Sunday 2 August 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 2/8/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Fair cop

You know that you’re having a happy get-together when the police show up – not just one van but two, I might add – and stride confidently towards the source of the merriment, adjusting eyewear, mics, earpieces and other essential contraptions of law enforcement. The setting was Midori House in London: it was our little summer market with 150 or so people gathered in our courtyard, shopping and enjoying G&Ts. It was some time just after 20.00 and things were supposed to be winding down. The taller, more beardy of the two (very, very tall) officers took the lead and politely asked what was going on in the courtyard beyond. Without skipping a beat, my colleague Hannah replied, “It’s our summer market.”

“Aha,” replied the officer. “Would you mind if we take a look inside as we’ve had some complaints about this being a ‘live music event’.”

“Of course,” replied Hannah, signalling them to pass through the archway.

I was observing this in earshot, half waving off some guests, half ready to break for the border in case we had broken some key corona laws. About 10 seconds later the police reappeared, smiling, tipping their hats to Hannah and saying their thanks. “Looks like a lovely evening and a nice crowd. No live music here it seems,” said the lead officer. “It certainly beats showing up and having bottles thrown at you.” I felt for him and wanted to offer him and all his crew in their vans a round of drinks but they had another incident to get to and, besides, our little gathering was drawing to a close and it was time to head to dinner. (In another edition we can spend some time on the bad rap that law enforcers have been receiving lately and how too many people have forgotten that the police are also essential workers and save lives.)

As I said farewell to a few regulars from the neighbourhood a pair of gents leaned in to say thanks for the evening and to share a little story. “You’re going to like this one,” said the funkier of the pair – good eyewear, a kind of indigo tunic and trousers with huge turn-ups. In the background his friend was shaking his head and warning me otherwise. “So we’re in Abuja airport and I’m going through security. I put my suitcase on the conveyor and then my beloved Monocle tote. I go through the x-ray and I’m waiting for everything to come through. First the suitcase – but where’s the tote? I freak out. Then I spin around and what do I see? The little Monocle ‘M’ peeking out between two guys trying to conceal it. I go after them, grab the bag and off they go into the crowd. Can you imagine?”

“Excellent story and the power of good branding, right?” I suggest.

“I wanted you to know because if it wasn’t for that little ‘M’ I wouldn’t be here tonight. I’d still be in bloody Abuja airport!”

The chaps strode off in the direction of Baker Street and I made my way back for a little refill and to collect some of my crew. With the sun dipping, the music gently playing in the background and much laughter, all seemed back to normal in our little stretch of London – almost five months since I’d last passed through our archway. We were back in our groove. It was amazing to see colleagues and customers and now it’s time to take things up a gear. Thank you!


From cannabis to cabernet

Couvent Rouge’s concept is as unusual as its business model (writes Leila Molana-Allen). Founded in 2010 as part of a project to regenerate the small town of Deir El Ahmar, it’s the third highest-altitude vineyard in the world, or so locals claim. For years the area depended on cannabis crops until a new co-operative persuaded farmers to replant fields with grape vines. The founders of Couvent Rouge own plenty of vines themselves but sell their grapes to the co-operative and buy them back at a mark-up to help support the scheme. The “wine lab”, a refitted vintage minivan, was launched to introduce the product to new audiences. The wine-based cocktails, topped off with cordials made from Lebanese botanicals, were so popular that the lab is now a regular feature at events.

Make the scenic journey to the winery itself for a long, lazy lunch among the vines and a view that only grows more spectacular as the sun sets. “We’re looking forward to putting Lebanon back on the map of great wine-producing countries,” says co-founder Charbel El Fakhri. Couvent Rouge currently produces 100,000 bottles of wine per year but has the capacity for half a million. Its first wines hit the Lebanese market in 2018 and the current 10-bottle range is already being exported to Europe, North America and Australia. The co-operative now has more than 200 members, who own 240 hectares of land. “We wanted to do something very specific with the wines,” says Khoury. “When you taste them you have spices and aromas very particular to this part of the country.”

For more stirring stories about businesses and places on the move, subscribe now in time for our September issue, which arrives on 20 August.


Between the lines

Poet and playwright Inua Ellams was born in Jos, Nigeria, in 1984. He was educated in England and Ireland before settling in London. His plays – including Barber Shop Chronicles, The Half-God of Rainfall and a deft reworking of Chekov’s Three Sisters transposed onto the Nigerian Civil War – grapple eloquently and lyrically with the notions of identity and belonging. Ellams, whose influences range from hip-hop to the Romantic poets, has also penned works and screenplays for the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company, The National Theatre and the BBC. He’s a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature too. In what little remains of his time, Ellams is also a graphic designer and visual artist. Here he tells Monocle about batch cooking, his basketball team and how his caftan once earned him a cameo in Vogue.

