Massage at Sorbet Salon Muswell Hill will melt your knots away

Imogen had a back and foot massage at Sorbet salon in Muswell Hill. Picture: Kevin Mark Pass

Imogen had a back and foot massage at Sorbet salon in Muswell Hill. Picture: Kevin Mark Pass - Credit: Archant

“Your shoulders are in a right mess,” says my masseuse LJ, as she expertly rubs the knots from my back at Sorbet salon in Muswell Hill.

She’s not wrong. Years of slouching over a desk and carrying around heavy handbags have done their damage.

It’s why I’ve taken an hour out of the office to visit the first UK branch of this South African high-street salon chain, which opened in the Broadway last August, followed swiftly by a Crouch End store in December.

It may only be a fledgling chain here, but back in South Africa, it’s a well-established brand with 150 salons including nail bars and stores just for men.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Ian Fuhr back in 2004, Sorbet’s aim is to bridge the gap between expensive spa retreats and stand-alone salons with a brand that prioritises customer service above all else.

“I’d like to do here exactly what we have done in South Africa, and even more so here because there is such a massive market,” says Ian.

“Spas are wonderful, but they are the exact opposite of what we are. We have a strong retail focus, and see ourselves as retail stores that offer treatments, rather than beauty salons that sell products.”

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Entrepreneur Ian had no experience of the beauty industry before starting Sorbet.

But he was convinced to enter the market by his regular massage therapist, who highlighted South Africa’s need for a branded beauty chain.

Following 10 years of success there, Ian was looking to expand the business internationally when, on the advice of his skincare product supplier, Dermalogica, he set his sights on the UK.

“There’s thousands of beauty salons and nail bars in the UK, but no branded chains of any significance,” says Ian.

Sorbet’s retail focus is clear as soon as you walk into the bright Muswell Hill store, where you are immediately greeted by shelves of high-end products in its mostly open plan layout.

As Ian tells me, this is no place to lounge around in a dressing gown all day. Longer treatments are available, but most are 60 minutes or less – the idea being that you can pop in quickly for an instant refresh before continuing with your day.

In my case, I’ve got an hour at lunch, so I opt for a back and neck 30-minute Swedish massage for a competitive £30, and a relaxing 30-minute foot massage, priced at a bargain £15.

The back massage is in a small room at the back of the store.

It’s cramped but as soon as you lie on the massage bed, close your eyes and let the inevitable “soothing salon music” wash over you, the busy Broadway outside is far from mind.

LJ uses an unusual “massage candle” from the Bath-based Natural Spa Factory, which when lit, melts the wax into an oil that can then be applied to the skin.

It felt pleasantly warm as LJ determinedly worked out those knots in my back and shoulders. Thirty minutes flashes by but my shoulders have never felt more unburdened.

The honey scent is very strong, however, and I’m very conscious that I smell like a floral beehive in the office for the rest of the day – but they make the massage candles in rose and cacao flower fragrances too, which may have mellower scents.

After dressing, LJ leads me to a throne-like chair tucked behind the store’s main desk for privacy, and I sit very happily with a warming cup of green tea as my feet soak in water at the perfect temperature (a surprisingly rare thing).

LJ then exfoliates the dead skin with a fabulous-smelling lemongrass foot scrub from the Natural Spa Factory again, before applying more of the massage candle oil to moisturise, leaving my feet beautifully soft.

I step back into the real world with that post-spa relaxation glow.

In just a lunch hour, all the stresses that go hand in hand with a city lifestyle have been massaged away.

Ian doesn’t shy away from admitting his dream for Sorbet is world domination. That may be some years off yet, but with plans to open stores in High Barnet and Mill Hill within the year, north London be warned: a Sorbet salon is coming to a high street near you.