Sunday 19 April 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 19/4/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Material values

Remember the storm that the plastic straw caused this time last year? Do you recall its equally loathsome friend, the plastic coffee lid – and how refusing one became both a marker of environmental consciousness and many stained blouses and shirts? Do you recall all of the kneejerk measures put in place by various hospitality operators to get rid of plastic while not really thinking about where the hundreds of millions of items were going? As all of this unfolded, there were more than a few occasions when our editors stood back and questioned the senseless nature of wasting items that had already been manufactured rather than running down the supply and rethinking a better way to consume hot and cold beverages on the move.

By the time we hit the end of 2019, all plastic was bad and we suddenly had cardboard pens in hotel rooms (never mind that the refill was all plastic) and we felt better about the fact that if we did need a bag at the supermarket checkout, we would be penalised for dopily forgetting our reusable canvas shopper and charged handsomely to buy a plastic one. Why there are so few paper grocery bags on offer in the UK, France and Italy is still a mystery but that’s not a topic for today, as paper is definitely out for the moment (let’s leave print media out of this) and Fantastic Mr Plastic is back!

Let it be said that we’re a fickle, flaky bunch. And, yes, I’m talking about we westerners who valiantly take up causes, love pointing fingers and enjoy shaming people (I’m told that they’re considering this as a new sport for the Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer given the rise of curtain-twitchers in the time of coronavirus). We also delight in upending supply chains and demanding to know the whole story of how our sweatshirts are made – never mind that they’re 100 per cent polyester, single-use quality and no different than the shunned plastic straws from the ’bucks.

Now it’s become a case of not being able to get our hands on enough plastic items, single use or otherwise. We need more masks! More hand-sanitiser dispensers, please. Fast! Pocket size, purse size, family size, bedside size, paddling-pool size! And let’s have them in liquid, gel and spritz formats. And can they come in different colours? And goggles, we need goggles. And visors too. Did we order enough visors for babies? Did anyone remember to order the plastic gloves? Rubber too! And then there are the hundreds (thousands?) of square kilometres of Plexiglass shields that are not just needed for the grocery shop checkout but to protect almost every transaction in daily life. In case you missed it, there are even proposals for Plexi panels on Italian beaches so that everyone can enjoy the sun while being safely socially distanced. If you were worried about too much plastic in the ocean last year, just wait until all those masks, visors and PTSDPs (Plexi Tanning Social Distancing Panels) start sloshing around the Med, Atlantic and Pacific as they make their way to landfill.

If this week has been marked by several governments racing to release their exit strategies, it’s important to not lose sight of how all of these plastic barriers, bottles and blockers are going to be recycled and disposed of once they’re no longer necessary. Make no mistake, plastic has a big place in society and for good reason. Bamboo fibres and ceramics make sense in the right setting but spend a little time in a hospital and try to argue against single-use plastic when lives are being lost and resources are scarce. As ever, it’s a case of how we use petroleum-based products (are there alternatives?) and then how they’re broken down or built-up again. Which brings us back to the coffee lid and straw. As some of us seek to rebuild our communities and get out into the sunshine again, why not take a cue from our friends in Torino or Modena and just sit down to enjoy your espresso in a porcelain cup on a lovely terrace with a copy of your favourite newspaper? And thus save your button-down from unsightly spills when attempting to sip on the move.


Star attractions

Although takeaways and deliveries are heartily embraced by New Yorkers, even in normal times, I’ve always been a little suspicious of them (writes Ed Stocker). Give me a restaurant any day over an hour-and-a-half wait for a limp and cold pizza in a box. But my attitude has changed during these days of coronavirus. City restaurants might be shuttered for dining but many establishments are trying to keep themselves alive through deliveries, resulting in a staggering breadth and quality of direct-to-your-door fare. So now, if I want to order a fancy cocktail for home consumption, for instance, or indulge in Michelin-starred food while sitting at my kitchen table, I have that option. L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, for example, an upscale French spot and the receiver of two Michelin stars, is offering its fine cuisine as a takeaway or to be delivered for New Yorkers to enjoy in their very own dining rooms.

