I was enrolled at one of Germany’s best ballet schools for two years before I moved to the UK. I have to say it was a pretty gruelling regime – 2 hours day, 6 days a week with Russian teachers that had no problem grabbing my leg and making the splits happen whether you were ready for that or not. And as weird as it sounds I ABSOLUTELY loved it. I mean I am perfectionist and loved being pushed to the limit, quickly becoming one of the best students in the class. I was unsurprisingly devastated therefore when one day, as fate would have it, we packed up our lives and moved to England, not London, no, a tiny village between Hastings and Rye, were finding ballet taught to the level and professionalism I got used to was near impossible.
My instant reaction was I guess a sense of giving up, eating a lot of gross English food because I had never tried it before (quickly also realising that I hadn’t been missing out), not doing any exercise other than the little bit we did in PE class and inevitably loosing the toning that years of ballet had let to. During my university days I used to look bewildered at people that would choose to go to the gym rather than eat brunch on a Saturday and limited my exercise to walking (though I have to say I have always walked a lot, something my granddad drilled into me with epic Sunday walks) and was yet to ever actually step foot into a gym, let alone plan my week around which classes I can make it to.
So what changed? Grown up life happened and with that stress, anxiety, problems sleeping and sitting at a desk for 8 hours or more each day came along and I began to realise how much I missed the release and escape exercise had always offered me. Of course not everyone is super sporty and for many doing yoga once or twice a week will offer exactly this break from daily worries. For me however it was also about the physical exhausation and sense of achievement and improvement week on week that certain exercise classes offer.
I now go to 4-5 classes a week mainly after work on a weekday and in the mornings on the weekends and I have never slept better, been more focused made more of my days – after all if you have a 9amSaturday class you are going to not waste your day in bed! I am not one to preach and if exercise isn’t your thing then this blog post won’t change that but I did a lot of trialling and testing of different classes and gyms in the process of discovering what Kind of exercise i enjoy and actually found it a quite daunting experience to start with which is why I wanted to write up this little guide and maybe encourage a few of you to give them a go to!
There are a lot of fancy gyms in London that will cost you a small fortune to be part of and to be honest most of them are in my eyes not worth it. I was a member of Virgin Active gyms for half a year as they had a under 25s deal going but it was still pretty pricy (over £70 a month), plus i was only able to go to my home gym and none of the other Virgins around London. Classes were always super booked out and while facilities were I guess quite fancy I was never really using the steam rooms or GHD straighteners so really was not getting my moneys worth.
You can of course take a more flexible approach to booking classes with something like ClassPass although I found the selection of classes on offer not amazing and actually ended up being fined £15 for not attending A class even though I had been there so never renewed my trial. It did allow me to try some class venues I’d always wanted to try like Frame although again I was pretty underwhelmed, with classes too full and equipement actually by now a little dated.
After all this trial and error I ended up getting a membership at Nuffield through a friend’s recommendation and I couldn’t be happier. You pay around £65 a month (although I got a discount being local to one in east London) and get to use all their gyms and classes around the UK. The gyms may not be super fancy but my local one has a swimming pool, is super clean and offers a great selection of classes. Even better, for evening classes I can use the one near my office in Covent garden and can reserve my classes over an app that let’s you book a week in advance. Classes are always busy but if you are clever by booking ahead you will always get a spot and honestly the instructors are as good, if not better, than at some of the more fancy gyms I have tried. Right now I do about 80%-90% of my classes with them so about 3 to 4 a week and with that am getting pretty great value for money. I can only wholeheartedly recommend Nuffield.
MY TOP 3 CLASSES:
BODY ATTACK @ VARIOUS
If I was to pick my favourite exercise class it would undoubtedly have to be body attack and it’s mix of high energy interval training combined with athletic aerobic movements as well as strength and stabilization exercises. Why? Well it may be a pretty intense 45 minutes to an hour (depends where you go) work out but it’s bloody fun and an incredibly good stress release. You jump around to fun tunes and learn a serious of moves that each class is build around alongside your classic lunges, not really thinking about the up to 700 calories that you work off each during each class. If I’ve had a bad day at work I genuinely look forward to putting my phone away and getting stuck in here. You may make a few mistakes to start with and struggle a bit but it really doesn’t matter as no one will judge. Most people become quick converts to body attack and will come every week and I don’t blame them! It is available at most gyms that offer classes and for me it is very much about finding a good instructor and a fun class to join more than anything else.
