Sunday 12 April 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 12/4/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Who said it best

If you’ve been tuning in to various exchanges on Monocle 24’s flagship news programmes – The Globalist and The Briefing – over the past week, you might have noticed that we’ve been spending quite a bit of time comparing and contrasting how various governments have been handling their communications during this pandemic. Well before 10 Downing Street thought that they were doing a good job bamboozling the world by saying very little, while saying everything when Boris Johnson was taken to hospital a week ago for “routine tests” (we’ll come back this topic shortly), we’ve been monitoring the shenanigans in the White House Rose Garden, the narrative coming from Vienna, slow-motion confusion from Shinzo Abe in Tokyo and a lack of urgency in Ottawa. Now you might well be asking, “Why do communications matter in these times, when we should be more concerned with protective medical clothing, fatigued nurses and more testing?” (Though I sincerely hope that you’re not.) To be clear: without effective leadership, coherent collateral and sharp comms, it’s difficult to have much faith in the system. Allow me to illustrate.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been getting a rough ride – across a variety of fronts. Putting politics, China, Taiwan and some flip-flopping aside, how do you feel when you see the organisation’s top team before the cameras? Do they command respect? Are you following what they’re saying? Or are you distracted by the light-blue backdrop that’s fraying and fading at the edges? Is the wonky camerawork a bit of a distraction? While we’re told that the WHO is woefully underfunded, and it might be argued that it’s the content of what’s being said rather than how it’s being presented that counts, I disagree. If the WHO had a dynamic director general and a couple of deputies who could own network airtime and on-page column inches, things might be different. But they’re lacking dynamic leadership. As a banker friend suggested, “It seems as though their media team has been having a good old expat lifestyle in Geneva and weren’t geared up for delivering on the ‘W’ part of their name.” At the other end of the spectrum you have the Danes and Swiss, who have demonstrated how to behave and communicate in a crisis – on camera, online and on the streets.

The Danish prime minister’s press conferences are tight, spare affairs – she’s front and centre and there are two to three regulars around her, max. The staging is authoritative, the graphics clear and there’s nowhere for the eye to wander. It’s all confidence and message. Down the street in Bern it’s been the same: crisp backdrop, short scripts, zero fluff and politicking, and trust ratings that are top of the charts. All of this is backed by a succinct awareness-and-directives campaign that’s balanced by considerable social responsibility. For sure, the posters that have been released by the city of Zürich (pictured) will one day be demanding steep sums at design galleries around the world.

Which brings us back to Downing Street and its shameful approach to managing communications. Did anyone really believe that Boris Johnson went in for routine tests on a Sunday evening? Was it not a concern, when revealed during the daily presser, that his newly anointed deputy hadn’t spoken to him in three days? Were we not all speculating that things must have been far worse when we didn’t hear a peep beyond the endless loop of him being “in good spirits”. In another column we’ll get round to asking why the prime minister of one of Europe’s biggest economies doesn’t have a dedicated RAF medical team assigned to him. Or why there’s been such a need to communicate that he’s resting in a ward rather than a private room.

In semesters to come, PR, comms and journalism programmes will be looking for benchmarks that offer solid examples of how to manage public messaging in challenging times. Anyone for a field trip to Bern or Copenhagen?


Sharing plates

“I really miss sharing food,” says Toronto-based writer, designer and chef Nick Chen-Yin. “Not just cooking for people but experimenting, trying new things and having people introduce me to new dishes.” That desire led Chen-Yin, the chef behind the city’s now defunct Smoke Signals Bar-B-Q, to launch online compendium Open Source Recipes to be Used in Quarantine During a Global Pandemic. 

Chen-Yin’s initial idea was for nothing more than a central document in which a few friends could swap cookery tips. But the crowd-sourced cookbook now includes more than 100 recipes contributed by everyone from top Toronto chefs to seasoned home cooks. Chen-Yin is even receiving emails from hungry Europeans asking for culinary advice.

