Sunday 3 January 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 3/1/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Sledge fund

Happy new year, dear reader. Did you vault out of 2020 in your finest attire, speeding past midnight at full tilt? Or did you tiptoe gently into 2021 sporting something comfier and more low-key, saving your energy for what might still lie ahead? I decided that the first day of 2021 called for a new tradition involving a few friends, high-velocity transport and plenty of fresh air. The fun started with a glass of Apfelpunsch with my friend Carla at 16.00 in the village square and soon shifted to the 17.02 train from St Moritz – destination Preda. We set off as a group of four, were joined by another three at Samedan and, at Preda, met up with a pair of clued-up locals who would help us navigate the little adventure we’d set ourselves.

After Mario took charge of the sledge rental, all nine of us were set for the snowy, six-kilometre run down the track to Bergün. With floodlights punctuating only part of the journey, the Preda-Bergün demands that you keep your eyes peeled for those that might have ricocheted off a snowbank or spun out on a sharp turn. It’s also one of those activities that requires your complete concentration, so there’s no time to think about what you’re going to be doing at the same time next week or what the first month back at the office might look like.

Six kilometers zipped past faster than expected and as everyone collected themselves there was a discussion about doing another run, before Linard’s offer of Glühwein at his family’s hotel won out and we made our way through the ancient village with its candlelit windows, snow-covered streets and silence. As I peered into houses with metre-thick walls and Speck hanging from hooks, I started coming down from the adrenaline rush and cosy Bergün had me thinking about my 2021 wishlist. While it’s still a work in progress, it goes something like this.

  1. Village life is vital, now more than ever. If the past year has taught us one sound lesson about good urbanism and mental health it’s that we need to nurture our villages – be they pockets within sprawling suburbs or real villages like Bergün and thousands of other communities nestled on mountain slopes or along wild coasts. It’s essential that we have places where we can connect with familiar faces, where local products and ideas can find a market and where there’s room for independent commerce rather than predictable assortments and signage. I would like to see more mayors, landowners and developers take this seriously. It’s no good complaining about the disappearance of the local bookshop when you buy all of your books from a mass retailer online.

  2. On 30 December I had technical trouble with my TV and wireless setup. I called the number for our service provider (in this case Swisscom) and after pushing a few keys was connected to a lovely woman who attempted to solve the problem. We exchanged notes on how things were functioning at her end of the country with various pandemic measures, whether people were watching more or less TV and how she’d become closer to her neighbours thanks to her ample supply of cigarettes. Indeed, she had one of those great voices you rarely hear on a customer support line these days. We weren’t able to conquer the problem on the phone and will have to settle it over the coming days, but who cares? It was a wonderful human exchange and it made me feel better about Swisscom. Wouldn’t it be great if more companies took simple steps to boost human engagement rather than trying to delete it?

  3. On the following day I met with my banker. He tried to sell me on online banking, yet again. I like speaking with him and have told him before – no passwords, no codes, no nonsense. Would it be more convenient? Maybe. Would it be cheaper for me? For sure, the service charges are significant. Would it make me feel more attached and loyal to my bank? Or would operating on just another platform make the experience the same as any other bank? Here’s wish three: if I’m happy to pay for a service then why not provide it? Newspaper proprietors might want to consider this one too. Don’t assume that people won’t pay for a print edition – they will.

  4. Meanwhile, back in Bergün, we walk past a little red rail wagon in the middle of the village that’s stuffed full of local farm produce. It’s a self-serve, honour-style setup. No one is manning this little shop, you just take what you like from the fridge and leave your francs. It’s a relationship built on trust within the community. You can still glimpse snapshots of this type of social capital in various corners of the world but I wonder if we’ve given up on this as a quality ingredient in civil society? I hope not but its scarcity suggests that trust has been eroded and the contract broken. How wonderful it would be if forces were put in place to turn the tide.

  5. And finally, we’re on the train back up the mountain and in the carriage a family has decided that fellow passengers would like to hear the playlist blasting out of their phone. They’re wrong. When this happens, I often wonder what would happen if everyone was equally discourteous and decided to crank up their device to max volume. Would this be the official start of our final undoing? At this point the conductor comes through the carriage and gives the family a concerned glance but keeps moving. Is it his job to maintain order? Or does the responsibility belong to Samsung or Apple or Huawei to remind their customers to use their devices with respect? Monocle has been calling for a code of digital decency for a while now, could 2021 be the year that such a charter comes to life?


