Sunday. 13/9/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

THE FASTER LANE / TYLER BRÛLÉ

Lady Cochrane

It’s late summer 1991 and I’ve recently finished an assignment with ABC News in London. Before wrapping up I grab a drink with my colleague Katie and we both establish that we want to get out to Beirut for a bit of work, a bit of exploring and some late-season sun. As this was nearly 30 years ago, it takes a few calls, many faxes, more official stamps and some yanking of strings to get our visas. But before too long we find ourselves on an MEA 747 bound for Beirut. We’re sitting up in the nose in enormous armchair-style seats (remember the days before flatbeds?), there’s plenty of Château Musar and a roast-beef trolley serving Sunday lunch. “Look at that long carving knife, Katie,” I say, as though it was the most normal thing to have stocked in the galley.

By the time that we touch down it’s early evening and we make our way to the Summerlands resort hotel, south of Beirut. It’s empty but they’re happy to see us. After all, it’s been rather quiet on the tourism front given that John McCarthy, Terry Waite and other hostages are still in captivity and Beirut’s Green Line barricade has only just reopened. We spend a couple of days at Summerlands but it’s all a bit sedate, so we decide to move to Hamra and check into the Cavalier Hotel. It’s here that we meet Abed who, for the next two weeks, becomes our driver/minder/fixer. We’re much happier in Hamra and through contacts we’re meeting an array of wonderful Beirutis. One afternoon we’re being treated to a pool party up in the hills above Jounieh; the next day we’re in a high-speed boat drinking rosé and seeing if an Israeli patrol is interested in our afternoon activities. We’ve fallen in love with Beirut.

On about day six or seven someone suggests that we pay a visit to a woman who lives at the Sursock Palace in Ashrafieh, so off we go with Abed across the Green Line. It’s not our first time travelling from west to east Beirut. Just like on all our other journeys across the cratered, splintered no man’s land we ask to stop to take some pictures, chat to soldiers and peer down abandoned, rotting streets. Sursock Palace is a vaguely Venetian-inspired affair, it’s leafy and cool and very grand. It’s taken a few heavy hits and has been peppered with more than its share of gunfire. We buzz the gate, a housekeeper lets us in and we follow him through the grounds. The grass is brown and crackles, a snapped palm tree has dried out but there’s an elegance about the garden with the Med framed in the distance. We climb the cracked marble staircase and are shown into a sprawling entry hall. “Lady Cochrane will be down shortly,” we’re told. We’re served tea.

A few minutes later Lady Cochrane comes down the staircase and ushers us into another salon where the towering windows are missing glass and all around we see cracked plaster, grazed furniture and more bullet holes. She’s been in Beirut for most of the war and while the city is still smouldering she has already set to work on repairs. Before we can sample the sweets she takes us out to the side terrace to survey some shells in the garden and a nasty gash to one side of the house. Lady Cochrane is petite, her hair is perfectly set and she’s wearing one of those crisp shirt dresses with a three-quarter sleeve that is somehow a uniform for well-to-do aristocrats on the Med. Three hours later we have the story of Lebanon, the architectural history of Ashrafieh and her tales from the war. The following week I leave Beirut with Lady Cochrane’s predictions and warnings filling my head. I have an urge to return as soon as possible.

Beirut turned out to be a constant in my life, both professionally and personally. I reported from all over Lebanon, made wonderful friends and even rented an apartment not far from the Sursock Palace. Indeed, Lady Cochrane was always a source for a good story or a sharp take on how things were unfolding (or not) in her city. Over the decades I watched her restore the palace, fight battles with developers and remind young Beirutis how the city used to look, why trees need to be preserved and how to get by without air conditioning.

Lady Cochrane died on 31 August from injuries sustained in the harbour explosion. She was 98. The Sursock Palace is once again in tatters. Much of her beloved Ashrafieh is also a shattered, twisted mess. Lebanon and the eastern Mediterranean has lost a most passionate, warm and wise woman.

EATING OUT / MASSERIA DEL SALE, PUGLIA

Land of plenty

My experience of dining in Puglia isn’t one that I’d recommend to the cautious eater or, for that matter, anyone whose family has a history of cardiovascular trouble (writes Josh Fehnert). We know that Italy loves to eat – and eat well – but I left Puglia wondering how any of its inhabitants manage to stay svelte. You couldn’t eat like that daily and, judging by the tanned, toned tums on show at the region’s beaches, I suspect that few do.

I arrived hungry to Masseria del Sale, a white-tablecloth joint close to the city of Manduria, halfway up the heel of Italy’s proverbial boot. In this portion of Puglia – as elsewhere in the balmy region that’s crisscrossed with vineyards, olive groves and prickly pear cacti – vast portions and various courses are the order of the day. There’s also a curious looseness when it comes to that immutable Italian rule about keeping fish and cheese apart: here the red snapper swims in a sea of parmesan and the scorpion fish can be found floating beneath a cacioricotta crust – even the burrata starter arrived with a salty anchovy on its back.

We sat outside in an ancient-looking colonnaded courtyard next to the restaurant proper and unmasked ourselves before sampling the local primitivo (the region’s intense, tannic red: zinfandel by another name) and commented in passing on the mosquitos settling in for dinner alongside us – and on us.