Where do we find you this weekend?
I have a few friends coming over to watch Hamilton on TV on Saturday. So I expect my Sunday will be a hip-hop post-revolutionary haze.

What’s your ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
Gently, gently. It takes me a couple of hours to get up and then I water my plants and do a little cleaning.

What news source do you wake up to?
I subscribe to a newsletter, Imperica. It goes out every Friday and it’s super long. So I usually spend the first few hours of my Sunday morning scrolling through that and following all the links it has to long-form articles on music, the visual arts and technology.

What’s your soundtrack of choice?
I usually do the cleaning while listening to the Sunday Service Choir album, Jesus is Born. I don’t like the version that Kanye West raps to, Jesus is King, but the Sunday Service Choir one is amazing. It combines the best elements of African-American church vocal traditions with lots of ’90s R&B vibes – and Kanye produces it, which he’s amazing at.

What’s for breakfast?
Nothing fancy, just porridge. Sometimes with blueberries. And when I have fresh oranges I chop them up into little triangles and I use maple syrup on the oats. Sometimes I’m feeling super fancy and I throw on a handful of granola or sesame seeds.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
I do yoga on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Sundays are my day off.

Any other exercise to get the blood pumping?
I try not to do anything on a Sunday. All I do is slow mobility stretches. And maybe I meditate if I’m in the mood.

Do you have lunch in or out?
Because of lockdown I’m mostly cooking for myself. I usually batch cook for the following week so I make lots of stew or sauces, things like that. Or pots of jollof rice, which I’ll eat for lunch and set aside for the rest for the week.

Any larder essentials you can’t do without? Yes, this sauce called shito. It’s a condiment that’s equivalent to ketchup and a staple of Ghanaian cuisine. I can’t do without it. I also have gluten-free biscuits, usually with Philadelphia. I’m addicted to them – I just stand in the kitchen and shove them into my mouth.

Do you have a cultural essential?
I subscribe to Poetry magazine from the US Poetry Foundation. It’s monthly and I try to read a quarter of it every Sunday so that it takes me about a month to get through.

Do you have a glass of anything to recommend?
I’ve become addicted to aloe vera juice. I’ll drink about a gallon of the stuff in a day.

What’s your ideal dinner menu?
On Sundays I will eat traditional Nigerian food as much as possible. I make this sort of bean porridge with spicy strips of meat, seasoned with ginger, onions and red-hot pepper.

Is there a dinner venue that you can’t wait to get back to?
There’s this restaurant called Hanoi Cafe in Shoreditch. Every Wednesday and Saturday after playing basketball I usually go there and eat. It’s a family-run place and it’s amazing. I’ve been eating there for almost a decade.

Who would be joining you?
My boys I play basketball with. We’re not really a team – we were never good enough to do anything. But we like each other’s company and it’s all about the vibe. I can’t wait to get back to playing with them.

Do you have a Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
One of my friends has been trying to get me to take hot baths. I’ve only successfully done it once but I’m going to try to do it more regularly.

Do you lay out your look for Monday on a Sunday evening?
Once I was going to a big fundraiser at the National Theatre. I got so nervous because some big names were there – Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren. So I bought a tuxedo, went home, put it on and just laughed at myself in the mirror. Instead, I just wore a caftan and some cuffs. I guess the photographers liked it because I was in Vogue the following week. Ever since then, I don’t really plan – I just throw what I have on in the morning and see where it leads me.


Crème caramel

Our talented Kyoto-born recipe-writer and food stylist turns her hand to a favourite French treat: an eggy pudding with just the right balance of sweetness and lightness.

Serves six


For the custard:
450ml milk
150ml double cream
120g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split in half, lengthways; seeds removed with the back of the knife

