What’s The Big Idea? | Monocle

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Lightning in a bottle
Meet the beer brand that’s a fine addition to any menu.


Beer might be the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic drink but at a fine-dining restaurant even its most ardent enthusiast is likely to feel pressured to peruse the wine list. The founders of Japanese luxury beer company Maison Rococo decided to test this theory. Surveying Tokyo’s vast fine-dining scene, they found that the pressure was real but not only for the patrons.

“Serving a beer that could be bought at a supermarket or convenience store was not an experience that chefs and sommeliers were comfortable with,” says Yohay Wakabayashi, co-founder and CEO. So was there a market for a new type of beer that befits a special occasion? It turned out that there was – and a significant one too. Within a year after launching in 2018, the Rococo Tokyo white beer gained entry into more than 100 Michelin-starred restaurants in the city. Restaurants in Singapore and Taiwan soon followed.

“It’s a subtly flavoured hefeweizen with a touch of sweetness, which makes it easy to pair with a range of cuisines,” says Tokyo-based food and drink writer Melinda Joe. Hisashi Udatsu, chef-owner of a sushi restaurant in Tokyo, calls it “a partner” that enhances Japanese cuisine’s delicate taste.

Apart from the spring water that they source from the Mount Fuji area, Rococo’s founders would rather not reveal the ingredients. The craft beer movement in recent decades has spawned thousands of beers that rely on geo-specific hops and other grains to create unique flavours. But Rococo, they say, is focused solely on creating an experience that elicits emotions, which they consider the core of luxury. 

“It’s true for all facets of our product, from the gift box to the glass,” says co-founder Keith Martinez. “One of our early Japanese partners wanted to keep our bottle because she wanted to put flowers in it.” Rococo’s goblet-shaped glasses, made in Slovakia, are quietly elegant, with the beer’s name etched almost unnoticeably on the stem. 

Wakabayashi and Martinez confess that they are not beer nerds but they count this as a blessing. It helped them to spot an underserved market: female beer drinkers. While they set out to create a gender-neutral product, they responded to the feedback from women on beer’s bitterness and chefs’ grievances about the pairing difficulties that they had encountered. The message is in the bottle.

Taking responsibility

One entrepreneur’s journey to running ethical ventures that also turn a profit.

For Nachson Mimran, entrepreneurship equates to problem-solving. In his eyes, businesses have the potential to solve global issues, from overproduction to social inequality. Mimran has applied this mindset to his own ventures, which range from the Alpina hotel in Gstaad and fashion label Grounded Absurdity to numerous investments in businesses such as Switzerland-based material innovation lab and clothing label Pangaia.

Spending much of his childhood in West Africa, where his family runs a large agroindustrial business, Mimran (pictured) witnessed the influence that a company can have on a market’s socio-economic development. He was handed the reins of the family business shortly after he turned 21 and held the role of CEO for five years, before venturing out on his own to explore his many interests: investing in property projects in Europe and Africa, taking on the role of head of international affairs at the Senegalese Olympic Committee and becoming the creative director of the Alpina in Gstaad, where he is now based with his family. In 2015 he also co-founded To.org with his brother Arieh, a foundation and venture fund that supports ethical businesses – and all before his 30th birthday. 


Running a viable business that also does good in the world is demanding but, for Mimran, solving tricky issues often leads to incredible creativity, as well as a lot of fun along the way. “It’s about understanding the diversity of interests involved,” he says from his standing desk in Gstaad. 

Reframing the narrative around business is part of the process that entrepreneurs need to embark on when setting up a responsible company. “If we don’t make ethical business aspirational, then we won’t be able to achieve the type of momentum needed to make changes,” he says, explaining that customers sometimes shy away from the didactic messaging often associated with ethical brands. “I don’t want to be lectured. That’s why at the Alpina, we are always rethinking hospitality and our roles as hosts,” he says. “ You can communicate important messages through art or culinary events – for example, a 1970s ice-cream van from which you can video-call a creative in a refugee camp. There are ways in which you can nudge people to look at previously unattractive stories in a new light. It doesn’t have to be this sad, load-bearing mission.”

