Sunday 26 July 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 26/7/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Scenes from la cité

Today we’re in Paris. (In fact, I’m already in Merano recovering from Monocle’s Südtirol summer party – pics later today in The Editors’ View. But for the sake of a breezy Sunday read, let’s pretend we’re strolling through the French capital as its residents gear up to head to Biarritz, Aix or points a little further afield.) It’s Tuesday morning, the city is fully awake and back at work – but something’s missing. Most of the shops are open, the cafés are busy and have taken over the streets, and there are plenty of screeching brakes and near collisions as scooters, cyclists, cars and pedestrians attempt to find their way across chaotic intersections. It all appears to be business as usual – until you realise that most of the grand hotels are closed.

  1. Paris is a city that’s defined by its marble clad lobbies and dimly lit bars, its interconnecting salon-style suites and multi-star restaurants. It’s a city where the Crillon, Ritz, Bristol and Meurice are used by Parisians as much as visitors, where the world seeks refuge in over-upholstered rooms during summits and trade fairs, and where many of the codes that define modern inn-keeping were created. With their imposing façades and fine addresses, vast tracts of Paris feel a bit forlorn without the idling S-Classes, the scent of oud wafting in and out or the whirring of revolving doors. Some hotels will open their doors at the end of August and others will follow in September. But there are also managers who are waiting to see how things unfold closer to the fourth quarter. One thing’s for sure: many should open sooner. Yes, it can be argued that business is slow and business travel is down. But it’s also tricky to book two days of meetings when your favourite property is closed.

  2. We all enjoy poking fun at the French working week (yes, we really do), their feisty unions and complex labour laws but it’s worth pointing out that the French are back at their desks. Perhaps not every multinational is working at full strength but the offices I’ve visited – large, global French brands – had full floors of staff who were happy to be back at their desks. “You need to get back to a proper rhythm where everyone is in and you can enjoy the spontaneity that comes with being in the same place,” said one executive at a luxury brand. “Otherwise it’s scheduling chaos if you want to have a proper meeting and some people are in and some are out, and you need to make quick decisions.”

  3. We’re sitting in a shady courtyard at one of the few grand hotels that is open (it might be the only one). Not far away a lone gentleman settles down at a table for six. He’s wearing a bright blue linen blazer, cream pleated linen trousers and he’s very tanned; you can tell that, most of the time, he resides in a warm climate. Soon after, another man joins, kisses are exchanged (non, non – we don’t do elbow bumps) and water is poured. Within 15 minutes the same routine plays out several more times; lunch is ordered and business commences. The gentleman in linen pulls out a ratty envelope and carefully removes a small stack of 35mm photo prints (remember those?) that he hands to the man sitting opposite him. At the other end of the table, another gentleman pulls out a folder containing sheets of paper with scans of similar sized snaps. I need to pretend to take a call and walk across the courtyard to get a better look. On my return pass I can see that there’s clear interest in ancient antiquities. Phoenician? Greek? Roman? I only manage to spy some urns and a statue. One of the men catches my eye and rattles his chain of beads. Are these men from Unesco, organising a rescue from Tripoli? Perhaps. Are they organising a heist from a museum in Algiers with its guard down? Perhaps. Are they hobby collectors? Unlikely.

  4. Now we’re in a shoe shop; JM Weston, to be precise. I’m collecting some loafers I ordered in February. This branch of JM Weston is incredibly busy but not because of the summer sale, it seems. All around me are groups of sharply dressed African gents chattering away, comparing leather swatches and dainty silhouettes (slippers, sleek oxfords), and ordering multiple pairs of shoes. The Paris retail scene might be suffering from a lack of tourists from Asia but it must be thankful that it can rely on custom from its Francophone sphere. Elsewhere in Paris it was the same story, with women and men from West Africa buying handbags and briefcases, bundles of fine bed linen and crystal decanters.

  5. Ahhh... Now I’m back on the TGV and heading to Zürich. But what’s that smell? Did some animals crawl into the air-conditioning system, get stuck and start to rot? Or could it be that reduced schedules and the lack of regular toilet flushing has meant that the waste tanks have been baking in the summer sun? Thankfully, masks are mandatory.


Cold comfort

It’s satisfying to see grown men and women queueing for ice cream at 22.00 on a balmy summer’s night (writes Ed Stocker). I’ve had the privilege of living in two nations that are utterly obsessed by ice cream – first Argentina (which got the bug from Italian immigrants) and now the motherland itself – and it sure beats the beer-soaked Saturday nights of northern Europe. Although Italy’s love of gelato is, of course, nothing new, this night-time queue was a reminder that it isn’t just a treat for kids. Simply put: Mister Softee in the US and Mr Whippy in the UK don’t cut it. Of all my holiday memories, I’ll never forget being in Sicily and trying, for the first time, pine-nut ice cream – a flavour I’d never imagined could exist. It was pure heaven: genuinely creamy and nutty, and without any of the iciness of the stuff I’d grown up with.

