moving (me!), a downward dog that progresses into a plank, and then a backbend. And, of course, at the end of the 60 minute class, there is the lovely Savasana section, before you head back into the real world.

Because I chose the constant movement “rest option”, I was moving for the whole hour, toning muscles in a different way to a spin class or boxing class would offer. However, I didn’t realise this until the following day, when my arms ached more than they would do after an hour of boxing! Not only was I very relaxed for the rest of the day, I realised how hard my body had worked holding the poses once the ache set in. This has absolutely convinced me to rebook. Maybe I will be a yoga bunny after all…

Sweat-rating: 1* but as I have mentioned, this doesn’t mean your body isn’t working

Studio quality (amenities): 4* (quite small so can’t offer anything)

Music quality: N/A so this would be a good offering

Smoothie quality: N/A

Overall rating: 4*

Tramshed: smoke and mirrors

To walk into Mark Hix’s Tramshed (www.hixrestaurants.co.uk/restaurant/tramshed/) is a pretty special experience. It is hidden away down Rivington Street and looks more like an art gallery from the outside. Huge glass windows reveal a bit of the showstopper that greets you upon entry: a huge model of a cow dominating the centre of the enormous room. The restaurant definitely feels more lux than menu prices would suggest.Inside, there is a pleasant buzz, and the food that adorns each table makes for much conversation (more on that later!)

On this Thursday, I visited Tramshed with three girlfriends at 7pm, and we were keen to get ordering, given what we had seen on our arrival in the restaurant. We were seated near the bar at an average table, but the tables are pleasantly spaced out, so you don’t feel too cramped. Unfortunately, as we sat down, the waitress strongly emphasised that we had to return the table at 9pm, and omitted the customary ‘enjoy your meal’ or similar, which I thought slightly odd. This is obviously stated when you book a table at any restaurant, but I have never before had it emphasised to me so strongly!

 Menu: As the huge cow in the centre of the room suggests, the menu is heavily meat-based. Generally, you can either order chicken or beef in a variety of sizes: either a portion for one, or as something to share with the whole table. There isn’t a huge deal of variation, and whilst the restaurant caters to vegetarians, their options are not very exciting. – 3.5*

 We ordered some wine, which was reasonably priced, and enquired as to how many people the ‘Big Bird’ (sharing chicken) would serve. We were advised that they had run out. At 7pm. On a Thursday in the City. Bizarre. Therefore, we ordered the smaller chicken (pictured) with two large sides of mushrooms and cabbage. As I am dairy-free, I asked for the spinach to be served wilted and not creamed, and was advised that this would not be possible because it was ‘pre-prepared’. I often judge an establishment on the flexibility they can offer, and couldn’t help but wonder why they would not have fresh spinach in a large chef’s kitchen.

We began with two starters to share: whipped butternut squash with goat’s curd, and truffled artichoke salad. We were advised to order two starters because they were small. I didn’t realise how small – they looked more like cicchetti! The whipped squash was more like a smear on a tiny, dolls house-sized plate with a few small pieces of goat’s curd. The truffled artichoke salad was i) equally small, and ii) did not taste like truffle in the slightest. Which, for nearly £7, was very disappointing.

Thankfully, Tramshed picked themselves up somewhat for the mains, which is what they do best. The chicken was very aesthetically pleasing as you can see: surrounded by chips (obviously avoid if carb-free!) and filled with delicious sage and onion stuffing, and served with their house gravy. I chose to have a leg but my friends who chose the breast meat said it was quite dry, and in much need of the gravy. The sides were okay, but nothing special. And, for nearly £14 for some mushrooms and cabbage, you want exceptional, exciting flavours.

Dessert-wise, this is where Tramshed really let themselves down. At 8.40pm, my friend wanted to take a look at the menu. We were advised that we would have to move tables if we wanted desserts, because we had to return the table at 9pm. Therefore, we opted against it. At 8.45pm, a different waitress were asked if we wanted to move, 15 minutes before our deemed ‘slot’. Poor service and lack of consideration was the nail in the coffin, and spoilt the otherwise good nature of our lovely waitress Amber.

 Atmosphere: As you might expect from a long overdue reunion of four girls, we were pretty loud! Yet, thankfully, this was in keeping with the overall atmosphere of the restaurant. It definitely caters for bigger groups who, perhaps rather than focusing on food, are focusing on the aesthetics, and easy food for large groups of people.