Mimran is also a believer in the power of challenging the status quo, from making unexpected hires – when working on a sustainably made doll for Mattel, his team consisted of a material scientist, an artist, a brand consultant and his young daughter – to embracing new business models. His new fashion label Grounded Absurdity uses the open-source platform Spaarkd, which offers access to a library of existing patterns and eco-friendly materials. “All you have to do is be creative and do some marketing – the rest is taken care of by Spaarkd,” he says. “In the music industry you can self-publish on Spotify so why not apply the same thinking to fashion? Why should this $3trn (€2.9trn) industry be dominated by the same 15 or 20 players? I couldn’t believe in the open-source opportunity more.” 

Setting up an ethical business that can also turn a profit is clearly complex but if you are willing to get creative and think outside the box, Mimran suggests that it’s both achievable and worth the challenge.

Offices in paradise

Asia's islands offer fun in the sun alongside blissful working conditions.

Work and workplaces have changed over the past three years. After the initial shock of the pandemic, employers and employees adapted to remote working and long-distance meetings. While companies around the world have now embraced a return to the office, several Asian countries have designed new visas for remote workers that are flexible enough to accommodate short business trips and long-term stays, and broad enough to encompass freelancers, start-up founders and intrepid investors. Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are three such nations. We recommend the best tropical island in each country to enjoy a poolside workday.

BEST FOR: Mid- and late-career professionals looking for a slower pace of life


Phuket is famed for its beach life but its cultural and culinary attractions are equal draws, from the colourful Peranakan shophouses of the Old Town to a spate of cutting-edge southern Thai restaurants launched by ambitious young chefs. New luxury developments such as Tri Vananda, offering private-pool residences and an integrated wellness resort, are cropping up as mid-career professionals from across Asia and Europe seek out more peaceful outposts from which to take calls and run businesses. 

Phuket’s location – an hour’s flight to Bangkok, less than two hours to Singapore – makes it an ideal spot to work in peace without sacrificing connectivity. In September 2022, the Thai government launched the Long Term Resident visa, a long-awaited initiative that will grant 10-year residencies for eligible foreigners to live and work in Thailand. It’s part of a broader plan to bring one million “wealthy or talented foreign residents” into the country over the next five years. Those who qualify for the visa enjoy fast-track airport journeys, lower taxes on domestically earned income and full tax exemptions for any money earned abroad. Remote workers earning at least $80,000 (€74,555) a year or anyone looking to invest at least $500,000 (€465,930) in Thai assets can apply.

best for: People in creative industries and early-career technology workers

Situated off Malaysia’s northwestern coast, tranquil Langkawi has the clear waters and white sand of popular Southeast Asian islands but none of the crowds. Restaurants serving freshly caught squid, crab and lobster dot the coastline. 

Malaysia’s De Rantau scheme, launched in 2022, offers a multiple-entry visa to live in the country for up to two years, as well as discounts on food, transport and accommodation through participating companies such as Air Asia and Grab. Children and spouses can come along as dependants. At a cost of RM1,000 (€199) and open to applicants who make at least RM109,103.95 (€21,750), it’s one of the most affordable digital nomad visas going. It’s aimed specifically at technology industries but the category is broad enough to include sectors such as digital marketing and creative content. 

New arrivals to Langkawi should explore its burgeoning art scene. During the pandemic, beach resort Bon Ton launched an artists’ residency that has now expanded to include music recording studios and workshops for textile designers, painters and other creatives who live on-site in Bon Ton’s guest pavilions, work on their projects and share their art with visitors through exhibitions and performance nights. 

best for: Executives and entrepreneurs with money to invest (and time for surfing lessons on the side)


Bali has long been Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination but in the past few years it has transformed into an enticing hub for remote workers. Co-working spaces with networking events (and swimming pools), affordable prices and a built-in expat community make it ideal for itinerant employees who also enjoy exploring jungle waterfalls, scuba diving among coral reefs, surfing or volcano trekking. Meanwhile, the island’s food and drink offerings range from roadside warung serving classic Balinese dishes to cliffside cocktail bars. 