But being a Brooklynite, I decided to opt for something a little edgier: a meal from Claro (meaning “sure” in Spanish), a Michelin-starred Oaxacan-American restaurant in Gowanus. Its menu might have been stripped down for takeaway and delivery purposes but there are still plenty of mouthwatering options. Needless to say, I ordered too much – all in the name of journalistic research, naturally. I chose two tostadas: the first was generously loaded with succulent, tender octopus and a few pieces of chicharrón (fried pork belly); the second was a combination of seasonal asparagus, lime dressing, white crumbled cheese and a hint of mint. I didn’t need the side of steaming – and smoky – heirloom black beans, which is a signature dish, but there were no regrets.

The price of $69 (€63), which included a decent tip for delivery, was fair for the quality and size of the portions – the food could arguably have fed two people had I been less greedy – and was less than I would have had to pay in the restaurant.

Although eating at home can’t recreate the service of a Michelin-starred establishment, nor the aesthetics of the Oaxacan plates on which the food is served, there are compensations. “The idea is that we’re still making people happy,” says Claro chef TJ Steele. “Instead of happiness here at the restaurant we’re hopefully delivering it to people at home instead.” The frisson of pleasure I got when mixing my Michelada cocktail – combining the supplied spiced-tomato mixture with a Monopolio beer – would certainly attest to that. So would I order Michelin-starred food at home again? Sí, claro.


Time to deliver

Our print schedule has pressed on despite the lockdown and this week marks the launch of our handsome home-themed (and yes, a little homemade) May issue. For those of you who haven't had the issue thump through your letterboxes just yet, fear not: despite a few minor postal delays, the magazines have already left the printers near Hamburg and will be with you shortly. We're also delighted to remind you that The Entrepreneurs, our handbook for better business, is released next week. To have a copy delivered direct to your door, do support us by subscribing here. Go on, join the club.


All systems dough

Japanese-born baker Morihide Yoshida learned his trade by helping out in the family patisserie while he was growing up (writes Nic Monisse). He went on to open his own bakery in the Shizuoka prefecture before rising to stardom as a pastry chef on Japanese TV. Now based in Paris, Yoshida runs his eponymous patisserie in the French capital’s 7th arrondissement. Here he plans a South American sojourn, names Japan’s best beer and tells us about the restaurants that he’s missing the most during the lockdown.

Where do we find you this weekend?
At home. Normally I stay in my neighbourhood: Paris’s 7th. I live near my shop, which is on Avenue de Breteuil.

How are you handling all of this extra time at home?
I’m still working because the government has allowed food shops to stay open. We’re open from Wednesday to Sunday but my team is working every day of the week as it can take a couple of days to make some of the pastries. We did have the choice of closing – I’m concerned about my staff’s health – but we decided to stay open and be a “lifeline” for the neighbourhood.

What’s your ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle or a jolt?
Jolt. On Sunday mornings I’m up at 04.30 because I have to work. My weekends are on Monday and Tuesday. Normally I would still wake up at about 07.00 because I have to take my kids to school – but now we’re just staying at home. I cook with my children and we play video games; I’ve loved playing video games since I was a kid.

Soundtrack of choice?
The sound of my children laughing while watching cartoons in the morning. It’s my favourite background music.

What’s for breakfast?
When I’m working, my team and I will share croissants that we’ve made. On my weekends I’ll enjoy onigiri, which are Japanese rice balls.

News or not?
I’d love to read the newspaper in the mornings but the TV usually ends up occupying my attention.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
I’m a sports person so I’ll go with downward dog.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
Until the lockdown I was going to the gym a couple of times a week and riding the bikes there. I’m planning a visit to the Amazon rainforest where I’m going to be hiking up mountains – so I need to build my fitness.

Lunch in or out?
In, though I’m happy to eat outdoors if the weather’s nice. I’ll make some Japanese-style curry rice.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
Rice. My friend who runs an onigiri shop called Gonbei, in Paris’s 1st arrondissement, supplies it to me.