 Overall: As the title suggests, don’t judge a book by its cover: the room and décor is absolutely 5*, yet the food and service just isn’t up to scratch. Furthermore, I love to enjoy food and feel relaxed whilst I do so and, whilst the setting was great for a boisterous City catch up, I felt processed, just another number. Let’s just say I can see past the smoke and mirrors…

 

Food menu (options available): 3*

Food (taste): 3.5*

Drinks menu (options available): 3.5*

Drinks (taste): 4*

Atmosphere: 4*

Service: 2.5*

Let’s get ready to Rumble 

 An exercise class at 6.30 on a drizzly, dark Thursday morning . . . really? It had better be good! And in my experience, 1Rebel (www.1rebel.co.uk/) always delivers. There are two 1Rebel studios: one in St Mary Axe, the other one near Liverpool Street station. Rumble is only offered at the latter, so that’s where I am headed on this dark morning (pictured!)

I feel half-asleep when I walk into the studio and see that the party has already started; tunes are blasting out in the glam, warehouse-style reception area, emphasising the fun (and the hard work) that is to come.

This is where 1Rebel is different; whilst Barry’s Bootcamp emphasises hard work above and beyond fun, 1Rebel has a nice balance. You know you are going to work hard – because how could hardcore rap and darkened rooms elicit anything else? – but equally, the fun vibes and smiles of everyone milling around the reception area signal that there will be fun ahead too.

Content: On this Thursday morning I chose to do a Rumble class, which is 1Rebel’s take on a boxing class, and my go-to boxing class of choice. The room is a darkened circle, with one punch bag per person, which gives the class a sense of an individual gym session, as opposed to a ‘group class’ which is something different, that I really enjoy.

As it’s a fitness class, you work both sides of your body, unlike a typical boxing session. Each participant has their own punch bag to be used for the MMA rounds, which are then interspersed with cardio rounds (think burpees, press ups, sit ups and endless planks which are your ‘recovery’)! The music is usually of a rap/hiphop vibe, which helps you to delve deep and find your inner boxing aggression, and revs up your energy even at 6.30am!

The MMA/cardio rounds continue for most of the 45-minute class, with a few abs sessions thrown in for good measure and – when you feel like you couldn’t move again for love nor money – there is the final 2 minutes, when the lights turn off and you can freestyle whatever routine you choose. I have heard that for most people, this is their favourite part. Although, from personal experience, I often go so hard that my arms do not work at the end of it!

Atmosphere: After the class, tunes carry through into the changing rooms, where you will be greeted with décor fit for a celebrity backstage. Lights surround each mirror, and if you brave sitting down on the benches, you will be blissfully surprised that they are heated! Everything imaginable is provided: GHD straighteners, beautiful moisturisers, conditioners and toners. However, the star of the show has to be the ice cold SMEG fridge, filled with freezing flannels to provide a much-needed cool down.

Once you have returned to normal (!), the smoothie bar in the heart of the reception beckons to refuel you. 1Rebel has outsourced their smoothie-making to Supernatural (www.sprntrl.co.uk), who offer a mixture of smoothies, juices and protein shakes, carefully nutritionally balanced. Whilst not the best I have had (more on than at a later date), thankfully, they allow for modifications for the picky ones of us (top tip: reduce the number of bananas and/or dates added to drastically reduce the carb count).

Sweat-rating: Absolutely 5*! You should not have an ounce left in you after this class.

Overall rating: 5*

Studio quality (amenities): 5*

Music quality: 5*

Smoothie quality: 3.5*

Warning: This class is addictive. Once the nausea has worn off and the sweat has dried, you will focus all your energies trying to schedule another!

Turkey – not just for Christmas

To find somewhere that serves delicious, healthy food, that’s super high in protein, and makes a delicious Aperol Spritz sounds totally unattainable, until you venture to Strut and Cluck (http://www.strutandcluck.com): a unique restaurant nestled in the heart of Shoreditch on Commercial Road.

Menu: When describing this to my friends, I refer to it as the Turkish restaurant that serves turkey. Protein-lovers around will know that turkey is one of the leanest meats which therefore makes it a perfect option for a healthy meal out. However, I have never seen it on a restaurant menu before, until now! The menu at Strut and Cluck has turkey at the heart of each dish, with a delicious middle-Eastern variation on each.

Interiors: The restaurant almost feels like a mediterranean home: lots of wooden panelling and bringing the outdoors inside. This was wonderful in Summer/early Autumn, but I do wonder what it will be like over Christmas.

This was my second time at the restaurant. The first time, Strut and Cluck were still finding their feet as a relative newcomer to the market. The service was a bit slow with our table of four girls, and we received complimentary sides as an apology. However, the food was so good that first visit that I just had to return for seconds.

