Keeping Fit with Esquared Fitness App

Esquared Fitness App
Esquared Fitness App

 

Fitness.  It’s a love/hate thing.  Some of us love it, some of us hate it.  Whatever camp you’re in, I think we can all agree that it’s necessary and an essential part of both our physical and mental wellbeing.

I started ballet when I was four years old and by age 17 I was training 6-7 days per week, finally finishing up just before my 18th birthday.  So you’d think based on that, I would’ve been a natural lover of fitness.  Wrong.  I hated PE class at school, I hated running, I pretty much hated anything that wasn’t dance based.

As soon as I finished ballet, I gained five kg in the space of about six months, a decent amount for someone who’s only 5ft 2.  I didn’t exercise again until I joined a gym aged 22, and shortly after I moved to London.  Once in London I belonged to various gyms, but my motivation was low, and my eating was terrible.  At my heaviest, I weighed 12 kg more than I currently do.  I went on diets, I even paid a clinic one time because I was desperate to lose some weight that definitely needed to be lost.  I didn’t like the skin I was in, I didn’t feel good about myself, physically or mentally, and I would think about it day in, day out.

The turning point for me was joining a local gym in Fulham.  The least fancy gym you could find, full of the least fancy members you could come across (except for Daniel Radcliffes parents, which made me love them even more, working out in a council run gym).  I knew how to work out properly, I had good technique, I just needed to be consistent, and most importantly watch my diet.  The members are what kept me going at this gym, I loved how down to earth it was, how I knew everyone there, and thankfully this was what kept me on track and got me back into a good space physically and mentally.

Esquared Fitness App

Over the years, cleaning up my diet helped any hard work I put in at the gym.  Once I saw the improvements, and I grew stronger with time, fitness became a regular part of my life.  I enjoy weight training the most, the results always spur me on to lift more, do more rep’s and in turn see the changes in my body.  I find the process fascinating.  For three years, I changed things up and did the ever popular Kayla Itsines workouts, six days per week.  I have never been more fit in my life, but it came at a price, and I ended up with a lot of hip and pelvis issues, which meant having X-rays and MRI’s to figure out what was going on.  Those issues really caused me to become slack with my gym training, and I lost a lot of motivation and determination.  It’s only been over the past six months that I’ve tried to dedicate more time to keeping my mind and body in a good place.

I knew I couldn’t go back to my Kayla workouts on a permanent basis, and whilst I love weight training, I’ve also felt lately that I wanted to try some other types of fitness training, so alongside some classes at my gym, I was recently given the opportunity to try the Esquared Fitness App.

The Esquared app allows its users to find premium two-hour gym sessions and one-off classes in London. What this means is you can try out a gym or one of their featured classes without taking up a membership.  I downloaded the app, which you can do via Google or Apple, and was able to search gyms by location, class type, date, time etc. I decided to try three different classes, which I’m sharing with you below, all were great in their own way, and I can honestly say I love the Esquared app, as it’s given me the opportunity to try new classes, in different locations, at a really great rate.

I’d love for you to try the Esquared Fitness app too, and let me know what you think.  Perhaps we can do a class together sometime!  And good news, if you sign up to the app and use the code ‘AB19531’ you’ll get £20 to do a workout or a class, yay!

My final word on fitness:  Don’t overthink it, don’t wait for motivation, just get up, show up and move your body.  You’ll never regret it.

Annmaree x

Please note: Whilst this was a collaborative post with Esquared, all views are 100% my own and 100% honest.  I highly recommend the app.

Esquared Fitness App
Esquared Fitness App
Esquared Fitness App

Powertone – Chelsea

My first class booked through Esquared was a power plate class at Power Tone on Kings Road in Chelsea.  I’d done power plate classes 10 years ago, and I remember leaving the studio after my very first class, which last 30 minutes, and my legs were like jelly.  Needless to say, I was a little nervous about my putting myself through a class again.

A maximum of four people are in each class, and on the day I booked, I was on my own, so it was like a PT session, which meant all eyes were on me from the trainer, and therefore zero cheating/resting!  Power plates provide multi-directional vibration through its platform, which gives your muscles an extremely intense workout!  Due to the high vibration on the base of the plate your body works 20-50% harder to perform an exercise – one squat on the power plate is almost equivalent to nine regular squats.

I was sweating within five minutes, which is always a good sign you’re working out properly, and my poor wee quads were hating on me as I pulsed in squat position with a kettle bell, whilst silently praying to move on to the upper body section before my legs gave way underneath me.  Don’t let that put you off though!  The trainer was encouraging and positive the whole way through, and the 30 minutes goes pretty quickly, leaving you feeling like you’ve really worked out your body in the best way.

