Maitreya Social, Bristol

Exeter doesn’t unfortunately offer a a budding vegetarian community, and after touring Thailand’s vegan cafes and chowing all the tempeh I could get my hands on, I was rather missing a good dosing of vegetables. Luckily enough my sister lives in Bristol with her clan, and also hoping to migrate the great seas (from Devon to Somerset) in the coming months, I thought an exploration into Bristol’s vegetarianism would also be worth the visit.

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Maitreya Social offers purely vegetarian food, with vegan options available. The menu is mainly plant based (so less of the tofu and tempeh I come to love and more vegetables on vegetables, with a glazing of some other pureed and sautéed piece of veg). The creativity of their dishes is their standpoint; the smoked aubergines with whipped tahini and date molasses were the star of the meal here. I have a soft spot for slightly burnt food (who doesn’t feel for some carcinogens here and there), and am partial to anything smoked and barbecue flavour. The glaze and pomegranates balanced out the savoury with a touch of sweet.

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We also shared the smoked cauliflower with curry dahl and pilau crackers, which was pretty tasty for a curry dish although the actual cauliflower seemed to be a little undercooked – or under smoked?

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Maitreya is worth the trip if you’re out and about in Bristol, offering tasty vegetable dishes and a casual setting, although they encourage bookings since the seating is limited with a quick turnover. Mains are all under £11 which is certainly cheaper than a sirloin. They also offer vegetarian catering in the Bristol area if you’re trying to convert your event-goers to the vegetable side of life.

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open 6pm-11.30pm Tuesday-Thursday
10am-11.30pm Friday-Saturday
10am-4pm Sunday
closed Monday
89 St Mark’s Road
Easton
Bristol
BS5 6HY

Elite Gym and Fitness, Koh Samui

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The best gym I dropped in at in Thailand was no doubt Elite Gym and Fitness on Koh Samui. The gym has two branches; Classic & Exclusive. I initially visited the Classic gym in the evening and all I can say is that it truly takes bodybuilding back to basics. Located in a warehouse, the Classic gym offers a huge variety of machines and one rack on the ground floor, with a bit of floor space and cardio equipment on the upper level. The doors were wide open and industrial fans in use although even at 7pm it was still sweltering – you hardly had to lift a finger before you started dripping. A stray cat also wandered in during my workout which I had to stop a set of tricep extensions to pet, no less!

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I honestly found the lack of air conditioning far too difficult to work out in properly, and was told by one of the girls on the counter (who was kind enough to also gave me a lift to the Fisherman’s Bay after I was done with my curls) that the Exclusive gym was fully equipped with air con. The gyms are within a twenty minute drive of each other, and the Exclusive more catered for classes and those who tend to wilt a little under the local conditions.

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Elite Gym and Fitness Exclusive caters again more towards bodybuilders but there are a few benches and one rack, and all sorts of machines, many of which I hadn’t come across before (cue my attempts to get in the seated dumbell raise machine the wrong way- the trainers found this hugely amusing and were nice enough to set me on the right path). Private cardio cubicles are also spaced out around the main workout area, just in case you’d rather no one watch your cardio face.

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The gym attracts a mix of locals and tourists, offers classes such as spinning and yoga and also has a massage service. They also sell peanut butter and oat protein shakes and preworkout, as well as ‘macro meals’ – something I thought I’d never find in Thailand – such as chicken salads or protein porridge.

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Both open 6.30am – 10pm, the Elite Gym and Fitness gyms are both amazingly equipped and you can really pick and choose whether or not to sweat out your sins with stray cats in the Classic, or be a little more pampered in the Exclusive.

Exclusive is located, ironically, on top of McDonalds on the main Chaweng road; 202 Moo 2
Classic is located near the Tesco; 9/23 Moo 6

Catmosphere Cat Cafe, Chiang Mai

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As previously mentioned, I was hit by a rather hard bout of jet lag whilst in Chiang Mai. My one true mistake was conceding to early afternoon sleepiness and curling up for a little cat nap. Feeling refreshed four hours later and ready to tackle dinner, I was in fairly high spirits, unbeknown to the sleeplessness that was to follow. After spending the entire night tossing and turning, my friend instructed me quite pointedly that I simply couldn’t come elephant trekking without a night of restful sleep, which was probably for the best considering I felt (and looked) rather fried, with a slight twitch to my left eye. I dragged myself off to the hospital and found some sleeping pills to knock me out in future, returned to the hostel and caught a coupe hours of blissful sleep in midday privacy, and woke up a little lonely and also ravenous. After relocating one of the vegan retreats we had visited previously, I decided to take myself off on a solo mission to find my biggest comfort; cats.

