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Review: DF Mexico

DF Mexico

DF Mexico is the latest creation from the stable of London-based Mexican stalwart Wahaca. It takes the same Mexican-street-food-with-an-Anglo-American-twist concept and goes a bit hipster on it to match its location bang in the middle of Shoreditch in the Old Truman Brewery. Every aspect is ramped up in the cool factor: the branding and interior decor are boldly industrial, food is counter service, drinks are self-serve and bottomless… even the social media team is sharp and well-pitched. If you were being cheesy you could call it Wahaca’s younger, cooler brother or something. Naturally it wasn’t going to be long before I found myself there, and that day came on Monday evening.

DF Mexico

It seems to have got off to a flying start, with a short queue at the door even on a Monday and a lively buzz around the dining room. There’s a huge communal table next to the obligatory open-plan kitchen and plenty of smaller tables and booths, so the wait to be seated wasn’t long.

DF Mexico
DF Mexico

The concept is explained via a cool brochure and the menu reads very well indeed. Unlike Wahaca, the food isn’t tapas-sized but built for large appetites and/or sharing. The main offerings are burritos, large tacos, tortas, build-your-own boards, grills and salads, with a (un)healthy sprinkling of sides and sharing dishes too. The hardest part is deciding what to go for.

DF Mexico

Obviously, we massively over-ordered just to get a little taster of a few things. The Bad Boy burrito comes with white and blue corn chips and an optional side for a couple of quid extra. It packed quite the whack of flavour, with tomato and habanero running through the rice and a core of tasty feta cheese, all wrapped in a chargrilled tortilla.

DF Mexico

A side of veggie nachos was huge for just £4.95 and was similarly punchy. The topping of refried beans, cheese, pink onions and salsa wiggled into the all the gaps in the chips so you didn’t get that disappointing moment when you run out of topping before chips. Not that we got near to that point; it was too big to finish!

DF Mexico

Chilli fries were ordered just because, but they were probably my favourite thing: properly salty and hot with a chipotle dip on the side. The cup of corn, sweetly served in a teacup, sat in a creamy puddle of moreish broth and was topped with tangy Lancashire cheese.

DF Mexico

Self-serve bottomless horchata cooled it all down nicely. There’s also soft-serve ice cream for dessert, but we rolled out defeated before considering it.

The bill for this feast? Like Wahaca it’s a real bargain: just £22.50 for a large main, smaller sharing dish, two sides and two bottomless soft drinks. My only critique is I actually wish the portions were a bit smaller more like Wahaca, so you can mix/match and share easier. It’s pretty great to have this place pretty close to home for when I get peckish for big, bad Mexican flavours, and I can’t imagine it’ll be long before I’m back again to try more of the menu and soak up more of the DF vibes (also I’m working nearby and they do take-out…). Nice job, chaps.

Getting some Headspace

Brighton

I’ve been using the Headspace app for the last week or so, and thought it deserved a bit of a write up as I’m really loving it. Have you seen it? – it’s a charming and simple app to get you into the practice of daily mindfulness meditation. As a freelancer and working for myself, I’m usually juggling a few clients and projects at once so often find my thoughts getting jumbled and overwhelming. I especially find myself prone to over-analysing about what might or might not happen in the future, which is a sure-fire recipe for needless anxiety.

headspace

The ‘Take Ten’ program, which the Headspace app offers for free, is a simple introduction to mindful meditation which takes just ten minutes out of your day. From the beginning I found the app warm and encouraging, with sweet interface design and animations to introduce the techniques you’ll be using in the program.

London: Trip-35

I’ve been doing my ten minutes right after waking up – a much healthier start to the day than immediately checking in on emails or twitter. From the first day I could feel it working wonders on my brain and body. Taking a few minutes just to sit still, breathe, and do a quick once-over of your body and mind feels incredibly valuable and I always look forward to the next session.

