Sunday 6 December 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 6/12/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Ho ho home

We start this Sunday with a fairly straightforward question: where does Santa live? Leaving territorial disputes and Finnish brand-grabs aside, we can all agree that Santa lives at the North Pole. Right? He has other logistics set-ups around the world, of course, and Finns will argue that the pole is little more than a letterbox for intellectual property reasons as Santa’s real base is near the town of Rovaniemi. If you’re reading this in Ottawa or Oslo you might take a rather different view. Many children in Canada and Norway are taught that Santa, in fact, hails from the far north of their respective countries and that Finland has no legal claim to white beards, red get-ups, curly-toed boots or snorting reindeer. Which brings me to my first of a couple of seasonal messages: it matters where you come from.

Earlier this week I noticed that my various screens were being filled up with ads for a newish car brand whose name sounds like it could easily be part of Santa’s global conglomerate. On Tuesday that included a quite irritating takeover of the website of a favourite newspaper. At first I tried to ignore it but then decided to click through to see how this company was presenting itself to all those who might be in the market for some electric mobility.

The homepage was nice enough, the photography crisp yet rather chilly and here and there across the company’s site I was reminded of the clean credentials behind the brand. So far, so predictable. I pretended for a moment that I didn’t know much about this company (in case you hadn’t guessed it’s Polestar) and waded through multiple screens in its “About” section. Unlike Santa I had no idea where the company was based, who runs the show or how it got its start. The vehicles look nice enough but there was nothing on the design team or what happens in the studio. The further on I travelled the more I realised I could have been in any other direct-to-consumer website, where there’s lots of talk about sustainability, inclusion, diversity and all of the other essential buzzwords but very little in the way of real grit about the essence of the business.

At a time when every brand wants to do a bit of storytelling (a word I am working very hard to eradicate from Monocle) it’s surprising how many companies devote so much space to unpacking their stories and wind up saying very little. Should we pause here to consider why that might be? Why is it that you have to get to the “Contact Us” part of Polestar’s site to find out that it’s based in Gothenburg? And when I arrive at the site why am I not thanked for making the journey by someone resembling a chief customer officer or even a good old CEO? Could it be that too many digital frameworks are pure cut and paste, and designed only to be filled with content? Could it also be that too many companies don’t want to talk about provenance because there’s a belief that it doesn’t matter where you’re from so long as you pepper your story with enough of those buzzwords? And finally, why hasn’t anyone noticed how opaque all of this is in an era when we’re all supposed to be open, transparent and – all together now – inclusive.

For the record it does matter where you’re from, for myriad reasons. In part because we’re simply curious about the origins of the things that surround us. Does the question “where are you from?” not seem like an obvious one to tackle when telling your brand’s story? In part because it might open up a quicker channel to engage with a potential customer: “Oh, you’re sort of Swedish. I love Sweden. I have family from them there and I like listening to Neneh Cherry.”

If you’re a business owner thinking about your brand and the dreaded task of relaunching your website as you shift into 2021, consider this: do as Santa does and remember where you come from.


Handled with care

Brisbane’s Bianca Marchi, Tyron Simon, Frank Li and head chef Ben Williamson wanted to open a restaurant with a wood-fired oven, Agnes, back in 2019 (writes Mikaela Aitken). But the challenges of building a stone hearth in a listed warehouse – followed this year by those of navigating a pandemic – delayed everything. Once construction was completed, they began selling pastries and bread from the wood ovens to survive, regularly selling out before midday. Then, in mid-August, the kitchen kicked into full swing and finally the restaurant opened its doors.

The resulting food and service are more formal than its humble beginnings but still eschew pomp. “We didn’t want it to be a restaurant that you could only come to for special occasions,” says Simon. And you’ll want to pop in for Williamson’s lamb ribs and aged Burrawong Gaian duck whenever possible. “The menu is an ode to our producers,” says Williamson. “Very little is done to our ingredients but the time and care of all the cooking brings out the flavour.”


Making a splash

Author David Sax’s bestselling books and award-winning journalism have brought him to the public eye as a champion of a simpler, more analogue way of life. His writing has appeared in New York magazine, The New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek (not to mention Monocle). Here he tells us how he’s been enjoying Brazilian beats, flaky croissants and weekly bouts of paddleboarding in the gelid waters of Lake Ontario.

