Saturday, 26 November 2016

Eating Morocco in a day: My 24-hour foodie trip to Marrakech and back

Colleague: "How come you're not in on Friday then, Rachel?"

Me: "I'm going to Marrakech actually."

Colleague: "Oh lovely, for a long weekend?"

Me: "Nope, just for the day."

Everyone: "Wut."

I know, it sounds totally mad. And tbh it was totally mad. But I did indeed travel to Marrakech, spend the day there, and go back to London the same day.

When I got back home at around 1.30am and realised I'd actually been away for less than 24 hours, it was so bizarre - I'd done so much that I felt like I'd been away for a week!

But this wasn't just me being a bit of a nutcase. Allow me to explain...

You know Giraffe restaurants? Yeah, you know them. Often found at airports as it would happen.

Well they're - and I quote - "on a mission to explore and share wonderful foods from around the globe" to celebrate the launch of their new menu.

So to help gain some inspiration they asked if I'd like to head out to Marrakech, be shown round by a local foodie expert and essentially be challenged to discover as much about Moroccan cuisine as possible in a day.

Um, WHAT!? Is that not one of the coolest, most random but awesome things you've ever heard?

I'm always keen on crazy ideas, obviously love food, AND Marrakech has been on my 'to visit' list for yonks, so it was a no-brainer for me. Where do I sign!?

It was such a great day and I've got tons to tell you but I know you're busy so I'll try not to waffle too much. (She says, having already waffled for England in this intro.) Let me break it down...

Getting there

With a taxi booked for 3am, any sensible person would go to bed at like 9pm. But this gal? Nah mate. Was at the Cosmopolitan Influencer Awards dancing to the Spice Girls and drinking cocktails the night before, wasn't I?

(On a side not, thanks so much for your support with that, kind readers - I made the shortlist for Best Lifestyle Influencer which is kinda cray.)

Well it's fine, you can just sleep in the taxi and on the plane, said everyone. Not this gal, who is the most high-maintenance sleeper you've ever met. Lol good tired times for me.

Anyway I was so excited that the adrenalin overtook the tiredness and I successfully made it to Marrakech - the flight's only about 3.5 hours so not too bad.

Interestingly, I was slightly concerned I wouldn't actually be let into the country - upon arriving at the airport, everyone has to fill in a landing card detailing where you're staying etc. I had to try and explain to the security guard that I wasn't staying anywhere because I was leaving again that night. He was highly sceptical but thankfully let me in eventually.

And there waiting for me at arrivals was my host and guide for the day, the lovely Amanda from Maroc Mama, with her husband Youssef.
Amanda is an American ex-pat who's been living in Marrakech for 15 years. She's a travel and food blogger and also runs a business doing food tours of the city, which, after spending the day eating my way round Marrakech with her, I could not recommend more.


Our first stop of the day was breakfast - obviously having been up for millions of hours this would be my third breakfast of the day but I was so down for that.

And pleasingly, Marrakech airport is really central (not like the nightmare that is London) so it didn't take us long to get there.

We drove down grand, big, clean streets lined by pale red buildings, opulent lamp posts and benches. There were even camels. Awesome.

Less traditionally, however, I also spied placed like McDonald's, Buddha Bar, KFC, Pizza Hut and all the big chain shops.

But our destination was an eatery of the utmost authenticity - Amanda and Youssef took me to one of their favourite spots in the French, newer part of Marrakech, Chez Outmane (obvs am using the French name not the Arabic.)
I suddenly realised I had no idea what constitutes a Moroccan breakfast. When most people think about Moroccan cuisine, they think couscous and tagines, but for breakfast? Hmm.
First, a basket of warm fluffy breads called batbout arrived. And to eat with it, a wonderful selection of dips and spreads:
There was honey, butter, olive oil, argan oil, olives and - at the front on the left there - something I'd never heard of called amalou.

Sweet Lord, amalou was amazing. My fave discovery of the day, without a doubt. It's made from almonds, honey and argan oil so is basically almost butter with a twist but sweet Lord in heaven above, I loved it.

As well as the dips, I tried another speciality: khlii.
This was essentially eggs with salted, dried lamb (sort of like jerky I believe). I don't usually go wild for egg-based dishes but this was so flavoursome, and it was extra tasty after we added some zataar. Scoop it up with some bread and prepare for a mouthful of meaty, spiced goodness.

And of course, this being Morocco, we washed it all down with fresh mint tea.
Now, obviously any self-respecting British person would never add sugar to their cuppa, but mint tea (which is the standard Moroccan tea I believe) is always sweetened. I shouldn't like it but it was so tasty. I drank gallons of tea over the course of the day.

A cookery class

The next port of call was Riad Quara to learn how to make a couple of traditional Moroccan recipes. 