In times like this – yes, a global pandemic – the humble gelateria seems more important than ever. First, when the world is in strife, what better way is there to improve your mood? Second, an ice-cream shop brings all ages together and doesn’t require anyone to hang about indoors for too long before they can head outside to enjoy their reward. Finally – and most importantly – buying an ice cream is an easy, affordable way to inject money into the economy and support a business, be it beside the seaside or in the city centre. In the few weeks that I’ve been living in Italy, I’ve already sampled (or should I say supported?) numerous northern Italian outposts, from Gelateria K2 in Parma to La Romana in Verona, the site of that aforementioned queue. I’m doing my bit. Are you?


Lamb dunk

Chaat opened in May with Indian chef Manav Tuli arriving in Hong Kong from London’s Tamarind, the city’s first Indian restaurant to earn a Michelin star, and Chutney Mary before that (writes James Chambers). His much talked-about fine-dining restaurant on the fifth floor of the Rosewood hotel is quickly elevating Indian cuisine in the city and modernising the traditional curry experience.

Delicate dishes, such as bhel puri scallops, are complemented by a green-hued decor that features an eye-catching custom mural by Hyderabad artist Kandi Narsimlu; hearing Beck and The Strokes on the lunchtime playlist was an unexpected bonus. Lamb plays a starring role on the menu and fans of the meat, which is hard to find in Hong Kong, are clearly making it difficult to get a reservation. Three circular booths at the back of the rectangular restaurant provide the cosiest spot for tucking into a plateful of tandoori lamb chops coated in pistachios. For a change of scenery, head out to the outdoor terrace for a light dessert, a digestif and refreshing views over Victoria Harbour.


Omu rice

Our Japanese-born recipe writer offers a homespun turn on an omelette brimming with chicken rice. Nice.

Serves 2

180g Japanese short-grain rice (sometimes sold as sushi rice)
30g unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ green pepper, finely chopped
1 small chicken breast (about 125g) cut into 1cm cubes
75g small prawns
½ tsp sea salt
4 pinches of ground white pepper
6 tbsps ketchup
10g curly parsley, finely chopped
15g unsalted butter
2 pinches of salt
4 medium eggs
Ketchup to serve


  1. Put the rice in a sieve and place it over a bowl of cold water so that the rice is submerged. Gently wash it with your hands. When the water turns milky, lift the sieve and discard the water. Repeat this process three times. Drain the washed rice in the sieve and leave to stand for 15 to 30 minutes.
  2. Place the rice in a medium-sized pan (preferably cast iron), add 200ml water and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Place the pan over a high heat and bring to the boil. As soon as you can hear the water boiling vigorously or the liquid is oozing from under the lid, turn the heat down to low and cook for 11 minutes. Do not open the lid while you are cooking the rice. Turn off the heat and leave to stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Open the lid and lightly turn the rice over with a large spoon. To prevent sticking, you can wet the spoon first.
  3. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat, add 15g of butter, when it’s melted, add the onion. Fry until the onion becomes transparent, then add the green pepper, chicken and prawns and fry until the chicken and prawns are cooked through. Add the warm cooked rice, ketchup and the rest of the butter. Mix everything in the pan until it is incorporated evenly. Lastly, add the fresh parsley and mix thoroughly. Turn off the heat and keep warm.
  4. Put the 2 eggs and salt into a small bowl and mix well. Heat a medium-sized non-stick frying pan over medium heat, melt half the 15g of butter and pour the egg mixture in. Tilt to cover the bottom of the pan, and keep stirring in the middle of the pan as if making scrambled eggs. Continue to keep tilting the pan to cover the bottom with the eggs. Once the eggs are cooked but still unset (as with scrambled eggs), turn off the heat.
  5. Add half of the chicken, prawns and rice to the pan, slightly on the left, off centre (if you are left-handed go for the opposite side). Keep a serving plate by your left hand, and lift the frying pan with your right hand and tilt the right side up, so the rice slides into the plate followed by the omelette, slowly turn the pan upside down, so the egg covers the rice. Do not worry if you can’t cover it perfectly – take a piece of kitchen paper and tuck both ends of egg underneath the rice to make it look neater.
  6. Repeat with the other 2 eggs and the remaining half of the rice mixture. Spoon extra ketchup on top and eat warm.