Berlin 35mm

My favourite part of the exercise is where you go from concentrating on counting your breaths to just letting your mind loose to wander free and settle on whatever it wants to. On a good day I completely zone out at this point and think about absolutely nothing, which feels pretty blissful. The app encourages you to not worry if you do feel thoughts and anxieties creeping in: the point is to notice when that happens and try to draw your attention back to your breathing. You’re encouraged to notice noises, sensations and even smells around you to heighten awareness of your physical presence in the here and now.

The only minor issue I’ve encountered so far is that I’ve started feeling so relaxed and focused on single thoughts that I’ve been letting semi-important stuff get neglected as it’s no longer a source of anxiety for me! I think when you work for yourself you do need to maintain a slight level of tension so that you actually get stuff done and don’t let people down. It’s no good being so laid-back that you can’t be bothered to work or deal with people. I’m interested to see if this is addressed later on in the Headspace program. As my ten day trial draws to a close I think I will pay to subscribe to the ongoing program, which costs the equivalent of £3.75 a month.

Barbados: Trip-35

Just one week of Headspace-ing has already had quite a profound effect on me. I haven’t had nearly so much work-related anxious baggage rattling round my head, and I’ve even become more focused on doing some personal projects that are working towards how I might want my career to go some day. I really recommend giving the app a go if you suffer similarly with low-level anxious thoughts and lack of focus.

(Do you like my suitably calming photo selection? Not sponsored by the way, I just really liked the app.)

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Afternoon tea with Truly

Tea at The Capital

Picking special presents year after year can be a bit of a pain, especially when you’re like us and have no room left in your flat for any more physical objects! That’s why I love giving and receiving ‘experiences’ instead: dinner, cooking classes, something that you can enjoy and/or learn from rather than accumulating more stuff. So when Truly contacted me I was pretty excited. Their premise is great: you pick from a fantastic range of do-able gifts – especially strong on restaurants and food experiences but there are spa days, city breaks and outdoor activities too. Put in your recipient’s address and they get a lovely smart box in the post with a simple number/email to contact Truly’s concierge and make the reservation. No messing around booking something and hoping they are free on the date (or ruining the surprise by asking), but you can still pick out something personal.

Tea at The Capital

Truly kindly gave me the chance to try one of their experiences out, and I opted for Champagne Afternoon Tea at the Capital Hotel. I invited my wonderful mum along because she’s a little envious of all the nice things Josh and I do in London, so it was great to be able to share something with her. She was delighted to get the box in the post and phoned me immediately to say thank you! She was down in London last weekend so we got the chance to book it up.

Tea at The Capital

The Capital hotel is literally around the corner from Harrods. I’d never ever been in Harrods before, so a nose round the food hall was mandatory (wow, it’s busy in there). Tea is served in a pretty and cosy sitting room – with wallpaper and books lining the walls and a window open to the pleasant day outside it was a lovely place to spend the afternoon. We started with a glass of champagne while browsing the extensive tea menu.

Tea at The Capital

Before long a tiered stand laden with goodies arrived. Delicate finger sandwiches on the bottom and a whole plate of sweet things for each of us – treacle tart, passion fruit tart, lemon sponge, baby trifle and a hibiscus maracon. They were all delicious – the moist sponge and creamy tart especially. If you run out or particularly enjoyed anything, the waiters will gladly restock it for you.

Tea at The Capital

There was only one vegetarian sandwich but I didn’t even think to ask for a replacement; I’m sure they would have switched one of the others for a veggie option if requested. Never mind, more room for cake!

Tea at The Capital

Just when we were reaching peak cake, freshly baked scones arrived with cream and jam. They were so buttery and flaky – my Devon-raised mum approved. You can even pack up anything you don’t eat into takeout boxes.

Tea at The Capital

One happy mum and some serious daughter points for me! This was a great experience and my mum really appreciated it. Truly have this and loads of other luxurious gift experiences on their site including lots of Michelin-starred restaurants like The Square, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (which I reviewed here), Hakkasan and La Manoir. Any would do for my birthday present, in case you’re wondering. Thanks, Truly! Anyone else love to give or receive foody gifts?

