Sunday 31 May 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 31/5/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Same as it ever was

If you’ve been following my scribblings for a while then you’ll know that I’m not big on the huff and puff that comes with topics that might “trend” on other news outlets; neither the proclamations of self-promoting serial start-uppers nor the crystal-ball gazing that’s currently taking up too much airtime.

If you’re concerned about being trapped in some kind of “new normal” purgatory, you have little to worry about. Nearly three weeks of shopping, drinking, dining, hosting and travelling (on public transport) in Switzerland has taught me that people are ready to get back out into the world – and fast. These past few weeks have also revealed that all the chatter about great change, sticking close to home for the holidays and a new equilibrium between work, family and social pursuits is largely a load of old tosh.

First, “a world forever changed” doesn’t seem to be materialising and thank heavens for that. The kiss and the handshake are right back where they were in early March and there is much excitement about a return to the office. A few days ago I bumped into a friend who works for a multinational chemical conglomerate and she wearily said that she’d “completely had it” with working from her rather nice apartment and was annoyed that she was in the final group to be phased back into the HQ. Although this single statement is hardly evidence that some companies aren’t going to be looking to cut costs by making people work from home, those same companies might think differently when governments legislate that they have to start paying for the real estate that their staff are occupying in their kitchens, gardens and living rooms.

Second, over the past few weeks you’ve likely heard friends talking about staying within their own borders for the summer break and how excited they are about discovering a few gems closer to home. As much as I want to see Switzerland’s hotels and Alpine huts do a brisk trade with local spenders, much of that came crashing down midweek when the leisure carrier Edelweiss Air announced its network of summer routes – just in time for the school break. Despite some rather disjointed “safety” measures that are sure to annoy travellers, early booking numbers suggest that plenty of people are ready for sunny days in southern Italy or Portugal.

And as for that new life balance that so many thought they had found while in state-imposed lockdown, it was nothing more than some clinical cousin of Stockholm syndrome. Did we have much choice in the matter other than to find a new rhythm and make the best of it? For sure, some countries had a better time of it than others but I’m quite sure that when there are new freedoms, endless diversions and reopened routes, the balance that everyone felt they were embracing is going to slip away and things will be back right back to normal. And not a moment too soon.


Key decisions

Many hotels around the world have repurposed their empty bedrooms as accommodation for key workers during the pandemic – and one of Toronto’s newest boutiques has demonstrated how such a change of footing can be done most assuredly. “The beauty of our hotel is that we didn’t need to overhaul our operations to run it remotely,” says Andrew Peek, a technology entrepreneur and a co-founder of The Annex, a 24-bedroom hotel that opened in late 2018.

The Annex is a technology-forward hotel where software, created by Peek, takes care of mundane tasks, enabling staff to focus on the guests. That model has become particularly important while physical-distancing measures are in operation, as the hotel is now a temporary home for medical workers. “These folks are working incredibly long hours and often commuting long distances to do it,” says Peek. “They were worried about putting family members at risk and we were glad to provide them a way not to do that. The only reservation we had was wondering how we would pay for it – it costs money to operate a hotel. Fortunately, part of our ownership group stepped up to assist.”

Technology at The Annex – where the waiting list for rooms is currently five times the hotel’s capacity – could become the norm for hotel experiences elsewhere as travel restrictions loosen. “We were fortunate to have written our own software to enable touchless booking and room entry. We think that will matter once semi-normal travel behaviour returns. People are looking for ways to minimise unnecessary interaction; waiting one metre away from a host while they programme a keycard is highly unnecessary.”


Domestic bliss

Although a return to normality is on the horizon for the Swiss, the idea of spending the summer on the Med when borders reopen in July isn’t being contemplated by many (writes Carlo Silberschmidt). President of the Swiss Confederation, Simonetta Sommaruga, reminded her compatriots that their holidays can be “at home” this year. So it’s not a bad time for the domestic market to eye up some of Switzerland’s lesser-known escapes. Since its launch in 2005, the Stiftung für Ferien in Baudenkmal (Foundation for Holidays in Heritage Sites) has been refurbishing and letting holiday homes in old houses, barns, chalets and other sites that are under protection due to their architectural value. Thirty five tastefully furnished residences await anyone looking for a change of scene, be it in a timbered house with access to Lake Zürich (pictured) or a villa in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Perhaps summer for the Swiss really doesn’t sound so bad after all.


