Sunday 23 February 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 23/2/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Give it a Thai

If, like me, you feel that there’s a bit too much hysteria and overreaction around coronavirus then you might want to consider finding a flight to Southeast Asia (as soon as you’ve finished reading today’s column, of course) and having a big bustling city, endless stretches of beach or a top-flight resort all to yourself. Aside from taking advantage of favourable room rates and discounted flights, you can also enjoy being poolside without having multiple families dragging their feet in soggy room slippers near your lounger (schlurp, schlurp, schlurp…) or shouting into their phones and awaiting responses with their speaker cranked up to full. More importantly, you’ll be able to take credit for helping to keep the region’s economy ticking over – just barely.

While Bangkok is always worth a little touchdown, it’s especially good at the moment as the carriages on the BTS have few passengers and you can have your pick of tables and timings at most restaurants. As it’s been more than a year since I was last in Bangkok, a quick tour (on foot) last Saturday reminded me why there’s much to learn from Southeast Asia’s most exotic metropolis. Here’s a little sample of what you might want to try while the city is at its most serene.

1. Compound living. Think-tanks, government ministries dedicated to social affairs and property developers are all trying to figure out how to deal with ageing societies – particularly how to house them and allow people to grow old gracefully and as part of a community. The Thais might have figured this out long ago with their multi-generational compounds that house extended families, complete with nannies, drivers, cooks and nurses. This week I gave the concept a whirl down the coast from Bangkok and I can vouch for its appeal. With extended family in tow, everyone enjoyed the easy flow of being social, semi-private or completely cloistered. A full complement of gentle Thai staff also helps keep the peace.

2. Siri House. A modernist mansion converted into a leafy urban country club might serve as a point of inspiration if you want some design cues for creating a compound of your very own. Powered by Sansiri (investors in Monocle) and the smart gents behind Quince, it’s also good for a round of drinks or a meaty dinner.

3. Mince. I know what you’re thinking but no, I’m not talking about the ingredients in a spicy larb moo or how ladyboys propel themselves between tables in shady bars. In this instance, Mince is a smart new bag company from Bangkok that specialises in using rattan handles and frames, and a mix of recycled and new materials to create a collection of bright hardwearing totes, purses and shoppers. At a time when every established luxury-goods label is attempting to tell a sustainability story, this is the real deal. Hermès or LVMH might want to take a peek.

4. Velaa and The Commons Saladaeng. Want to know what the future of neighbourhood retail might look like or how to reinvent a community battered by online trading or lazy landlords? Make a swing past these two sparkly new mini-malls: they reveal how to landscape in order to feel integrated in the existing streetscape, lease to the right mix of shops to serve residents and businesses and also push the design envelope. Owners of shopping malls anywhere in the US should definitely board a flight and start taking note.

5. Alonetogether. Even if jazz isn’t your thing, this venue in the heart of Sukhumvit should be – if only for its take on a dark and stormy, and lessons in how to run a compact bar elegantly. The night that I was there, Cherryl Hayes was purring and rasping into the mic and, if you squinted a little, it could have been the Bangkok of the early 1970s.


From Russia with loofah

Ever since I visited Budapest a few years ago, where I lounged in as many of the city’s thermal baths as one person possibly could in a handful of days, I’ve lamented the lack of such a spa culture in Canada (writes Will Kitchens). As a nation we could do with relaxing a little more and I like the idea of spending my afternoons playing chess on inflatable boards against old Hungarian men, as they do at Szechenyi Baths. As it turns out, I was looking in all the wrong places.

Tucked inside an unassuming shopping mall in Mississauga, a city of almost a million people that doubles as a suburb of western Toronto, is the Russian-inspired South-Western Bathhouse and Tea Room. Run by Victor and Valentina Tourianski and their two daughters, the spa houses a banya (a Russian sauna) erected by Victor himself, a dry Finnish sauna, a hammam, a cool plunge-pool and my favourite: a barrel-shaped water tank that releases teeth-chatteringly cold water upon your head at the pull of a chain.