Where do we find you this weekend?
Back in lockdown, at home in Toronto – conveniently located one block from The Monocle Shop.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
I have two young children so as long as they sleep later than 07.00 and don’t jump into our bed with a flying knee to my groin, I’d consider that a gentle start comparable with a spa retreat.

Soundtrack of choice?
Lately I’ve been digging the Brazilian band Novos Baianos and their 1970’s samba-psych sound. But I usually land on the sofa spinning a vinyl favourite, such as Cannonball Adderley’s timeless album, Somethin’ Else.

What’s for breakfast?
Pancakes. Or French toast. Or maybe one of these insanely flaky croissants from a Korean-pastry-wizardry-via-Parisian-training bakery called Bonne Nouvelle. The shop is perfect and pink – and everything is so photogenic.

News or not?
Not this year. The news is like a drug but not a good one. Addictive, unhealthy and anxiety-inducing.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
My kundalini studio, Lotus Yoga, closed at the start of lockdown. While it offers some classes online, I can’t do the screen-exercise thing. I await the physical return.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
I’ve extended paddleboarding and lake-surfing season well into the cold with a new super-thick hooded wetsuit. It’s a ridiculous, Sisyphean pursuit: you paddle into crappy-wind waves that no one in California would even go near. But it’s also my happiest moment of the week. Nothing wakes you up like freezing water in the face and then stripping naked in a parking lot as the wind whips you with ice-cold rain.

What’s for lunch?
Sunday is about getting something to eat that I can’t be bothered to make at home. Chinese or Indian or Singaporean or Syrian or anything from a culture that values spice and flavour.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
Fresh ricotta from Grace Meat Market. It’s warm when you get it and so good that I eat it straight from the tub.

Dinner venue you can’t wait to get back to?
Any of the Wilder and Rose restaurants, such as Fat Pasha.

Who would join?
I think that first meal is just my wife and I, for sure. We haven’t had a night out in too long.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
Maybe my wife will give me a haircut with clippers and then I’ll shower and watch The Mandalorian.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
I work from home and have always worked from home. That means I’m in the same old Uniqlo sweatpants, Alternative Apparel hooded sweatshirt, Glerups slippers and whatever undergarments my hands can grab (from the floor or, if I’m feeling ambitious, the drawer). Toss on a Patagonia jacket and some buttery Hestra gloves and you’ve got success in a very comfortable package.


Cornbread with gruyère

Hardware-wise you’ll need six 100ml moulds or a similarly capacious cupcake tray to make Swiss chef Ralph Schelling’s warming cornbread with stringy gruyère cheese. This bread doesn’t take any kneading or proving but the mixture will expand as it bakes so leave a little extra room in the moulds.

Makes six buns


Butter for greasing
200g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tbsp sugar
100g fine corn semolina
2 eggs
250ml milk
50ml cold-pressed corn oil
70g gruyère cheese (plus extra for nibbling)


  1. Preheat oven to 200C. Grease the moulds or a large dish with butter so the cornbread doesn’t stick. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and semolina in a bowl until combined.
  2. Add the eggs, milk and oil, and stir to form a dough. Grate the cheese and mix in well.
  3. Pour the mixture into your moulds or tray, leaving a little space. Bake for about 30 minutes until golden, leave to stand for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool a little. Enjoy them while they’re still warm as a snack on their own or as a light meal alongside a well-dressed salad of winter leaves.


Cottage industry

In the third of a series of stories featured in ‘The Forecast’, we make for rural Finland to hear how an honest and interesting hospitality business is thriving.

Some people sniffed when Saimi Hoyer took over the Hotelli Punkaharju, far away from the city lights and temptations of Helsinki (writes Markus Hippi). As one of Finland’s most successful fashion models and television presenters, Hoyer’s choice to move to the sleepy town of Punkaharju in eastern Finland (population: 3,700) wasn’t an obvious one.

Punkaharju had, in fact, been close to her heart since her childhood, thanks to the Finnish tradition of having one’s own kesämökki, or “summer cottage”. “This is where my relationship with Finnish nature was born,” says Hoyer. “This is where my father taught me to fish, and my mother and grandmother to pick mushrooms and berries. That will be the greatest legacy from them to me.”