Barry’s bootcamp is a known as celebrity favourite (apparently David Beckham loves going) and has had some major internet hype over the years, many claiming it is the best workout in the world. I mean it isn’t cheap, one class will cost you £20 but after only one sixty minute session so far I can already see why people come back week after week. Why? Well Barry’s boot camp makes you push yourself to the absolute max and then come back to for another session to do even better. The setting takes a little getting used to, being more reminiscent of a nightclub then a gym, darkly lit with loud rap tunes blurting out of massive speakers to accompany your instructor telling (and in some instances yelling) you what you should be doing. The group is split into two with half the class starting on the floor with weights and the other half going up on the treadmills. This followed by 4 intervals of switching between the two stations and being pretty ruthlessely pushed to your limits whether it is continuing to increase speed on your treadmill until you think your legs will fall off or lift weights until you can feel your breakfast coming back uo (top tip don’t eat before, I did and it was NOT good).
Blok is relatively new to the workout offering in London and currently has two locations, offering a range of different boutique work out classes in rather snazzy modern surroundings. I tried the new Shoreditch branch a few times and particularly loved Bloksculpt, a hybrid full body workout that will leave you sweating. Here it isn’t about running around, rather you start with a pyramid of exercises (burpees, mountain climbers etc etc) and repeat them until you get to the bottom of the pyramid. After this you use a range of weights and resistance bands to really work your core and glutes, all to a super fun soundtrack (think Madonna and hip hop). Stephanie who runs the class on a Sunday at 10am was a particularly great instructor and the main reason why I came back several times. A minor criticism- the classes are booked up to the max and the studio can seem a little crammed but definitely one worth doing if you wanna get those abs going.
I am huge fan of Italian
food in general and particularly enjoy a good plate of homemade pasta. It isn’t
the easiest dish to find done well in London which is why Padella, in the heart
of Borough Market, has been able to command hour long queues since it’s
opening. And I can’t deny that I really enjoyed Padella when I managed to get a
table there on a Sunday afternoon (probably one of the only
times you can get a table without queuing and with a full time job) but was I
wowed? Not quite. The pasta was flawless but there was a slight element of
overhype which of course was only reiterated by the fact that we had to plan a
very randomly timed meal to even get our foot through the door (I cannot stand
waiting for a table which made queuing for hours not an option here). Anyhow it
led to me being more determined than ever to find some less busy alternatives
for fantastic pasta in London and made me more than intrigued when I stumbled
across Via Emilia, just down the road from me off Hoxton Square.
Via Emilia quietly opened at the end of last year, eluding the social media hype that very quickly surrounded Padella, and I was only made aware of it’s existence when I stumbled across a pretty good review about it onTime Out while trying to find a new dinner venue near my flat. Browsing the menu it quickly became evident that this sounded like exactly my kind of place, serving a small range of pasta dishes, all made in house, and other delicacies from the Emilia Romagna region in Italy, also home to Parmesan, Parma ham, mortadella and balsamico (basically a lot of rather amazing things) as well as a fine selection of rather unusual red sparkly wine. Even better the prices appeared more than reasonable and there was an option to book which is why me and my dining companion for the eve very quickly jumped at the chance to try this place even if we weren’t sure how it was going to measure up to Padella.
We shouldn’t have worried. Via Emilia was utterly amazing, a hidden gem that in my eyes surpassed Padella not only in the dishes served but also in terms of service and value for money. In a way I even kind of regret that I am sharing this discovery with you, with only a handful of other diners there on the Sunday we dined receiving such attentive service that can only slightly worsen as more people find out just how good Via Emilia is and come here rather than brace the queue at Padella.
Once seated in the slightly rustic looking, intimidate dining room (they only do 40 covers), which I am hoping you will proceed to do ASAP after reading this, you have to order a portion of their gnocco fritto, soft gently fried bread that tastes like a beautiful cloud of carbi goodness and is best enjoyed with some of their cheese or meat offerings. We smothered ours with some young and creamy Sqacquerone di Romagna and had to show some real restraint to not order another round. As side note here I am of course not a meat eater but even I could even appreciate that the quality of cold cuts would have been amazing here and my meat eating companion was already mentally planning returning with his boyfriend to sample one of their meat platters, of course accompanied by more gnocco frittos.
Before getting to the main event at Via Emilia, the pasta of course, it is also important to highlight the fine wine selection with the aforementioned sparkly red here. We were advised wonderfully by our waiter on which wines to try and in the end sampled our way through two sparkly reds for a fiver or less for a generous glass and settled on the Lambrusco “Terre Verdiane” Ceci from Parma as being our favourite. I usually HATE red wine but boy did this combination of deep berry notes and bubbles work and I have found myself googling where to find affordable sparkly red wine ever since. Make sure you give this a try even if you are not a red wine fan like me and be a little adventurous on this occasion, you won’t regret it.