One starter, which was dubbed a “meatball festival” on the menu, made the most of the Pugliese tradition of polpette – small orders of rich, salty orbs of pork (three bowls, three riffs on the delicacy). Another was light-fried courgette flowers with ricotta. The kitchen’s homemade orecchiette pasta (literally “little ears”, another southern staple) arrived slathered in baked tomato, cheese and pancetta from the primi section. The only sign of salads or a lighter dish came with octopus and bread, capers and olives aplenty. After attacking the antipasti line-up with gusto, our table abandoned the idea of a hefty bistecca on the bone or a sea bass chaser – we had a pool to be seen beside.

The four of us left having eaten heartily, drunk enthusiastically and been looked after impeccably with the damage limited to less than €50 a head. While surveying the restaurant, which was buzzing on a Thursday with the boom of laughter and chatter clattering off the stone columns, I felt a sharp bite on my right forearm. Ouch. We’d had such a pleasant time that we had barely noticed another more sinister buzzing that was growing around us. As it turned out, the only ones who ate better and cheaper than us that night were the mosquitos. masseriadelsale.it

FOOD MOVES / HONG KONG

Head-chef hunting

Every chef dreams of opening their own restaurant, right? Running a business as well as a kitchen has been a recipe for success in the dining scene over the past decade (writes Nina Milhaud). But after a turbulent year of protests and the pandemic in Hong Kong, the city’s chef-and-owner model might be in the soup. Independent restaurants are struggling and some chefs are beating a path to (or in some cases back to) hotel kitchens, where they can be freed from dealing with dreaded landlords to focus on the food. German chef Uwe Opocensky closed his eponymous restaurant last year for the opportunity to become executive chef at Island Shangri-La, where he oversees eight outlets. “It’s like being offered the chance to play for a football team with bigger ambitions and bigger opportunities,” says Opocensky, while overlooking the city skyline from the hotel’s flagship restaurant, Petrus.

Fresh challenges for chefs such as Opocensky could also herald the start of a new era of hotel dining in Asia. Rising star Daniel Calvert recently hung up his apron at Belon in Hong Kong, walking away from a Michelin star – and one of the best restaurants in Asia – for the chance to open a French restaurant at the Four Seasons Marunouchi in Tokyo next year.

“They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” says the British chef, presumably referring to its generosity despite the Godfather-like implications of the phrase. “The benefits that you can gain from working in a hotel restaurant outweigh what an independent restaurant has to offer.” These culinary stars and their independent restaurants will be missed but you can’t blame chefs for seeking stable ground during uncertain times. The moves could also have a silver lining: it won’t take long for a new generation of sous chefs and chefs de partie to step up to the plate just as Asia is rediscovering its appetite for dining out.

RECIPE / RALPH SCHELLING

Schlutzkrapfen

This week our Swiss chef channels South Tyrol, the mountainous German-speaking region of northern Italy where he first encountered Schlutzkrapfen: a pasta-like stuffed parcel that’s bursting with spinach and cheese. Once you’ve perfected that filling, you can experiment with others.

Makes about 30 parcels

Ingredients:

For the dough
150g rye flour (plain flour works too) 100g plain flour (or 250g if you’re not using rye flour) 1 egg 3 tbsps lukewarm water 1 tbsp olive oil Pinch of salt

For the filling
150g spinach 1 small onion, finely diced 1 garlic clove, finely diced 1 tbsp butter 100g cottage cheese or quark 2 tbsps grated parmesan 2 tbsps chives ¼ tsp nutmeg, finely grated Black pepper from the mill, to taste Pinch of salt

To serve
1 tbsp parmesan, grated 1 tsp brown butter Chives cut into 1mm pieces

Method:

  1. Knead the ingredients for the parcels, by hand or with a machine, to a smooth dough. Cover and let it rest for about 1 hour, ideally in the fridge.
  2. For the filling, dice the spinach. Sauté the onion and garlic with butter in a pan until translucent but not browned or burned. Add the spinach and leave to cool. Add quark, parmesan and chives, then season with nutmeg, salt and pepper, and mix. Leave off the heat to cool.
  3. Roll out the dough thinly with a rolling pin or pasta machine. Cut out with a round cookie cutter (approximately 6cm in diameter) or with the rim of a cup. This should make 30 or so parcels.
  4. Put 1 tsp of filling in the centre of every parcel. Moisten the edge slightly with water and fold it into a crescent shape – ensuring that the parcel is sealed and watertight.
  5. Cook the Schlutzkrapfen by submerging them in boiling salted water for three to four minutes. Drain and arrange on a plate. Add parmesan, melted brown butter and scatter with chives. Serve.
    ralphschelling.com

SUNDAY ROAST / RUTH ROGERS

Hail to the chef

Born in upstate New York, Ruth Rogers is best known for the culinary mark she made in southwest London’s Hammersmith neighbourhood, where she co-founded The River Café in 1987. The Italian restaurant still surpasses the competition and although it scooped a Michelin Star in 1997 (which it retains), it’s more than just a great place in which to sip, taste, see and be seen. The River Café also acted as a proving ground for young chefs, including Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and April Bloomfield. Here Rogers tells us about her Sunday cinema trips, appreciation for Chet Baker and pantry staples.