Sweaty Betty
Sweaty Betty
Esquared Fitness App

Frame Quickie AbsSweaty Betty, Carnaby Street

My second class was a 30 minutes Quickie Abs class taken by a Frame fitness instructor at the underground studio in Sweaty Betty on Carnaby Street.  I was really looking forward to this class, because I love ab workouts, or more precisely, the results from working out your abs.

For those unfamiliar with Frame, it was started by two friends (one is a kiwi! #proud) and they’re motivation behind their classes is to make sure keeping fit and healthy never feels like a chore.   With studios dotted around London you can do anything from pilates to learning Beyonce’s Single Ladies dance routine.  For those unfamiliar with Sweaty Betty, opening in London as a women’s activewear store in 1998, the brand has grown globally, and alongside offering classes in-store, they also opened a studio at their Carnaby Street location, where fitness companies like Frame come and take classes.

So yeah, back to the studio and the class.  Firstly, the studio.  OMG, I thought I wasn’t that fussed about ‘nice gym spaces’, but I was SOLD as soon as I walked down the stairs at Sweaty Betty’s studio.  Every tiny detail has been thought out so carefully, from the lockers named after famous females, to all the fun neon signs.  The class was all-female, and again I was sweating within five minutes, as our high energy instructor put us through our paces and pushed us to do more and do better.  I really enjoyed this class, it was tough but also energising and I’d recommend trying this one, even if it’s just for the sneak peek around the studio!

Esquared Fitness App
Esquared Fitness App
Esquared Fitness App
Esquared Fitness App
Chelsea Health Club and Spa
Chelsea Health Club and Spa

Chelsea Health Club and Spa – Chelsea

My third class was a 45 minute Dance Fitness class at Chelsea Health Club and Spa, on Fulham Road, situated behind Chelsea Football Club.  The club itself is stunning, with facilities including exercise studios, a 25 metre ozone treated pool, an award-winning spa as well as cardio and weight training equipment.  There’s a club lounge and restaurant, you can even make use of a dry cleaning concierge service!

The dance fitness class took place in a large studio, and our male instructor was full of energy and amazing dance moves!  The class on that day focused on a lot of salsa, rumba and cha-cha moves, that got the heart rate moving and the legs working at double speed.

I love dance, it’s my favourite thing to do, give me a dance floor and I’m happy, and this class was no exception.  I found it a challenge, as those dance styles are so different to ballet, but I laughed my way through the majority of the class, and had so much fun.  The class consisted of women of all ages, which I found fantastic to see, and it felt warm and inclusive.  Definitely one I’d return to again, and I’d leave more space in my diary to enjoy all the facilities on my next visit.

Detour | Apple Picking in Surrey

apple picking surrey
apple picking surrey
Apple Picking
Apple orchard surrey
apple picking surrey
apple orchard
apple picking surrey
apple orchard
apple orchard

Aaaaah Autumn you perfect, cosy, not too hot, not too cold time of the year!  Without a doubt my favourite season.   After the first proper summer we’ve had in London for about 12 years, I’m now ready for the cooler weather, the chunky knit sweaters, pumpkin spice everything, and apple orchard visits.

For the last few years I’ve made a point of visiting Garsons Farm in Surrey to pick out Halloween pumpkins at their pumpkin patch, but this year I had my heart set on visiting their apple orchard.  I was dreaming of all the delicious apple desserts I could make, and I wanted to give apple cider a go, an American thing that doesn’t feature in the UK, but having seen it splashed over Instagram during the Autumn season, it looked like something I needed to collect apples for!

So I made plans with my friend Bryony, and we set off on a sunny Saturday for Surrey.  It took us forever, because train terminations interrupted what should have been a simple route to Garsons.  We eventually arrived, whizzed around the garden centre because the Christmas decorations were already up, and being the Christmas fanatic I am, I had to have a peek.

We ventured out to the farm, and located the apple orchard.  There’s loads of different types of apples to choose from, but we head straight for the ones that looked best in photos ;o)  Bryony is a photographer extraordinaire and we had a fun and funny time (some of the outtake photos are hilarious) snapping some Autumnal shots around the orchard.

Garsons is super easy to reach from London, via car or train (unless of course there’s a train termination), and it’s always so nice to get out of the big smoke for the day, into the fresh air and a slightly slower pace of life.  One day is enough though, I’m a city kinda gal ;o)

I hope you’re all enjoying Autumn, if that’s your current season, and embracing all the cosiness that it brings.