Already on our second glass and full of excitement of what was to come we perused the main menu, consisting of 8 pasta dishes from the region, and were advised by our waiter to start with two plates between us and order another after if needed to keep the pasta as fresh and warm as possible. We were more than happy to go with this and ordered the taglionlini (super thin spaghetti) with a delicate sauce made from parmesan cheese and pepper and their reginetti aj fonz (a kind of ridged parpadelle) in a sauce of Italian mushrooms and cream. Though they may sound pretty simple on paper the dishes that appeared in front of us were simply outstanding and of a quality on par with some of the best pasta of my life in Rome. The sauces were seasoned to perfection and the pasta as fresh as you can get it and although we didn’t order exactly the same as I had at Padella, in my eyes this surpassed Padella. Not quite satisfied yet after our first two dishes we went for the most unusual sounding option on the menu, pisarei e faso’ – small wheat gnocci with a rich tomato and berlotti bean sauce, and were once again left wowed by the wholesome and warming flavours, no small feast with my dining companion who usually is not a big fan of beans in any shape or form.
While wolfing down our pasta gluttonously we were already talking about which dishes we were going to order on a return visit, there being a couple of more veggie and some meat options that we could not fit in on this occasion, and simply couldn’t quite believe that we had more or less stumbled across this place while the masses of London foodies hadn’t yet. For around £30 ahead we left full of pasta, delicious wine and that true dolce vita feeling I hadn’t had since my last trip to Italy. The cat is out of the bag – Padella has a serious competitor now and you better go there before the queues start forming outside Via Emilia.
Usually I try to make my city guides on here rather comprehensive,
spending a lot of time ahead of a trip researching where the best local spots
are and once there seeing and eating as much possible for the time I am there.
However sometimes that just isn’t possible, especially if you are faced with a last-minute
work trip with more time spent at the office than out sightseeing. This was the
case when I spent a night in Milan a couple of weeks ago to teach our team over
there all about social media.
Once I touched down In Milan, a little bleary eyed after a
6am flight, I faced a pretty jam packed schedule so, I am ashamed to say, did not
make it to any of major sights despite it being my first time there BUT I did I
did make it to one place that I was so desperate to go to that I literally
ubered it straight from work there.
So what is this place that I was prepared to cross half of Milan
for, even after being up for what felt like 24 hours already, you may wonder?!
Well I am a bit of a film nerd and a massive fan Wes Anderson’s work and his ability
to draw you into his unique and colourful world. Each of his films feature such
detailed sets, with every aspect of the interior considered, that they become
as much part of the film as the living characters.
It was only a matter of time really that this minute eye for
detail was utilised for a real life space and where better to do it than on the
grounds of the Prada Foundation at Bar Luce, slightly away from the city centre. Here he
was given the opportunity to recreate the atmosphere of a typical Milanese café,
of course also with that magical touch that has made Anderson’s aesthetic so instantly
Ahead of my visit however I was very much
trying to manage my expectations. Yes, this was a café designed by a director I
admired and it looked the part when I saw it on various social media platforms
but experience had taught me that posts can be deceiving and that many hyped
spots (Dandelyan being one of those) weren’t as charming or nice to spend an
evening at in real life.
I shouldn’t have worried as the minute I
stepped through the doors I was instantly wowed and transported into a
different world. The seats, formica furniture, floor, veneered
wood wall panels and the range of colours employed were reminiscent of the kitsch
cafes of the 1950s and 1960s and everything was as beautifully symmetrical as
in his films. Waiters are dressed to the nines with their black bow ties and
even the cakes look too perfect to eat, it all feeling as if you have just stepped
into one of his films and are waiting to meet one of his eccentric characters.
Perhaps I was always going to love Bar Luce
as a fan of Anderson’s work but I would find it hard to believe for anyone to
not get a little lost in his world here. Even better drinks and food prices are
VERY reasonable and the 5 euro glass of prosecco I ordered even came with an
array of beautifully presented Italian snacks. I went by myself and to be
honest did not really need any company, so engrossed in taking in every little
detail of the place (even the pin ball machines are based on his movies),
almost like a child in a toy store with the addition of a chilled glass of
Italian bubbles. I may have not seen much Milan but this place was one for my
personal bucket list and one worth the hype.