Sunday 20 September 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 20/9/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Come together

Forgive me for sounding a bit exhausted or hungover this Sunday but it’s been a big week – even by Monocle-stamina standards. It all started on Tuesday in Zürich when we hosted drinks for the early-bird delegates of our Chiefs summit in St Moritz and then had a bit of a family reunion with our former New York bureau chief, and now Europe editor-at-large, Ed Stocker. Wednesday started with a dip in Lake Zürich and a productive few hours in the office. We then met about 30 of our delegates under the big clock at Zürich Hauptbahnhof for the journey up the mountains. The first leg of the journey saw about 45 of us zip along in the upper deck of an SBB intercity train – destination Chur. When we disembarked a little more than an hour later, we crossed the platform and boarded a specially configured vintage club carriage staffed by Monocle’s café team and catered with treats from local bakery Merz and wine from some of the finer vineyards along Lake Zürich.

As everyone settled into the loudly upholstered lounge chairs, the mixing and mingling got properly underway as the train began its trip down the valley. As this carriage was designed and produced long before the heavy hands of health and safety started removing risk from the world and deleting the need for common sense, the windows pulled down to chest height so that the Wagen could be filled with the fresh scents of larch and camomile, and our group could lean out at stations for posing and pictures. Lately some of Europe’s smarter rail operators have been talking up the return of overnight rail services – Switzerland’s SBB is looking at Amsterdam, Barcelona and Rome as new routes for sleeper services. But I couldn’t help but wonder why an even smarter operator isn’t adding a couple of carriages with low-slung seating, even lower lighting, good bartenders and a menu of tasty bites for services that might pull out of stations at apéro hour and arrive in Europe’s capitals just after midnight. If our crew was a focus group for such a concept, a savvy rail CEO would have instantly seen the revenue opportunities that come with allowing passengers a bit of space to roam and relax.

Two hours later our train pulled into St Moritz and, after checking in to Suvretta House, we hosted a reception and dinner at the Kulm Country Club that brought together other delegates who had arrived under their own steam and an array of speakers. Given the quarantines, travel advisories and general complications that come with getting around the world at the moment, I was impressed to meet guests who had made the journey from as far away as Vancouver and Kinshasa.

On Thursday morning, more than 20 hearty souls gathered at the hotel reception for a shuttle down to Lej Marsch for a bracing dip. By 09.00 the official part of our summit was underway, with a range of speakers discussing everything from defence policy to the future of hospitality, reforesting our cities to why it might be the moment to give Athens another look – no surprise that the advocate was the city’s mayor Kostas Bakoyannis.

Under clear skies the evening wrapped with a ride up the mountain for a hearty Swiss dinner and then back down for a rather late evening in Suvretta’s bar. “This all feels so wonderfully normal again,” said one delegate to a speaker. And the response? “Would you believe that this is the first time I’ve been out properly in the world?”

On Friday we said most of our goodbyes over breakfast. By then I had decided that this was an event worth repeating – maybe even sooner rather than later. There’s an electricity that comes when we meet, exchange ideas, check each other out, test some business pitches and surprise ourselves by how productive we are when we’re face to face. And in case you’ve come to the end of this article wondering how this was all possible, our host country has guidelines for gatherings of up to 1,000 people.

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Check, please

There’s a delicate dance to be performed if you’re a journalist setting out to review a restaurant (writes Josh Fehnert). You will, for instance, get a truer sense of a place if you book anonymously and without announcing your intention to scribble a few lines about it. The downside? If you’re greedy – like me – then the undercover approach inevitably leads to fewer surprises from the kitchen, no treats and no chance that the kindly chef-patron will insist that those sauternes are “on the house”.

All this brings me to Bright, a tasteful neighbourhood wine bar and restaurant in Hackney from the people behind Clapton bar and bottle-shop P Franco, restaurant Peg and booze business Noble Fine Liquor. These are food folk who know their onions and their albariños. And they didn’t know that I was coming.

Located on the southeastern tip of London Fields, the space itself is woody and modishly appointed with all of the comforting flecks of Scandi minimalism that hungry Hackney diners have come to expect from their sublime, small-plate independents. It also comprises smart graphic posters, cork-lined walls and a poured concrete floor.

We settled and ordered a bottle of Austrian morillon (chardonnay) from Weingut Werlitsch and commented on the clipped bar menu, which wins top marks for directness – keeping it to a single A5 sheet and trimming the adjectives is effective and unambiguous. A plate of morcilla ibérica blood sausage arrived and was the first clue to what this restaurant does best: letting the ingredients talk rather than insisting that hammy staff bluster on about them. The unctuous, salty discs didn’t need a concept to underpin them or any loquacious verbiage to introduce them. They were scoffed in no time before the sumptuous, fresh-tasting mussels with fennel pollen turned up on a dramatic ice platter. More, please.

