Saturday 11 January 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 11/1/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Keep it simple

Perhaps my outing suffered from the staff’s post-Christmas fatigue or maybe I have just got used to service with less flap and more warmth; evenings when you feel that things are being run for your benefit, not the restaurant’s and when someone is clearly delighting in taking ownership of the moment. “Luxury” is a dreadful word that means everything and nothing. But, for me, modern luxury is about good things made simple, genuine and human. And if that means leaving the wine on the table for me to pour when my glass is empty, well, I’ll cope.

Down in the west of England, we went to a fancy revamped estate with a restored Georgian house, now hotel, at its heart – it’s the talk of the county. Everyone will tell you how much money has been spent. But it doesn’t matter whether you grow your own apples or have the best wine cellar for miles if the service flounders like a hapless duck on a frozen pond.

Here goes. We are admonished for arriving a few minutes late (the roads outside are blanketed in treacherous fog) and hustled from cocktail bar to table (“We are very busy tonight and want to make sure you get good service”) to find ourselves in a vast glazed and cold greenhouse. And busy? Most of the night we are the only diners in this room, where we sit with scarves and jackets on to fend off the chill. There’s an air of confusion with the food. And, yes, they do that silly flourish of placing the wine in an ice bucket far from the table but then not serving it (you retrieve the wine). You get the drift. There’s no dead mouse in the soup moment; everything is just a few degrees off.

I speak briefly to the manager who apologises and I agree to drop him a note the next day with some suggestions – and this is when you really see how mechanical this operation is. An email arrives that’s clearly just a template where staff fill in a few details of the latest complaint – you know this because the bits that have been added are in a different font size. The email also sounds like it was penned by a Georgian – earnest and cold; they are “currently investigating the circumstances surrounding your experience”. A two-line “thanks for your feedback” would have been fine.

The world of hospitality is changing rapidly and not just in our big cities. The British countryside once had a reputation for chilly hotels, bad service and a distinct lack of fun. But in the past decade there has been a real shift as pubs have added good restaurants and a new generation of hoteliers has shaken up the sector – look at The Pig group of hotels or the huge success of Soho House with its rural outposts. And then there are the makers – the bakers, wine-makers and farmers – who have reinvigorated local supply chains and weekend markets. But perhaps the thing that unites all of this movement has been a sense of bonhomie and an easing of the old formalities that surround luxury hospitality.

The next day, friends take us for a pub lunch. The place is packed, the temperature cosy. There are dogs, there’s life unfolding; chatty staff. Is that the famous film director having a quiet pint? Yes, it’s oddly a little wellington-boot glam too. And the food is simple and delicious. The rest of life suddenly fades out and you are just left laughing, eating and feeling rather content. And this, you realise, really is a luxury experience. Oh, and the wine is on the table and it turns out I know how to pour it too. Cheers.


Built to last

What links Sebago, K-Way and Superga? All three are mainstream heritage brands that have made their names off the back of a single product: a boat shoe, heritage parka and plimsoll, respectively. But this trio are also all owned by the same company, the Italian conglomerate Basicnet Group. The Turin-based firm is, you could say, the LVMH of nostalgic one-item brands. There’s something reassuring about companies that have mastered a single item and stuck to it (Birkenstock and Dr Martens fit snugly here too). These brands seem as though they’ve always been there; they’re reliable and totally democratic, donned by grandmothers, teenagers and everyone in between.

Over the years these brands have dipped in and out of fashion; this week K-Way staged its first ever runway show (pictured), at Pitti Uomo in Florence, and in 2018 it collaborated with cool Parisian label Ami. But their greatest strength comes from their consistency over the decades. And that’s a comfort in today’s chaotic world.


One for all

New Yorkers are a famously tribal lot (writes Ed Stocker). Indeed, nothing gives people away more in this teeming metropolis than dress codes, from Brooklyn hipster to carefully put-together Upper West Side intellectual – each sub-category reveals its geographical territory via sartorial nuances. But it’s around this time of year that one thing finally unites people: they all need boots. The weather might be doing odd things this January – switching from near freezing to 17C this weekend – but it won’t be long before talk shifts to “bomb cyclones” and “polar vortexes”.