Staying grounded

A former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Angela Brady has been running London-based Brady Mallalieu Architects with her husband Robin since 1987 (writes Nic Monisse). Known for her housing and community-driven projects, Brady is also a regular TV commentator in her native Ireland and the host of Designing Ireland on Amazon Prime. Here she tells us about her favourite recipes, how regularly she reads the news and why it’s time to rethink the house (in more ways than one).

Where do we find you this weekend?
In the garden of our home in north London, preparing for delivery of a new greenhouse. Normally Robin and I would spend this week in West Cork where we also have an art studio. The garden there was always wild but now it’s a jungle.

How are you handling all of this extra time at home?
By being busy as ever and extra positive despite the reality. The first few weeks were very creative – I painted a few portraits and have just installed a new studio overlooking the garden. I added a new glass kiln this week too, as most weekends I make some glass art or I paint. Our home has never looked better as I love DIY and there was a backlog to-do list of about 10 years. No better time to paint skirting architraves, shutters, ceilings, walls, doors and the back of radiators.

What opportunities has this period afforded you as an architect?
Robin and I can work from home easily while our office on Caledonian Road is temporarily closed. It’s a challenging time for architects as most of our sites are closed and projects put on hold. This could be a time of great production for architects working for local authorities and house builders who could ask for new ideas for housing, as we have time to think and create. We could get on with designing ourselves out of this national housing problem and re-evaluate how we work and live together.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
A good shag to a decent playlist – then off to Stoke Newington for brunch.

Soundtrack of choice?
When painting for several hours I listen to playlists on Spotify of Rory Gallagher, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Nick Cave, all played at high volume. The studio has been soundproofed.

What’s for breakfast?
Brunch on Saturdays and Sunday; a good eggs benedict, with a bloody mary, is hard to beat. We’re surrounded by several excellent cafés, such as Blue Legume, The Haberdashery and the Good Egg in Stoke Newington, so I’m looking forward to them reopening.

News or not?
I think it’s important not to listen to or watch news more than twice a day and preferably not before going to bed. I read The Guardian online in bed in the morning and must have a print copy of The Observer on Sunday, which ends up on the art-room floor. I love the feel of real paper news.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
The cat dashes away when she sees the lead. I’ve dusted down the bike as our five-mile walk to and from work is on hold.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
My daily DIY keeps me fit-ish and painting gets me out of breath sometimes.

What’s for lunch?
I make a great shellfish bouillabaisse and fish stew. It’s best served as a late lunch with a pint of Guinness in our wild garden in West Cork, with pals.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
Extra virgin olive oil, turmeric, ginger, scotch bonnet chillies and limes – a combination that’s not just for colds and flu.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
Don Agustin Añejo tequila with fresh orange juice every evening.

Dinner venue you can’t wait to get back to?
Little Sardegna for fish dishes and Escocesa for Scottish-meets-Spanish tapas – both are within a 10-minute walk from home. When we can go a little further, then it’ll be to Chelsea Arts Club or Corrigan’s in Mayfair.

Who would join?
Family and friends; we’ll always bump into our pals at our regular spots.



You might need to pop to a specialist supermarket for the optional algae powder and okonomi sauce (a Japanese condiment akin to a thicker Worcestershire sauce) but fear not. This Japanese take on the pancake fully rewards the intrepid shopper and chef.

Serves 4 as a main (one pancake each)


For the dough:
150g flour
1½ tsps baking powder
200ml water
3 eggs
1½ tsps salt

150g white cabbage
1 spring onion
100g squid (or prawns) in 1cm pieces
Okonomi sauce to top off dish (such as Bulldog, available at most Asian supermarkets)
Japanese mayonnaise to top off dish (such as Kewpie, available at most Asian supermarkets)
Powdered aonori (algae)
Katsuobushi (Bonito fish flakes)

1. Mix the ingredients for the dough in a bowl.
2. Cut cabbage and spring onion into 5mm strips. Add them to the dough with the squid or prawns and mix. Pour roughly a quarter of the dough into a frying pan – like a pancake – and fry on a medium heat for about 4 minutes on each side.
3. Spread the okonomi sauce and mayonnaise generously on top and finish with aonori, katsuobushi and diced spring onion. Enjoy it, then make the other three.