Next came the grilled scarlet prawns, arranged neatly in a row (in a manner that put me in mind of a surreal barbershop quartet), before the savouries were rounded out with a comforting clam pasta. The pudding proved perfect, despite the fact we could have stopped, fully sated after the prawn chorus. The pão de ló, a tender Portuguese confectionery enriched to globby golden hue by egg yolks, arrived with fresh greengage plums – and the bowl went back to the kitchen scraped clean.

It was only when the bill arrived that I felt my first pang of discomfort since sitting down – it all looked a little... reasonable. Surely we’ve been undercharged, I thought. Wait. Where was that bottle of loamy Styrian chardonnay we’d appreciatively quaffed? Had someone clocked us by the company email address attached to the booking? Were we being… wooed? A quick word with the waiter cleared up the issue and brought my momentary sense of self-importance back down to earth. Naturally we did need to pay for the wine, he said, acknowledging his oversight when totting up the bill. “But thank you for your honesty,” he added sheepishly while revising the total upwards to a price more suited to the meal that we’d gratefully gobbled. There was a happy ending, though. As it turns out our transparency had earned us some credit: the negronis were “on the house” after all.


Cheesy does it

From her shop Formaje in Madrid, Clara Diez sells an international range of artisanal cheeses in a space that looks more like an art gallery than a food shop. Discerning customers can choose anything from a wheels of truffled Spanish Valdivieso manchego to an orb of smoked Italian buffalo mozzarella. Diez tells us about her Sunday, from her tropical playlist to the joys of French cider and the best speakeasy in the Spanish capital.

Where do we find you this weekend?
I’ll be in Madrid, where I live. It has plenty of places to go and things to do – and I like to cover everything I couldn’t fit in during the week.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
I usually start gently. I have my morning coffee at home as a bit of a ritual and ease into the day.

Soundtrack of choice?
Tropical rhythms at the moment – lots of 1970s Caribbean and Latin music. Juca Chaves is great.

What’s for breakfast?
Coffee and often pancakes as well. They always work well on Sundays.

News or not?
I would rather go for a book or a magazine. The news can be a bit much sometimes.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
I do some yoga – my friend runs classes online with a great playlist. And I take myself for a walk often but I don’t have a dog.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
Just yoga and walking.

Lunch in or out?
I usually go out on Sundays and I like to choose some Indian food or something out of the norm.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
Cheese for sure: Spanish cheese, British cheese, French cheese – soft cheese is the best. And good butter, of course.

Sunday culture must?
I love to watch a movie on Sundays after lunch; it’s super relaxing. The other day I watched Mommy, directed by Xavier Dolan. It’s quite intense and dark but a very good watch.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
I love French cider at the moment – any kind at all. I ask for recommendations from bars rather than have a specific one I go for; they all tend to come from very small cideries.

Ideal dinner venue?
There’s a place in Madrid called Lugo. It’s a small, bunker-like space with soft lighting that looks like a beautiful little speakeasy – and the food is amazing.

Who’s joining?
My husband, Adrián.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
Reading before bed – I’ve always done it.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
I lay out my look every day. It’s always something comfortable, simple and easy.


Korean ssäm

This Asian riff on a tortilla substitutes lettuce for the wrap. Our recipe is for tasty beef but pork works as well. Be warned: this is a slow-burn option, so check the cooking times well in advance and buy some pickles or kimchee to top off the dish. A little sticky rice goes well if a starchy side dish or extra stuffing is in order too.

Serves 4 as a main course


For the pulled beef
1 beef shoulder tip, 2.5kg
100g cane sugar
100g salt
3 tbsps of oil

For the spicy ginger vinaigrette
30g of ginger
1 chilli
1 garlic clove
15g coriander
5 tbsps soy sauce
5 tbsps rice vinegar
5 tbsps rapeseed oil
1 tsps powdered sugar

For the wraps
Fresh lettuce leaves

Kimchee or pickles
Diced spring onions
Mint or coriander


  1. For the beef: place the meat in a bowl and rub with cane sugar and salt. Cover and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 10 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 130C. Use a cloth to remove the salt and sugar mixture from the marinated meat and place it in an ovenproof dish. Drizzle with the oil.
  3. Cook for approximately 6 hours.
  4. Turn off the oven and let the meat rest, keeping it warm until serving.
  5. For the vinaigrette: peel the ginger. Deseed the chilli. Finely chop the ginger, chilli, garlic, coriander (and stalks) and mix with the remaining ingredients. Pour the sauce into a small bowl.
  6. To serve: load up the lettuce leaves with the beef; add rice, kimchee and pickles if you have them and enjoy.


