Sunday 27 September 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 27/9/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


On the road again

Good morning, Guten Morgen, Bonjour and Ohayo gozaimasu. If you’re reading this somewhere in or around central Europe, then there’s a high to 100 per cent chance that I’ve caught you with the duvet pulled up to your ears as your bedroom is absolutely freezing and you’re wondering where on earth summer went. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to that but given that the good weather started in late March in this part of the world there’s not much to complain about. Also, there are still a few countries on the Med that are not on various quarantine or warning lists so you can make your way to Greece, Turkey, Italy or Gibraltar (see below) if you need a last blast of rosé, salty sea hair and fresh freckles. While I don’t need more freckles, I’m voting for a few days in Athens from next weekend – in part thanks to the steady stream of photos sent by my friend Christoph (his employers should not be surprised if he also starts prodding for them to open an east Mediterranean bureau over the coming months), cheerleading by the mayor of Athens (more from him if you tune into The Chiefs) and my sun-worshipping friends, Hugo and Nina (playmates during my stay).

With a gate-to-gate time of a little over two hours, my flight from Zürich to Athens is going to be the closest I’ve come to flying long-haul since my return from Tokyo just before most of Europe went into lockdown in March. How funny to look back to those early days of confinement, when I thought that I would still be going to the Olympics to host a series of radio shows from a special set-up we had planned for Roppongi Hills. In June I thought the Japanese might reopen the country to business travel by early September, when I would be in the midst of a grand tour around Asia. From the way things look at the moment, it seems unlikely that Monocle will be hosting its usual Christmas party, having a festive lunch at Shiseido Parlour with our clients or doing a last-minute shopping dash through Isetan and Tokyu Hands.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been covering a bit more ground (Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam and Munich) and while there was a brief period where it was a relief to be in one place, it’s good being out on the road. Correction – it’s great! A few good meetings, a client who’s receptive to a concept, a signed contract and a relaxed dinner with colleagues all remind you what you’ve been missing.

This week I tried a video conference for the first time since the start of the pandemic and it’s not for me. What could have been achieved in an hour took nearly three, associates drifted in and out and there was a lack of urgency and engagement. Is it a good way to stay in touch and have some level of corporate-wide connection? For sure. Is it a way to build company culture or make yourself or your big pitch properly understood? Unlikely. For many corners of the economy there’s a creeping fog that’s starting to blanket businesses where “getting by” and “coping” are the acceptable norms despite there being tools (travel, seeing clients, being among colleagues) that would allow them to shift things up a gear and not just accept a clutch of defeatist and short-term narratives. If I don’t see you in Athens, I look forward to seeing you in Tokyo. We need to move forward

Travel essentials

SWISS and Victorinox share a passion for travel, quality and precision. In this spirit, the two Swiss companies joined forces to create a special luggage series. It meets the needs of the modern business traveller and incorporates design elements from SWISS Business. Ideal for discerning travellers with an eye for Swiss design, the iconic series consists of a roomy suitcase, a carry-on and a laptop bag. The largest case features an innovative arrangement of its wheels and handle that translates into more space – perfect for a shopping trip or a longer vacation.


Grub, conkers all

The appetite to space out and seek a breeze means open-air tables, beer gardens and dining alfresco will be an inevitable – and potentially rather enjoyable – feature of autumn menus all over Europe (writes Josh Fehnert). This was the spirit of my recent meal at Osterwaldgarten, a picket-fenced beer garden and wood-panelled restaurant in the streets of Munich’s swish Schwabinger neighbourhood.

We arrived at our outdoor berth under a vast horse chestnut as the air was filled with the flutter of leaves, chirrup of sparrows and the low hum of a passing Porsche 911 turbo (did I mention it’s a rather nice area?). Oktoberfest may have been cancelled and group gatherings limited but there’s no shortage of feather-topped hats, tracht, woollen calf warmers and leather hosiery on show.

Part Bavarian tone-setter, part Monocle meeting, the ordering was taken care of unanimously: schnitzel all round and something piscine for the sole pescatarian in our shoal – or “fish man” as I heard him dubbed by our dry-as-a-stick waiter. Pretzels, beer and brot gobbled, there are surprises in the form of a cream-cheese and paprika dip served with berry-red radishes for zing and crunch. As the schnitzel is hoisted from the table and glasses charged again it’s easy to observe why eating outside works so well – the sound of clinking glasses, the crunch of gravel and the refreshing breeze are all rather pleasant. Oh and did I mention that there was a gregarious hedgehog working the tables and trellises for scraps? “The dogs go wild when they see him,” giggled the waiter. The fun of eating outside, eh?