Located in the medina, everything was starting to look like the Marrakech I'd seen in photos.
Riad Quara is the prettiest place - it's traditional in style but beautifully done. We were greeted with more mint tea and little baked goods, which I loved.
Amanda and I weren't just there to sit around and eat though, it was time to get stuck in. We were to make batbout (yes, what I'd just eaten!) and msemmen.
Chatting in a mix of French, Arabic and English, we got stuck in. Amazingly, I learnt that Moroccan home-cooks never measure their ingredients, they just sort of feel it. So we did the same.

All our utensils were basic, and it was so much fun.
Whilst Amanda had made everything before, as you can see, she was having a blast too.
Here are my batbout:
And here are my msemmen, which are sort of like pancakes but flakier:
Served warm with honey, they were a dream.
We packaged up the leftovers and I took mine home for my flatmates who I'm sure will concur that both the msemmen and batbout were equally delicious with nutella, if slightly less authentic.


Next up, we went for a wander through the medina on to our next foodie stop.
I tell you what, I need to go back to Marrakech for a day of shopping as well as eating. It smelled of leather and spices and was just fascinating to me.
There were so many interesting things to look at and it was all so colourful, despite the fact that I was there on an uncharacteristically overcast day.

A couscous stop hadn't been in the original plan, but as we walked past one of Amanda's favourite spots, Chez Bakchich, she paused and asked me, "Do you want some couscous?"

Obviously my answer was in the affirmative. So in we went.

Guys, it turns out we in the western world are doing couscous all wrong. That stuff you buy in the supermarket that cooks in five minutes? Not legit.

Real couscous takes hours to make which is why it's only eaten on Fridays in Morocco, Friday being the holy day when people don't work.
We shared a delicious bowlful with some veggies on top. It was simple but oh-so tasty.

Oh, another thing we're doing wrong: serving tagine with couscous. Apparently, tagine should always be served just with some bread. Couscous is a meal in itself and should only be eaten with some simple veggies or meat. Who knew?


Having had our carbs and veggies, it was time for some meat. Amanda took me to this little place right in the middle of the medina, on Mechoui Alley, where we sat at a table on the rooftop, out of the hustle and bustle below.

Oh, but before we get on to the meat, I have to tell you something else hilarious: as we walked through the streets, multiple men on multiple occasions shouted "Hannah Montana" at me. So there's that.

Anyway, to the meat. We tried two different dishes, the first of which was Tangia:
Tangia is lamb (well, sheep actually, as they only ever eat the animal after it's at least two years old), cooked in a clay urn with olive oil, garlic and cumin amongst other spices. The pot is buried in the ashes of a hammam and left over night to cook. How cool is that?

It was tender and tasted to me, well, just incredibly Moroccan.

The second meat was Mechoui:
It was also sheep but served with the most delectable cumin salt. We ate both with more batbout (I was learning it's a real staple) and despite not being a huge lamb fan, I really enjoyed them, particularly the Mechoui.


I simply couldn't walk past these amazing dishes full of plump, juicy olives without stopping to try some.

And look! Just look at the pink ones! I'd never seen any like it.
So preeeeetty.

The green ones on the very left couldn't have been more freshly-picked, and it turns out all the olives were from the same tree - the pink ones had been left on the branches a little longer, and the black ones even longer than that. Who knew?! (Maybe you did, but I didn't.) 

We bought a bagful for me to take home (and eat as plane snacks, oops).


OK, not strictly food I'll admit, but when Amanda asked if I'd like to get some henna done I couldn't say no.
We did at least drink yet more tea as we had ours done.

I'd never had henna and found it both incredibly therapeutic and relaxing but also mesmerising to watch - the intricacy was incredible.

I also liked that the designs on offer were quite unusual and the henna itself was all natural and additive-free too.

Safe to say I thoroughly enjoyed feeling like a Moroccan princess back in London for the following week.

Smoothies and sweet treats

It had been, like, a whole hour without eating anything which quite frankly was outrageous so we went off in search of sugar.

Amanda took me to one of her favourite little cafes for a smoothie - Great, I thought. Something light and healthy.

I couldn't choose between the two on offer so Amanda kindly said she'd get me a mini one of each.

What does Amanda come back with? Two full-size smoothies (both for me), a plateful of traditional cakes and biscuits, and a sizeable slice of millefeuille.
Not quite the light, healthy snack I had in mind but unsurprisingly I was OK with it.
I mean, really.

The green smoothie was avocado and almond and was so thick I swear there must've been about three whole avocados in there. At first I was like hmm this is a bit weird but then I decided I loved it and oops, drank the whole thing.

The second smoothie was mixed fruit and yeah, managed to drink all that too.