Indonesia wants to scale its technology industry and attract more international talent – and investment – to its shores. Bali is key to this plan. the country’s new Golden Visa offers five- and 10-year residency permits as well as other perks. It is aimed at high-net-worth individuals who want to launch companies in Indonesia, as well as people working for corporations investing in the country. Remote workers on a smaller budget can opt for the B211a visa, which allows a stay of up to six months – plenty of time to perfect your paddle.

How to fundraise

Raising capital in a less-than-favourable climate.

The past decade in the fashion start-up sector was all about the unicorn: investors made high-risk bets on a new generation of brands – usually digitally savvy and direct-to-consumer – and pushed them to set aggressive growth targets. In turn, founders chased high valuations and triumphant exits, which created a competitive market with venture capitalists embarking on bidding wars for a stake in the latest sportswear label or online retailer. But the bubble burst as the realities of managing complex supply chains hit and inflation rates derailed growth. Today, if you are looking to raise funds for your business, it takes a lot more door-knocking and convincing investors to part with their money.

“It has become more difficult in the current macroeconomic environment, given higher interest rates,” says Eshita Kabra-Davies, founder of fashion rental start-up By Rotation, which offers customers the opportunity to rent designer clothing or to become lenders themselves. “Capital and funding is no longer as cheap as it used to be.” 


Kabra-Davies, who worked as a trader before venturing into fashion retail, still managed to raise $3m (€2.8m) last spring to fund her company’s US expansion plans. She believes that there’s an appetite for companies such as hers, offering new consumer models and addressing the climate and cost-of-living crises. “Independent investors such as angel investors and family offices are very important,” says Kabra-Davies. “They don’t just invest in trends, markets and numbers but in people and ideas. They are more likely to support what’s best for the business, not just their own investment targets.” 

Investors agree that there is still opportunity for those offering smart solutions to modern-day challenges. “If you read the news and follow funding trends, it would be easy to conclude that this isn’t the time to start a business,” says Georgia Stevenson, partner at Index Ventures, a firm based between London and San Francisco. “What we have seen over three decades of investing is that times like these give rise to some of the most successful companies.” 

“There are always people looking to invest in brands doing the right thing”

Entrepreneurs could also consider alternative methods, such as crowdfunding, says Déborah Neuberg (pictured), founder of menswear label De Bonne Facture. Having found herself at odds with traditional investors’ demands for aggressive growth, Neuberg – who favours working with specialist manufacturers in Europe – decided to try a community crowdfunding platform last summer. “This is an innovative fundraising method, which allows you to stay independent,” she says. “They’ll tell you that it’s impossible to find partners but there’s always a way; there are people looking to invest in brands doing the right thing.”

Three tips for founders: 

1. You need to have the right network and attend the right events so that the pitch is always subtle but intriguing enough to leave the potential investor wanting more. It’s a little bit like dating. — Eshita Kabra-Davies

2. Look within your own database or find angel investors who are willing to fund your business for what it is. — Déborah Neuberg 

3. Apply more discipline on resource allocation and hire agile teams that would attract the right investors. — Georgia Stevenson

How to make co-working spaces work

Create spaces that combine functionality with a sense of fun.

Co-working spaces were once the reserve of start-ups, solo entrepreneurs and freelancers seeking a bit of company. Nowadays, it is remote workers who are pitching up, preferring to work at a hot-desk hub rather than toil away at home. But keeping such spaces vibrant and functional, community-focused but not distractingly noisy, is tricky. Big, anonymous players such as WeWork have lost their appeal for many and the company has been left floundering financially. So how do you create spaces that tick all the boxes? 

1. Create an industrious culture.
This is straightforward and begins with having staff who set a welcoming but professional tone. This should feel like a place where you can focus, not a raucous members’ club. (So kill the music; no one wants to have to talk to clients over the racket of the IT guy’s Spotify playlist.) For inspiration, go to the Loker Reading Room at Harvard’s Widener Library – rather than total silence, there’s a steady hum of industry with everyone aware that this is a space where you go to get things done.

2. Choose your location with care. 
Being inside an ornate 19th-century ballroom or historic film studio might sound evocative but these spaces weren’t built to accommodate people working at desks. Find somewhere with an appealing human scale, abundant natural light, good transport links and set in a pleasant neighbourhood for you to stroll around at lunchtime. Neuehouse’s most recent opening in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, is a fine example.