Sail away

Nacho Alegre made his name as co-founder and creative director of Apartamento, a hefty biannual magazine that shows the homes of creative and colourful souls around the world. Though billed as “an everyday life interiors magazine”, the publication’s design and photography are anything but quotidian, thanks to Alegre’s smart camerawork and penchant for the odd and alluring. Here, Alegre describes his best-laid plans for a relaxed Sunday and his girlfriend and dog’s best efforts to thwart them.

Where do we find you this weekend?
The beach in Barcelona if it’s sunny. I’ll go for a dip in the water with my girlfriend and have a beer. But sometimes we like to go out of the city and explore.

What’s your ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle or with a jolt?
I’m not a morning person, so the slower the better. I’m normally woken up by my girlfriend around 10.00 on Sunday, and then I try to stay in bed until at least midday. I’d go back to sleep if I could but then the dog comes into the bed and everybody starts disturbing me. So I read the papers or a book – anything I can to stay in bed.

What news do you wake up to?
I normally go through the Catalan and Barcelona news online. I see if there are any events going on that day in the city and check the supplements, which are best on Sundays. And then I move onto the international press, such as The Guardian.

What’s your soundtrack of choice?
I live with my girlfriend so there are some things that I have no control over. My soundtrack is one. Normally she leaves bed and starts playing music in the kitchen and I have to live with that. If I’m lucky she’s playing jazz. If I’m not lucky, she’s playing 1990s disco music.

What’s for breakfast?
Normally just coffee and cigarettes on the terrace. Sometimes my girlfriend goes out to the bakery and gets something to surprise me.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
I have a dog that we take for walks – but on Sundays the morning walk is pushed back to after lunch.

Any other exercise to get the blood pumping?
If it’s windy, I’ll take a little boat to the beach and go sailing sometimes. It’s bliss.

Do you have lunch in or out?
In usually. Sometimes with gin and tonics that lead on into the evening.

Any larder essentials you can’t do without?
Not especially – I don’t like to stock up. I buy day to day.

A glass of anything you'd like to recommend?
I recently started a new business, The Natural Wine Company, with my friends. It’s a subscription service and we send a box of our favourite natural wines to your door every month. I don’t want to recommend one in particular, though; you should try them all out.

What’s your ideal menu?
It changes all the time but in the summer I always love a big baked fish with good tomatoes and a glass of wine.

A favourite dinner venue?
In Barcelona, there are three places that I love. One is Il Giardinetto, a classic Italian joint where you’ll find politicians eating. And then there’s Els Pescadors, which does amazing fish. And, finally, there’s a place called Xemei, founded by twins from Venice. It has great wines and a great atmosphere.

Do you have a Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
My girlfriend does, not me.

Do you lay out your looks for Monday on a Sunday evening?
I’m not into preparing things.


Field day

While sourcing a specialist for a recent print job, I stumbled upon one of Switzerland’s finest calendar printers (writes Carlo Silberschmidt). It is based on the shores of Lake Zug. But this is not just about printing calendars that end up in Swiss kitchens, with Alpine panoramas, mountain goats and geranium-adorned chalets. My colleagues at the Zürich office and I were far more excited by the Swiss Bauernkalender (farmer’s calendar).

Tens of thousands of these charming almanacs are sold every year and can often be spotted in staff rooms when visiting a factory, barn or garage. There are two editions: one featuring men and the other women. In both, well-groomed countryfolk pose with cheese wheels, goats and tractors portraying countryside panoramas. About 100 candidates applied to be included in this year’s selection of Switzerland’s best crop. This is not just about their physique: everyone featured has a direct connection to farming. And since 2013, when it was revealed that professional models had been hired in previous years to spice things up, the publisher has made sure that the calendars are filled only with prime local produce. We can’t wait to get our hands on the 2021 editions.


Neat tricks

Weeds are a fastidious gardener’s thorniest issue. But fear not, there are all manner of ways to uproot these unwanted interlopers (writes Josh Fehnert). Investing in a hand trowel to dig them out is a good start but if your patch is larger, a hoe works well too. If you’re pulling weeds out by hand, be sure to remove the root ball thoroughly lest they return – an old knife also works when teasing them out of the grikes and clints in your prize rockery or pristine paving. Then there’s the nuclear option: chemical weed-killers. We’d advise caution on this front. You’re old and clever enough to read the label but holding back on the herbicide will be better for the animals, insects and diversity all round. In fact, we’d even encourage you to leave space for nature to take its changing course untrimmed. After all, there are worse things than spotting a few rogue nettles, dandelions or speedwells nudging up through the soil. Our policy on policing the garden borders? Live and let live. Have a great Sunday.


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