The plate of delicacies was incredible - I can't remember everything we ate but there were little almond biscuits, sesame creations, chocolate dipped biscuits, chewy aniseed thingies and what was essentially a Jammie Dodger. 

As any good foodie would, I tried them all.

Quote Amanda: "You're the first person I've ever met who can keep up with my eating." What can I say? Eating is one of my best skills.

Spices, nuts and dried fruits

Our final stop of the day was one of the many little shops selling tea leaves, dried fruits, nuts and tons and tons of spices.

And look at all the dates!
Almost as many as I've been on this year waheyyyy.
I loved how the spices were presented and thought it was so lovely that the kind shop-owner let us try lots of different things before deciding what I wanted to buy and take home (cumin, medjool dates and peppermint tea leaves).

The end

And just like that it was time to head to the airport and wave farewell to Marrakech, Amanda and Youssef!
What an incredible, delicious, fascinating, fun and educational day it had been.

I feel overwhelmingly lucky to have been given the opportunity to go to Marrakech, eat all day and hang out with the awesome lady that is Amanda.

Massive thanks to Giraffe for inviting me, Wildcard PR for arranging everything, and Amanda for showing me round, feeding me and teaching me so much. 

It just goes to show you really can do a lot in a day. I don't know about you, but I'm feeling somewhat inspired to take advantage of living in a city like London where it's so easy to get to tons of interesting places.

I had eaten so many tasty things and learnt so much about Moroccan food, and in my books, food is pretty much the best part of travelling. I can't wait to see how Giraffe work some worldly inspirations into their new menu.

And if you only take one thing away from this post, I implore you to try amalou whenever you get the opportunity. You won't regret it.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Brunch at Social Pantry, Clapham

Another weekend, another brunch, this time in the lovely but little-known Clapham spot, Social Pantry.

After a beautiful sunny autumnal morning walk from Brixton and through Clapham Common, I was so ready to brunch.

I met my dear friend and fellow brunch aficionado, Rachel, and we sat ourselves down at one of the pretty pale turquoise tables in the cute little eatery.
We liked the decor and both agreed there were Mae Deli vibes going on.

It was Sunday morning and Social Pantry was busy both with people eating in and taking away. It was full, but there weren't queues.

The menu is divided into lighter bites and more filling options, and I have to admit I wanted to eat it all. Everything was just a little bit different to your usual brunch offerings: "Not a sourdough in sight," Rachel acutely observed (my friend that is, I'm not talking about myself in the third person).

We kicked off with tea, coffee and smoothies.
I really liked how the tea was served.

The smoothie - berries, banana, yoghurt and honey - was divine. It was sweet but with a slight tang from the yoghurt and I also really enjoyed the colour, particularly with a) my outfit, and b) the table. So pretty!

We'd barely made a start however when our main dishes arrived:
Rach went for the ultimate avo on toast: smashed avocado with poached eggs, feta, roast tomatoes and sumac, served on - get this - a slice of cooked sweet potato, and some bacon on the side.

Rach informed me that the eggs and bacon were perfect and she loved the sweet potato - it was tender, soft and well-cooked.

Speaking of eggs...
I had the beetroot, feta and red onion fritters with spinach, poached eggs and smashed avo on the side.

Absolutely loved them. The beetroot flavour really came through and went beautifully with the sweet onion. The fritters were soft and there wasn't an eggy texture, which I liked.

I'm really glad I asked for a side of avo (for what is brunch sans avocado?) as a) it complemented my meal beautifully, and b) it would've been a pretty small portion otherwise.

And if you do want something else, Social Pantry has the most wonderfully tempting counter of baked delicacies...
As we were off for a walk in the Common, however, I decided to get myself a Baileys Pumpkin Spice chai latte to take away, and yes, it was as delicious and autumnal as you're imagining right now.

I think Social Pantry is the most wonderful little place and am not sure why there isn't more hype around it. Pop in for cake, go for breakfast, or how about a Prosecco-fueled bruncheon? I'll be back (in the least threatening way ever).

Rachel and I were guests at Social Pantry but all opinions are totally honest.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

A luxury wellness break at Miraggio Thermal Spa Resort, Greece

Plonking myself down on the comfy sofa in the big, elegant lobby, having got up before 3am to start my journey, I couldn't have been more thrilled to be offered a cool, damp towel and a glass of champagne. My suitcase had been whisked away, and despite my tiredness, I was so excited to have arrived at Miraggio.

An hour and a half's drive from Thessaloniki airport, right on the tip of the peninsular, Miraggio is a brand new thermal spa resort. And, my dearies, I'd like to tell you all about it - I'mma try and keep it brief but there is so much to say!