3. Sell office essentials.
Many co-working spaces don’t have somewhere to buy a notepad or a pencil. Pair your supply shop with a simple newsstand stocking newspapers and global magazine titles to offer inspiration and moments of escape. 

4. Provide ample space to work.
People who go to co-working spaces are looking for an upgrade on their home office so don’t expect them to sit elbow to elbow on shared tables. Invest in proper desks with a lamp and space to spread their work out. Daniel Korb’s Sense tables for MillerKnoll are a roomy option with a low glass partition. And do get rid of the phone booths for private calls, which get colonised early in the day as someone’s personal office. Instead, create gardens and courtyards where people can go to make sensitive calls and maybe even find a new connection.

5. Never put inspirational quotes on the walls.
Bin those dodgy prints about success being down to “99 per cent perspiration and 1 per cent inspiration”. Opt for plants to freshen up a space instead.

Training ground

The Food School in Bangkok is prepping the next generation of culinary entrepreneurs.

On the second floor of The Food School in Bangkok, under the watchful eye of Chef Tang, a class of nine students is quietly preparing a menu of Thai dishes, including the popular appetiser kratong tong. Nattitda Kiatphattanachai is standing in front of her cooking station, stirring a yellow curry. The 30-year-old accountancy graduate has enrolled on a three-month intermediate course with the intention of opening her own restaurant next year in her hometown, which borders the Thai capital. “If I’m going to be an owner, I want to understand the whole process and the kitchen is the heart of the business,” says Kiatphattanachai, while pouring a two-litre carton of coconut milk into the curry. 

The Food School opened in January 2023 with the aim of training food entrepreneurs, rather than chefs. The full course lasts only nine months and can be sliced into three stages, from essential to advanced. Students learn how to run a restaurant, as well as follow a recipe, and the topics taught by industry experts range from marketing to kitchen design. The practical approach and focused learning are proving popular with food enthusiasts who want to make a career change but can’t quite stomach a four-year course at a traditional culinary school. “It’s a different world these days,” says Prim Jitcharoongphorn, chairperson of Allied Metals, a supplier of high-end kitchens to top hotels and culinary schools. “People want to open restaurants because they love to cook, even though they have no idea about professional kitchens or how much they cost to build.”


Allied Metals is one of The Food School’s three founders. Co-working space Glowfish, founded by Gavin Vongkusolkit (pictured, on right, with Jitcharoongphorn) and hospitality giant Dusit Thani are the other two. Through Dusit Thani, The Food School has brought together three prestigious culinary schools and three creative cuisines under one roof: Thailand’s Dusit Thani College, Tsuji from Japan and Alma from Italy. Instructors from Osaka and Colorno are seconded to the Bangkok outpost and standards inside the building in Block 28 – a new development by Thailand’s top university Chulalongkorn – are on par with a top international restaurant. 

“If I’m going to be an owner, I want to understand the whole process and the kitchen is the heart of the business”

Graduates have an option to rent an “incubator kitchen” on the ground floor to test their ideas before investing in their own premises. Teantan Valairuecha was one of the first to complete Alma’s pastry course and within weeks of graduating, he founded his dessert business Palindrome. 

“Renting here lowers the financial risks of opening my own place,” says the 27-year-old engineering graduate, who worked as a project manager before realising the growth potential of Thailand’s food industry. His ice creams and sweets will be available at The Food School’s café, a mix of canteen and co-working space, which attracts a lunchtime crowd of university students and local businesses.

The recipe for a successful restaurant might always be shifting but The Food School supplies its students with all the right ingredients. 

What happened to the briefcase?

Today's commuters have a more open attitude to the office bag.

It’s not long ago that office dress codes were so strict that getting ready for work was reminiscent of putting on a school uniform. Many men were expected to wear trim suits every day and some accessorised with structured briefcases. However, professionals have lately found themselves facing sartorial confusion – a trend accelerated by the pandemic, new streetwear trends and working-from-home arrangements. Some started dressing for video calls by pairing smart shirts and blazers with terry shorts, or abandoning tailoring in favour of humble T-shirts as their go-to business look. Over the years, briefcases got completely lost (inside wardrobes, donated to charity shops). Today, they seem like relics of a forgotten world. 