Where do we find you this weekend?
I’ll start from last weekend. My family was in a car going down to Somerset for the wedding of two of my very close friends. I left London with a case of prosecco and jars of raspberry juice and raspberries for making a drink called rossini. I also made the wedding cake, which was a recipe from one of my cookbooks: a meringue with very thin layers of ground almonds, sugar, raspberries and cream.

Soundtrack of choice?
At the moment I’m listening to a lot of Chet Baker. He doesn’t often sing but every once in a while he does – and I love his voice.

What’s for breakfast?
I have very strong espresso. I prefer a salty breakfast: anchovies on toast or a bit of prosciutto. Sometimes I might have scrambled eggs with a tomato; we do this frittata in Italy when the tomatoes are in season, with thinly sliced tomatoes, which you then pour beaten eggs and basil over. It’s delicious.

News or not?
We don’t get the Sunday papers any more. I read The New York Times online. I’ve been in the UK for 45 years but I’m still keyed in to American politics – what’s happening in the US is still very important to me. I read the Financial Times too; I like the “Lunch with the FT” and the food column, and it has really good arts pages. Then I always look at Tortoise, which is published and edited by [former BBC director of news] James Harding. It is essential reading and everyone should subscribe.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
I don’t have a dog, so I guess downward dog.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
I enjoy exercising on a Sunday morning. Until recently we had a trainer who would come to our house and do core work and weights with us.

What’s for lunch?
A weekend lunch at the River Café. I love being here on a Sunday: it’s all about families and children. My children and grandchildren often join us.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
I always have River Café olive oil, which is from Tuscany and is the estate-bottled oil of the year. There is always a jar of the Paolo Petrilli tomatoes from Puglia. And then borlotti beans, cannellini beans and anchovies, as well as mozzarella and prosciutto in the fridge.

Sunday culture must?
I love to save Sunday night for a movie at the cinema. It helps you to avoid thinking about going to work on Monday. I love going to work but I think [my Sunday trepidation] is more about a memory of school and homework due in on a Monday.

Dinner venue you’ve enjoyed getting back to?
The River Café and Nobu for sushi.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
By the time we’ve got back from the cinema or exercising, there’s not much left of the day.

Will you lay out your look for Monday, what will you be wearing?
I’m a cook, so unless I’m having an office day I’ll be wearing my chef whites.

GENTLE LIVING / DRAWING CONCLUSIONS

The case for pencils

I never like anything that I draw (writes Hester Underhill). All of my subjects – even the most elegant life model – invariably end up with a funny nose and Habsburg jaw. But I haven’t let this stop me from making it a regular habit: you don’t have to be a great draughtsman (or woman) to reap the rewards of putting pencil to paper. How much satisfaction you’ll glean from the act depends on the expectations you bring to it. If you’ve taken up drawing because you want to be the next Rembrandt, things might not work out. But if, like me, you’re the kind of person who gains a lot from slowing down, drawing will do you the world of good. Its power lies in how absorbing it is: sketching triggers the same brain activity that occurs during meditation. Focusing on what you’re drawing enables you to shut out any external stress. It puts a metaphorical cushion between you and your thoughts. When you’re done, if your sketch is good enough to earn a place on your fridge, then great. But if it ends up in the bin that’s fine too. So go on, sharpen those pencils. Remember: it’s not about drawing comparisons.

For more tips on slower living, pre-order a copy of ‘The Monocle Book of Gentle Living’.

POT LUCK / ALLOTMENTS

They mean a lot

Since much of the act of gardening could be described – albeit unfairly – as scrabbling around in the dirt, I don’t think it’s controversial to call cultivation an egalitarian pastime (writes Josh Fehnert). But as city populations have soared, homes in densely populated areas have shrunk and the availability of a large outdoor patch to tend seems to many as far off as the dream of owning a horse, jet or castle. Perhaps this is behind the growth in the popularity of allotments – shared spaces where neighbours without vast gardens can meet, greet, congregate and cultivate.

In Stockholm, nyttehave (allotments) and kolonihave (same but with a small summerhouse in which gardeners can spend the night) have been big news with space-starved city slickers since the 17th century. Residents of Hamburg covet their Kleingärten and in other cities, from Cape Town to Yokohama, there are green shoots of growth.

Lockdowns have taught many urbanites new ways to grow, figuratively and literally. The result? A burgeoning crop of community and market gardens that spring forth yielding glossy tomatoes, Swiss chard, curly kale and sunset-pink radishes – homegrown hallmarks of a spring and summer industriously spent.

There’s a rumour going around that everyone from London to Singapore and San Francisco will quit the city for the countryside and trade tower blocks for tea in the summerhouse. Maybe. But I don’t see it myself. Instead, if you’re thinking about going for it and gardening a little more, and a little more seriously, but don’t necessarily see a future for yourself among the curtain-twitchers of Little Fussing, then perhaps it’s time to eye up an allotment. Have a super Sunday.

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