PS If you want Bryony to take lovely photos of you, you can contact her at hello@findmeintooting.com

Annmaree x

apple picking surrey
apple picking
apple orchard
apple orchard
apple picking surrey
apple orchard
apple orchard
apple picking surrey
LRM_EXPORT_957507133749577_20181003_214603789

Party Planning for my 40th Birthday

Turning 40
40th party planning

The most stressful part about turning 40?  Party planning for my birthday!  If you’re like me and a bit of a perfectionist and love planning parties that have lots of well thought out details, then you’ll likely understand the time and effort this sort of party takes.

When I decided on having a celebration for my 40th birthday, I was so excited about all the possibilities of a theme, colour scheme etc.  Then I went on Pinterest, and that excitement turned into overwhelm.  THERE ARE SO MANY OPTIONS!  One minute my heart was settled on a gold and pink theme, the next I was considering monochrome, and I became more and more confused as August ticked along.

party planning for my 40th
40th party planning
Turning 40
party planning for my 40th

Eventually, I created some ideas based on blogs I had read, images I’d saved over the years on Pinterest, and my own imagination.  So I wanted to create this post, in the hope that if you’re sat wondering what theme or colour scheme your party is going to be, that maybe you can use some of the ideas I put together, to help you with your planning.

Turning 40

Starting with drinks, I settled on San Pellegrino flavoured soda’s in a can for the non-drinkers, alongside Perrier sparkling water in a can because they look adorable ;o)  For the drinkers, I wanted my favourite summer drink, Aperol Spritz, so using a peg board, I created directions for making your own.  We also had bellini’s, champagne, white wine and rosé.

To add to the fun, I created my own wine labels, which I stuck on the white wine and rosé bottles.  Here’s some of the label captions I used (you’ll find plenty of ideas on Pinterest):

Someone needs to set a bad example.
F*ck it, it’s time for wine.
Pairs well with bad decisions.
Just add ice and whatever dignity you have left.
You’re gonna need a bigger glass.
You and I both know you’ll be crying later.

40th party planning
party planning for my 40th
40th party planning
Turning 40

For the food, I wanted a long platter full of delicious bites from prosciutto and salami, to olives, breadsticks, grapes, cheese and crackers.  We piled it high and it was the perfect snacking platter for my guests.  We also had platters of cheese and crackers, prosciutto and melon, and popcorn bags.

For the popcorn bags, I ordered paper bags online, and created a label that said ‘Pop it like it’s hot’, printing this directly onto the popcorn bags.  FYI this was a tricky process, as the bags kept slipping in the printer, so I advise you to either buy LOADS of bags to counteract the amount you’ll need to throw away when the printing smudges, or print onto sticky labels instead.

40th party planning

And of course, what’s a party without dessert?  I ordered a bunch of mini ice cream tubs in the most amazing flavours: Lavender, Raspberry Pavlova, Lucky Charms, Rose, Dulce De Leche, Peach, Nutella and Honey Halva.  Yum! (My go-to store for these ice creams made  by the Cream Lab, is The Hoarder in West Brompton – if you’re in London).  Alongside the ice cream I added some bellini and champagne alco ice pops to the mix, because, hey why not? ;o)

40th party planning

I decided to make my own sweet bags too, ordering huge tubs of sweets online and purchasing glassine bags to put them in.  To add to the fun, I created ‘I’ll take you to the candy shop’ stickers, printing onto sticky labels, to go on the front of the bags.

Turning 40
Turning 40
Turning 40

The colour scheme ended up being mostly black, white and yellow.  You’ll see from the images, I had yellow plates, black ‘pop fizz clink’ napkins, black and white straws and we scoured the internet for some amazing white polycarbonate wine glasses (similar ones here).  I purchased silver foiled balloon letters that read #YOUNGAF because I wanted all the details to be light hearted and fun, and this hung above the drinks table.

hangover kit
party planning for my 40th
hangover kit

I love a goody bag, and over the years when I’ve hosted parties and dinners I’ve often made goody bags for friends to take home.  So this birthday was no exception and I decided to hand out Hangover Kits to my guests.  The Hangover Kit contents included: Coffee, water, chocolate, vodka and spicy tomato juice to make a bloody mary.

I purchased brown paper bags and created the ‘Hangover Kit’ label, printing directly onto the bags.  I created a ‘F*cking Strong Coffee’ label and printed these on sticky labels, sticking them on glassine bags.  To put inside the coffee bag I purchased these instant coffee bags.

hangover kit
hangover kit
hangover kit
party planning for my 40th

I bought family sized Galaxy chocolate bars, removing the paper label so it just remained wrapped in foil, and then created and printed my own chocolate bar labels that read ‘Although you can party like an absolute rockstar, it appears you can’t recover like one’.