Even workers who have returned to the office with a renewed appreciation for a good suit – albeit in looser, comfier cuts than before – seem reluctant to grasp a briefcase on their commute, preferring something a little softer and more versatile. “We’re still selling the same amount of work bags but today’s styles are a lot less uniform,” says Kasper Hostrup, owner of Copenhagen-based retailer Goods. “After the pandemic, people came back to shop for something more interesting and also anonymous. It’s less about logos and a lot more about design and utility.”

At Goods, you’ll now find an array of bags by the likes of Yoshida Porter and Mismo, and sporty styles made from feather-light Japanese nylon – perfect for when you’re riding your bike to work and transporting not only a laptop and papers but also your gym kit and lunch. “People are still attentive to how they dress,” says Hostrup. “They aren’t getting sloppy. But now you can bend the rules a little bit and wear the same bag in and out of the office. A nylon bag paired with a more formal suit creates an interesting contrast.” 

“We’re still selling the same amount of work bags but today’s styles are a lot less uniform”

Global online retailers such Mr Porter have spotted similar demands and have chosen to “invest heavily” in totes, weekend bags and messenger bags for this autumn, according to the site’s buying director, Daniel Todd. On Mr Porter, utilitarian bags by Bleu de Chauffe and large, luxurious totes by Loewe and Gucci keep rising in popularity. “Men’s bags have now expanded beyond traditional shapes that adhere to strict dress codes to fun, imaginative styles,” says Todd. Case closed: informality is on the up. 

Bags that mean business
1. Haulier utility tote bag
Australia-based Haulier specialises in sturdy but elegant canvas totes that are expertly crafted in Portugal. 

2. Porter-Yoshida & Co tanker nylon holdall
The Japanese brand’s utilitarian designs are made to last.

3. Valextra Polyhedral travel bag
The Italian label’s roomy tote has been engineered to collapse flat, making it easy to carry and store away.

Long in the tooth

Suri’s plant-based brushes are designed to last.

According to Mark Rushmore, co-founder of London-based electric-toothbrush brand Suri, the dental market is saturated with gimmicky, unattractive models. “Pharmacy shelves are brimming with cheap, disposable electric toothbrushes that aren’t made to last,” he says. “And there’s no plan to repair or recycle them. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, the overpriced models are packed with pointless innovations that no one even uses. Who really needs seven brushing modes and an app to clean their teeth?”

That’s why Rushmore, who has worked with the likes of Procter & Gamble in the past, decided to take matters into his own hands by launching his brand in 2022. “We set out to create an electric toothbrush that champions design, performance and sustainability without compromise,” he says. 

Fitted with recyclable plant-based heads made from corn starch, Rushmore’s aluminium-handled brushes are light, durable and made from recyclable materials. “We want them to spend more time in your bathroom and less time in a landfill,” he says. Rushmore hopes that, leading by example, it can show other firms what’s possible. “The future of sustainability lies in high-performance, beautifully designed products that fit seamlessly into people’s daily lives,” he says. “We’re aiming to be a catalyst for the wider industry.”

Inside scoop

The next big thing in food? Slavic and Balkan dips. Here are three to prep.

London-based, Israeli-born chef  Yotam Ottolenghi has made Levantine food a pervasive presence on dining tables in recent years. But while we never tire of his toothsome concoctions, food entrepreneurs should be on the lookout for what might be next. With Italy just about exhausted of its kitchen secrets, Japan plundered for umami recipes and Peruvian delights such as ceviche available in every city, we have a hunch that Balkan, eastern European and Slavic dips will be the next big dishes to invest in. These three spreads are delicious but little known beyond their regional borders. Time to tuck in.

1. Ajvar  


Peppers and aubergines grilled over a charcoal fire give this spread a smoky sweetness. The recipe is thought to originate in Serbia (some call ajvar “Serbian caviar”) but the spread was, well, spread throughout the region during the Yugoslavian era, which explains its relatively standardised recipe. As far as condiments go, ajvar is a unifier of regional identity, from the beaches of Croatia to the mountains of Montenegro. Not bad for some grilled veg.

