Sunday 15 November 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 15/11/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Behind the mask

Today (Saturday morning, 10.00, Zürich) is one of those impossibly crisp, clear, sunny autumn days. I woke up with a view of the Alps from my balcony, the forest a blaze of colours, the birds chirping and chattering. Everyone I passed on my way to my haircut was smiling; and not just with their eyes! Two weeks ago, Switzerland’s Federal Council advised that masks should be worn outdoors in areas of high traffic in order to control the country’s sky-high infection rates. Yes, in case you missed it, Switzerland now boasts one of the highest infection rates in Europe – this happens in small, densely packed countries it seems. It’s no surprise that the new rules were met with a generally grumpy response. While the Swissies have been obedient and good-humoured about following most guidelines issued by Bern and the cantons, the somewhat woolly instruction to wear a mask outdoors hasn’t quite worked – hence smiling locals rather than expressionless passers-by.

Part of the instructions suggests that you should put your mask on while waiting for public transport, but my quick survey of fellow commuters this morning revealed that only 20 per cent think this is a good idea. Everyone is happy to follow along on-board trains and trams but the moment they step off most masks come off immediately and are stuffed into pockets. Another recommendation has been to wear a mask in busy shopping districts but this has led to an even more confused picture, because who defines what busy looks like? At a time when many shopping streets are quiet and much of the workforce chooses to work from home, is it left to the shopkeeper to judge if the street is bustling? The consumer? Or the cop?

Last weekend there was a half-hearted attempt by the police to recommend that people wear masks in and around the Bahnhofstrasse (the city’s main shopping drag) but it had little effect. Which brings us back to those high numbers. The good news is that in certain catons they’re once again on the descent, albeit not exactly a steep one. Nevertheless, the government is striking an optimistic tone again and doesn’t seem too inclined to introduce more measures because it’s now clear things have been pushed as far as they can. (At press time, the federal government’s advisory panel is pushing for more closures but will face considerable opposition.)

Early on in the pandemic the Federal Councillor in charge of health, Alain Berset, said that you can only get people on board if the measures make sense. Back in March, when little was known about how things might unfold, it was easy to rally the nation and to get everyone on the same page. Eight months on it’s a different picture. Even though the army has been mobilised to shuttle patients around and some hospitals are stretched, certain media outlets (even responsible ones) and many lawmakers have suggested that it’s time to stop the scaremongering and move to a new strategy. When reports surface that there’s been no change in the number of employee sick days among some of the country’s biggest employers (the Post Office, Migros, Coop) versus other years, the pressure only grows for new guidelines to be implemented that allow for society to shift gears as the new year approaches.

As a super-fan of all things Christmas related, I’m thankful that the government isn’t using the holiday as a threat to make people behave as we’re seeing elsewhere. “Behave or there’s no seeing your family around the tree!” is the message we’re hearing in many corners of the world. Threatening people this time round simply won’t work. Indeed, it’s counterproductive. Clever leaders know that the symbolism around Christmas and the arrival of a new year demands a policy shift that lifts spirits and encourages people to look forward with confidence and a sense of optimism. The stop/start/semi-pause/rewind/stop approach to running nations, regions and cities isn’t working (when your country is completely closed down and numbers continue to rise, you need a new strategy, non? Oder?) and this means protection where necessary and a pragmatic approach to restore our sapped metabolism.


Suds law

Nobody knows brewing quite like those canny Austrians (writes Hester Underhill). Not only are they the world’s third-biggest consumers of beer per person (sitting just below the Czech Republic and, oddly, Namibia) but the small landlocked nation is home to more than 1,000 different varieties and some 300 breweries. It’s a number that continues to rise. Austria’s craft-beer moment is gaining traction as customers look beyond the tasty but tried-and-tested drinks turned out by the likes of Stiegl and Ottakringer.

One name worth noting is BrauSchneider, which opened a brewery in the northern town of Langenlois in 2017 and has since gained international acclaim for its full-bodied brews made using regional hops. It’s a family enterprise, with founder Michael Schneider’s wife, Ingrid, managing the books and his son, Felix, as head brewer. The small team produces some 400,000 bottles every year, in eight different varieties including a fruity Indian pale ale and crisp pilsner. “We use only natural ingredients,” says Michael in a typically Austrian, no-nonsense response to our enquiries. “Our focus is on the aroma and taste.”

