Sunday 17 January 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 17/1/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Perfect storm

Montréal, midwinter 1975. I’ve just finished dinner and I’m sat in front of the TV for the nightly Pulse newscast on local channel CFCF. Watching the supper-time broadcast was always a bit of a family affair and in the lead-up to the 1976 Summer Olympics the big local reports were about overspend, missed deadlines and whether the whole thing would even happen (sound familiar?). Earlier in the day my teacher had suggested that we keep an eye on the weather forecast and should think about extra scarves and hats for school tomorrow as a big snowstorm was expected.

I didn’t require much prompting: CFCF’s weather segment was one of the highlights as it not only involved weather systems across Canada but also a spin around the world with temperatures in London, Miami, Havana and Beirut. Each city was depicted with a little illustration of a local in the appropriate get-up. I think the Beiruti had a headscarf and a rifle. Or was it Casablanca? Judged by today’s moral codes the whole channel would have been shut down long ago but if it wasn’t for the exotic city names and fancy outfits I don’t think I’d have paid much attention or even moved into journalism.

When it came to the regional outlook we were promised a proper dumping of snow with all the trimmings – cancelled flights, delayed commuter trains and possibly closed schools. By the time I went to bed the snow was already gently fluttering down in the glow of the streetlamps and my father had been outside to ensure the cars were plugged in. No, he wasn’t a pioneer in e-vehicles; plugging your car into an electrical current is still standard practice along frigid latitudes.

The following morning the cars had vanished under a dense duvet of white and were little more than gentle mounds in the driveway. I believe my mom was prepared for the school to be closed but the call from the teacher never came. The school bus must have been doing the rounds with a snow-plough escort and that meant that I had to shovel my porridge, pull on my snow pants and boots, and make my way to the end of the driveway for the big yellow bus. The door swung open a few minutes late and when I got on it was quite empty. Were kids being kept home? Had parents assumed class wouldn’t happen? And who were these hearty souls who felt that they needed to press on and not a miss a day of grade one?

Ten minutes later we pulled into the school forecourt. Tunnels were being built, snow was being shoved down the back of trousers and mittens were being pulled off of the unsuspecting and thrown onto the roof. The key targets were always the poor losers who had their mittens on “idiot strings” as these were easy to throw up into the snowy branches and would require rescuing by the janitor. Due to all of the excitement on the playground and the latecomers who had to be shuttled by the parents, the first bell rang 30 minutes late and we arrived in class all red-faced, socks pulled off, corduroy dungarees soaked and with everyone sporting staticky hat hair.

My class was only half-full but thankfully it was mostly the fun crowd that had bothered to come in. The sniffly pigtail and denim jumpsuit girl was, of course, at home. Her friend, who always wore bobbly ponchos, was also not in. The strange twins with the dad who worked at the spooky-looking pharma plant on the way into central Montréal were also not present. Good! Our teacher had clearly had a tough time getting in from her horse farm and was a bit grumpy to start but soon her mood lifted because she decided that it was a write-off anyway and sent us outside again while she made us a big pot of hot chocolate. The rest of the day was spent drawing, listening to stories and enjoying the muffled, strange atmosphere brought on by all the snow. Everything moved at half-pace; all was soft with the edges removed. The world was only part-functioning.

Two days ago I had a flashback to my winters in Montréal when I awoke in Zürich and could barely leave the apartment, let alone make my way down to the train. The city was weighed down by over 30cm of fresh snow. With branches snapped and trees toppled across the region, the transit system struggled but kids still made their way to class and those that hadn’t already transitioned to a home office (60 per cent of the workforce?) trudged in to work. At Monocle’s HQ on Dufourstrasse, the office had a similar feeling to my grade one class with a gentle, easy mood and a sense that all was in slow-motion. For sure, part of it can be attributed to the times we live in but it was as if we’d partaken of properly prescribed opiates: the world was without concerns, it was soft, it was all going to be fine. It’s now Saturday evening, the snow has stayed and the mood is mellow, still and relaxed, but somehow uplifting. Just what’s required at this point in January.


Slice of the action

Visitors to Monocle’s offices in Zürich and Tokyo might see the name Balmuda emblazoned on our air-conditioning units and lanterns. But in its native Japan the consumer electronics brand, founded in 2003, is better known for its antics in the kitchen.

In fact, its toaster, which retails at ¥23,500 (€186), has become a sleeper hit around the world: the minimal design conceals a clever steaming process that keeps bread moist on the inside while making it crisp on the outside. In fact, when the firm debuted on the Tokyo stock market in December, its shares popped up by 88 per cent. How good can a toaster possibly be? You’ll be surprised.


A tale of two sittings

London’s food scene took a serious turn for the worse when biting lockdowns caused my culinary horizons to shrink from the size of a city to the dimensions of my kitchen (writes Josh Fehnert). While many great restaurants – brimming with people’s dreams, life savings and years of hard graft – sadly shuttered, others have their livelihood on hold. Mercifully, some are still offering a slice of normality by pivoting to home delivery. Since they have, I’ve tried food from several starry joints, with mixed results (I’ll resist name-checking the ones that fell woefully short).