Arriving at the check-in desk – from where I could peer into Victor’s kitchen and spot a meat slicer and a clove of garlic – I knew that this wasn’t a polished, made-for-social-media experience. Sharp design? Not exactly. The spa’s wood-and-brick interior is built in a Russian village vernacular. Instagram-friendly potted plants? No. But, if you’re lucky, a portly Russian gent might thwack you with his veniks (twigs bundled together) to improve your blood circulation. (He might also yell at you when you leave the sauna door open for too long – but banya can be relaxing, I promise.) In place of isolation chambers, robe-wearing friends clink cold glasses of Czechvar and debate whether they should try the pickled herring in the adjoining tearoom.

The lure of something more authentic – and more fun – than your average ultra-white, ultra-mundane spa has made the Tourianskis’ banya a success. As we visit, the bathhouse overflows with young Torontonians who have made the trek west for one of its unisex days. It’s charming, it’s social and, though I haven’t spent my afternoon being thoroughly demoralised by a game of floating chess, I am eating a bowl of buttery pierogies while wearing a bathrobe. That suits me just fine.


Time to tuck in

Monocle’s Austria-themed March issue hit newsstands this week (writes Josh Fehnert) and although we popped a schnitzel and a Steigl beer on the cover, there’s another toothsome tale that caught our eye. We headed to Vienna to ask how Austrian Mehlspeisen (cakes, pastries and a constellation of unfathomably sweet desserts) have survived while the rest of the world watches its waistline and shuns sugar? Well, it turns out that the huge rise in visitors helps: 16.5 million people stopped off in Vienna in 2019 compared with 9.8 million in 2009.

Many of the cafés we decamped to were quick to tell saccharine tales of royal favour and the Habsburg highlife that created the cake culture – but touting tortes and creaming off the profits is big business too. The five-star Sacher Hotel’s café alone makes 360,000 of its signature torten a year. Despite this, few Viennese who we talked to are fussed about the dense, jam-packed creation. Herein lies a lesson from this small but mighty alpine nation: how to successfully sell a slice of the nation’s Gemütlichkeit (Austria’s version of the Scandinavian concept of “hygge”). For the full scoop, plus where to have your cake and eat it, tuck into the whole story.


Free man in Paris

Olivier Royant joined the French-language magazine Paris Match as a reporter in 1985, when it was the world's 10th most-popular news weekly. Working his way through the ranks, Royant took up editorship of the magazine in 2006 and oversaw the publication’s digital expansion in 2009. Today its circulation stands at about half a million. Here he talks chicken and chips, Sunday sweats and how to get the blood pumping.

Where do we find you this weekend?
I will be on the coast in the south of France visiting Nice and Théoule-sur-mer near Cannes – I’m having a little weekend holiday there. I’m looking forward to discovering Nice and dropping into Cannes in the off-season.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
I wake up and the first thing I do is read the English press – the Financial Times, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail and The New York Times. I know that what’s in the English press on Sunday will be in the French press on Monday. I pick them up from the nearest newsstand, which has thousands of French publications and plenty of international papers to choose from.

Soundtrack of choice?
Sometimes on Sundays I’ll work on making a new playlist. I’m keen on a Brazilian artist at the moment: Seu Jorge. He’s also an artist and actor – a talented guy.

What’s for breakfast?
Most of the time I’ll have some fruit, a croissant, some good bread and maybe two eggs and bacon. And freshly squeezed orange juice – you can press it yourself in the machines they have in shops these days.

News or not?
I tend to go through the news between 09.00 and 10.00. Then I don’t think about it until the evening, when I have a call with my staff at 18.00. I like to have some distance between myself and the news during the day.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
I go for a walk or run around 10.30. I run around the Bois de Boulogne, the huge green area on the west side of Paris where there’s a big lake and plenty of trees. There aren’t usually too many people either.

Lunch in or out?
We tend to have lunch out as a family. We like to go to some Italian places nearby. There’s one quite trendy trattoria in Montmartre that we love called Roberta aux Abbesses.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
At home we are religious about stocking poulet rotis [rotisserie chicken] on Sunday. We get it from Marché Public de Lévis. People queue up from noon to get hold of it. We often have the chicken with French fries and beans. That’s lunch if we don’t go out.