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Catmosphere is located a little way out of the centre of Chiang Mai, an easy taxi ride or a thirty or forty minute walk in my case – practical tanning. Plenty of hipster clubs and cafes can also be found in this area so it’s worth the trip.

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You have to wait at the door to be allowed in, having previously washed and sanitised your hands and stripped your shoes for a comfortable pair of spa slippers to be allowed into the magical cattery kingdom. Catmosphere houses about 20 or 30 felines from various backgrounds, purchase or rescue. The menu provides quaint illustrations of the inhabitants with matching names. The cat café runs a space theme, with CATstronauts galore.

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The café is free to enter if you purchase a drink or sweet baked snack, with teas and iced coffee available, or 100 baht if you’re there for the felines and not the refreshments. You can sit and play with the cats to your heart’s content, some of whom scrabble about chasing feathers or leaping in boxes. Others provide a more relaxing companionship and will simply curl up in your lap and purr. The free water on offer was snapped up by one of the kittens before I could reach it.

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T shirts were also available, so of course I had to snag my own. The cat café also runs a cinema club, where you can share some popcorn with some pussycats over classic films.

open 10am – 8pm

Huaykaew Rd
Amphoe Mueang
Chang Wat
Chiang Mai 50300
Thailand

Karma Kafe, Ko Phangan

I’m still dubious about how one pronounces Ko Phangan and have been laughed at upon every attempt. Nonetheless the island is serene, the least touristy of Koh Tao, Ko Samui and itself. We stayed at a resort where I had insisted that a fan room as opposed to air conditioning was worth the drop in price. We did as a result spend the night sweating profusely, trying to convince ourselves that the breeze from the fan, blowing stray hairs over to the left, then back to the right sides of our faces was just like the soothing wind of nature (which it very much was not).

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Ko Phangan boasts a huge number of vegan restaurants in Srithanu, which turned out to be a thirty or so minute drive from the port, Thong Sala, and where we were staying. Taxis on Ko Phangan were less abundant than in other areas, with most people turning to scooters as an easy way of access around the island. I didn’t venture out in hiring a scooter myself, but I don’t think a license or experience is required to do so, with scooters on offer for miniscule amounts of money, two or three pounds per day from our hotel.

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We decided not to risk a scooter journey but instead hitched a communal taxi to Srithanu, and explored several quaint jewellery stores as well as picking up some well needed after sun in the local pharmacy. We ended this little exploration in the Karma Kafe, with stylish décor and dark wood. The sign in the toilet was hugely amusing, something along the lines of ‘don’t flush toilet paper / sanitary products / kittens and puppies / your ex’s belongings’.

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The food here was also one of my favourites amongst our travels. Hungry, as usual, I ordered two mains. The first was a rice bowl with the most deliciously spiced pumpkin, the second a burrito with beans and the same tasty pumpkin and squash puree. My friend ordered raw tacos, slightly let down upon discovering that the tacos were in fact not the crispy carb shells back home but cabbage bowls, but still insisted the dish to be worth the initial disappointment.

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If out and exploring Ko Phangan and brave enough to hitch a scooter trip, Karma Kafe is well worth the trip!

20/18 moo 8, Koh Pha Ngan, Surat Thani 84280, Thailand
open 12-10pm

Atsumi Raw Cafe, Phuket

We landed in Phuket town centre to find it a little disappointing, hardly blue seas and white beaches but rather a busy and jostling city with little in the way of vegetarian foods on offer. A good distance from the beach which was more of a port than somewhere where we could expose our pasty British skin, the only vegan café I could find was a fair drive down to the South of the island of Phuket, near Rawai.

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We originally had planned to alter our hostel accommodation and move from Phuket town centre to the more tranquil beaches tripadvisor promised us of Rawai – this was later altered again to the fantastical nightlife and equal beach opportunities offered by Patong, on the West. It was rather dark and dreary on arrival, with my friend imbued with a desperate cold, both of us hungry and damp. We set out on a fairly expensive taxi ride to Atsumi raw café, planning to also check out Rawai and assess if a hostel swap was worth the cost.