Making my own labels for the water bottles that read ‘H2Ooohhhh f*ck my head hurts’, I stuck these onto mini Evian bottles and for the bloody mary contents, I purchased Big Tom bloody mary mix in a can, and I also bought small glass bottles online, decanting vodka into them and created a label for the bottles reading ‘Hair of the Dog.  The one that bit you’.

Turning 40

The day before the party, the weather forecast confirmed torrential rain, so we made a dash to Ikea and purchased a marquee, alongside extra wine glasses, side tables, stools and other bit and pieces, so I recommend using Ikea for any party furniture!

Party planning is NO JOKE, it’s time consuming, so make sure you leave a few weeks to prepare.  It will always take longer than you think!  It’s worth it though, when it all comes together on the day!

Hope these ideas help you with any future parties you’re planning!

Annmaree x

Turning 40, Party Photos

Turning 40
40th birthday
40th birthday
40th birthday
40th birthday

 

Turning 40
Turning 40
Turning 40
40th birthday
40th birthday
40th birthday
40th birthday
Turning 40

Finally sharing some photos from my 40th birthday!  Better late than never!  As some of you know it was the coldest, wettest day of summer in London.  What were the chances!  My dream of a lovely, outdoor summer courtyard party was quickly whipped out from under my feet, when the weather forecast didn’t change at all in the week leading up to turning 40.

We had to make a last minute dash to IKEA to purchase a marquee for the courtyard!  But sparing you all the details, and the fact we had to delay the party by an hour to get everything ready, it turned out pretty damn well!

I spent the best part of August coming up with a colour scheme, creating and printing everything from the popcorn bags, to the wine labels and creating hangover kits for all my guests to take home as goodie bags (I’ll do a separate post on that!).

I thought the party would start at home and end up in the pub later that evening, but the party remained in the kitchen until around 1am, with a lot of dancing, and a lot of wine!

I’ll let the pictures paint the picture of the evening.  I hope you enjoy them!

PS Some of the photos were taken by my fabulously talented friend Bryony who is available  to hire as a photographer for all sorts of things from events to product shots.  Go check out her Instagram to see her work: @findmeintooting

Annmaree x

Turning 40
Turning 40
Turning 40
Turning 40
Turning 40
Turning 40
Turning 40
Turning 40
Turning 40
40th party planning
40th birthday
Turning 40
Turning 40
40th birthday
40th birthday
40th birthday
Turning 40

Detour | Locked Up in Alcotraz, London

Alcotraz London
Alcotraz London

I’ve been to Alcatraz in San Francisco.  Twice in fact.  It’s an amazing experience.  But I’m here today to tell you about somewhere with a similar name, but a different experience.  Welcome to Alcotraz.

Alcotraz London
Alcotraz London
Alcotraz London

When I found out about this immersive prison cocktail experience, I knew I had to go.  I put out a WhatsApp message to three of my girlfriends I knew would be up for it, tickets were booked and back in August we all congregated on Brick Lane at the entrance to Alcotraz.

Waiting outside, I glanced down to look at my phone, only to look back up and discover an Alcotraz security guard eyeballing me, asking in an American drawl ‘Are you doooone?’.  ‘Yes!’ I squeaked.

Alcotraz London

We were led inside and thrown an orange boiler suit each, told to put them on and then shouted at to ‘GET IN SINGLE FILE’.  These actors were taking their roles seriously, and it was equal amounts of terrifying and hilarious.

Put inside our cells, the prison warden then made his entrance to explain the rules.  No alcohol of course.  The security guard then handed out record card’s and we were instructed to fill these in with details of our crime.

Alcotraz London
Alcotraz London
Alcotraz London

As we settled into our cell, a prisoner arrived aka the cocktail guy, and smuggled our Bombay Sapphire to his bar prep area, creating cocktails throughout the evening.  Four cocktails each, all different, all delicious.

Alcotraz London

During the evening, which lasts 1 hour 45 minutes, the warden and security guards marched us out of our cell, demanding us to hand over our record cards.  They grilled us over the details, and to be honest I think they were finding it hard to keep a straight face, as they’d likely not experienced the sass of four kiwi girls.  The whole experience was laugh out loud funny, even though we were scared to laugh out loud for fear of what insult might be thrown our way.