One success story in the restaurant roadshow is Angelina, a smart east London restaurant founded by former River Café and Bocca di Lupo chef Joshua Owens-Baigler in 2019. It quickly found a hungry audience for its Japanese-influenced Italian fare before launching a takeaway option in 2020.

On a recent Saturday evening, I plumped for its takeaway tasting menu. The seven-course lineup started with sourdough focaccia topped with a piquant tuna nduja chased down with a light-as-air and sweetly sea-tasting lobster donut, and butterflied katsu prawns slathered in tonkatsu sauce. A great start. Next were two lighter plates: burrata with hazelnut, blood orange and then delicate, subtly soy-soaked butterfish sashimi. Scrummy. Even better is the sausage and eel risotto: the kind of creation for another bite of which you’d walk, barefoot if necessary, across broken glass from Land’s End to this gruff corner of east London. It’s rich, saline, creamy and comforting, and I’m already thinking of asking the chef to share the recipe for a forthcoming Sunday Weekend Edition.

The duck main with miso-laced patate al forno needed a blitz in the oven but, crucially, the dish – all the food really – was sublimely good and far beyond the reach of even the best home cook. Sitting at home, devouring the perfectly set black sesame panna cotta and chocolate crumb from a plastic container, I felt a pang of nostalgia for the last time I visited this lively restaurant in person.

It made me think about how little of what we love – and miss –about restaurants is the food itself, good as it might be. A meal is an experience by which you are transported and for which you travel. It’s a moment in which you entrust yourself to a host: chefs, yes, but also designers and maître d’s who direct the theatre. Is it possible to miss strangers? I’m starting to think so.

The takeaway, then? That this takeaway moment isn’t the future of food. Angelina’s cooking is excellent – the best I’ve had in lockdown and good value to boot – but it’s my kitchen, not theirs, that can’t help but fall short.


Home foundations

Vanessa Cheung is group managing director of Nan Fung, a Hong Kong textile manufacturer-turned-property developer. Cheung joined the family firm after working as a landscape architect, then spearheaded the transformation of several mills into incubators for textile firms, plus a museum and retail space called, perhaps intuitively, The Mills. Here she reveals her weekend rituals and bares her soul on a favourite foot treatment.

Where do we find you this weekend?
At home in Hong Kong, on the south side of the island.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
First thing, I go on a morning walk with my son Austin for an hour or so. He’s two and we stroll around Shouson Hill and Deep Water Bay or Repulse Bay. Sometimes we go up to the reservoir to see the fish and spot the wild boars. He knows the neighbourhood dogs and sometimes we bring ours.

What have you been working on lately?
We have a residential project launching this month and otherwise there’s our Kai Tak development, Airside. Those two are my main focus in Hong Kong, alongside the expansion of The Mills in the UK.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
That depends on my son but he sleeps in on the weekend. Somehow he knows.

Soundtrack of choice?
After we come back from our walk, I make breakfast for the family and we listen to Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!, a podcast on NPR. If it’s music, it would be children’s music: seven or eight different versions of The Wheels on the Bus.

What’s for breakfast?
My husband makes sourdough on weekends and we use the starter for pancakes. Generally plain or with cinnamon or honey. We put a homemade nut butter on top – almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
We’ll do some kind of exercise after breakfast. Recently it’s been speed training out on the street: sprints, hops and other drills in short intervals. I’m more of an endurance person, so I’m working on my speed and co-ordination.

What’s for lunch? In or out?
Usually a family lunch at my mum’s house so it depends on what she makes. Sometimes brunch, sometimes Chinese. Sometimes we order dim sum.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
That nut butter. The whole family loves it. It’s my own recipe.

A Sunday culture must?
I read whenever Austin’s napping. Currently I’m reading Richard Thaler’s Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics and Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
Coffee or kombucha. I haven’t been drinking alcohol for the past three years.

A favourite dinner venue? Who’s joining?
We’re still at my mum’s house. She makes a great miso cod.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
I do a foot mask. It keeps your heels and feet smooth. I put on a sock that contains aloe vera and a moisturising gel layer for 30 minutes at night. I do it all the time.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
Usually, yes. I pick my work clothes and my workout clothes. Some kind of one-piece dress and flats because it’s the easiest to change into after the gym.


Turkish-style grilled chicken with spicy tomato sauce

The chicken needs marinating overnight – or a minimum of a few hours – so start this recipe well in advance to allow the subtle flavours of cinnamon and sumac to mingle with the fresh vegetables and spicy tomato sauce. It’s a slow starter but this is a dish best devoured hot. Enjoy.