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The café is situated on the side of a main road so easy to locate. It is linked with the Atsumi Wellness Centre, where yoga, detox and even fasting plans are on offer (fortunately we came for the food, not the fasting). A café is situated to the front of the restaurant, with the dining behind. The food here was absolutely superb, perhaps the best raw options available. I chose a vegetable burrito in a corn tortilla, with an array of sauces. After travelling for the day I was decidedly hungry and do have to admit that vegan food is not the most filling – so I moved on to a raw Caesar salad, with cashew cheese to follow. My stomach still growling, I ended the meal with a raw vegan brownie. I’m not a huge fan of raw desserts and would rather eat an actual brownie over mashed dates, but it did certainly taste like the picture of health, filled with cacao, banana and almonds.

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The food here towards the higher range of all places we visited, but the service was swift and wifi even faster, so if in Phuket, Atsumi is definitely worth the trip, perhaps tied with a yoga session to really hammer down on the health.

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99/1 Moo 7, Wiset Road Rawai district, Phuket, Thailand
atsumirawcafe@hotmail.co.th
Tel: +6676289224

open 9am – 8pm

Vegetarian Travels in Thailand

I’m not a vegan but sometimes I pretend to be. Several times whilst travelling Thailand I’d insist I was a vegan, GIN JAE, probably with a very doubtful pronunciation to our restaurant caterers. My travelling partner wasn’t always keyed in to my attempts to ensure our food wasn’t peppered with cunningly disguised meatballs or fish sauces.
”What? No you’re not Liv you’re vegetarian, questbars aren’t vegan anyway”, would come answering back. My backpack did actually come back a full 3kgs lighter thanks to my daily consumption of protein bars and products in a vain attempt to protect my mini muscles, in a country where chicken, fish and rice dishes are available left right and centre but vegetarian protein is limited to eggs, or tofu if you’re lucky and looking straight ahead.

However, with a little help from tripadvisor and the Instagram #veganthailand hashtag, I was able to source out a huge number of brilliant vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurants all across Thailand. Less appealing to the locals but filled with fellow veggie travelers and harems of yoga lovers, with great manes of dreadlocked hair and sunkissed skin (and usually a shiny iPhone, seeking out the available wifi like ourselves as these restaurants are usually a scale above the local haunts in price), Thailand offers a great range of vegetarian friendly cafes and restaurants in all main areas.

I hope to review several of the restaurants we visited over the course of the next few weeks, whilst the delicious meals are still fresh in my head. Here are a few samples of my favourites;

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Rustic and Blue, Chiang Mai

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Chalong, Phuket

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Greenlight Cafe, Ko Samui

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Pud, Ko Tao

Fed by Water

I’m not really the sort of person to just drop into the nearest restaurant, give the menu a quick scan and order a speedy dinner. This is reinforced by my vegetarianism, having had one too many pea risottos with it seeming to be the most popular vegetarian option at any traditional pub style diner. Fed by Water, in Dalston, is somewhere I’ve had my eye on for months, having browsed the tripadvisor reviews alongside instragram uploads for delicious looking vegan options of pasta, pizza, and an array of salads.

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In all honesty, I didn’t even notice the restaurant’s mantra upon first inspection; fed by water. I assumed water connoted the natural world and this was some vague praise for ethical veganism. The restaurant instead prides itself on using only purified water. As stated on their website,

“FED’s filtration system is based on an active carbon filtration which removes impurities like lime scale, chlorine and unwanted bacteria, while retaining the minerals and nutritional elements present in the water”.

This is in turn claims to boost the nutritional properties of all food and drinks on offer. I’m not wholly convinced by basing the entire restaurant concept on filtrated water, it seems to be an attempt at finding some niche style of branding, but the website does also encourage recycling and an environmental awareness.

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Many will turn their nose up at veganism for the banal thought of resigning themselves to a life of undressed salad leaves, or, like FreeLee, so many bananas you might indeed turn yellow. The potato detox and other fad diets have shocked many into categorizing vegans as pitiful people who exist on a sad diet of sad salad leaves. Fed by Water demonstrates how this need not be the case for a vegan diet; you could call it vegan junk food, if you like, with no restrictions on pizza toppings for even your meat eating friend who couldn’t possibly cope with a pizza without salami. ‘Fake’ meat options are readily available in the form of seitan carpaccio and salami, and cheese is swapped out for cashew nut equivalent. The novelty of these huge pizzas is increased by the availability of black charcoal dough, just in case you want that gothic snap for your food diary.