Alcotraz London
Alcotraz London
Alcotraz London

I even made it down to ‘The Hole’ that evening.  I’m probably the only prisoner ever that jumped for joy when their prison number got called out, to be marched down to the hole with a few other inmates.  I won’t ruin the surprise of what happened down there, just in case you’re planning on going to Alcotraz, which you absolutely should do!

Alcotraz London

We spent the evening laughing our heads off, taking a million photos, and sipping cocktails – actually more like sucking them back, we’d barely finish one and another would arrive! (Word of warning: make sure you’ve lined your stomach with food before your visit, some of us had to live and learn! HA!).

Alcotraz London
Alcotraz London
Alcotraz London

If you like the idea of wearing an orange boiler suit and being shouted at whilst drinking cocktails then I suggest you book your ticket NOW!  Hahaha, my description sounds miserable, however this is one of my favourite experiences in my 17 years in London.  It is truly brilliant!  Trust this inmate, just go.

Alcotraz London

Detour | Goldfinch SW17 Cocktail Bar, Tooting

Goldfinch SW17
Goldfinch SW17

Happy Friday everyone! Not only is a Bank Holiday weekend about to begin here in the UK, it will also be my birthday on Sunday! The big 4-0, oh my goodness!

Goldfinch SW17
Goldfinch SW17

For those of you in London, with no plans, but loving the idea of a lie in on Monday, let me suggest you make the most of Sunday by visiting one of my new favourite local spots, Goldfinch Cocktail Bar.  I had an ‘Instagram blind date’ here a couple of weeks ago, no don’t go starting rumours, I was just meeting a lovely fellow kiwi girl, Bryony aka Find Me In Tooting, who also lives in Tooting, and whom I’d connected with via the powers of Instagram.

Goldfinch menu

We spent a couple of hours on a gloomy Thursday evening, sipping cocktails and sharing stories, whilst pottering around both snapping a gazillion photos to share with you all.  #instagramlife.

Cocktails London
Goldfinch SW17
Goldfinch SW17

The interior of Goldfinch is lovely.  Cosy, comfortable and chic.  Everything you want in a cocktail bar really.  PLUS there’s the added bonus of a secret little courtyard outside, which we’ve been told will be weatherproofed for winter, and I can only imagine how lovely that space will be on a cold winter’s day, with a delicious cocktail in hand to warm your toes.

Goldfinch Tooting

We tested out the Cracked Pepper and Strawberry Pina Colada consisting of rum, strawberry liqueur, pineapple juice, honey, strawberries and black pepper, and the Pineapple and Lavender Bees Knees made up of gin, pineapple juice, rosewater, honey, fresh lemon juice and lavender bitters.  Both were equally delicious and beautifully presented.  We also had a couple of sneaky gin and tonics, because hello Thursday, you’re almost the weekend ;o)

Goldfinch SW17
Goldfinch Tooting

Goldfinch Cocktail Bar, located at 145 Mitcham Rd, London SW17 9PE, is one to check out!  And there’s no better time to do so than this Sunday, August 26th, because they’re having a party.  You can have a couple of drinks for my birthday!  #anyexcuse.

Detour | Eat, See and Do in Shoreditch

Shoreditch
Shoreditch

Sometimes you just need to take a day off.  Forget work, forget all the life admin you’ve been jotting down on your to-do list in the Notes app of your iPhone.  Sometimes you just need to ask a friend if they’re free to spend the day with you, and go have some fun.

Last Friday I did exactly that, and spent the day in Shoreditch with my friend Jo.  For those that don’t know, Shoreditch is one of my all time favourite areas in London.  For years I used to tell everyone I was going to take a sabbatical from the leafy, quiet neighbourhood of Fulham, and go live it up in East London.  It never happened, but it’s a part of London I’ve returned to time and time again.

Ozone Coffee Roasters London
Ozone Coffee Roasters London
Ozone Coffee Roasters London

We met at Old Street Station mid-morning and walked down the road to Ozone Coffee Roasters.  I love this place and not just because it’s owned by kiwis.  The building is magnificent for a start.  I have regular monthly meetings here as part of the New Zealand Business Women’s Network I belong to in London, and it doesn’t matter how many times I walk through the doors, I’m always blown away by the amazing interior.  A mix of industrial and modern, to me it has a very New York feel, and I just love it!