Licenced to spill

Before the pandemic, buying a tipple to take home in Toronto was a notoriously controlled affair, a hangover of prohibition in the city – Toronto was home to a “dry” neighbourhood as recently as the 1990s. The government-owned Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) is one of the largest government-run buyers of alcohol in the world, and its shops have long held a monopoly on alcohol sales in the city and across the province of Ontario. That changed in the spring of 2020, when restaurants were authorised to become alcohol retailers too, helping them to buttress their businesses.

The ruling has been a boon to Krysta Oben and Nicole Campbell (both pictured, with Oben on left), who opened Grape Glass as a permanent bricks-and-mortar space for The Grape Witches, a popular series of wine-tasting events that they launched four years ago. The shelves of their shop are stocked with natural wines from Canada and further afield, including lightly chilled reds (try Night Moves by Niagara’s Rosewood Estates Winery) and orange wines and whites from Switzerland and Austria. In Grape Glass, Toronto’s wine drinkers finally have a venue for which to pop a cork.


Rooms for more

While 2020 was a damp squib for travel plans, weekend escapes and exciting discoveries, we’re delighted to report that there are plenty of hotels, restaurants and cities readying themselves for when visitors return. Here are two to have on your agenda.

We’ve long kept an eye on Japan’s hospitality sector and seen a surplus of imported brands dominating the luxury space. While we’re all for Park Hyatt, Aman and Four Seasons, recently opened The Mitsui Kyoto is flying the flag for authenticity in the ancient capital – and offering a great place from which to explore the city. “Mitsui Group has succeeded in the luxury hotel business in Japan by bringing in foreign names such as Mandarin and Ritz,” says general manager Manabu Kusui who previously worked at the Park Hyatt and Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo. “From here, we wanted to build a Japanese luxury hotel from scratch under the Mitsui family name.” Opened in November 2020, the 161-room hotel has its own hot spring, interiors by architect Akira Kuryu and a just-so garden landscape designed by Kyoto native Shusaku Miyagi. At the main restaurant, Toki, guests can tuck in to teppanyaki with a French-inspired twist prepared by head chef Tetsuya Asano, who was called in from Ritz Paris, and plenty of Japanese whisky and gin at the bar.

If you’re working from a European base and looking for a corner from which to explore, might we suggest The Darling in Copenhagen. Although the pandemic isn’t a direct inspiration, the single-occupancy nature of the stay does offer space to escape the crowds. Housed in a large second-floor apartment in a charmingly wonky 18th-century townhouse on Strøget, the city’s main pedestrian shopping street, The Darling (pictured) is furnished with pieces by Denmark’s much-admired masters, including Finn Juhl, Poul Henningsen, Børge Mogensen and Arne Jacobsen – most available to purchase from shops within a few hundred metres. To bring things a little more up to date, carpenters Københavns Møbelsnedkeri created a bespoke kitchen from smoked oak, the bed is by Dux, and all the art is contemporary, sourced in collaboration with no fewer than five local galleries. Denmark is the star of the show throughout – so you can probably guess who made the telly and the sound system.;

For the full lowdown on the hotel openings we’re eyeing up, look out for the February issue of Monocle magazine on newsstands from January 21.


Flight path

With the good news of vaccinations taking a little time to translate to freer travel, the billions in bailout funds that kept many airlines flying is running low. Treasuries in many countries will have to decide how much they want to prop up the airline business in the coming months but a shakedown is on the horizon. Here are a few thoughts for the industry to consider as 2021 gets underway.

1. Take-off time
Airport projects that were already financed should move ahead. Airports are currently quiet, so there’s time to make improvements. Passengers won’t want to see construction taking place after a whole year of shuttered ticket desks.

2. Re-brand please
A charm offensive is required to remind people why it’s good to fly. Rather than cutting services, airlines need to give passengers a reason to believe in the power of taking a journey, enjoying a window seat and, ahem, spreading their wings.

3. Mean business
Focus on entrepreneurs rather than corporates. Too many big firms have travel restrictions in place and a (mistaken) belief that almost everything can be done from a home office. It’s better to focus on people who are responsible for their own travel budgets and keen on being the first to spot opportunities.