Truly supplied my afternoon tea experience for review; views are my own

The Bathory custom bath soak: review & giveaway

bathorylemon

What do craft beer, Instagram-printed marshmallows and luxury bath soak have in common? They’re all startups from the clever folks at Mint Digital. Check out DeskBeers and Boomf at your leisure, but today we’re talking bathtime with The Bathory and their custom-made, hand-blended bath soaks.

bathorybottles

The Bathory invited me to have a go at making my own soak a little while ago. It’s a pleasure to browse the lovely site and choose the perfect ingredients for your very own bath-time invention. First you pick a base of salts, either designed to soothe, detox or just bask.

bathorysoothe

Then you can layer on three essential oils: information is given about the properties and effects of each fragrance so you can pick ones that revive, relax or inspire you. Pop your choices in the basket and a few days later a beautifully-designed little bag lands on your doorstep.

Bathory

You can clearly smell the fragrant oils even from outside the packaging! I couldn’t wait to give it a go. The jar is pretty enough to display on the shelf all the time and is enough for several happy bathtimes.

Bathory

I went for a detox base with grapefruit, bergamot and rosemary oils, and it smelled absolutely amazing. You need to add quite a lot to get a truly scented bath, but my favourite way to use it is in the shower: mixed with a little olive oil it’s a dreamy shower scrub. It made my skin really soft and the scent lasted after I dried off. I’ll definitely be replacing my jar when it runs out – the question is do I stick with my current blend or  try a new one…?

bathorywin

The competition is now closed. Congrats to the winner, Louise and thanks for all your entries.

Thanks to The Bathory for giving me a soak to review and one to give away.

Ecuador Day 5: Otavalo & the Rose Farm

Ecuador: Hacienda Cusin

My last full day in Ecuador! I was feeling a bit emotional by this point in the trip: a little homesick and lonely (this was a solo press trip so no lovely travel gang like in Panama) but also unwilling to leave this beautiful country.

Ecuador: Hacienda Cusin
Ecuador: Hacienda Cusin
Ecuador: Hacienda Cusin
Ecuador: Hacienda Cusin

Ecuador: Hacienda Cusin

I woke up early so I had time to pad around the Hacienda Cusin‘s grounds before checking out. It was so peaceful, all you can hear are birds and frogs chirping away in the post-thunderstorm dew. Generally though, I’m not sure I’d stay here again. My room was a bit dank and musty and I didn’t like the log fire (mild pyrophobia, but cold without it!). It was also a pain to have to walk outside between the room, restaurant and reception in the dark and rain, and the food at dinner and breakfast was very bland. As I said though, the grounds are calm and pretty and if you’re into the rustic farmhouse-outdoorsy vibe you’d probably like it. The hacienda can organise horse treks and various other local visits and outdoor activities, so maybe it’s better suited to more adventurous types.

Otavalo

I was excited about today’s visits: with a huge crafts market, a waterfall and a rose farm on the agenda it promised to be a fittingly magical final day. First stop was the town of Otavalo which is known for its daily market, selling everything from spices, grains and meat to Andean textiles and bags, wood and leather goods and typical tourist souvenirs. The market is on every day but Saturday is the biggest and busiest day.

Otavalo
Otavalo

Otavalo

Otavalo
Otavalo

The market was a real treat to browse. I especially liked it because it wasn’t entirely geared up for tourists: plenty of locals were shopping too and I didn’t feel hassled by any sellers. It was also so big that it wasn’t overly crowded and there was plenty of shade to dodge the hot sun. It’s centred on a main plaza but continues down the side streets over a 3 or 4 block radius. Naturally I had to do a lap of everything once before deciding where to spend my cash!

Otavalo
Otavalo

You could also grab regular refreshments from street sellers – coconut water, iced pops, sorbet and fruit juices – for 20-50 cents when the heat got too much. I also got a great iced coffee from the friendly chap above.

Otavalo
Otavalo

There was a dizzying array of goods and it took me a little while to get into the swing of haggling in my very weak Spanish (I made a note of how to say numbers and ‘how much is it’ before visiting!). It wasn’t a problem as the prices are pretty cheap anyway. I spent about $40 and came home with some carved wooden spoons, two small Andean blankets and two lengths of fabric, and a nice bag bag to transport all my new acquisitions home in.