2. Ljutenica


Popular in Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Serbia, ljutenica is a relish made from peppers, aubergines, carrots, garlic and tomatoes. In other words, it makes full use of the vegetable plot. Some prefer it smooth or chunky, hot or mild, but this spicy-sweet dip is a staple in most Balkan households and sometimes referred to as “Bulgarian ketchup”. It’s the perfect accompaniment for grilled meats but is equally satisfying simply spread on a piece of bread.

3. Gzik



Originally from Poland’s Wielkopolska region, where farmers feasted on the simple recipe, this spread consists of fresh cottage cheese, milk, yoghurt and chives. You can even add radish, onions, smoked mackerel or hard-boiled eggs to liven up the creamy dip. Gzik is best served alongside boiled potatoes, on a sandwich or as a dip for crudités. 

Profile: The Great Room

The Singapore-based firm runs a suite of seemly workspaces across Asia. We meet its CEO, Jaelle Ang.

Before co-founding her own company in 2016, Jaelle Ang worked in banking for several years and earned degrees from Imperial College’s MBA programme and UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture, both in London. Ang’s business training and love of good design was invaluable when it came to launching The Great Room, a small-scale co-working company in her native Singapore that now has a growing number of outposts across Asia. 

The Great Room stands apart from other flexible workspaces with its focus on design and premium events and a hospitality-led approach. “We take our inspiration from hotels, which need to be highly functioning, high-performance spaces but, at the same time, there’s always something magical when you walk in,” says Ang, who serves as the company’s CEO. She hires hotel designers to work on The Great Room’s spaces to achieve that same mix of functionality and beauty, and makes sure staff are service-oriented and friendly, taking inspiration from luxury hotels and private members’ clubs. 

Ang also looks out for unique properties. The six Singapore locations include one within the historic Raffles Hotel and another in a restored 1910s shophouse. There are also branches in Hong Kong and Bangkok; the first Sydney location is expected to open in early 2024.

“These are all key cities – wonderful places to live, work and play,” says Ang. “Really, we think we can exist in any cosmopolitan financial hub in Asia.” Different markets require different strategies: broadly speaking, every country has its own property environment – Bangkok’s crop of new skyscrapers, for example, and Singapore’s well-preserved heritage buildings. Work cultures vary between cities too, which is a crucial consideration when it comes to programming events for members, from leadership seminars to after-hours networking drinks. “Thais are extremely fun-loving, and need no big encouragement,” says Ang. “In Hong Kong, it’s changing but traditionally they wouldn’t want to be seen having a tipple in front of their colleagues or bosses. In Sydney, which has a casual, fun, very ‘matey’ culture, we realised that they start work a lot earlier. They tend to cycle, walk, do a lot of stuff – and they like to get out by 16.30.”

“These are all key cities, wonderful places to live, work and play”

In 2022, New York-based co-working business Industrious acquired The Great Room and another co-working firm for a combined $100m (€93m). Members now have access to more than 160 offices around the world. “As an entrepreneur, it’s a great milestone: six years after you’ve built something, somebody recognises that there’s so much value in what you’ve created.” Ang will have more support and opportunities for growth but will keep operating the business with her Asia team and retain the Great Room brand. “It allows us to act rather nimbly and in a very localised way. So we have the best of both worlds now. It has really expanded our horizons.”

Ang is confident that Asia’s co-working market is here to stay. She adds that businesses need to recognise that their customers are more discerning than a few years ago. “Developed markets start segmenting and people demand more from their workspace. They don’t just want flexibility, they want beautiful design, great events and amazing, like-minded people. So we’re seldom the first-mover player. When the market starts maturing, that’s the perfect time for us to come in.” 

The Great Room’s expansion timeline 

1. One George Street, Singapore, 2016
2. Centennial Tower, Singapore, 2018
3. Ngee Ann City, Singapore, 2018 
4. Gaysorn Tower, Bangkok, 2018
5. One Taikoo Place, Hong Kong, 2019 
6. Raffles Arcade, Singapore, 2019
7. Afro-Asia, Singapore, 2021
8. South Bridge, Singapore, 2023

Park Silom in Bangkok and the Great Room’s first Sydney location are set to open by the end of 2023.

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