Saturday 2 March 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 2/3/2019

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Opener / Andrew Tuck

A quiet word

I just went to a new London restaurant that colleagues had enthused about so regularly that I felt a deep sense of missing out. But oh dear. It was a hectic Friday night and things were just a bit off: bathrooms not clean, a member of the waiting team who needed to freshen up and a disconnect between frantic staff and customers all in need of a moment of welcome.

The next day I got an email asking for my feedback. Had I had a great time? My fingers paused over the keyboard and then I thought, “OK, be nice but honest”. The response from the manager was perfect; he got it. I would never name the restaurant and would happily give them a second try but, at a time when everyone so quickly takes to their corner and slugs it out on Twitter, it was a good reminder that a quiet word is often the solution in our shouty world.

The Monocle Weekend Edition steps into the realm of hospitality every week – hotels, good retail and places we like to eat. And, similarly, we’re not going to waste your time with slamming the mediocre; we want to bring you places that hopefully inspire and encourage you to explore. So read on for great Alpine detours, Los Angeles doughnuttery and a Madrid makeover. It’s all sunny down here and there will be no shaming.

How we live / Global

Best foot forward

For years we’ve classified people according to the clothes they wear. We’ve had white and blue-collar workers, of course, but also striped-collar workers for the IT crowd who emerged in the 1990s (deemed somewhere between “blue” and “white”). Not forgetting black-collar workers for the creative class who rose up in that same decade wearing Gucci or Prada in an expansive palette of ebony, coal and ink. Well, it’s time we cast our eyes downwards and add a new classification: the “white-shoe worker”.

In the past decade, few items have come to signpost a male member of the creative class like a pair of crisp white trainers. We have Common Projects to thank for this: the New York brand founded in 2004 was one of the first to offer trainers for “grown-ups”. Its sleek designs with fine gold lettering looked good with a blazer and enabled men to feel comfortable and sophisticated at the same time; they catered to our changing, more active lifestyles and, unlike most trainer options, did away with the dread of feeling like we were trying to dress like the kids.

As the athleisure movement raged on, the sophisticated-trainer market mushroomed, with specialist brands such as CQP, Axel Arigato and Fateeva – plus every luxury house – getting in on the action. Tell us you know an art director over the age of 30 who isn’t wearing a pair of white trainers from one of these brands and we’ll call you a fibber. It’s about time our sartorial taxonomy reflected that. Go buy your uniform this weekend.

Hospitality / Los Angeles

The hole truth

Los Angeles is a city where lacto-fermented seaweed and cold-pressed kale juice are “enjoyed” without the need for irony. But it’s also the home of artery-clogging beasts such as the breakfast burrito and remains, reportedly, the doughnut (or donut) capital of the US: it has the largest number of shops selling this most American of fried treats of any city in the country.

Should anybody be surprised, then, that vegan Japanese doughnuts (who knew?) have made a successful landing in the city? Angelenos do love a fad – especially if it’s photogenic – and the brightly coloured, heart-shaped goods on display at Little Tokyo’s newly opened Donatsu definitely deliver. In matters of taste, not much here differs from a “standard” doughnut other than experiments with ube and matcha flavours. But the novelty factor – the same mysterious force that sealed the success of boba tea and the cronut (remember those?) – trumps all.

It’s also a remarkable show of one-upmanship on the part of Japanese yoshoku (western-style food; for more on this see The Forecast). Americans might have taken their mega-franchise Mister Donut to Osaka in 1971 but the chain became so popular in Japan that it eventually moved its headquarters there. Rethought and Nippon-ified, doughnuts are making their jump back across the Pacific. How sweet and custard-filled does victory taste.

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Making it personal

Early last week a bit of positive retail news blew in from the snowy streets of Toronto. According to local chatter (much of it passed along by happy shoppers), one of the country’s much-loved retailers was having a change of heart about self check-out in some of its shops. Residents went on to report that Canadian Tire (think big DIY chain selling everything from sports gear to shovels) had listened to its customers and found that not only was the process of scanning and paying for goods unwieldy but people also missed the banter with staff. Where was the chat about topics such as salt vs grit for de-icing stairways, or what kind of tape is best for boxing items in storage? While Canadian Tire is coy about how it’s going to handle self check-out in the future, it’s a welcome signal that at least one retailer has come to its senses about the need for a human touch and leaving a lasting impression.