A Sunday culture essential?
We’re lucky enough to be in walking distance of good cinemas and love to visit Le Wepler on Clichy Place. Sometimes we go to a gallery – the Grand Palais, for instance – but often it’s too busy on Sundays. I read my book for an hour or so before bed.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
I like bordeaux – the Château Olivier with grapes from Crus Classés de Graves.

The ideal dinner menu?
Vitello tonnato to begin and then pasta. It could be pasta with tomato sauce, or I love puttanesca. For lunch we always finish with tiramisu.

Who’s joining?
My wife, my daughter, who’s 19, and my son, who’s 17.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
After my call with the editors of Paris Match I tend to sit down and watch the French news, the BBC and CNN so I’m prepared for the next day. Print deadline is Monday.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
I wear clothes from Zadig & Voltaire, which are very light. I’ll wear a cashmere jumper and a breezy T-shirt on Sunday. On Monday I have to wear a tie for meetings, or else I’d wear the same again. Most of the time it’s a blue suit, white shirt and blue tie.


Croque monsieur (with a twist)

This week our recipe writer administers an Italian twist to the French bistro staple. The addition of prosciutto and tomato helps to cut through the rich gruyère and buttery béchamel.

Serves 2

For the béchamel sauce:
250ml whole milk 1 fresh or dried bay leaf 20g unsalted butter 20g plain flour ½ tsp sea salt Large pinch of ground black pepper

For the sandwich:
4 large slices of good quality sourdough bread 2 tbsps olive oil 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped 1 anchovy fillet, finely chopped 8 pieces of semi-dried tomato, finely chopped 4 slices of prosciutto 80g gruyère cheese, grated


  1. Add the milk, bay leaf and garlic in a small pan and heat gently to just below boiling point. Remove from heat and set aside to infuse the flavour for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Melt the butter in a medium pan. Add plain flour and mix with a wooden spoon to incorporate. Cook until it has a biscuity aroma. Remove from the heat, add a quarter of the infused milk and mix until smooth.
  3. Bring back to a low heat and, as you add the rest of the milk, use a whisk to mix and remove lumps. Once the sauce becomes smooth and thickens, remove from the heat.
  4. Cover the surface of the sauce with baking paper to prevent it from developing a hard film and store in the fridge until you are ready to use it. The sauce keeps for a couple of days if required.
  5. Heat the grill to 200C and, once it’s hot, lay the slices of bread on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil and spread on the chopped garlic. Add in the bread and toast each side.
  6. Once bread is toasted, scatter the diced anchovy, then the semi-dried tomatoes and lay the slices of ham and 30g grated cheese on top. Close the sandwiches and spread the béchamel sauce over the top.
  7. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top. Place back under the grill and cook until the cheese is bubbling and begins to brown. It takes about five minutes but keep a close eye on it.
  8. Serve straight away with fresh salad.


Amble entertainment

Distance: About 4km
Terrain: Flat-ish and urban from Darlinghurst to Potts Point, followed by one toilsome 112-step descent and finishing in the leafy surrounds of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
Notes: You could breeze through this walk between breakfast and early afternoon but, if you have time, linger to discover the independent shops and artful architecture of Potts Point.

In a city where brunch is a religion, foregoing a visit to Bills in Darlinghurst is akin to blasphemy. Grab a berth at chef Bill Granger’s original restaurant to see how his sweetcorn fritters with avocado salsa, or buttermilk pancakes with raspberries and yoghurt, built a restaurant group that stretches from London to Honolulu and Tokyo. After a strong coffee you’ll be ready for an amble north on Victoria Street. You’ll be full but if the weather’s warm and you’ve got kids in tow, you might want to browse the sweet treats on sale at Gelato Messina Darlinghurst on the way.

Continue on to Darlinghurst Road and through Kings Cross, a former rough-and-ready neon-lit nightlife hub that’s lately become home to all manner of cheerful cafés and busy shops. Hit MacLeay Street and you’ll know that you’ve slipped into Potts Point. This well-heeled neighbourhood is all tree-lined streets, stately residences and slow walkers taking in the Sunday sun. Stroll north, then dash down Greenknowe Avenue, then take a sharp left on Onslowe up to Elizabeth Bay House. This pretty pile is one of the city’s best kept colonial-era homes and is now open to the public but you can take in the view of its white-washed exterior from the greenery of Arthur McElhone Reserve, a small park opposite the building.