Image: Pedro Guimaraes


As custom dictates

This nine-seat Kyoto counter restaurant serves authentic yet stripped-down Japanese cuisine. Owner Atsushi Nakahigashi has honed his kitchen skills since the age of 12, first as a chef under his father, who runs Kyoto’s celebrated Soujiki Nakahigashi, and later at a shojin (vegetarian Buddhist) restaurant in New York. “I got into telling people from overseas about Japanese cuisine,” says the 34-year-old. When he returned to his hometown, he travelled across the country to meet farmers and food producers. Today everything he prepares is Japanese. “One day in the future there might come a time when we begin to lose authentic Japanese cuisine,” he says. “I’m on a mission to stop that.”


Staying power

Formerly the managing director of Marriott and CFO of Ritz-Carlton, Peter Cole joined Design Hotels as its CEO in 2018. Directing a team that provides marketing and booking services for 318 hotels around the world, Cole’s work can move at a dizzying pace – not least because of the way that the pandemic has upended hospitality. But on Sundays he likes a long cycle, a mighty brunch and catching up on some reading.

Where do we find you this weekend?
At home in Washington where I’ve been for the past seven months. It’s certainly different, given that I’ve spent the past few years commuting between here and Berlin where Design Hotels is based.

How are you handling all this extra time at home?
I’ve learned a lot of new roles: landscaper, handyman, pool attendant…

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
I’m an avid cyclist so Sunday morning is almost always the perfect time for a long ride. Sometimes alone to decompress or sometimes with colleagues to meet my competitive needs.

What’s for breakfast?
I like to make a brunch of omelettes, bacon, waffles, fresh fruit, coffee and, of course, prosecco. It’s a big spread – hence the cycling.

News or not?
On Sundays, I spend time getting deeper into the news. I’ll catch up on newsletters or magazines. I enjoy the balance between news and culture in magazines such as Monocle or Cereal.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
We have a 15-year-old Coton de Tuléar, so he gets a walk every day – but his pace has definitely slowed.

What’s for lunch?
On the odd day that we don’t do brunch we head to a nearby coffee shop, Little Red Fox. It has the most amazing egg sandwiches and lattes.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
My wife is Hungarian, and we like to spend time in our condo in Budapest, which means that paprika ends up on everything. I grew up in Wisconsin, where my dad’s family owned a dairy farm, so butter is also a must.

Sunday culture must?
I try to read on Sundays. I alternate between fiction and non-fiction. I’m currently on non-fiction: Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. The last one, The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, was fiction.

A glass of something that you’d recommend?
I’ve developed a shorthand to describe how my working day has gone: is it a wine or a bourbon night? These days there are more wine nights than bourbon ones, thankfully. On the wine side, I’m enjoying reds from the Spanish Ribera del Duero region right now. In terms of bourbon, I just found a fantastic little US distillery called Copper Fox.

Dinner venue that you can’t wait to get back to?
We have a Spanish tapas place near our house called Barcelona. The lengthy wine list helps us to explore Spanish wines and the menu almost always leads to overeating – but in such a good way.

Who would join?
My kids are out of the house – one on his own and two in college. A free dinner always gets them to come around and we can all agree on Barcelona.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
Given that it’s dark when I get up, I always lay out my clothes the night before. Generally it’s jeans and a T-shirt or sweater. But one thing that remote working absolutely requires is that you put your shoes on when you sit down at the desk – even if they can’t be seen on a video call.


Steak in peppercorn sauce

Today our recipe writer cooks up an age-old staple of steak in a peppercorn sauce (with mustard and a brandy kick). For ballast there are crispy, garlicky roast potatoes. Go on, treat yourself.