Several years ago my local grocer pulled out three quarters of its staffed check-outs and replaced them with self-scanning units. At first it was all a bit chaotic but, over time, shoppers found their groove and decided whether they wanted an automated or personal touch. The core check-out team used to be a chatty group of kindly, mumsy Filipinas. “Hello, sir.” “Nice to see you again, sir.” “Have a good weekend, sir.” You get the idea. They were familiar faces for the neighbourhood, smiling ambassadors for their employer but, most importantly, they represented the only human contact one might have with this large retail group. A few years on most of the ladies are no longer on the shop floor (were they “retired” or are they helping with pick and pack at a logistics centre?) and I don’t feel much of an attachment to that particular retailer.

I feel pretty much the same about airlines that have cut back on professional staff at gates and about hotels that chase me with online questionnaires asking about my stay when someone should have been asking me in person. In the great race to “value engineer” (yuck!) and standardise, many companies are failing to recognise that the human component is what makes all the difference. If an airline can choose from either Airbus or Boeing for its fleet, Recaro or Thompson for its seats and Gate Gourmet or LSG Sky Chefs for its catering, there’s not a lot of scope for differentiation unless you invest in people. The same goes for much of retail, most hotels and rail companies, and any other business that seeks uniformity and the perils that come with allowing humans to come into contact with one another.

“The more people we take out of the service chain the better it is for the consumer, as standardisation and automation mean less friction and scope for upset.” This depressing line is trotted out far too often by operations officers who lack a feel for brand and only look at process. Sadly too many boards and investors buy into this and that’s why we’ve recently witnessed IT hiccups, inclement weather or pesky drones causing pandemonium at airports: there have been too few people on hand to man microphones, book passengers and generally deal with shit. From the comfortable “ideation labs” (yuck – part two!) at a management consultancy, it all makes perfect sense to help a client strip people from the business plan. But look at the reputational damage that the likes of British Airways, Lufthansa and Gatwick Airport have had to cope with because they simply didn’t have the frontline staff in place to assist their customers.

Rather than looking at human service as a cost, why not think of it as an opportunity? I know that my local bookseller makes an extra few thousand pounds a year from me because Sam and her colleagues at the cash desk can recommend anything new they reckon I might like. I don’t have the same trust for an algorithm when it comes to my listening, viewing or reading habits. Back at Canadian Tire in Toronto, where they’ve been struggling with snowy streets and driveways, I’m sure that having more people manning tills has meant an uptick in sales. Rather than just offering a wider shovel to clear a path, what about a snowblower for madame? And would your children fancy a toboggan? There’s $1,200 in sales that self-scanning would have missed.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. If you’d like more of this type of comment and similar perspectives, look out for the next phase of Monocle’s editorial offer. More here next week.

Media / Global

The interrogator / Edition 01

To kick off our new series on media habits and haunts we head to the north of Germany and pay a visit to Salon magazine editor Anne Petersen. If you're not familiar with her fine title, we rank it as one of the most beautiful in the world with its fine take on food, drink, travel, entertaining and interiors. We highly recommend you track down a copy of this elegant quarterly.

What news source do you wake up to? The only ones twittering around my house are the birds in my garden.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? The good old German Filterkaffee for me, featuring ground Dallmayr Prodomo coffee poured through my white porcelain Alfi coffee filter tower.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? I share my private time in the car every morning with journalist Gabor Steingart and his Morning Briefing. Due to a lack of time, his podcast is a very good news base for my day.

What’s that you're humming in the shower?Schwanensee by Tchaikovsky (my daughter is playing it on heavy repeat on our piano). Saint Etienne’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart puts me directly into a good mood.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? Papers delivered please. Die Zeit on Thursdays.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?T Magazine from The New York Times, Luncheon, British Vogue, German Architectural Digest and Brand Eins.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? Depends on the newsstand. While traveling I buy a lot at airports. I also like Sautter + Lackmann in Hamburg and Do You Read Me?! in Berlin to hunt for something special. Otherwise, to make sure I don’t miss an issue, I am a very big subscriber to all magazines that I am passionate about.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? Felix Jud on Neuer Wall in Hamburg.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? I just quit Netflix – and I don’t feel I’m missing something.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why? My last cinema experience was The Favourite. Apart from the great actors, I loved the costumes, interiors and over-the-top-flower bouquets.