Ozone Coffee Roasters London
Ozone Coffee Roasters London

Ozone is a roaster, coffee bar and eatery.  On Friday we had coffee only, however I need to recommend that you visit for a meal sometime and that you try the following: Braised wagyu mince on toast with Essex smoked cheddar & piccalilli (sorry Vegetarians!).  This dish is available from 7am-4pm and it is SO DAMN GOOD!  I know mince on toast might be a weird concept to some of you, but this is a completely normal meal to those of us from New Zealand, and I advise you not to knock it till you try it.  This is the best version of mince on toast I’ve ever eaten.  EVER.

Attendant Shoreditch

Drinks drunk, we wandered in the direction of popular Shoreditch cafe The Attendant.  Our stomach’s were rumbling, so it was time to eat something delicious.

Attendant Shoreditch
Attendant Shoreditch
Attendant Shoreditch

Another beautiful spot, The Attendant is a calm space amongst the edgier vibe you find outside on the streets of Shoreditch. The cafe has plants hanging everywhere, there’s even a living plant wall running the length of the cafe.

We sat down and looked over the menu, both settling on avocado smash with turmeric hummus, cinnamon toasted pumpkin seeds, watercress and red amaranth piled high on toast (gluten free toast is available, and it tasted good!).  The whole meal was delicious and felt like I was doing something good for my body.

Attendant Shoreditch
Attendant Shoreditch

Fuelled up with food, we paused for a little snap on their seats outside, which are also great for ordering a coffee and watching the world go by, and then we continued on our journey around Shoreditch.

shoreditch
Shoreditch
Shoreditch

The one thing Shoreditch is never short of is street art.  Some of the biggest names in the street art world have left their mark on walls and buildings in the neighbourhood, and every time I’m in the area I see something new and interesting.  For those of you that love street art, there are some great tours to sign up to online.

Softserve Society

We wandered along Redchurch Street, which is full of amazing boutiques, cafes and restaurants.  Some favourites being The Modern Society  – a boutique full of fashion, art, and a cute little coffee bar, Labour and Wait – a store selling wonderfully timeless goods from kitchenware to household accessories and stationery, Barber and Parlour – a very edgy looking building that houses a cinema, a cafe & bar, a beauty parlour and a hair salon.

We decided it was time for a little mid-afternoon pick-me-up and we beelined towards Soft Serve Society at Boxpark.

Softserve Society
Softserve Society

I’d seen these grey-black ice creams before on previous Shoreditch visits, but I was yet to try one.  Jo and I decided to live life on the edge and order a charcoal coconut soft serve each.  I mean, are these the most Instagrammable ice creams or what?!  And who knew, it actually tasted really good!  If charcoal coconut is pushing the boat out too far for you, there’s a bunch of other amazing flavours and you can surround your soft serve in a cloud of candy floss, top it with toasted marshmallows or have them sprinkle on popping candy.  The world is your sugary oyster at Soft Serve Society.

Dark Sugars Chocolate

On a sugar high, I knew just the place we needed to head to next.  Dark Sugars on Brick Lane.  If you love chocolate you’ll adore this store.  Full to the brim with the most eye catching chocolates, truffles, chocolate dipped fruits and other cocoa based goodies, it’s really hard to resist buying something.

Dark Sugars Chocolate
Dark Sugars Chocolate
Dark Sugars Chocolate

And we definitely didn’t resist.  We picked out some favourites to enjoy over the weekend.  My bag of treats was empty by midday Saturday ;o)  Side note: get the passionfruit chocolate when you visit.  It’s too good.

Ace Hotel Shoreditch

The late afternoon was upon us before we knew it, so we decided on one last stop for the day.  A drink at The Gallery Bar in the Ace Hotel.  I love the Ace.  As long as you are someone that doesn’t mind a swarm of Macbook Freelancers sitting in the lobby using the free Wifi, and you love a good design hotel, then you’ll like the Ace.  We sipped our drinks and discussed our weekend plans, before wandering slowly back to the tube station to head home.

Ace Hotel Shoreditch

There are soooo many fun, quirky and interesting things to do in Shoreditch.  From the food, to the shopping to the excellent people watching, I never get tired of the neighbourhood.  How could you?  It’s forever evolving and opening something new and hip that has me returning to discover.

The spending money was gifted by Hotels.com, but all views are my own.

Eat | Kiss The Hippo, Richmond

Kiss the Hippo
Kiss the Hippo

As some of you know I’m a wee bit patriotic when it comes to where I buy my cappuccino’s from in London.  I refuse all chain coffee shops, because EW bad coffee, and I favour kiwi owned cafes, because YAY great coffee. (Okay I also support Aussie coffee shops, that must be the small amount of Australian in me from my grandmothers side of the family hah!)