Sunday cultural essential?
I was learning French at a language school so I’ll practise that. I’ve been taking online classes once a week. I was so busy – and still am – that I have only just started in the past year despite opening my shop in Paris in 2013.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
Absolutely: Asahi Super Dry.

The ideal dinner menu?
Japanese soba noodles with vegetable tempura. And an Asahi Super Dry.

Dinner venue you can’t wait to get back to?
Abri Soba in Paris’s 9th arrondissement. It’s where I met Monocle for an interview last year (pictured). The food is great and it makes me feel at home. I’m also looking forward to going to French restaurant L’Archeste and to the ramen restaurants Ippudo and Kodawari after restrictions ease.

Who’s joining?
My wife and two children – or my staff.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
Sweat it out in the gym, followed by a bath at home with yuzu bath oils.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
Monday’s a day off so I’ll be in vintage jeans, a T-shirt and – depending on the weather – a down jacket too.


Dan dan noodle

London-based food stylist Aya Nishimura shares her red-hot recipe for a comforting take on a Sichuan speciality. You can add steamed vegetables on the side and any leftover chilli oil works wonders in stir fries or on eggs, grilled meat or fish.


For the crispy garlic chilli oil:
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
100ml vegetable oil
1.5 tbsps chilli flakes
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 whole star anise

For the pork topping:
2 tbsps of vegetable oil
1 tbsp of grated ginger
3 cloves of garlic, minced
250g minced pork
1 tbsp of Chinese rice wine, Shaoxing wine, dry sherry or saké (optional)
¼ tsp salt
2 pinches of white pepper

For the sauce:
4 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp peanut butter (unsweetened)
3 tbsp light soy sauce
3 tbsp rice vinegar (Chinese chinkiang vinegar is the best option)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp Sichuan pepper
200g wheat noodles (or egg noodles), medium thickness
2 spring onions, finely sliced


  1. To make the chilli oil, mix the chilli flakes, sesame seeds and the star anise in a small bowl. Heat the oil in a small pan over a low heat, add the sliced garlic and cook for 9-10 minutes, until the garlic slices turn golden. (Watch out though: garlic can burn quickly.) As soon as it turns, reduce the heat off and tip in the chilli flakes mixture. Set aside to cool down.
  2. To make the sauce, toast the Sichuan pepper in a small pan for 1 minute (grind finely if it’s an actual pepper, stir around if it’s flakes). Mix half of the ground pepper with the rest of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and combine.
  3. To make the pork topping, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger, and fry for 2 minutes, then add the minced pork. Stir fry until browned, then add the Chinese rice wine (or whichever substitute you are using) and season with salt and pepper. Cook the noodles following the instructions on the packet. While they’re cooking, divide the sauce into two bowls. When the noodles are cooked, drain the water and divide into the two bowls, top with the minced pork, spring onions and chilli oil, and sprinkle the rest of the Sichuan pepper on top. Mix well before serving.


Back of the nyet

Last Sunday, I cracked (writes Thomas Reynolds). If this lockdown hadn’t happened I might have been watching my football team, Tottenham Hotspur, play in the Champions League. But as it was, in my desperation to witness some live sport, I tuned in to Dinamo Brest vs Isloch Minsk Raion in the suddenly popular Belarusian Premier League. It’s the only European football league – and one of the few sports globally – that’s still being played.

The country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, has downplayed the dangers of coronavirus and is refusing to close any stadiums. Many fans – though not all – have sensibly boycotted matches anyway. Other parts of the world are tuning in too, as television rights to the league have been sold to Russian, Indian and Israeli networks, and games are being streamed live on the Belarusian football league’s YouTube channel.

Why watch Dinamo Brest – a team that sounds like a futuristic milk pump – you ask? Well, they are the current champions so I wanted to see them strut their stuff. But I was also intrigued by the stories suggesting that the Brest boys had played a match in a stadium that was, eerily, filled with mannequins. The fake fans were reportedly adorned with the printed faces of “virtual fans” who had paid to watch the game from the relative safety of home.