For the caramel:
100g caster sugar
20ml water
50ml hot water
6 medium eggs


  1. Preheat the oven to 160C.
  2. Mix the milk, cream and sugar in a pan and add the vanilla seeds and pod. Heat until it bubbles but doesn’t boil, then set aside to cool down.
  3. Put 100g sugar and 20ml water in a frying pan and set over a medium heat (make sure the hot water is ready and at hand). Heat slowly until the sugar melts and turns a dark brown colour. As soon as it turns, carefully add the hot water. Be careful as it might make a hissing sound and the caramel will bubble vigorously. Tilt the pan to melt evenly, then pour into the dish. Quickly tilt the dish (be aware that the caramel is hot) to evenly coat the bottom of it with a layer of liquid caramel.
  4. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Remove the vanilla pod from the milk mixture. Add the warm milk slowly to the beaten egg, little by little, and whisk as you are doing so. Once the mixture is incorporated, pour the custard into the dish through a fine sieve (to get rid of any lumps from the egg whites). If you find a lump of vanilla seeds, then press it through the sieve.
  5. Place a sheet of baking paper in a deep baking tray that’s large enough to contain the pudding dish (we used a shallow 28cm pie dish). Place the dish over the paper and cover it with a sheet of foil. Pour boiling water into the baking tray until it is halfway up the side of the pudding dish. Place the baking tray in the oven (carefully) and cook it for 45 minutes (turn 180 degrees halfway through to ensure an even colour).
  6. Once the time is up, remove from the oven and lift the dish out of the hot water. If it is set when you shake the dish and slightly wobbles in the middle, it’s ready.
  7. Cool down on a wire rack. Once it is cooled, run a sharp knife around the dish to loosen. Then place the plate on which the pudding will fir over the dish and (quickly) turn upside down. We recommend chilling it in a fridge for a couple of hours or overnight. However, you can serve it warm if you fancy.


Meat with approval

It is a fact universally acknowledged that Austrians love their schnitzel (writes Vienna resident Alexei Korolyov). But there’s more to this love affair than pork or veal covered in crusty breadcrumbs (with a potato salad or chips, or even a dollop of lingonberry jam on the side). The schnitzel is a cultural phenomenon.

The enduring social history of the country’s favourite dish is explored in a new book out this September, called The Wiener Schnitzel Love Book!. Published by Austria’s Brandstätter Verlag, the book’s editor and mastermind is Severin Corti, the country’s best-loved food writer. “Schnitzel makes us better people,” he says over a generous helping of, well, schnitzel (obviously) at Meissl & Schadn, the Vienna restaurant that sponsored the publication and is arguably the best place in the city to eat the dish. “It brings out all the good things in you,” he says, citing a piece by the late journalist and writer Alfred Polgar, one of many contributions in the volume from authors past and present. Other articles include an inquiry into what the schnitzel means for South Americans, Italians, Russians, Scandinavians and the Japanese. There’s also an interview with Italian chef Massimo Bottura and a slightly irreverent list of the ten commandments for the perfect schnitzel, as set down by art critic Wolfgang Kralicek.

Corti’s own contribution expands on that religious theme – he compares the schnitzel to the Catholic host bread that’s distributed during communion. “To the Viennese it’s nothing special because it looks like bread but it is flesh, that is to say meat – just like schnitzel.” Although this comparison verges on blasphemy, it’s certainly true that the schnitzel often arouses more fervour than the dogmas of faith. “It’s almost a religion for Austrians,” says Corti. “Which cut of the meat do you use, which frying set, what do you serve it with?”


Pod almighty

Capsule hotels have been a quirky and popular place to stay in expensive space-starved Asian cities since the first pod-sized pillows-for-the-night popped up in Osaka in 1979 (writes Louis Harnett O’Meara). These utilitarian stopovers give cash-conscious visitors a roof over their heads and, ahem, low overheads.

“When I came across them, something clicked,” says Mohamed Taha, founder of Zürich’s first capsule hotel, Green Marmot. He says that while the museums, restaurants and nightlife of Switzerland’s largest city appeal to travellers, accommodation seemed expensive to outsiders. Taha knew that a well-branded hotel designed for high-density occupancy could allow people to stay in the city centre at relatively low cost.

The company’s first spot opened in May near Bellevueplatz and has more than 50 capsules, each fitted with a comfortable bed, good ventilation, lights, a mirror, a curtain, wooden panelling and crisply laundered Egyptian-cotton sheets. “We felt as though this would be a little more appealing than the hostels here,” says Taha.


Major cutbacks

All good things must come to an end and so it is with your prize begonias (writes Josh Fehnert). Yes, they looked lush a few weeks back but as your flowers fade it’s important to get into the habit of deadheading – removing the old blooms. Pruning generally keeps your plants growing fast and healthy and thinning out taller branches lets more light and fresh air get to the lower growers in your garden. For fast movers such as wisteria, a judicious trim can result in more flowers (as the energy is diverted to new growth) as well as helping to keep your trellising tidy and shapely. Word to the wise, always do so with sharp, clean secateurs and always cut above – but close to – the bud: being careful not to damage it in the process. Have a lovely weekend.


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