The dessert would have sated Franz Joseph himself in scale, richness and excess: bring on the kaiserschmarrn (shredded pancakes with icing sugar, raisins and apple sauce). As the bill came so did the schnapps and conversation continued to flow until proceedings were halted by a loud thwack. Had the Porsche crunched into a parked 5-Series on the other side of the hedge? Guess again. Instead, the tremendous tree, which had been offering us cover, had disgorged a hockey-ball-sized conker (complete with spiky casing, which split on impact) directly onto my colleague’s head. Ouch. I can happily report that she wasn’t hurt too badly – hedgehogs and falling debris are the attendant dangers of outdoor dining. In fact – and for reasons I’m still piecing together – it was me who woke up with the sore head the next morning.

Image: Ben Roberts


Sunny delight

If you’d asked me 12 months ago where I thought I would be vacationing this year, I assure you that Gibraltar would not have crossed my mind (writes Christopher Cermak). But as a British territory it’s exempt from the UK’s quarantine rules that apply to Spain, which is why my partner and I rather spontaneously decided it was a good place to spend a week, catching a bit of late-summer Mediterranean sun before the next looming lockdown (moreover, they have conducted more Covid tests than their entire population of about 35,000 so it’s quite safe).

As it turns out, Gibraltar and I have a tremendous amount in common. Not only does the island celebrate my birthday as its national day (as really any nation worth its salt should) but it’s the perfectly confused linguistic and cultural minefield that makes people with duel national identities feel right at home. As an American-Austrian, I’m known to throw German words into my English and English words into my German; Gibraltarians do the same with English and Spanish (it’s called “Gibberish”, we were assured by one dolphin-watching boat-tour guide). And its national colours – red and white – match those of both Austria and Canada, where my partner’s from (though she also speaks fluent Spanish, which perhaps made her feel even more at home in Gibraltar than I did).

Throw in some alluring beaches, hiking opportunities up the Rock, an interesting military history as the guardian of the Mediterranean, dolphins in the bay and monkeys in the hills and I’d call this one of those fortunate decisions that remind you of the wonders of spontaneous travel. Planning to go where you always wanted is nice – but you never know what you might stumble upon without looking. Gibraltar, I’ll be back next national day at the very latest, when the pandemic has eased and we can celebrate my birthday in style.


Raise a glass

Dan Keeling is a restaurateur, writer, editor and wine importer. He’s also co-founder of wine magazine Noble Rot and wine import company Keeling Andrew & Co. Keeling’s work hasn’t been slowed by this year’s unusual turn of events, in fact he’s just opened a restaurant in London’s Soho and penned a new book, Wine From Another Galaxy, which is out next month. Here he tells us why writing about supermarket plonk is like reviewing ready meals and gives away the Greek restaurant that helps make his weekends.

Where do we find you this weekend?
Most Saturdays I’ll go to Primrose Hill with my wife and kids. We’ll play a little football there before going for lunch at Lemonia on Regent’s Park Road, a Greek restaurant that I've been going to for probably 20 years. It has all the things that make a good restaurant in abundance: convivial service, familiarity and delicious taramasalata. It’s also one of the few places in London that puts up with rowdy children.

How are you handling all this extra time at home?
Lots of cooking. But as much as I love cooking every day, I don't like doing the washing up. So I’ve been very happy to get back out to my favourite places to enjoy those aspects of restaurants that people might not consider – like the feeling of being looked after, which is such a wonderful thing.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
I have young children so there’s no chance of a lie-in. My favourite way to start would be with a cup of coffee from Dark Habit in Queen’s Park, then go for a swim to get the endorphins going, then back home for breakfast.

Soundtrack of choice?
That’s very dependent on mood. It could be something like [Hamilton] Bohannon’s “Disco Stomp” or maybe The Smiths’ “The Queen Is Dead”.

What’s for breakfast?
My favourite breakfast is kippers but I don’t eat them at home very much because they smell the house out. I like going to Fortnum and Mason’s restaurant, which is called 45 Jermyn Street: its kippers are the best in London, I think. I also quite like going to Dishoom for breakfast and having a Masala omelette, which is fantastic.

News or not?
I do. At the weekends, I really like FT Magazine; I think its food-and-drink section is great. The FT doesn’t dumb down about wine, which I like; quite a lot of the other broadsheets tend to write about supermarket bottles, which is fine, but it’s about as relevant I think, as reviewing ready meals. I also read The Sunday Times and enjoy reading Marina O’Loughlin in that.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Can I feed the cat? We don’t have a dog. There’s a concerted campaign in my house to get one but my cat takes precedence.

What’s for lunch?
I’ll go out on a Saturday but I like nothing more than Sunday lunch at home. My death row meal would be roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, horseradish, a couple of nice bottles of wine and the football on the television, with a win for Manchester United.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
I always have parmesan in the fridge, orecchiette pasta, always a box of anchovies. They’re the perennials, plus good olive oil and salt.