4. Go big
Is there a case to be made for using large aircraft on short-haul routes (with reduced frequencies) to jog passengers’ memories about the delights of flying in a 777? Airlines can revert to narrow bodies later on.

5. Aim higher
Flag or legacy carriers who’ve been playing in the low-cost space should regroup and stick to what they’re best at. In any case, it’s likely that there’ll be fewer low-cost carriers on the apron when this is all over.


Master of naan

Quality Indian food is a point of pride in the UK – and Dishoom is the cream of the crop. Launched in London’s Covent Garden in 2010, the restaurant pays homage to the Irani cafés of Mumbai, with whirring ceiling fans, tiled floors and darkwood panelling – and topped-up tiffins worth savouring. It’s since opened seven more sites across the UK, published a cookbook and built a deeply loyal following. Here the company’s co-founder and manager, Shamil Thakrar, tells us about the joys of cycling in London, the best bakery in India and the pleasure of cooking with his children.

Where do we find you this weekend?
In my house in north London with my wife Saloni and my three daughters.

How is work going?
We launched one restaurant in 2020 and relaunched another one. Plus, we set up a new delivery business. It’s been a pretty crazy few months.

What’s your soundtrack of choice?
Music has been a great companion through the lockdown. It’s been Max Richter recently – I’ve enjoyed his albums Sleep and The Blue Notebooks in particular.

What’s for breakfast?
I have a special dish I sometimes do for my wife and kids. It’s a cheesy garlic and mushroom mixture on sourdough toast with a Burford Brown poached egg on the top.

News or not?
I’ll often put on BBC Radio 4. We also get The Guardian and I think the FT Weekend is a great paper.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
I have a regular ashtanga yoga session – it’s been a salvation during lockdown. It’s a difficult practice but provides some great discipline.

Any other exercise to get the blood pumping?
Always a walk on Hampstead Heath with my kids, my mum and my brother. I’ve also been cycling a lot, as I’ve not been taking the tube. It’s totally changed my relationship with the city; it’s so freeing.

What’s for lunch?
Breakfast was brunch anyway, so lunch is skipped I’m afraid.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
My eldest is only eight but we’ve been baking together recently. She gets upset if we don’t have cream of tartar, the right amount of self-raising flour or a particular kind of cocoa. So, all those baking ingredients are very important additions to the pantry.

Sunday culture must?
I catch up on podcasts. I'm listening to a lot of Talking Politics by David Runciman – it’s very good. It features people who discuss things with thought and intelligence, who can disagree with each other and who are civil and human.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
Somebody gave me a Japanese whisky recently, Nikka. I’m also partial to an old fashioned, which we’re now bottling and selling at Dishoom. It may sound arrogant but they really are sensational.

Dinner venue you can't wait to get back to?
For India: Yazdani, a bakery in Mumbai. There you can break bread and dip it in the chai. The guy there is so rude. He always shouts at you but he has a heart of gold.

Who’s joining?
My wife. But a few of my oldest friends would also be lovely.

Will you lay out your look for Monday, what will you be wearing?
I tend to wear a pair of Japanese denim jeans from APC and RM Williams boots. I always have a rollneck from Oliver Spencer. And then my Moscot glasses – an obvious choice.


Carrot cake

Chef Ralph Schelling here gives us his riff on a seasonless Swiss favourite, carrot cake. Purists might object to the frosting but the recipe works without it, if you’d prefer. Enjoy.

Makes 10 to 12 pieces in a 24cm springform baking tin.


For the dough:
50g soft butter
5 egg yolks
5 egg whites
200g cane sugar
Zest of half a lemon
200g ground hazelnuts
250g grated carrots
100g plain white flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp cardamom powder
1 pinch clove powder
2 pinches of salt

For the icing:
200g cheese curd
150g natural cream cheese
60g icing sugar
Carrot slivers, marzipan carrots or fresh carrot tops (the green bit) for decoration


  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Mix the butter, egg yolk, sugar and lemon zest in a food processor or by hand until combined. Add the hazelnuts, grated carrot, flour, baking powder, spices and incorporate.
  2. In a separate bowl beat the egg white with salt until its stiff. This can take a few minutes – you’ll know that it’s ready when you can turn the bowl upside down over your head without the contents slopping out (careful how you test this).
  3. Fold the mixture into the eggs carefully while trying to keep the air in the mixture.
  4. Pour into a buttered or baking-paper-lined springform tin (ours is 24cm) and bake for about 50 minutes until browned and a skewer comes out clean. Take out and leave to cool down then remove from the tin.
  5. Mix all the icing ingredients in a bowl until creamy. Halve the cake lengthwise and fill with the icing or spread it over the cake. Decorate with the carrot-top fronds or whatever takes your fancy. Serve warm.