Classical Greek

Window-seat occupants coming into Athens International Airport are bound to notice one of the city’s most important – and ancient – wine-making regions: Mesogeia (writes Daphne Karnezis). Between the Hymettus and Penteli mountains, these vineyards have supplied Athenians with wine since ancient times. “Savatiano [a bright gold, dry white] is our native grape, enjoyed back to Aristotle and Socrates,” says Vasilis Papagiannakos, third-generation wine-maker at Papagiannakos winery, which exports 70 per cent of its produce.

Its main building – of wood, stone, metal and glass – is the country’s first bioclimatic winery, which uses only natural light and ventilation. Wine-tasting and tours take place all year and can be combined with trips to the nearby Temple of Poseidon. Do try Papagiannakos’s Retsina too.


Cheap shots

My mind is whirring as another sleepless night passes (writes Thomas Reynolds). Should I take a detour to pick one up for my walk to work? When would I have to set off to get to the office on time? How long until I can have another? There’s something brewing – and it’s not just the coffee that’s keeping me up at night.

London’s commuter-favourite sandwich-on-the-go chain Pret A Manger has started a subscription coffee club to tempt London’s hesitant office workers over its threshold. The YourPret Barista deal doesn’t have everyone’s milk frothing (the coffee is fine, nothing to write home about) but the concept is filtering through to the slowly returning workforce.

The terms defy my understanding of a healthy balance sheet, which is one reason why I’ve taken to considering it in the wee hours. For £20 per month you can get five coffees (or any other barista-made beverage on the blackboard) per day, every day, for the rest of your days – presumably offered in the hope that you’ll grab a full-price croissant or granola bowl at the same time. Some simple maths tells you that you only need to consume nine drinks a month for a bit of return on your outlay and a flat white can cost as little as £0.13 (€0.14). But the fine print does discourage drinking the full quota per day. It’s a fair point: maybe it’s the caffeine keeping me up, not the marketing ploy.

The subscription deal comes amid downbeat predictions about high-street trading and news that Pret A Manger is cutting a third of its workforce. The overall picture for the UK high street is still bleak and footfall in some parts of London is currently a fifth of its usual level. At least Pret's offer is keeping the public buzzing.


Clean sleep

Napping can be a mercurial endeavour (writes Tomos Lewis). It seems, from the outset, deceptively simple: close your eyes, drift off for a targeted period of time and wake up refreshed and renewed. Eleanor Roosevelt swore by napping just before she had an official event to attend or an address to give. Albert Einstein and Salvador Dalí famously pioneered “micronaps” – falling asleep while holding an object that would slip from their grasp and clang when it hit the floor, waking them up in the process. Those split-second snoozes sharpen the mind, they said.

Advice abounds about the perfect nap. How long should it be? Some say no more than 20 minutes, others say no shorter than 90 minutes, to allow a full cycle of light and deep sleep to unfold. When should you take it? Anytime before 15.00, reports suggest; any later will mess up your nighttime sleep. Is it good for you? Yes. Is it bad if you don’t or can’t nap? No. The myriad blueprints and nap-related protocols should be taken with a light touch: there is little point in settling down for your allotted snooze only to find that your mind is alive with whether or not you are doing it right.

Naps are at their best when they’re unintentional: why feel bad when you drift off at the beach or decide to carve up your lunchtime with a short, soft sleep? Choosing to spend a sliver of your day on closing your eyes and getting some rest is a perfectly worthy occupation: why confine it to the night?

A version of this daydream appears in Monocle’s new book. Order your copy of ‘The Monocle Book of Gentle Living’ here.


Weevil geniuses

Gardening, for all its good bits, is a never-ending pursuit (writes Josh Fehnert). Just when everything is looking green and glossy you might spot a raggedy leaf, a nibbled flower or a tell-tale slimy trail across your prized cabbages. Pests. Yes, while we’re all for our plants and soil staying healthy, we’re understandably put out when other living things with unfriendly appellations – such as weevils, aphids and slugs – move in on our glorious greenery.

Monitoring regularly is key to catching the blighters before they get too comfy. If you spot fluffy eggs on the underside of your leaves (scale nymphs), small holes in the foliage (capsid damage) or something munching your petals and shoots (earwigs), then addressing it early – before it spreads – is key. We’d also suggest seeking out natural solutions and swerving the pesticides wherever possible. Some of the tricks are time-tested but odd: putting eggshells down to impede snails, for instance. Recently I also saw a garden littered with half-filled plastic bottles, said to ward off cats. For varmints of this magnitude, I can also suggest keeping a loaded water pistol by the back door – an inexpensive and enjoyable deterrent. Have a great Sunday.


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