Then, from Wall Street suits to the baggy-pants crews, the subway will be united in the wearing of the snowboot. But even here tribal loyalties play out. An Upper East Side debutante might go for a pair of Uggs (Hunters occasionally make an appearance) while the Brooklyn set might go for something a little more heritage, a little more “Made in the US”. What better than LL Bean’s indefatigable Bean Boot, made in Maine since 1912, then? Whatever you do, choose carefully. And don’t slip on your jacksie.


Lyse Doucet

Born in Canada, Lyse Doucet is the BBC’s chief international correspondent. As a reporter she was stationed in Jerusalem and Kabul, and is still deployed there to cover news on the ground. Here she reveals what life feels like when lived at a slower pace in London – rambling by the canals and leafing through magazines.

What news source do you wake up to? BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and the BBC World Service on iPlayer or on the dial. But, with the news agenda these days, I sometimes turn the dial and start with classical music on BBC Radio 3.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines? Tea with soya milk – a gentle nudge, not a kick, to begin a great new day.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? FM dial. And when I read a good music review I immediately listen to that music to discover new performers and genres from around the world.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? Just thinking. No singing.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? The International New York Times and The Economist to the door; others online, ranging from The Washington Post and Canada’s Globe and Mail to Afghanistan’s Tolonews. The FT Weekend is happily picked up at the kiosk.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? I browse newsstands so it always varies, from New Statesman or Prospect to The New York Review of Books or Time magazine. And an architecture, food or design magazine – and Monocle, of course.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? Both. As papers pile up on the floor I vow to go completely online but can’t bring myself to do it; I still love reading from paper.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? All bookshops. I like finding new ones.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why? I love [the BBC’s] Strictly Come Dancing because there is so much laughter and fun and, of course, all that wonderful dancing. Even when people lose they smile and are made to feel like winners. I know it’s not a news programme but I always think of the conflict-torn countries I often report from and wish all of them a big dose of Strictly music and magic.

Sunday brunch routine? When in London, I try to stay in my own neighbourhood, or as close as possible, to keep to quiet streets and calm canals.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? Yes. I still hold on to tradition. When in London, I watch the BBC’s News at Ten but before that I channel-surf to watch how others are reporting the news – Channel 4, CNN, Al Jazeera, Turkey’s TRT, Russia Today, France 24 and so on, depending on the news of the day. I am also very loyal to Newshour on the BBC World Service, which I still occasionally present; it’s like listening to a family broadcast.

A favourite newsreader perhaps? Don’t make me pick favourites when many are colleagues and friends.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? When I am in London, usually either the BBC Radio 4 midnight bulletin or, if earlier, The Newsroom on the BBC World Service. When I am travelling, a bit of BBC World News TV at the end of the day.


Race you there

Our Wan Chai shop in Hong Kong reopens today after a makeover: a fresh lick of paint, new flattering lighting and some distinctive black USM shelving. This seasonal spruce-up comes just in time for Chinese New Year, when it’s customary to do a bit of spring cleaning and buy a new house plant or two (come check out our potted bamboo and mandarin plants). Chinese also invest in a new outfit at this time of year and when it comes to clobber we’ve got you well-covered. Monocle can’t promise good fortune for the year of the rat but you’ll definitely feel a million bucks.


On the road

‘AJ and the Queen’, Netflix. RuPaul is going on a drag race of his own in this new series from Netflix. Ruby Red is a drag queen who falls on hard times and decides to embark on a cross-country tour in a campervan. With him is an unpredictable companion: 10-year-old AJ, who’s fleeing home and heading to her grandfather’s in Texas. The two strike up a profound friendship that makes for hilarious, and touching, viewing.

‘Closure’, Winona Oak. Following in the footsteps of other excellent young Swedish popstars, Winona Oak’s debut EP is filled with danceable tunes. Originally from a rural community north of Stockholm, Oak writes sleek songs that have nothing folksy about them: single “Let Me Know” is an openhearted hymn to blossoming love, accompanied by a fist-pumping crescendo.