The cookbook currently includes recipes from the likes of Brent Maxwell, chef at Toronto restaurant La Société – though his albacore tuna with bok choy, tofu, coconut broth and anise ash might be beyond many of us. But homelier suggestions include one from Chen-Yin’s grandmother, who divulges the secrets behind her preserved greens and pork belly. Best of all, the resource remains open to submissions and continues to grow.

While Chen-Yin hopes that the “cookbook” is a small way to maintain the connection between Toronto restaurants and residents, he also hopes that it pushes people to learn something new. “As we see [on social media], everyone is trying to learn how to bake sourdough,” he says. “If there’s one thing that’s positive about this pandemic, at the very least, it’s an uncomfortable territory that forces people to learn new things. For me, I’m learning new things, even about the things that I’ve done for a long, long time”.


Lost in translation

I have never been as prolific a cook as I am now, during this lockdown (writes Chiara Rimella). Having gone from eating dinners out an average of three times a week to feeding myself on a daily basis, I have gained confidence in my culinary abilities – perhaps too much. Why else would I forgo old faithful recipes for a cooking class with the fêted Massimo Bottura? As everything from yoga to life-drawing lessons becomes available online, the chef behind Modena’s Osteria Francescana has taken to posting on social media a daily recipe in a series he’s dubbed Kitchen Quarantine.

His restaurant turns out experimental dishes that have earned him three Michelin stars but online his approach is much more rustic. His affable smile and enthusiastic demeanour make the series: we see him at home, cooking dinner for his family with whatever food he has delivered or using leftovers he finds in the fridge. And, perhaps, that’s where things become tricky.

As a chef with flair – and in what could be described as an Italian fashion – Bottura hasn’t helped those who like to plan ahead. Tune in at 20.00 Italian time to find out what’s on the menu for the night; why would you need to know what ingredients are being used beforehand? Then Bottura explains his methods to us in a confusing – but highly entertaining – mixture of Italian and English, sometimes swapping languages mid-sentence. Worry not: his daughter behind the camera is on hand to translate. The videos start after all the preparation has been done and scant instructions are offered for the completion of the dish. How long do I cook this for? How much stock is too much? And why doesn’t mine look like his? I embark on a recipe for “leftovers” ragù. But Bottura’s leftovers are perhaps not the same as yours and mine. Where he has beef tongue and pork belly, I’m stuck with a couple of rashers of bacon and two sausages.

Undeterred, I follow his advice on when to pour wine onto the meat and when to lower the flame. As for the rest, this experience is more improvisation than instruction. I take solace in Bottura saying that cooking is about love, passion and doing what you like doing. Without him to spur me on, I would probably be less courageous. My bog-standard Bolognese is much less exciting than what I’m eating tonight. Wish me luck.


Family circle

US writer Anna Winger is co-creator of TV series Deutschland 83 (the first German-language drama to air in the US) and creator, writer and producer of Netflix show Unorthodox, which hit screens last month and is well worth watching (writes Hester Underhill). She’s spending the lockdown with her family (and dog) in Berlin and takes us through the new normal of her Sunday routine.

Where do we find you this weekend?
At home, in Kreuzberg.

How are you handling all this extra time at home?
I’m a writer and generally have a lot of time to myself. So living in quarantine with my family actually feels quite busy. I waver between finding it very cosy and despairing that I’ll never write anything again.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
Usually on Sundays we take the dog to Grunewald, the forest in Berlin. I go with my husband and usually the kids too. But during isolation, the forest has become so packed at the weekend. So now we usually go during the week so it doesn’t feel like you’re too close to other people.

Soundtrack of choice?
We’re really into the idea of shinrin yoku: a Japanese forest bath. You go to the forest and it’s quiet. But I also live with teenagers who love Stormzy. I’m trying to introduce them to old-school hip-hop like De La Soul and Beastie Boys.

