Off-grid, Issue 2

Off-grid, Issue 2

Let’s look at what we can get up to outside office hours — to boost your body and stoke your soul. From the new niche-dating sites to workplace work-outs and the sizzling new smokehouse restaurants, here are the best ways to go off-grid


How to find
your niche

Looking for everlasting love? Or just a brief encounter? Forget random swiping. Now there are thousands of niche-dating sites to lead you to the person who ticks all the right boxes

When Cupid’s arrow strikes, you know it. It could happen at a pop-up food festival or on the night Tube, but rather than leave it to a random encounter, one in five of us now looks for love online or via dating apps.

Yet the random-swiping style of hook-up isn’t working for many young Tinderellas and fellas — hence the rise of “niche-dating” sites.

To glimpse the growing popularity of dating-by-category, log on to White Label Dating — an online platform that helps manage 25,000 niche- dating sites. It is the biggest platform of its kind in the world, with more than 55m global users each paying around £20 a month in subscription fees to search for a mate on one of its partner sites.

Niches include BBW Meet (for men seeking “big beautiful women”), Genuine Mature Singles and Plenty More Fish: The Single-Parent Pond. There’s Kissing Gates, a countryside- themed site for single farmers and horsey types, which has an X-rated version for those wanting to get a bit more mucky. Or Hot for Ginger, which not only serves as a meeting place for redheads and their admirers, but also lists the perks of hooking up with a redhead on its blog: you’ll never lose them in a crowded pub, for a start.

“People spend more time in front of their computer, or on their smartphone, so it makes sense that they’re looking online for relationships,” says Steve Pammenter, co-founder and CEO of White Label’s parent company, Venntro Media Group, based in Green Park House. “Niche sites help people meet others with similar interests faster.”

Entrepreneurs have been quick to spot the trend, with 10 to 15 new niche sites launching every week. Of course, not all will get lucky and make a profit — but White Label says its top earners can make up to £1m a year.

One couple used earnings from their site, Strictly Dating, to fund a two-year round-the-world sailing trip. “We were able to support ourselves on our travels with a monthly income from the site,” says Nichola Craven, who quit her job as a lawyer to set up Strictly Dating with her husband, Caspar.

Most people start by creating a niche website as a bit on the side. You purchase a domain name for as little as 99p, and design a webpage. Then, if you partner with White Label, they can help with the technology for payment processing and advise on how to develop your site. They don’t charge a fee until your site starts making money through subscriptions.

But competition is fierce. White Label currently works with 1,700 entrepreneurs and corporate partners. If you want a piece of the action, it’s important to know what’s trending. “You need to do your internet research,” says Craven. “And talk to your friends or peer group to hear their different ideas for niches.”

So what tickles your fancy?
Be honest. There’s probably a niche- dating site that’s just right for you. If there isn’t, why not start one?

Still haven’t found who you’re looking for? Here are three specialist sites:

  1. Romany dating

    Your first step in having a Big Fat Gypsy Wedding of your own.
    You can’t grab a girl through your computer, but some glamour in your pics and eccentricity in your profile will go a long way. A disclaimer warns that not everyone on the site is a genuine Romany.

  2. Tall girls dating

    The place for men who aren’t afraid of heights, because girls who sign up have to be over 5ft 10in. Shorties need not apply, because as well as instant messaging and emailing, members are encouraged to meet via video link — and the camera won’t lie about a diminutive frame.

  3. Casual dating

    Now this is a refreshing idea, being upfront about the fact that you’re not looking for anything serious. So you can sign up, send messages and see where it goes without any pressure at all. If you’re new to this kind of thing, the site has a useful blog post on the dos and don’ts.


The unbearable lightness of training

Workers who exercise together don’t just get fitter and faster, they get calmer and happier too. Sweating it out next to your line manager might not be such a bad idea after

At a place I once worked, there was a gym. But the workers were torn. Should they work out there, pumping away to Eye of the Tiger, and therefore spending even longer in the office? At TOG’s Workplace Wellness sessions, no such problem exists. This is not the “no pain no gain” nasty-shouty school of workplace exercise: it’s about the enjoyable process of creating a better you; free, flexible and fit for anything.

Workplace Wellness was commissioned from Work It London, and currently operates in two buildings: Henry Wood House near Oxford Street and Albert House in Shoreditch; but anyone can ask for a programme. It came about when Work-it’s Charlie Enstone-Watts met TOG co-founder Olly Olsen in boxing gloves. After some sweaty mano a mano with Olsen, Enstone-Watts was brought on to devise bespoke sessions for companies and co-workers. They make use of empty rooms so staff can glide seamlessly from punching out emails to punching each other at boxing — or if they’re the more contemplative kind, some mutual downward-dogging.

So, what’s it like working out alongside your colleagues? “There’s usually a good vibe in the session,” says Enstone-Watts. “I haven’t noticed any problems for people doing squat thrusts next to their line managers.”

The company that trains together gains together, it seems. Dropbox, for example, has a Work It class every Wednesday. “It’s open to anyone in the office,” says Dropbox’s Cyrus Akrami. Is it weird working out with colleagues? “Not weird but definitely cathartic,” he says. The firm even invites visiting colleagues to join in, which is “a fun way to introduce them to our team.”