‘American Dirt’, Jeanine Cummins. Cummins tackles that most painful of wounds in the Americas: the border between Mexico and the US. Bookshop owner Lydia Quixano Pérez needs to escape Acapulco with her son after a cartel attack. This is the story of their gruelling journey on buses, trains and on foot. It’s a book that promises to show how dramatically – and unpredictably – our life and character can change.


Lifting the hood

Nestled inside the sweeping Columbia River Gorge and sitting in the shadow of Mount Hood – the highest peak in Oregon – is Hood River. The small city, an hour’s drive east of Portland, has long been an outdoor hub for windsurfing, kiteboarding, mountain-biking and skiing. But while Hood River is understandably a well-trod tourist destination, its 7,800 permanent residents rely on the Hood River News to keep them abreast of the headlines. Founded in 1905, the newspaper is published twice a week and has a readership of 4,300. Editor Kirby Neumann-Rea tells us what’s gracing his newspaper’s pages.

What’s the big story making news? It’s about an effort that’s afoot to create and develop a recognised community ID programme. Anybody in the community can get the ID. It has their name and address and it shows that they’re a resident of the county. We’re 32 per cent Hispanic and [some residents] who are long-term members of the community don’t have fully up-to-date documentation. They work and pay taxes. The ID programme is an attempt to be inclusive of everyone who lives here in Hood River County. It’s saying, “You are a member of this community.”

Can you share a favourite headline? How do you choose your favourite child? [But] “Hues in the pews”. Every year at Christmas, a woman who has been a quilter for 40 years drapes the pews of her church with all her quilts during the church bazaar.

Favourite photo? It’s a reader-submitted photo. On a regular basis we have a travelogue where people write about their experiences travelling. A young man recently spent six months in Mongolia where he lived, for a time, with a family of eagle-hunters. The photo is of a five-year-old girl holding an eagle. The bird is about her size but the look on her face is of confidence and contentment.

What’s your down-page treat? In our previous issue, I wrote a story about Pete Jubitz who once owned a downtown hardware store that had a large painting of Mount Hood inside. He retired in 2004 and took the painting with him. He now lives in Idaho but he recently came back and donated the painting to an all-volunteer search-and-rescue organisation called Crag Rats. It’s made up of residents who volunteer their time and expertise to help people who get lost or injured on Mount Hood. They have a facility called the Crag Rat Hut and Jubitz donated the painting to the hut.

What’s the next big event you’ll be covering? The next big event is the Blossom Time festival in April. Hood River County is the largest pear-growing region in the US and the festival celebrates the return of blossoms and what that means for the food industry and local economy.


Shore thing

The medieval town of Galway, on the west coast of Ireland, is on the up. County Galway was named a European region of gastronomy in 2018, thanks to its outstanding seafood, two Michelin-starred venues – one, Loam, was named Ireland’s best restaurant last year – and Coffeewerk + Press (pictured), which brews some of the best coffee you can buy. The 17th-century space in the picturesque Latin Quarter is part café, part design store, and is beautified with minimalist Japanese and Scandi items ready for purchase; there’s also a gallery and art press attached.

And there’s plenty more shopping to be done. Operating from a small atelier, The Tweed Project, for instance, makes contemporary homeware and clothing using Irish materials and traditional methods.

Elsewhere, quirky bayside joint Ard Bia at Nimmos, which serves Irish cuisine with a Mediterranean slant (yes, really), is great for brunch. And if you’re stuck for somewhere to stay, it has you covered. The Ard Bia and B, and its Nordic conversion next door, offer smart, stripped-back lodgings. But book soon: Galway is Europe’s Capital of Culture for 2020 so you can expect tourists in droves.


Can I dress the same as my partner?

From his windowsill viewing perch, Mr Tiddly sees the world come and go but of late he’s been getting worried about his eyesight. Is he seeing double, he frets? He shakes his head and rattles his bell but the vision remains unchanged. Yes, this really is a young blade arm-in-arm with his girlfriend – and both are sporting matching Moncler jackets.

Then another pair, this time both dressed in identical suede Timberlands, Levi’s and leather jackets. And now another set in matchy-matchy Balenciaga. These public statements of unity might look cute when there’s just two of you in a room but, out here in the big old world, can we be honest? You look silly. It had to be said. Cool cats do their own thing, you know. Now go home and get changed.


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