What’s for breakfast?
We like to have breakfast in Grunewald. 12 Apostoli [an Italian restaurant] is a really nice place to sit outside and have brunch. But if it’s cold we’ll get pastries from an amazing place called Sironi’s – they also deliver during quarantine – then go home.

News or not?
My husband and I are news addicts. We subscribe to the local newspaper, Tagesspiegel. We also read the Financial Times, The New York Times and The Guardian.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Yoga but not on Sundays. There’s a studio next to my office.

What’s for lunch?
On Sundays we usually end up having brunch and then a big meal at about 17.00. There was more impetus to do ambitious cooking on a Sunday before the isolation as we had less time during the week. Now we try to cook something ambitious every couple of days.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
Before this situation, we never shopped in advance. I would just buy whatever we were going to make, we could be really spontaneous about it. Now we use a couple of services to deliver groceries. We get deliveries from our favourite bagel place, Fine Bagels. It’s owned by Laurel Kratochvila, who made and styled all the food on screen for Unorthodox. Even the wine shops are delivering. It’s funny because there’s never been much of a delivery culture in Berlin. But now they’re having to adapt. It’s really important to support local businesses in these times.

Sunday culture must?
Sometimes we go to the movies. My favourites are the Odeon in Schöneberg and Rollberg Kino in Neukölln. But now we’re homebound I’ve signed up to the Criterion Channel; we’ve been watching beautiful French films on there. We’ve also been watching the new series of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

A glass of something you would recommend?
We drink a lot of German white. I love grauburgunder and dry riesling.

Dinner venue you can’t wait to get back to?
We miss our Sunday night dinners at Italian restaurant La Bionda or Wirtshaus zum Mitterhofer in Kreuzberg.

Who would join?
There’s another family we hang out with a lot and our kids are best friends. We really miss them.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
Under quarantine, we have to become each other’s hairdressers (I ordered some proper shears for my husband’s hair this morning) and do each other’s nails. I’ve discovered I’m very good at a manicure and pedicure.

Will you lay out your look for Monday, what will you be wearing?
The challenge on Sunday evening is to get the kids to sleep on time. I don’t have time to plan.


Fluffy pancakes

Our Swiss chef friend on puffy pancakes to delight in on an indulgent Sunday. Flipping brilliant.


200g flour
1.5 tsps baking powder
1 vanilla pod, seeds removed
200ml milk
3 eggs, separated
2 tsps lemon juice
1 tsp salt
3 tbsps sugar
2 tbsps butter

To top it off:
Icing sugar, a sprinkle
Compote of choice or fresh berries
Maple syrup


  1. Mix the flour, baking powder, vanilla, milk, egg yolks and lemon juice into a smooth batter. Beat the egg whites with salt until they’re half stiff and gradually add sugar and continue beating until the mixture is glossy and starts to shine. Fold the egg whites carefully into the batter (keeping as many of those air bubbles as possible).
  2. Heat the butter in a non-stick frying pan. For an optically perfect meal, use a metal ring approximately 6cm in diameter, greased and floured. With or without the help of the metal rings, add roughly 2 tbsps of the batter, cover and bake over a low heat for around 5 minutes until the underside of the pancake is stable and golden brown then turn the pancake over and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  3. Add butter, compote or fresh berries and a sprinkle of icing sugar – and don’t forget to put the maple syrup on the table.


Little children, big questions

At 11:15 every morning during the coronavirus outbreak, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has addressed the nation from the steps of his official residence in Ottawa, Rideau Cottage. But last Sunday the journalists who usually gather there to question him were absent. Instead, the panel was made up of members from one group of Canadians that has been particularly affected by the shutdown measures aimed at curbing the outbreak: children.

“Hi, Mr Prime Minister!” said the first questioner, dressed in an oversized Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey shirt, in a video message to Trudeau. “My name is Gwyneth and I’m eight years old and I would like to know how is your family keeping busy during social distancing? Thank you!” she said, signing off cheerfully.