Growth potential

The show must go on in Hong Kong, at least in the art world (writes James Chambers). Many galleries in the city have started to open the international exhibitions that were previously planned to coincide with Art Basel Hong Kong in March, before it was cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Garden of Six Seasons” at leading independent gallery Para/Site is one of the most talked about shows. The title is borrowed from a neoclassical garden in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu and it opens with a painted cowhide by Balinese artist Citra Sasmita that channels Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. “An exhibition is a bit like a garden,” says Para/Site’s executive director Cosmin Costinas when asked about the effects of the two-month delay. “Ideas grow and you have more time to bring works to Hong Kong.” Local talent Lam Tung Pang and the late Nigerian photographer JD ’Okhai are among the artists included in the globe-spanning multimedia show, which also spans multiple venues, taking over a floor at Soho House.

While the pandemic has altered the curation of artworks on the walls, there have also been a few hygiene-related adjustments to the gallery experience: directional speakers have replaced headphones, while labels have been printed in bigger fonts to avoid bunching up. Art fans who can’t make it to Hong Kong before the show closes in August can make the trek to Nepal in December; “Garden of Six Seasons” is the precursor to the Kathmandu Triennale, which Costinas is also directing. “What you see in Hong Kong will be one of the seeds of the triennale,” he says. “There will be more artists and more artworks. It will be a completely different experience.”



My favourite restaurant? I never give a straight answer (writes Josh Fehnert). I’m not deep or secretive though – just greedy and indecisive (I think). Also, don’t different restaurants cater to different occasions? So cast your mind forwards and picture this: the lockdown has gone; we’re not afraid of each other any more. We’ll need somewhere to celebrate, right? Let’s meet at Brat, Tomos Parry’s wood-panelled restaurant on Redchurch Street, east London. Sunday lunch OK?

Head up the stairs and through the narrow door that makes it feel as though you’re entering a theatre via the wings. You’ve arrived and there’s one hell of a show in store. Like most great restaurants, the food is just part of the performance, alongside the cast of smiley waiters, bibulous regulars, stray scenesters on their phones and the lost City boy in his loafers.

The windows are big and bright but sit near the kitchen island from which the deft chefs dice and chivvy small but wondrous plates of perfection into existence by the flames of the wood-fired oven. You could eat like a king and get change from a fiver with dishes such as the smoked cod’s roe – fingers of toast slathered with tranches of delicate, fish-flavoured fulfilment. You’ll want more though, so try the bread with wild garlic, Berkswell cheese and truffle or chopped egg salad with bottarga, before deciding on your main. Turbot and some tatties for me, please. The only warning here is not to rush things, to take the show as it comes and then linger long enough to clock the kitchen staff eating together after Sunday lunch and before the dinner service kicks in – have the olive-oil ice cream and a dessert wine while you wait. My favourite restaurant? It’s one of them. Greedy and indecisive? That’s me. But Brat has never made me suffer for either.

Josh’s order:
Smoked cod’s roe; chopped egg salad with bottarga; grilled bread with wild garlic; Berkswell cheese, truffle; turbot and smoked potatoes; olive oil and rosemary ice cream. Hambledon, Classic Cuvée (glass); Thomas-Labaille sancerre (bottle, we’re celebrating).


Salad days

Is there anything more satisfying than eating something that you’ve grown from seed? Well, yes. About a million things if tales about my green-fingered grandparents are to be believed (writes Josh Fehnert). It has been suggested by family members – whose modesty I will spare – that the odd slug had been known to arrive with the fresh, organic, garden-grown lettuce. More salt, anyone?

I’m not really one to ask for tips either – my “giant” sunflowers, sown this year, are looking a little raggedy and markedly teensy to say the least. So what does Peter Milne of The Nunhead Gardener in southeast London have to say on the matter? “Salad crops are great to grow from seed and you can pretty much sow them at any time of the year – certainly all through the summer,” he says. “A lot of them will come up really quickly and you can get quite a few cuts off them and they’ll come back.” What’s more, you don’t need rolling fields of space to do it: salad greens can be grown in pots or on windowsills which, incidentally, are a great place to foster a forest of herbs. Peter’s choice? “Basil is very easy to grow.” And while it’s a bit late for sowing tomatoes you’d maybe still get away with planting up some cheery sunflowers – at this rate yours might yet be bigger than mine. Have a good weekend.


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