Maker’s mark

Gifted crafts can adorn a home but it’s about now that an unfair share of unwanted presents make their way into cupboards, under sofas or worse, into the bin. But there’s a lesson: to surround yourself with things that have integrity and in which you find pleasure. A good purchase should last a lifetime and making one is a resolution worth pursuing.

Nowhere is craft more revered than in Japan, where craftsmanship is more than just a career – it is tradition, passion and duty. For all its bullet trains and neon lights Japan is, at heart, a nation of it. Up and down the country thousands of men and women are diligently pursuing the same vocations as their forebears: rice farmers in Kyushu still make the swirling brown-and-cream Onta ceramics that their great-grandparents did; residents of the pretty town of Mino in Gifu prefecture continue to make traditional Japanese washi paper by hand, hanging the sheets out to dry like freshly pegged washing; and Okinawan weavers make bashofu textiles made from local plant fibres. Much of the craft map of Japan remains intact, dictated by whatever local materials nature threw a region’s way. Forests of akita sugi (cedar) sustained families of magewappa (bentwood) makers, while deposits of coal and sand allowed northern Iwate to develop as a centre of cast iron – 900 years on, its iron kettles and implements are still sought after.

The kokeshi (cylindrical wooden dolls) that are now so fashionable were originally wrought by farmers in the long winter months in Japan’s north when fields lay dormant. Japan has many famous artist-craftsmen who have inherited illustrious titles: the 15th successive head of a famous family kiln in Kagoshima said that as a young man he resisted joining the family business but came to realise it would have been “rude to my ancestors, including my father”. Japan has always had a parallel tradition, mingei (folk art): humble daily objects and textiles, executed with as much skill as any exalted art. Mingei, once overlooked in favour of mass-produced alternatives, is now in vogue. In an age when sustainability is on everyone’s lips, goods made by hand from natural materials only get better with age and, with care, will last a lifetime. That’s if their life extends beyond being stuffed in a cupboard or trash can.

‘The Monocle Book of Gentle Living’, published by Thames & Hudson, is a handsomely crafted number with plenty in the way of tips, advice and soft nudges toward living a slower and more fulfilling life.


Words of wisdom

Last up we’ve asked our smart cookie of a senior correspondent Robert Bound for a few tips for a productive 2021. Here are eight skills and suggestions to improve your fortunes this year.

Be present
Make 2021 the year of being there, of getting out and about and leaving that meagre, horizontal arrow-slit of an online world behind. The sheer speed of doing things in person will offer you weeks of free time.

Grow something
Those new skills? So satisfying. The soil beneath your fingernails? Such a pleasure to see it washing down the plughole. Those tomatoes? So sweet. The patience and pride gleaned from a little garden husbandry can be transferred anywhere.

Subscribe to something
We would say this as a magazine-led media business but subscribing to something in print is well worth your pennies. Some weeks you can’t wait for the next instalment; others, that affirmative flump on the doormat is a pleasing surprise.

Shake a tail feather
Oh, so you missed dancing? Just getting lost in music in a club, on a beach, in a ballroom, out in a field? Of course you did. Now try to stop yourself next time you get going. You’ll find that you missed all the attention too.

Mix it up
It’s high time that you chose a couple of cocktails and stuck with them. It’s a joy to know how to mix your own gimlet or old fashioned almost with your eyes closed – or only for your guest. Plus, practising is fun.

Puppy love
Fortune favours the dog lover. Those folks chatting on the green? They didn’t know each other last week but Rover and Rita brought them together. Make something furry happy and you’ll be smiling.

Get out
Embarking on a pilgrimage to see, say, the vines that make your favourite wine is its own reward. A couple of cases rattling about in the back of the car will feel like rare bounty and every bottle opened will tell its own story.

Value experience
The world’s problems will not be solved by a 19-year-old with an Instagram account. There has always been a bit of wisdom in experience. Call your folks – and call theirs. Even a fortune cookie has wrinkles. Have a superb Sunday.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00