Though I did not see any mannequins, other highlights included the Brest supporters’ band, complete with an accordion player and drummer, unconvincingly trying to lift the spirits of the much-reduced crowd. Audacious goal attempts included one shot from Isloch Minsk Raion’s Aleksey Yanushkevich that cleared the stadium – and maybe the Polish border – and Aleksandr Makas’s misjudged scissor-kick, which left him in a heap on the ground. There were also a few ugly tackles and messy goalmouth scrambles.

The game was epitomised by the actions of Minsk defender Sergey Kontsevoy who, in the dying seconds, slapped the ball with his hand in his own penalty area. The penalty was scored, the match ended 3-1 to Dinamo Brest and, yes, social distancing was forsaken for a celebratory cuddle. That’s an own goal for Belarus, if you ask me.


Café Diplomatico

Over the next few weeks we’ll be diving under the covers of the home-themed May issue of Monocle. Here, in a subversion of our long-running My Last Meal feature, we ask our writers to mull over the restaurants and hospitality ventures to which they’re most looking forward to returning. This week our man in Toronto anticipates a glass of montepulciano at The Dip.

It was my first full day in Toronto. I had landed in the city the night before to take up a new job at Monocle’s Toronto bureau (writes Tomos Lewis). The butterflies in my belly were in full flutter that day – the kind of half nerves, half anticipation that is often prompted by a move to a different city and the beginning of something new. At lunchtime one of my new colleagues offered to take me out for a bite to eat and off we set to the Café Diplomatico, where I’ve been breaking bread ever since. I love the Café Diplomatico. I go there all the time.

It was opened by the Mastrangelo family (who still own it) as a cannoli and coffee bar in 1968 and is known simply as The Dip, an affectionate shorthand that was bestowed upon it by its regulars. It isn’t fussy – you can certainly find more elevated fare and more imaginative menus elsewhere in Toronto. But it’s an anchor for me. I’ve lost count of the hours that I’ve spent at its faux-marble tabletops, snatching snippets of conversations unfolding at other tables or gazing out of the floor-to-ceiling windows as the daylight streams in and the city meanders by outside.

I’ve had dinners there in groups (usually freshly baked pizzas to share), lunches on my own (big bowls of piping hot gnocchi), drinks with old friends (a pint of The Dip’s own-brew lager perhaps) and dates with new ones (maybe a martini or a glass of red wine). The Dip was the last restaurant that I visited before Toronto was placed in a state of emergency in mid-March, which turned all restaurants into takeaway joints. But whenever its dining room is able to welcome me across the threshold again, I’ll be there to take my seat.

Tomos’s order:
Caprese salad
Beef ravioli or gnocchi with red pesto
Crème brûlée
Glass of montepulciano


Moist excellent

Wondering how to pep up the plant life in and around your home? Enter Janson Lotery, a passionate plantsman and the owner of World’s End Nursery in southwest London (writes Genevieve Bates). “Just water your plants,” the athlete turned horticulturist says in the tone of someone suggesting that dogs should be taken for walks. “People complain that their plants aren’t thriving but they don’t water them. Or they don’t do it properly.” There’s a technique? “Water [directly] into the roots,” says Lotery. “Don’t just spray the leaves.” Does that include succulents and cacti? I’m worried that mine are getting overwatered. “It’s impossible to overwater a plant if there’s a hole in the bottom of the pot,” he says. “Water more sparingly only if it doesn’t have anywhere to drain.”

And what about outdoor plants? “Do not rely on the rain,” says Lotery, a touch sternly. “Good-sized plants in good-sized pots need 20 litres of water, two to three times a week. You’d need rain of biblical proportions to equal that. Even drought-tolerant plants such as olive trees need a lot of water from April through to September.” Although Lotery and his team of gardeners are unable to visit their regular clients across lockdown London, he’s busy tending to the thousands of plants in his Chelsea garden centre. The Tardis-like oasis on the King’s Road was founded in 1972 by his father James, a neighbourhood fixture who, now in his eighties, still comes in to the centre most days. Why? To help with the watering of course. Stay hydrated and have a good Sunday.


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