Serves 2

Ingredients: 400g baby potatoes
90ml olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, crushed with skin
2 fillet steaks, each about 200-250g (other cuts of steak such as sirloin, rib eye, rump can also work)
1 tbsp soft butter
3 tbsps brandy
150ml beef stock
150ml double cream
1 tsp black peppercorns, roughly crushed
2 tsps dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Take the steaks out from the fridge and preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan and boil the potatoes until soft, for about 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Place oil and garlic in a frying pan and heat gently for 3 minutes.
  4. Drain the saucepan of water and place the potatoes on a baking tray, using a fork to lightly flatten them.
  5. Drizzle olive oil and garlic over the potatoes, sprinkle salt and pepper and toss lightly to cover. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes until potatoes are crispy and golden.
  6. Sprinkle salt on the steaks, then smudge with the butter on both sides.
  7. Heat a frying pan over high heat, add the steaks, turn the heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes on each side (until medium rare).
  8. Remove from the pan and keep them on the chopping board, and cover with a plate to keep warm.
  9. Pour brandy into the saucepan and bring it to boil, then add the beef stock. Using a wooden spoon to scrape up the burnt bits, simmer for 3 minutes. Then add the cream, black pepper and mustard, and season with salt. Cook for another 2 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly.
  10. Divide the potatoes and steaks between two plates. If there’s any juice on the board, add it to the sauce. Pour the peppercorn sauce over the steak and enjoy.


Value judgement

Today, Australia is updating its citizenship test (writes Andrew Mueller). The 20 multiple-choice questions will henceforth include five on “Australian values” and they will matter: an overall score of 75 per cent will get a prospective Aussie a pass – but they must answer all of the “values” questions correctly.

I’m already an Australian citizen by accident of birth but I had a run at the practice test and nailed 20 out of 20 (go me!), although any half-awake 10-year-old would (or should) do the same. The new “values” questions are especially elementary. To fail them you would need to declare yourself in favour of silencing political opponents, refusing to speak English, disrespecting those with whom you disagree, inciting violence against those who insult you and ignoring the wider community. A potential al-Qaeda sleeper is unlikely to be caught out by this cunning ruse.

So what are these questions for? What they’re for, as these things always are, is to make the government that is imposing them appear expediently patriotic. There’s nothing wrong with Australian values, especially not the one that most Australians would probably consider the bedrock: the idea of “a fair go”, regardless of race, colour, creed, gender, sexual orientation, social background, country of origin or whatever you’re having yourself. But like all values – personal, corporate, national – they’re best promoted by doing, rather than defining.


The art of conversation

We live in an age when some people don’t want a dialogue, don’t want to bridge divides and don’t want to hear what others think or worry about or need (writes Andrew Tuck). Luckily they remain a minority and together we can talk them down, because things will only improve if people start chinwagging. People used to talk about the art of conversation, which is just that – an art. It’s a thing of beauty with transformative powers. Conversation can heal, move, enrich or simply amuse. But only if you do it well. You need some give and take. You need to allow silences to be understood, to read the other person’s face and the shifting timbre of their voice – to take note of that rising current of emotion cracking their speech.

There’s another wise old saying: “A problem shared is a problem halved.” That can be true too. As we share our burdens they can lose their weighty power and disappear on the wind. This is why health professionals worry that modern life – with its drumbeat of self-checkouts, payment by app and online banking, not to mention social media – deprives people of those moments in a day when they can spark up a conversation. Think of the elderly, people who aren’t in relationships or those who are new in town and yet to make friends (people who are placed on conversation diets by how the world functions) and then you realise that loneliness blights lives and impacts mental health. You see, to be gentler, to feel less tossed around by the tides of life, all we need is a bloody good chat; to be able to look someone in the eye and talk. Go on, give it a try.

For more talking points, ‘The Monocle Book of Gentle Living’ is out now, published by Thames & Hudson.


The thriller of perilla

With views over Marylebone’s manicured Paddington Street Gardens and a leafy landscaped outdoor seating area, we’re spoiled for greenery at Monocle’s London HQ (writes Josh Fehnert). In the past our team has had some success tending tomatoes and chillies but the latest addition to the nursery is a reminder that indoor seedlings can provide an exotic harvest, even as the mercury tumbles. Recently our design director Yoshi – in all matters and manners a practical and patient man – donated a small clutch of just-sown, thumb-sized shiso plants to the mix (they’re variously known as perilla, sometimes Chinese basil or, less elegantly, the beefsteak plant).

These bushy deciduous cousins of the mint plant are used throughout Asian cookery – in soups, to garnish kimchi or, notably in Korea, in place of wraps – and are a great autumn project for a sunny windowsill. Hardy, easy to keep and delicious, the serrated nettle-like leaves require no pruning (just eat them and leave a few) and can be grown from seed if kept damp. The real growth will kick off before being planted out next spring. Give them their own pots when they’ve grown to six inches or so and you’ll agree – it’s easy to make a mint. Have a great Sunday.


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