On my second visit, my friend and I were seated on one of the two-person tables along the back wall of the restaurant which are slightly close together. However, because the room is so full of natural light, there is no feeling of claustrophobia. A great option for larger groups is to hire one of the private rooms, designed in the same indoor/outdoor garden theme.

Before commencing turkey/tahini heaven, my friend and I ordered an Aperol Spritz each. I have tried a LOT of these in London, and have to say that Strut and Cluck do some of the best!

We then shared some smokey aubergine and pitta (go without the pitta if you are carb-free!) which was delicious, and the most amazing cauliflower with lemony creme fraiche and pomegranate. The star of the show, however, has to be the huge turkey drumstick with tahini, zhoug and roasted cabbage (pictured). The turkey was cooked to perfection, and each unusual flavour combined perfectly. And of course, anything with tahini gets a huge thumbs up from me! – 5*

Atmosphere: Given the light interiors, you feel like you are abroad, which is aided by the light mediterranean music playing in the background. The best thing about it is that Strut and Cluck has found its niche: serving healthy home-cooked food, presented in its own way with no airs or graces, in a room that feels as if you have stepped straight off the plane.

Overall: I already have two further bookings scheduled at Strut and Cluck, so it has become a firm favourite of mine! I am looking forward to trying their Christmas offerings, and seeing how they transform the summery atmosphere into one more aligned to London’s cold streets!

Food menu (options available): 4* (if you are veggie or don’t like turkey, however, this may not be one for you!)

Food (taste): 5*

Drinks menu (options available): 5*

Drinks (taste): 5*

Atmosphere: 4*

Service: 3.5* (it has definitely got better since the first time, but it’s probably their only downfall)

Vegan haven in Dalston

As a self-confessed gym and protein addict, going to a vegan restaurant may not be the most obvious choice of dinner date. However, in order to catch up with my much-loved (vegan) sister I acquiesced, and opted to try something new. Plus, I will never say no to #cleaneating!

Fed by Water in Dalston (http://fedbywater.co.uk) may be a bit of an effort to get to, but so worth it! This tiny little restaurant is off-piste, and you feel like only those in the know would be lucky enough to go there.

Menu: The restaurant used to serve both vegan and non-vegan food, but the popularity of the former soon triumphed, and their menu became vegan-only. And, surprisingly, even though I am a meat-lover, there are plenty of fantastic options. The premise of the restaurant is on purity (hence the name), creating delicious, Italian food that is 100% vegan.

Interiors: The restaurant is next to Kingsland Shopping Centre in Dalston but, once inside, no sense of the busy-ness of outdoors permeates. The minimalist interiors are brightly juxtaposed with vegan slogans painted on the walls, and the plethora of fresh fruit and veg on show emphasises that everything here is homemade, on site.

Upon entering, we were warmly greeted, and the fantastic service continued throughout. We then swiftly got down to business ordering a couple of sinless (sugar-free) margaritas (pictured), and started with their very popular starter: ‘cheesy balls‘, made out of four different varieties of cashew cheese and served with homemade bread. The ‘cheese’ was creamy and flavoursome, a great option if you are #dairyfree – 5*

It being an Italian restaurant, the obvious choices are pizza and pasta, the most famous of their pasta dishes being their vegan carbonara. However, unfortunately, they were unable to switch spaghetti for a lower carb option of courgetti for me, slightly knocking their star rating down!

Instead, my sister opted for the Nature pizza (pictured) on a hemp seed base, whilst I opted for ‘Raw Ballox‘: raw veggie balls served with dehydrated apple slices, quinoa, courgetti & avocado tartare and, the star of the show, cashew basil ‘cheese’. I also got a side of smoked tofu for some added #protein – 5*

Atmosphere: Despite the restaurant being small (I would guess it seats approximately 30 people), the atmosphere is a pleasant buzz as opposed to impossibly noisy; the tables are well-spaced, and you can opt to either sit a deux, or on sharing benches. – 4*

Overall: A wonderful evening with very attentive staff, and delicious, very different food. The beauty of this restaurant is you could order a standard Italian two courses: bruschetta and pizza, or you could opt for our choices which were a little more adventurous, and something entirely unique to Fed by Water.

And that sums it up: this restaurant caters for vegans, but offers such a plethora of options that non-vegans could have one of the most delicious meals in London here, as I certainly did! The food is rich and packed full of taste, but you do not leave feeling unhealthy. Instead, you are freshly energised, with a pleasant buzz from the delicious margaritas.

Food menu (options available): 4*

Food (taste): 5*

Drinks menu (options available): 5*

Drinks (taste): 5*

Atmosphere: 4*

Service: 4*