Sunday brunch routine? Cycling to the farmers’ market for our favourite bread and buns, talking to my children and, when they've left the table, continuing to talk to my husband and reading newspapers.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out around among the ‘viennoiserie’?Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung and still working through Die Zeit.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? No. I might watch it accidentally while at my parents’ house.

What's on the airwaves or your bedside table before drifting off? Always a good book. At the moment Karl Ignaz Hennetmair’s diary about his time with Thomas Bernhard.


From Bauhaus to Brazil

Sportivo. It's time to get your spring wardrobe in order and Gregorio Otero, who’s run Madrid menswear shop Sportivo for 18 years, might well have the answer. You’ll find Otero manning the counter at his two-storey outpost – renovated last year – in the hilly Conde Duque neighbourhood. You can pick up easy, wearable items (and the odd flamboyant shirt for spring) from excellent European brands including Aspesi, Schnayderman’s, Lemaire and Margaret Howell.

Bauhaus by Magdalena Droste, Taschen. It’s hard to believe that a glum building in Dessau run by an arch and unsmiling cadre of artists and architects in the somewhat mirthless years of interwar Europe could create such joyous designs. This paving-slab-sized, 300-odd-page compendium by Taschen sews together the loose threads and spins yarns about the lives, thoughts, sketches and designs of the Bauhaus a century after the school’s foundation.

Proibido o Carnaval. Carnival starts this weekend in Brazil – and with it comes an eclectic mix of songs battling to be the best of this year’s event. Expect electric beats from funk carioca and traditional Samba songs from Carnival schools. But for us a serious contender is the duet between two Brazilian legends, singers Caetano Veloso and Daniela Mercury, with “Proibido o Carnaval” (“Carnival is Forbidden”). The cheeky – and slightly political – track says it’s time to “Open the doors/there’s no censorship to hold me/Happiness cures/Come and kiss me.”


Hot off the presses

Last night we finished the production of Monocle’s April issue – well, just about. It’s always a tough and exciting week as our team head back to Midori House in London from various reporting missions to file final copy and edit their pages. This past week had some extra pace because it’s a moment of change. After 12 years in the UK, we are moving the printing to Germany – and we are also changing paper stock as we push for ever-greater quality. We’ve used this moment to look afresh at our design and you’ll notice some small but significant shifts when the April issue hits letterboxes and kiosks next month.

Many of the people reading this are already magazine subscribers but – as high streets splutter and great independent newsstands are shuttered by unrealistic rent increases – we want more people to sign up. The depth of investment in Monocle has always been made possible by the incredible support of you, our readers, and the April issue will be the perfect spring into Monocle for new converts – and even a few lapsed followers. Thank you.

Where are you next weekend? / Switzerland

Get cosy

We’re keeping you in the Alps this weekend (why not – there’s still plenty of snow), only this time the hostel is a bit more rustic, has its very own rail station, a giant Leuenberger guarding the approach and one of the chicest fireplace set-ups in Switzerland. The Hotel Jungfrau Wengernalp is a study in how Monocle likes its retreats: untouched, personal and well managed. If you want wide-screen TVs in your suite for the kids and a walk-in rain shower then this is not for you. If you’re happy in a mixed sauna followed by a roll in the snow, then pile in. Weekend lunch on the terrace is a buzzy scene and if you’re lucky the stroganoff or schnitzel will be on the house-specials easel.


Food for thought

Connecticut’s New Haven has long had the cultural chops to lure visitors. It is, after all, the home of Yale University and all the accompanying institutions it has spawned, from the Yale Center for British Art to the stunning (and windowless) modernist hulk from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill that is the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. But its hospitality sector has been lacking. A new player on the scene is 108-room hotel The Blake – all dark wood furniture and channel-stitched headboards in the rooms. Its most enticing feature, though, is new restaurant Hamilton Park, from the same Michelin-starred team behind New York’s excellent Kiwi restaurant, The Musket Room. Now you can feed your stomach as well as your mind.

Monocle Films / Finland

Icebreakers: rescue know-how

Finland has obvious natural advantages that have helped it become an icebreaking powerhouse but the country’s dominance in the field is startling. We travel to the Bay of Bothnia to bear witness to the beginning of the icebreaking season.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00