Sunday culture must?
I’m kind of in small kid land. You have to think about what you can watch as a family. Ratatouille is one of my favourite films. I’ve recently read Norman Lewis’s Naples ’44, which is a really amazing memoir and a portrayal of the city after it was liberated following the Second World.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
I love great Growers Champagnes, which have a more Burgundian approach to terroir and wine making than most of the Grand Marques. Ulysse Collin is one of the best growers and Les Maillons is one of his best wines; it’s complex, rich and mouth-filling. Recently there has been this whole revolution of great farming, really ripe grapes, using indigenous yeast -– this wine is kind of the polar opposite of what champagne was known for, for many years. I really recommend that people drink it. After a glass of good champagne you never feel bad, do you?

Dinner venues you’ve enjoyed getting back to?
The River Café is a really special place for me and my wife – we go there for birthdays and anniversaries. When the weather's good, there's nowhere better than the terrace there. And then Gymkhana in Mayfair and Brat in Shoreditch.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
What is a betterment routine? I don’t really know. I try to drink a lot of water.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
No. I’ll wake up and just hope there’s something clean in the wardrobe.


Banana bread

Our Swiss chef has perfected this indulgent mainstay (excellent sliced and buttered for breakfast or as a snack) and added a little vanilla, nutmeg and walnuts to set it off. This simple, speedy go-to can pass from pantry to plate in less than an hour – how long you take to finish it is up to you. Enjoy.


140g butter, room temperature 125g brown sugar 2 eggs 500g extra ripe bananas, mashed, plus 1 whole as decoration 300g plain or wholemeal flour 1½ tsps baking powder ¼ tsp nutmeg ½ tablespoon salt Zest of a lemon Seeds from ½ a vanilla pod 100g walnuts


Preheat the oven to 180C. Whisk butter with sugar. Add the eggs and continue stirring. Add the other ingredients – minus the walnuts – and stir for a few minutes until a smooth dough forms. Finally fold in the nuts and pour the mixture into a greased, medium-sized loaf tin lined with baking paper. Decorate, perhaps with the banana cut in half lengthwise on top or with some remaining walnuts, then bake for about 40 minutes.


Game changer

In any normal year, the last week of September is the best week to be in Melbourne (writes Andrew Mueller). It’s Grand Final Week: the build-up to the climactic match that decides which team will be anointed premiers of the Australian Football League (AFL), the top-flight competition of Australia’s unique national code.

No city is quite as crazed about a particular sport as Melbourne is about Australian rules football – and Grand Final Week is the annual peak of this mania. The Friday before the game is a public holiday in Victoria. On Grand Final Eve the teams playing on the Saturday are paraded through the city, applauded from crowded footpaths. Yesterday, about 100,000 people would have filled the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the match: millions more would have watched at home or in pubs.

Not this year. With Melbourne locked down, the AFL has had to improvise. For the first time in the League’s 123-year history, the Grand Final will be played outside Victoria – at the Gabba in Brisbane on 24 October. It is obviously far from the greatest tragedy of coronavirus but the grief and bewilderment in Victoria will be palpable.

Another similar bereavement looms: the first Tuesday in November, Melbourne Cup Day, is also a public holiday in Victoria. Horse racing has continued in Victoria, though without crowds. The Cup is presently scheduled to run but it will be a melancholy spectacle without the usual 80,000 people packing Flemington – and the countrywide downing of tools usually occasioned by “the race that stops the nation” might be less noticeable than usual.

Melbourne treasures its role as custodian of Australia’s marquee sporting events; it also hosts the Australian Open, the Australian Grand Prix and the Boxing Day Test cricket match. But it’s the Grand Final and the Cup that matter most; the others belong to the world but those two belong to Melbourne.


For the record

A lot has been penned by prominent writers on the importance of keeping a diary (writes Beatrice Carmi). To those with a literary bent, the diary is a record for anecdotes, images and overheard conversations to keep in store for future works.

But writers aren’t the only ones to recognise the benefits of jotting things down. It helps boost memory and improves sleep and mood. We work and live better in a clean and tidy environment. And the same goes for our mind: it functions better once it has been put in order. Writing is an important exercise that helps us process old thoughts and memories and allows the brain to focus on new ones. It’s therapeutic too.

Most days are relatively uneventful so writing about them might seem frivolous. But to make sense of things we need to find words for them. Don’t get fixated on finding something worthy of writing about: often it’s only by beginning to write that our brains will reveal what they want to deal with. Don’t overthink it. Just buy yourself a good-looking notebook, something you’ll want to pick up, and set aside a few moments every day to commit those fleeting thoughts to paper.

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


Time for prep

This week marked the passing of the autumn equinox and many across Europe will have noticed the weather turn chilly (writes Josh Fehnert). For the industrious mice among you it’s time to harvest the last of those remaining beans, onions and potatoes.

For the proverbially lazy mice who didn’t plant such a bounty – myself included – it’s time to make amends and plant your garlic and onions for next year (with a bulb planter, under a plug of soil and plenty of water). September is also time to save some seeds for next spring, to clear any fallen leaves – onto the compost heap please – and make sure that those pumpkins and squashes get some sunlight to help them ripen. Have a lovely Sunday.


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