When Hoyer acquired the hotel it was in desperate need of renovation. Now, four years and some extensive renovation work later, things are looking up. While hotels in Finland’s cities have been struggling, autumn 2020 at Hotelli Punkaharju was among its best so far. Although more Finns have stayed at home this year, the reason for this success isn’t entirely down to the pandemic, as Hoyer has updated the hotel’s 170-year-long history by adding art exhibitions, concerts and a menu of some of the best of the area’s produce.

“The locals thought I was mad when they heard I was going to take over the hotel and told me to at least keep it shut over the winter months,” says Hoyer. “They said that no one is going to visit me as people only sleep and drink here in the winter. But now I have an incredible support network: volunteers help me with gardening, fishermen sell me their produce and we have a team of locals picking berries and mushrooms from the forest. I even got some bear meat recently from hunters; I think I saw that bear myself once when I was in the forest.”

Although Hoyer didn’t have experience working in the hospitality sector, her modelling background was beneficial. “After having travelled around the world for work for 10 years, I had stayed in enough hotels to know what I wanted and didn’t want,” she says. “Nature and a personal touch are the keys to understanding Hotelli Punkaharju. “What people want now is a place to catch a breath,” adds Hoyer. “I want our staff to act as individuals, offering service with character. As chaotic as the world might seem, it’s comforting to come here and see that nature goes on, no matter what.”

For more in our series on intrepid innkeepers, plus a raft of tips for the year ahead, ‘The Forecast’ is out now.


Flavour profile

In our Swiss-themed December/January issue, which is out now, we take a culinary tour with chef – and this week’s recipe writer – Ralph Schelling. Here are five of his favourite places to eat well in the Helvetic Republic.

1. Oelist for apricot kernel oil
This Basel specialist has made its culinary oils from rosehip, pumpkin seed, almond and all manner of goodies since 2010. It also does a line of cosmetic oils for the skin.

2. Thierry Constantin for ‘vin Valais’
Schelling couldn’t resist recommending this maestro’s chasselas, viognier and sauvignon blanc.

3. Osci’s Fischbeiz for a pike burger
Grab a lakeside berth (or, if it’s chilly, a nook in the parlour) to see why Osci’s on the shore of Lake Constance is a classic that’s still netting fans.

4. Schnupf for dinner
This small bar and restaurant in Zürich’s Kreis 4 is unsurpassed for dinner and a drink, or an Absacker (nightcap). Schelling recommends the artichoke with vinaigrette followed by the steak frites.

5. Le Bologne for dessert
Next to Geneva’s Fine Arts School, head chef Florian Le Bouhec’s bistro has a fine dessert trolley. Schelling can often be spotted eyeing up a Paris-Brest or syrup-soaked savarin sponge.

For more of the best Swiss food, tuck in to our bumper December/January double issue.


Hammer and tongs

Steve Krack bought this 1950s former metalworking shop in 2013. Sensing a gap in Luxembourg’s hospitality lineup for a smartly designed place to stay, he started his substantial renovations of the place in 2017. The result, which opened earlier this year, is a blend of stripped-back, contemporary design and historic flourishes: factory-style suspension lights, brick walls and exposed piping betray the building’s past. The 28 guest bedrooms are clad in an inviting array of oak and textiles in warm brown hues. Ice buckets with bottles of Moselle wine on the private terraces are the final flourish – one that is well worth sampling.


Spruced up

Traditions around the Christmas tree have chopped and changed for me over the years (writes Nic Monisse). Growing up in Australia, they were an artificial affair (we had a plastic number my mother bought for top dollar at David Jones) but moving to London in 2018 – and a growing awareness around plastic waste – saw the season take a more natural turn.

Charmed by the capital’s garden centres and pop-up markets selling the real deal I soon chose an actual fir, cut down and mounted on a metal stand, as my festive decoration of choice. Not only did it feel more authentic (and smell great), it also felt better for the environment. Real trees enjoy significantly lower carbon footprints than artificial ones, with the plastic equivalent needing to be used for at least 10 years to have an equal environmental impact.

December in the UK also kicked off with National Tree Week. This realisation (did you know that the country’s biggest annual tree-planting celebration was taking place?) has prompted a new tradition in my home: the planting of a real pine, in a pot, to be reused year-on-year. Not only does it have the smallest environmental footprint of all but when wheeled out to the terrace it will provide some year-round greenery to a corner of east London that needs it. Have a lovely Sunday.


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