Kiss the hippo
Kiss the Hippo
Kiss the Hippo

So when I’m invited to the pre-opening of Kiss the Hippo, a non-Antipodean cafe based in Richmond, London, I of course accept, but I head along with a decent amount of skepticism.  Let me start with the fact that I’ve actually been back for coffee since my first visit, so I think that gives you a clear idea that this review is a positive one.  When I stepped inside Kiss the Hippo, two things happened.  I marvelled at the interior and was welcomed by the charming and knowledgeable owner.

Kiss the Hippo

The interior.  OMG.  It’s actually like no other place I’ve seen in London.  Firstly, it’s LIGHT, thanks to the interiors colours and also the giant sky light flooding the ground floor cafe with sun.  My pet peeve about London buildings and homes is the darkness.  So this was a big tick for me, walking into a place that felt light, bright and happy.  Not only that, the interior is so chic!  It feels like a mix between a coffee shop you’d find in Tokyo or Santa Monica.

The coffee.  Wow.  Kiss the Hippo have their own roastery in the back of the cafe and I’m told the roaster is the rolls royce of roasters.  And I believe them.  It looked shiny and spectacular.  The coffee I drank a short while later was unbelievably good.  I always have almond milk in my coffee, and when they told me they source their nut milk from a UK specialist, my skepticism on just how good it would be rose up again.  I mean, almond milk usually falls into two categories: gritty and overpowering, or watery.  Kiss the Hippo’s almond milk was neither of these things, in fact it tasted like actual milk, and the barista even managed to get proper foam on top of the coffee, a rare thing with almond milk!

Kiss the Hippo
Kiss the Hippo
Kiss the Hippo

The cafe serves delicious food too.  Everything from breakfast to lunch, indulgent to diet friendly.  Us gluten free lot are catered for there too.  Big win!  Another big win that I think most of us are becoming quite aware of, is the need for recycling.  Kiss the Hippo’s straws, cups, containers and cutlery are all compostable, whilst the plastic used is both recyclable and recycled.  I love this, and that alone makes me want to return to their cafe.

Kiss the Hippo

If you’re looking for a spot for a quiet coffee, a business lunch, or perhaps some training – yep they even have a workshop space for this!, then you must do yourself a favour and pop into Kiss the Hippo at 50 George Street, Richmond, London TW9 1HJ.

Detour | My Stay at The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai

For those of you that have followed my blog posts on my adventure in India, you will know that for the most part, we stayed in accommodation that usually meant we couldn’t shower properly or at all, the rooms often had paper thin walls which meant broken sleep, cows mooed in the carpark, and we generally spent 2.5 weeks never quite feeling rested or clean.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai

But Jo and I had a plan that was put in place soon after we booked our flights.  To counteract the cheaper accommodation along the way, we decided to spend one luxurious filled night staying at the famous landmark that is the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai

Flying back to Mumbai from eye-opening Varanasi (read about that here), we had one night in a B&B before we could check in at the Taj.  The B&B experience was worth a whole blog post in itself, it wasn’t our finest evening of sleep, but we were certainly about to experience the best sleep of our trip.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai

There’s two parts to the Taj Mahal Place Hotel, the tower and the palace.  We’d booked at the tower as there weren’t any suitable rooms left in the palace wing.  We arrived at the hotel, which oozes luxury every which way you look, and at check-in we couldn’t believe our luck, they were upgrading us to a club room in the palace wing.  A club room meant our stay included breakfast, morning tea, afternoon tea, evening cocktails and post dinner cognac and chocolates.  YAY!

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai

The check in was an experience itself, being gifted a beautiful necklace and marked on the forehead with red powder, all symbols and wishes of good fortune.  We were then led to our exquisite room on the sixth floor.  Our twin room was perfect, and everything you’d hope for from a hotel with such a good reputation.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai

Our first priority was taking a shower, which was truly an amazing experience.  It felt so nice to have clean hair and a proper wash!  Then we head downstairs for coffee in a beautifully decorated room.  Jo and I were so happy in this moment, and I feel so ‘first world’ saying that, but I think we both felt like a bit of a weight had been lifted from our shoulders.  We no longer needed to think about whether utensils were clean, if the food had been cooked properly and all those sort of things that keep you on your toes travelling in India.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai

We spent a lot of time in the last part of our trip talking about what food we’d eat once we were back in the UK.  I lost weight in India, not just because of food poisoning but because of my gluten intolerance.  Whilst a lot of the food in India is gluten free, I just couldn’t face eating curry every single night, so I ate my weight in Cadbury Dairy Milk to keep me going most of the time!