Serves 2


For chicken and marinade:
570g chicken breasts, cut into large bite-sized pieces
1 tbsp lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsps yoghurt
1 tbsp paprika
2 cloves of garlic, grated
2 tbsps olive oil
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp tomato paste
Large pinch of cinnamon
½ tsp salt

For spicy tomato sauce:
3 tbsps olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped with seeds
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsps tomato purée
1 tin of chopped tomato (400g)
1 tsp salt
1.5 tsps sugar
4 tbsps lemon juice
1½ tsps sumac

For yoghurt sauce:
100g plain yoghurt
½ garlic clove, finely chopped
¼ tsp salt

To serve:
2 heads of gem lettuce, shredded
Turkish flatbread or pitta
1 red onion, very thinly sliced
Large pinch of salt
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp sumac


  1. Mix the marinade ingredients and cover the chicken pieces for at least 2 hours, or ideally overnight, in the fridge.

  2. For the spicy tomato sauce, heat oil in a small pan, add onion, chilli and garlic, and cook over a low heat for 5 minutes. Add tomato purée, the tin of chopped tomatoes, salt and sugar, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Once it’s cooled, add lemon juice and sumac.

  3. While the sauce is cooking, mix yoghurt ingredients together and set aside. Toss sliced red onion, salt, olive oil and sumac together in a small bowl.

  4. Heat a grill pan until smoky. Remove the chicken from the marinade and toss with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

  5. Once the chicken is ready, spread the sauces on warm flatbread. Top with lettuce, shredded onion and chicken. Wrap up and eat straight away.


Mountain fare

In our Swiss-themed December/January issue, which is out now, we take a culinary tour with chef – and our regular recipe writer – Ralph Schelling. Here are five lesser-known culinary treats and tips from the Helvetic Republic.

Tropenhaus Frutigen for a taste of the tropics

Bananas from the Bernese Alps? Yes, not to mention mango, pineapple and kumquats grown in a tropical greenhouse.They also produce Oona caviar here.

Meierskählen for
 goat’s cheese

Meierskählen in Stans, the capital of Nidwalden, makes
 its products exclusively from its handsome herd of Toggenburg goats. “I love the smoked goat ricotta,” says Schelling.

Chetzeron for cabbage stuffed with lamb conduit

“The perfect location for a 
hotel and restaurant, high above Crans-Montana. I love the food directly from the fire.”

Gasthof Rössli for a well-earned snack

Chef Stefan Wiesner runs both a nature academy and a restaurant in Entlebuch, in the canton of Lucerne.The changing roster of sandwiches shows how the chef can elevate even the simplest of ingredients.

Mozza’Fiato for 
Swiss mozzarella

The Italian influences are improved in this cheese shop, which refuses to send its produce too far for reasons of freshness. Ralph’s favourites are the ciliegine (similar to mozzarella) and the fior di latte.

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


Home truths

The way we live might be shifting but the checklist for the ideal home hasn’t changed much over the years (writes Josh Fehnert). Whatever its proportions or surroundings, it should be secure, feel comforting and offer a refuge from the outside world. The reassuring click of a lock behind us is the signal that we’re back. We can relax. But what makes a house a home? What alchemy turns a corner into a nook, a desk into a workplace or a dining table into a gathering point for the household? Well, not much more than a little care and attention as it turns out – oh, and a few plants perhaps.

So ignore the smug minimalists who try to make you feel bad for having a few books, paintings and chairs (they must be bored staring at four white walls, after all). Go ahead and acquire things and delight in what you own, put the new bits next to the old and start a collection if it brings you joy.

You won’t have a hope of living more gently until you come to terms with the place where you rest your head. So whether it’s making the most of the light or bringing in the breeze (and switching off the air conditioning), a gentler life starts at home. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1. Keep something back
The frontiers of privacy have been shoved back by a culture of oversharing. Your time at home isn’t your own if you’re responding to emails in bed. And that sense of being watched isn’t aided by a rash of glass-and-steel towers with vast windows, or by city homes shrinking in size. At the end of the day, it can be rewarding to sequester yourself in the study or curl up on a sofa. Celebrate spaces that aren’t overlooked by the neighbours or plastered on social media, and where you don’t find yourself checking your inbox. A nook in which to read? A nozzle in the garden for a shower? It’s your call – and your choice whether or not you answer.

2. A desk of your own
The working-from-home revolution sounded good, especially when we thought it would mean that the work week might blend with the weekend and our new jobs would be making (and then eating) sourdough bread. But it didn’t happen – and we haven’t ended up being able to do our jobs from the beach with a cocktail in hand either. Instead, our commitments chase us into every corner of the house, which is supposed to be the place where we unwind. Having a desk to work at, a stack of books for reference and some smart stationery can help you stay focused and confine your job to one place. Optional but desirable extras include some greenery, a breeze, a good lamp and somewhere comfy to sit. We need spaces to think; places to retreat to. Now, what time do you clock off?

3. Encourage table talk
The dining table is the perfect example of how any home is made up of hardware and software – the things we have and the way we use them. To be clear, we’re not telling you to go out and buy a brand-new dining table, we’re just wondering if you’ve considered using yours more? Incidentally, if you are in need, you can get a great fold-away number from British brand Ercol for your compact city apartment or, if you have more room, something stately from B&B Italia or Minotti. But here’s the rub: neither means much if you’re sitting on the sofa chomping to the churn of the TV. There’s nothing sadder than a never-used dining table. When it is used, it’s one of the simplest ways to gather as a household, break bread, talk and digest the day together. Food for thought, as they say. Have a great Sunday.

‘The Monocle Book of Gentle Living’ is out now and published by Thames & Hudson.


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