My Room
I was lucky enough to be staying in a junior suite which was, when you include the exceedingly large balcony, definitely bigger than my whole flat in London.
The bed was huge and the whole room - like the rest of the hotel - was tastefully decorated.

There was plenty of storage space (oh, what I'd give for a wardrobe that big) and there was a kettle, tea and coffee too (albeit sans fresh milk), which was most pleasing.

Every day of my stay, little Greek sweets were left for me, and on the afternoon I arrived, I came back from the spa (more on that shortly) to find the most tempting plate of baklava and a bottle of bubbly. #blessed
Of course, at a five star resort you get five star treatment: my used teacups were somehow replaced with fresh ones all the time and my curtain was drawn when I was out for the evening.

There were also clever and clearly labelled switches all over the room that controlled much more than just the lights, which was impressive.
The shower was beyond dreamy - it was your classic super powerful rain shower and of course there was a handheld shower head option too. There was even a seat and a blind could be lowered across the glass shower wall for privacy too (although who cares when you have the suite to yourself? I love being single).
I was particularly fond of the large selection of toiletries because they were all honey-scented. Yum.

In a fluffy robe and slippers, smelling of honey, sipping tea and reading a book, I was a happy bunny.

The Food

There are various different eateries at Miraggio, each with a different vibe.

On our first lunchtime, we went to the buffet restaurant, Kritamo.

There was a big selection of dishes so something for everyone, but by the time we got to the food at about 2.45pm, it wasn't super hot and unsurprisingly wasn't the freshest. It was tasty though and nice to sit out on the big balcony.
Each evening of my stay, we ate in the resort's most formal restaurant, Portofino, which serves Italian food.
As the supposed fine dining restaurant, I didn't think the menu was super fancy, but the food was good and the setting was lovely. At Portofino you'll also find a selection of healthy options devised by the wonderful nutritionist Amanda Hamilton.

I mixed and matched healthy and not-so-healthy dishes and really enjoyed it all. It was fab having lighter options that were interesting and genuinely scrumptious.
Breakfasts took place in the buffet restaurant, and my! What a spread it was. Without a doubt, one of the biggest breakfast buffets I'd ever seen. There was everything!

Yogurts of every sort you could imagine, jams, spreads (including tahini!), spices, cereals, breads, muesli, porridge, kefir, chocolate milk, smoothies, juices, cakes, meats and cheeses, cooked breakfasts, tons of fresh and dried fruits, nuts and seeds... I could go on forever. Unsurprisingly, I loved it.
For my other lunches, we ate at the poolside restaurant, Oasis. The food here is traditional Greek, which I loved. We had souvlaki, Greek salad, moussaka, spanakopita, Greek yoghurt and honey (I had so much over the trip), baklava and a pudding I'd never heard of but definitely want to eat again: Ekmek Kantaifi (snap below). Get it. Thank me later.

The Spa

Whilst I don't have any of my own pictures of the spa (for obvious reasons), it really was fabulous. As well as the usual treatments (massages, facials etc), the unique draw of Miraggio is the thalasso spa, consisting of a selection of pools at different temperatures, steam rooms, a sauna, aromatherapy rooms and more, all taking advantage of the local thermal sauce water and sea.
There was even a poolside bar serving up healthy juices, smoothies and energy balls (once again by Amanda), which was awesome.

My one qualm was that the floor around the pools was like one giant puddle, which meant my fluffy slippers quickly became sodden and, well, not so fluffy, alas.

Things To Do
With its impressive array of pools and beachside location (I obvs went for a swim in the sea), Miraggio is really a summer resort. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy and appreciate the facilities in October too.
There's an array of pools both inside and out, fitness and yoga classes (and with the beachside sunset/sunrise settings, even I enjoyed them), giant chess, volleyball and even the option of a wine tasting, which needless to say I loved.

A Boat Trip
On the second day of my stay, we went out for a boat trip on the Miraggio yacht. Whilst it wasn't super hot, I still simply loved being on the sea. We sipped tea and watched the sun glistening over the waves as our sailors, Nikos and Nikos (of course) did all the hard work.
When we docked by an island, the sun had gone behind the clouds but that didn't stop me jumping in for a swim amongst the fishies in the pretty turquoise water. Have I ever mentioned I have a bit of a thing for the sea?
Just mooching, pretending I'm a mermaid.

And when I came out it was time for nibbles and wine. Hard life, I know. And obviously the sun appeared just as I got out of the water. Grrr. (Lol jk I'm not really complaining.)
Does it get any more ideal than that? I think not.

Man, I genuinely feel so blessed to have had the pleasure of such a lovely stay. Even though Miraggio really is a resort that comes into its own in the summer months, I loved it. Aaaaand I'm already hoping to go back in the summer months. Who wants to come with me?

I was a guest at Miraggio but all opinions are my own, promise. 
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