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai

Mumbai however, does have a lot of fantastic cafes and restaurants and so we decided we’d pop out for a deliciously healthy brunch at The Pantry.  Located in a trendy area of Mumbai, the cafe itself is fab, along with a great menu too.  We sipped on almond milk cappuccino’s and ate a huge bowl of fruit salad with kefir milk, and in that moment, I wished our trip could have lasted a few more days.  We’d had the adventure of a lifetime, but this now felt like a holiday.

The Pantry Mumbai
The Pantry Mumbai

Back at the Taj Palace Hotel, we changed into bikinis and head out to the pool area.  This part of the hotel is amaaaaazing.  The pool is huge for a start, and everything is so well designed.  Sitting down on our sun loungers, I tried to relax, but failed miserably, there were too many pretty things to photograph!

IMG_3341_2

I left Jo at the hotel in the afternoon, and wandered around some of the stores, which really were very cool.  From chic boutiques, to design stores, Mumbai is definitely one of my favourite cities I’ve visited.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai

Back at the hotel, we changed for the evening, and head downstairs for pre-dinner cocktails, skipping dinner and going straight to the cognac and chocolate service haha!  It was such a perfect evening, sitting in such a stunning hotel.  We both agreed we should have stayed two nights and not one!

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai

The next morning, following our lovely buffet breakfast (there was even a gluten free table!), we packed our bags, dropped our room key, and jumped in a cab to the airport.  I was now looking forward to getting home, and I know we both loved our flight back to the London, with hardly any passengers, we spread out, drank wine, and watched movies.

I can’t get India out of my mind, for all it’s up’s and downs, frustrating moments, food poisoning and lack of showering, I’ve never experienced a country like it in all my travels.  It’s got me hooked and I’m desperate to return.  Definitely with a TWO night stay at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel next time ;o)

Eat | Ladies that Lunch, at Bill’s Covent Garden

Bill's Covent Garden
Bill's Covent Garden
Bill's Covent Garden
Bill's Covent Garden
Bill's Covent Garden

London living is non-stop.  Between work, meetings, commuting and keeping up with day to day life, it’s sometimes hard to find any free time to catch up with friends.  I had a meeting in Covent Garden last week, and grabbed the opportunity to catch up with my friend Jo, when our diaries aligned to meet for lunch.

We decided to pop into Bill’s Covent Garden, in the gorgeous St Martin’s Courtyard, as it’s just had a makeover. We both love good interior design and delicious food, so it was the perfect place for our lunch date.  Seated at our table on the ground floor (there’s two floors and also outdoor seating), we turned our attention to the menu.

The staff were great, and brought me my very own gluten free menu, which makes my life soooo much easier.  And unlike many restaurants, Bill’s has a huge selection of GF dishes, including a handful of desserts.  We started with fried halloumi sticks & Bill’s chutney and hummus with smoked tomatoes and mixed seeds & gluten free bread.

Moving on to mains, we’re both suckers for anything with avocado on and ending up ordering the same dish – smashed avocado, feta and poached eggs, with baby spinach, red pepper dressing, coriander and chilli with gluten free toast.  Our starters and mains were equally delicious, with all being a generous portion size.  But I wasn’t stopping there, those gluten free desserts were whispering my name, so I placed an order for apple and gooseberry crumble with vanilla ice cream, which was seriously good and such a treat for a GF crumble to be on the dessert menu (trust me this is a rarity!).

The interior upgrade is gorgeous and glam, but with an urban edge, with beautiful velvet chairs dotted around the restaurant, chandeliers and exposed pipework on the ceiling.   I love that it felt classy, yet you can still enjoy the down to earth vibe of Bill’s.  From breakfast through to dinner, or even an after work cocktail, it’s a beautiful space to enjoy a meal or a drink anytime of day.  In fact, it’s such a nice space to be in, that when Jo and I finally looked at the time, we realised if we stayed any longer we’d need to order dinner there too!

Bill’s Covent Garden is dangerously close to loads of great shopping in the area, but this makes it a good place for a pitstop when your feet are weary.  I’ll definitely be heading back for more of that apple and gooseberry crumble, and there’s a burger I have my eye on too ;o)

St. Martin’s Courtyard, Off Long Acre
London WC2E 9AB
Monday to Saturday 8am – 11pm
Sunday & Bank Holidays 9am – 10.30pm
Bill's Covent Garden
Bill's Covent Garden
Bill's Covent Garden
Bill's Covent Garden
Bill's Covent Garden
Bill's Covent Garden
Bill's Covent Garden
Bill's Covent Garden