Once a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) welterweight fighter, Enstone-Watts, 27, retired two years ago. He began training others, devising several workouts that are holistic, mostly mixed, mostly 45 minutes long. He has a consultation with each company and devises a plan. “Typically we do 15 minutes high intensity, 15 minutes yoga, and 15 minutes meditation.”

Along with colleagues such as Adam Willoughby, also an ex-pro fighter and yoga teacher (and a firm advocate of quinoa and cashew nuts), it’s a WW speciality to mix high and low intensity. “Exercise has to be sustainable and if it’s painful, people drop it,” says Enstone-Watts. Which is why people who buy gym memberships in January tend to abandon them in February.

Part of this ethos is that you don’t just have a workout then go back to the grind. There are plans for yoga al desko (see below). It is the mind, not the six-pack, that is the key to workout fulfilment. “For example, we have clients in the financial sector, and they’re all stressed,” says Enstone- Watts. So with them he does a “Lunch and Learn” programme, with tips about sleep, nutrition and hydration. “It’s about mental and physical health, in our climate of long hours and poor posture caused by desk-working.”

And it’ll give you a seasonal kick up the asana, or even a meditative punch. Visit


1 Meditation

Start with a short meditation. Closing your eyes and focusing on your breath has huge mental benefits by improving circulation and carrying nutrients to the brain. Sit in your chair with a straight spine, hands comfortable (on your knees, perhaps), close your eyes and observe your breath. Count the breaths if you like.

2 Warrior two

Prolonged sitting can lead to tight hips and this pose can help. Stand in front of your desk. Bend right knee to 90 degrees, keeping left leg straight behind you. Track right knee over your toes, while rolling the edge of left foot to the floor. Keep you arms up, and parallel to the floor. Hold for five or six breaths, then change sides.

3 Seated twist

Sit tall in your chair, and bring your hands into prayer position. Keeping a straight spine, hinge over your thighs and place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee. Gently push the top hand into the bottom, while lengthening the crown of your head forward. Hold for five or six breaths, then change sides.



A nice little burner

Barbecues are the most primitive style of cooking. Now they’re a huge part of our foodie culture. Meet the man who made London’s restaurant scene sizzle

Neil Rankin is the man to make your mouth water. The barbecue guru’s
cuts of flesh — chargrilled, smoked, barbecued to perfection over a sizzling flame — have transformed what it means to be a carnivore in London.

American-style smokehouse cooking is increasingly part of our foodie landscape, and Rankin is one of the main reasons why. He helped prepare Southern-style barbecue food at Pitt Cue Co, the tiny Soho restaurant with a big reputation that opened in 2012. Other haunts have stoked our appetites for slow-smoked meat and fire-blasted fat: Rök in Shoreditch and Islington; Shotgun in Marylebone; One Sixty in the City (named after the golden temperature for cooking and smoking meat); and Duke’s Brew & Que and Berber & Q in east London.

The latest arrivals include Smokestak and Smokey Tails in Shoreditch (the latter co-founded by DJ Seth Troxler), and Little Smoke, near Liverpool Street. And now the steaks, sorry, stakes, have been raised by Flat Iron in Shoreditch, which boasts the ne plus ultra of barbecue gizmology: a colossal, two- metre-wide, custom-built spit-roaster capable of cooking an entire cow’s leg.

Why this primeval obsession with meat and fire? “Barbecuing is the original way we cooked anything,” Rankin says. “It’s the longest-surviving cooking technique, and more fun. Do you want to sit in front of a sous vide with a timer, or sit next to a big, open flame, grilling meat?” Grrrr!

After a spell at Pitt Cue, Rankin co-founded Smokehouse. A year later he opened the brunch venue Bad Egg, near Moorgate. Last November, he took the smokehouse to the next level with Temper, his first solo venture, in Soho’s Broadwick Street. Temper has set itself apart, in that it doesn’t serve individual cuts of meat. “We buy in whole animals from farms, butcher them on site and use everything. Buying by cut doesn’t seem sustainable.”

Rankin predicts that our barbecue culture will evolve away from America, and head to Asia, with Thai barbecue causing a stir after the opening of Ben Chapman’s Soho restaurant Kiln, inspired by the country’s roadside clay pots, in which meat is blasted with heat and simply served.

Looks like smokehouse culture won’t be burning out any time soon.

Brain Food
Eat yourself smarter
No2: seaweed
Eat seaweed, expand your mind and lose weight. It seems too good to be true. We’ve heard the rumours that the aquatic plant, which can be green, red or brown, is the ultimate superfood: the “new kale”. It’s low in carbs and calories; high in vitamins; and is an excellent source of folic acid, which can improve memory.
But there’s also evidence that seaweed helps absorb fat. Scientists at Newcastle University have found that alginate, a substance in kelp, a large brown seaweed, could stop the body absorbing fat by 75%. Jamie Oliver has said seaweed helped him lose 2st in weight: “I thought seaweed was hippy, globetrotting stuff, but our ancestors ate seaweed. It’s got fibre, nutrients, all the minerals, aids digestion. It’s unbelievable…” You can buy freshly harvested, edible seaweed from sites such as The Cornish Seaweed Company ( Best of all, seaweed can ease a hangover: kelp, spirulina and wakame are high in the nutrient magnesium, which is depleted after a heavy night of boozing. Pass the sushi rolls.