Otavalo

It’s just a short drive from the market to another Otavalo treat, a stunning natural waterfall, Casacda de Peguche.

Otavalo

When the sun shines on it, you see a beautiful full-arc rainbow in the spray. Just when you think Ecuador can’t throw any more natural beauty at you, this happens!

Otavalo

The waterfall is surrounded by a pretty forest where you can camp overnight in a tent or one of these guest lodges.

Otavalo
Otavalo

Just outside the forest you can visit a little workshop of traditional musical instruments from Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. We had a demonstration of the main instruments from the owner and he made a set of pipes from bamboo right in front of us in about ten minutes.

Otavalo

I bought one of these little ceramic critters for Josh – you make notes by blowing into his mouth and covering the holes to make notes.

Ecuador: Hacienda Pinsaqui

We stayed nearby for lunch at the Hacienda Pinsaqui, an old texile-weaving centre and stopping-off point on the road between Ibarra and Quito. Dating from the early 18th century, Simon Bolivar was a famous guest and it’s now a restored hotel. It was even prettier than the hacienda I stayed in, and the lunch was probably the best food of the trip.

Ecuador: Hacienda Pinsaqui
Ecuador: Hacienda Pinsaqui
Ecuador: Hacienda Pinsaqui

Ceviche of heart of palm followed by a platter of veggie corn-based treats. We were serenaded by a band as we ate which was really nice.

Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús
Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús

On the road back to Quito, we made our final stop at the Compañía de Jesús Hacienda, a really beautiful place with a fascinating story. It was originally a Jesuit church and grain farm, but the Jesuits were expelled from Ecuador amidst fears they were getting too powerful, so this land and its buildings were bought by a wealthy Ecuadorian family. It’s been owned by the same family now for five generations, and the son-in-law of the current owners showed me around.

Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús
Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús

The land is now a rose plantation which busily exports to mainly the USA, Europe and Russia. It was a quiet time for my visit because Mothers’ Day had just passed so production was slowing down for a bit. In higher season you can actually see the rose farm and processing methods. Instead I saw the permanent showroom in the old grain store building, which showcases some of the 70 varieties of rose grown on the farm. My guide explained that new varieties are cultivated in the lab, and the shapes and colours change with fashion and demand.

Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús
Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús

Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús
Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús

Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús

Aren’t these lilac ones dreamy?

Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús

We then saw the old Jesuit chapel, where five generations of the same family have been married. The restored interior features paintings and sculptures dating from the time of the Jesuits.

Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús
Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús
Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús

Finally we got to look in the estate house. Dating from 1919 and built in the neo-classical French style, the interior has been immaculately designed to fit the age of the building. Some furniture was shipped over from Europe; some was reproduced in the same style by local Ecuadorian craftspeople.

Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús
Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús

The beautiful wallpapers are French originals, as are the moulded tin ceilings from Germany.

Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús
Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús

From the gramophone to pillar box hats hanging by the door, the attention to detail makes this house like stepping back in time. However it’s very much a lived-in and loved house; the owners spend a lot of time here and the whole family descends at weekends.

Ecuador: Compañía de Jesús

Roses are a permanent feature, of course. We were treated to some freshly-baked bizcochos (a local specialty, crumbly corn biscuits), local cheese and blackberry juice as we admired the house. You can stay at the hacienda or tour its grounds by appointment only. I can’t find a website but here’s some more info in Spanish.

This was my last stop of the whole trip, so after the journey back to Cafe Cultura in Quito I spent the evening re-packing all my souvenirs and resting. In the morning there was just time for the tasty hotel breakfast, and another stroll to Eiji park, which on a Sunday had a lovely relaxed vibe with kids playing football, families on bike rides and a small craft and paintings market. A fitting way to say goodbye! Adieu Ecuador, I hope we’ll meet again one day.

My trip was sponsored by KLM and Branding Latin America / Quito Turismo UK; views as ever are my own