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We shared the carbonara and ballox between two – salads also still on offer in case you are a leaf loving type of vegan. The portions are generous, with plenty of beautifully flavoured pasta sauce and salty pieces of seitan. It didn’t quite live up t my memory of bacon but came the closest I’ve been in six years.

The star dish were the veggie and cheese balls, accompanied by grain salad, avocado puree and charcoal infused bread. The highlight of Christmas dinner was always stuffing for me, and you can imagine by disappointment, upon my first vegetarian Christmas, in discovering what exactly stuffing was and where it came from. These balls tasted very much like the stuffing I remember, and almost aromatic. The cashew cheese spreads were also individual and delicious.

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Prices are moderate, £12.95 for the salad and £13.95 for the pasta. Arriving just a little after four for an early pre theatre dinner, the restaurant was fairly quiet, and service faultless. With commendable ethics and enticing food, Fed by Water can’t really be faulted. Whether or not your free bottle of purified water does taste any different from the tap water back home, I’ll have to leave up to you.

Open everyday, 11am – 11pm

FED BY WATER™
Unit 1b Dalston Cross Shopping Centre,
64 Kingsland High Street E8 2LX
London, United Kingdom

God’s Own Junkyard

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Ever fancied seeing your name in shining lights, Hollywood style? I’m sure you had that little niggling dream in younger days. Swaggering down Broadway, the leading lady in an array of West End musicals. You might also have come to the bitter realisation that this would progress no further than a far off dream after year seven drama lessons, whereby your teacher might have eyed you up with a furrowed brow and expression of mild pity as you desperately tried to bring Oliver to life for the school’s seasonal production. Never mind that, you surely did your best to bring a wholly convincing re-enactment of a goldfish to the table instead, ferreted away to one of the smaller parts with a reassuring smile.

Well, acting talents aside (I bet you’ve also been the weakest link to any Christmas table charades game too), having your name in shining lights is certainly possible in one area of London.

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God’s Own Junkyard is a gallery for the bright and dazzling neon art, the likes of which can be rented out to feature in films, such as Tomb Raider 2 and Tomorrow Never Dies. Situated a little out of the middle of London, the gallery can be found a short walk from Walthamstow Central tube station (although google maps turned this into a scenic half hour expedition through suburban London).

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The inside of the industrial space is truly bedazzling. Neon pieces cover the walls, ceilings, and lie dotted around the floor-space for an overwhelming burst of colour and light. The gallery features numerous huge and awe-striking pieces with quirky phrases such as ‘Sail Away with Me’ and ‘Are you getting enough?’ The art seems to find a sweet balance between gaudy provocation of the many erotic shops in which the pieces were once found, alongside the bright eyed amazement of any child taken to his first carnival, where many of the other, more innocent signs also stem.

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Alongside these huge constellations are smaller and sweeter designs, simple love hearts and crowns, small enough to stand on a nightstand.

Many of the pieces have been created by Christopher Bracey, a British neon artist who sadly passed away two years ago. He allegedly stated that most of his early commissioned work for instigated by the rising sex industry, benefited by the allure of his luscious and alluring signs. His death was voiced through Twitter with the touching and poignant message, “Just wanna let you know I am actually in Gods Own Junk Yard”, fitting to his life works, and the gallery continues to be run by relatives.

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If out and about in London, I would highly suggest a trip down to Gods Own Junkyard to visit the neon delights. It is however only open on weekends, but the included café, the ‘Rolling Scones’ makes it well worth the excursion for the ability to sit down to a cheery slice of cake and take in the glittering lights.

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Of course, you can also rake out a small fortune to purchase one of the delectable installations, although the prices don’t come cheap, one of the more known pieces, ‘Don’t Worry’ sold for £40,000 back in 2014. Many of the pieces are however up for hire, if you do fancy your name in shining lights, perhaps for your 21st if not a star studded career.

Gods Own Junkyard
Unit 12
Ravenswood Industrial Estate
Shernhall Street
London
E17 9HQ

ON NAIL BITING

People tend to box together nail biters as a certain category of person. Nibbling away at your fingertips surely indicates anxiety, a shy and feverish complex, and a fear of the world eased a little by tearing at already raggedy hands. Even as a self confessed nail biter, I consider the habit horrendous. Gnawing away at your nails at a public bus stop, or sliding your tongue over a torn hangnail at work is so unsightly. Not to mention the number of germs and bacteria lurking under your nails, as I recall the DailyMail (fantastically credible source) blaspheming the number of germs upon gym equipment, far more than inhabit your toilet bowl.