Trudeau duly replied: board games, helping with homework and calling family and friends. And so the questions – handpicked from more than 4,000 letters, emails and videos submitted by children from across the country – continued, ranging from when schools will reopen to what is being done to help homeless people during the outbreak. “I miss my dad so much,” wrote eight-year-old Malek Al Shafei in a handwritten note describing how his father is stranded in Dubai. “Please help him come home quickly.” Trudeau vowed that he would.

Trudeau isn’t the first leader to take children’s questions on the outbreak; Erna Solberg, prime minister of Norway, held a similar press conference with children last month. Others around the world have attempted to allay children’s confusion during the pandemic: the BBC has revamped its children’s TV schedules to reflect school curricula while classrooms remain closed and German toy-maker Playmobil produced a film featuring its famous figurines explaining the pandemic to young audiences.

Back at Rideau Cottage, the most important question was saved for last: what song does the prime minister sing while he washes his hands, to ensure that he scrubs them thoroughly? “Happy birthday,” the prime minister said. “Won’t you sing it for us?” he was asked. And, smiling down the camera lens to his young questioners, he did.


Sushi Zanmai

In the first of a series that riffs on the regular Monocle magazine feature My Last Meal, we ask staffers about the restaurants and places they’re longing to return to and how hospitality helps make our cities tick.

There are many more exalted sushi restaurants in Tokyo but I’ve been going to Sushi Zanmai in Shibuya for years (writes Fiona Wilson). It has none of the anonymity you might expect from a chain; it’s warm and friendly, “heartful” even (to borrow a Japanglish word). The chefs – all in crisp whites – give a hearty chorus of irasshaimase (welcome) and Nozawa-san, my favourite waitress, rushes to bring the green tea, warm hand towels and glasses of iced water.

There is a menu but I barely look; it’s always sushi or a crab salad for me and a large pile of ikura temaki (a cone of seaweed, rice and salmon eggs) for my children. I’ve been here in all seasons and on all occasions; I can be in and out in 15 minutes if necessary. The quality is great and the prices reasonable; no wonder chef René Redzepi (of Noma fame) recommended this chain in a list of his favourite restaurants in Tokyo. A cheery arigato gozaimashita (thank you) accompanies departing diners and sugary lollies shaped like sushi are handed out to the children. Nozawa-san gives us a wave from the doorstep and we disappear into the bustle of Shibuya.

As most people were working at home, I had lunch at Sushi Zanmai with a skeleton staff and just one other person eating there (unheard of). Nozawa-san said it’s been quiet with the virus. Restaurants haven’t closed in Tokyo but numbers are down and the lunchtime trade is quiet with so many people away from their offices. The restaurant made the most of the lull to close for a quick refurb. Freshly scrubbed, it will be ready once the hordes descend again.
Address: 2-22-11 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Fiona’s order:
Grilled tuna, scallop, salmon and kohada (shad) sushi
A side order of yuba (tofu skin)
Miso soup
Green tea


Leaf of faith

Many of us will be aware of Easter’s association with miraculous resurrections but that can go for tired looking pot plants too (writes star repotter Josh Fehnert). “Most house plants go into dormancy over winter and don’t need watering as much,” says Peter Milne of The Nunhead Gardener in southeast London. “As it gets lighter and the central heating goes down, it’s the time to increase the watering and to feed the plants on alternative weeks. It’s also a good idea to tidy up any raggedy or dead-looking leaves to help give them a fresh lease of life.”

Noted but why repot? “It will provide the plant with fresh compost and therefore nutrients and also allow further room for the roots to grow and the plant to grow,” says Milne. “If you want to keep the plant in the same size pot, you can remove it then trim its roots a little with some clean, sharp scissors or secateurs. This will help keep the plant size in check but prevent it from suffering if the pot’s filled up with roots.” Best of luck with your houseplant resurrection efforts and happy Easter.


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