If you’re hungry then a difficult choice awaits back on MacLeay. Udon bolognese at Cho Cho San? Or that alluring saganaki cheese with oregano, honey and lemon followed by the roast lamb with Greek yoghurt at the divinely tasty The Apollo? You won’t be disappointed either way. Next head north and take in the Potts Point Book Shop and independent florist Grandiflora (numbers 12 and 14, both on the right-hand side). Double back, head along Chalis Avenue and then down the vertiginous 112-step staircase known as McElhone Stairs. Cross over and head for the teal-coloured Finger Wharf, which was converted into the Ovolo Woolloomooloo hotel. This vowelsome mouthful from a Hong Kong hotelier has a good lobby if you’re thirsty. Take in the former wool dock’s tasteful upgrade and the view of Sydney’s skyscrapers as you head west towards the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Completed in 1871, the structure holds old masters and artful upstarts in just the right measure, plus sweeping views towards the city’s gleaming harbour. You’ve been on your feet all day but if you have the energy then the Royal Botanic Gardens opposite is also worthy of exploration. Enjoy.


Still in good shape

Last Wednesday morning at Milan’s Linate airport (writes Jamie Waters), security staff pointed laser-beam-like thermometers at the foreheads of all new arrivals, including passengers from the “fashion flight” that was brimming with Milan Fashion Week attendees inbound from London. The message was clear: coronavirus is front and centre in Italians’ minds. It was the opening day of shows in the Lombardy capital and this surreal temperature-testing experience set the tone for the city’s autumn/winter womenswear season, where most conversations have, at some point, turned to the virus. There are almost no Chinese or South Korean press or buyers present and very few from Japan (brands have removed rows of seats from their runway shows in order to adjust).

Nonetheless, there has been some magic in Milan, which is second only to Paris Fashion Week when it comes to the density of heavyweight luxury brands. The Gucci show on day one was a remarkable display: a meditation on what goes on behind the scenes, with models being dressed on stage by grey-suited staff before parading often religious-themed creations around the runway. Meanwhile, the latest round of Moncler Genius, in which the outerwear brand asks the industry’s leading talents to reimagine its puffer jackets, included striking offerings from the likes of Jonathan Anderson.

Other powerhouses have contributed to the week’s energy, including Prada (rumours are swirling about whether Miuccia will remain at the helm of her brand, although the house has offered no comment), Fendi and Bottega Veneta. The last of that trio is currently the industry’s most talked-about label thanks to designer Daniel Lee’s singular awkward-meets-attractive aesthetic. Tomorrow the fashion crowd jets to Paris; read the Monocle Minute for highlights throughout the week.


All eyes on...

The central European nation goes to the polls on Saturday in what’s shaping up to be a closely fought contest. Fractured allegiances and a split electorate could well force the incumbent centre-left Smer party into a coalition with an unlikely bedfellow from the right: the People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS). Headed by Marian Kotleba, LSNS, no fan of Nato or the EU, has been buoyed by polls that put it in second place. Many will be watching to see whether Slovakia follows its neighbours Poland and Hungary in lurching to the right.

South Carolina
Democratic presidential hopefuls head to South Carolina this Saturday and all eyes will be on Joe Biden to see if he can recover from his underwhelming performances and lacklustre support so far. Whether he can do so is hard to tell but all the candidates will be looking for momentum heading into Super Tuesday (when the greatest number of US states hold primary elections and caucuses) on 3 March. South Carolina is larger and more diverse than Iowa or New Hampshire so performances here are likely to be a bellwether of each of the Democratic candidates’ support.

The Tokyo Marathon was scheduled to take place next Sunday but fears over coronavirus resulted in the annual competition being cancelled for all but about 200 elite athletes, who will still run as planned. About 38,000 amateurs will no longer race. As the number of infections shows little sign of abating, this partial abandonment raises the question of how the Tokyo Olympics will fare in late July. Organisers will be hoping that the spike in cases and reach of the outbreak will have run its course before then.


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