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why I cannot be left to paint my own nails

Despite the pressing knowledge of how unattractive a habit nail biting truly is, coupled with a standard attempt at hygiene, I haven’t been able to break my own bad habits. Starting young, my parents tried desperately to pull my fingers out of my mouth as a child, coating my hands in vinegar (for which I developed keen taste, licking off my hands like a placid kitten) and tabasco (which resulted in yowls and screaming, after which nail biting was accepted as less of an ordeal). Even today, it offers a pleasant distraction when sitting idly, waiting for a delayed appointment. Immersed in thought, in exams for instance, absent minded chewing away at a nail seems to beckon on answers.

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False nails have offered a short and bittersweet solution to this issue. If, like myself, you’ve never had particularly long or attractive nails, you’ll understand the delicacy added by a set of acrylics. Your hands seem more defined and dainty, even if coated in calluses from the gym. Not overly expensive either, £25 will buy you a set lasting several weeks, plus you’re able to release your inner fashion atrocities in glitter varnish or questionable designs.

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Sadly my long running streak of fake nails and fewer hours spent examining hangnails came to a tragic end yesterday, as whilst trying to balance chatting and a barbell (two things which don’t go hand in hand), I managed to clip one of my nails backwards, splitting my fake, and real nail in the process. I soldiered on through my workout with a grimace and a taped finger (because apparently stuffing dirty hands in my mouth is acceptable, but a small cut is considered desperately unsanitary). It seems that this would be the end to my short spell of fake nails which don’t couple particularly well with regular exercise, nor typing, hence the lack of posts. As a miniature mid year resolution, I’ll be commencing yet another attempt at giving up nail biting in a desperate attempt for princess hands.

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on the post exam slump.

I’ve been a little quiet round these parts; exam season has been in full swing (and to top that off, I’ve justified my excessive anxious nail biting as a result as reason behind having a constant false set of nails which makes typing increasingly difficult).

When you’re knee deep in exams for which the entire year has revolved around in preparation for, the end can seem so far from reach. Nights drag on, particularly if you like to tie your studying to the clock. Switching up one subject to another at 6 o’clock. Exchanging back at 8. Your tastebuds also take a light vacation, too fixated on books beneath you or a screen in front of you to focus on any mealtime. You hit mini ‘walls’, reminiscent of the wall marathon runners cajole over – not that I’ve engaged in any particularly arduous running. Sitting bleary eyed staring straight ahead, or practicing your new world record level of procrastination. Tidying up the kitchen has never felt so fun.

This entire year has felt like a build up, a slow climax untoward the June exams.
The finger blisters induced by a really awkward style of writing and tearing through ten pages per essay have finally started to heal over. I no longer need to scrape off concealer by the barrel from beneath my eyelids, having snoozed tranquilly through the past week. I braved a cold turkey cut on my caffeine addiction, having fuelled morning exams with a twitchy attentiveness. However, despite all these positive attributes accompanying the end of year and term time, there is a certain slump, an anti climax. Hours no longer hold purpose with no more need to quench my brain with knowledge. I don’t need to set an alarm, hence the continuous snoozing. I’ve now completed Orange is the New Black and Game of Thrones in a very short space of time, my two bucket list style rewards for finishing the year, which now gives my life very little purpose beyond Netflix. It is a gradual and slightly painful relax back into reality, realising that the hours you’ve dedicated to your books in the previous months, the grappling with inner will to force out a couple extra hours and elation at putting down your pen at the end of every exam, has very little contribution to the real world. Momentous as the finishing line might seem for you, life moves – and has moved – on without you. You now no longer have an excuse to get out of walking the dog. It’s also probably time to visit your nan and remind her of your existence, having holed yourself up for the past few months.

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post exam celebrations and a shocking reminder of what we all look like with makeup on

What I’m trying to say is that it’s been all quite a build up, a hell of a lot of stress (resulting in a hell of a lot of tongue ulcers, which, according to my WebMD self diagnosis and inner hypochondriac are caused by stress in question) for quite the post exam slump.

Whilst still in the process of catching up on a years worth of sleep, I’m hopefully going to be a little more active in the blogosphere, with Thailand on the cards in a few weeks, and feeding my superstitions by diving at tables and other wooden object whenever someone mentions results day.