Sunday 14 February 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 14/2/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Finnish line

If you’re a regular listener to Monocle on Sunday (think the audio sibling to this column) you’ll know that every week we spin the compass and land in the newsroom (or, occasionally, the living room) of an editor in chief at the helm of a well-respected newspaper. Some weeks we’re up in Berlin chatting to Christoph Amend at Zeit Magazin or in Tel Aviv listening to the bass tones of Aluf Benn at Haaretz, or anywhere else with stories and perspectives you’re unlikely to hear on the BBC or read in the FT. A few weeks back, we caught up with Kaius Niemi at Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest-circulation newspaper.

As I listened to him talk about life on the far side of the Baltic he painted a picture that sounded rather normal compared to what we’ve been hearing from Frankfurt, Athens and Vienna. Namely, restaurants and bars open well into the evening, vibrancy on snowy streets and a virus that’s been largely placed in the penalty box (a bit of ice hockey terminology for you there) by the bear-eating, ice-swimming, rather entrepreneurial people defending the EU’s eastern flank. I had to go. Below, a few observations from Finland.

  1. Finland’s frontier force takes entry measures very seriously. Arriving passengers are first screened by uniformed medical staff and reminded of the quarantine rules. After that, there’s a grilling by the border police who want some very good reasons why you’re visiting, how long you’re staying and if you have some paperwork to prove it. It’s all very friendly and efficient, but it’s serious. Other countries talk up tough controls but only send you online to fill out a form and then there are no checks at the border.

  2. Google is not always right – especially when it comes to opening hours. I promised my colleague Nolan a Hesburger when we landed and Google suggested that if we made it to Helsinki’s main station by midnight he could have a double burger and fries before bedtime. It was not to be as the place was shuttered by 23.00.

  3. I had forgotten that meetings are best avoided in Finland in February. At this time of year, the laskiaispullat (towering cream- and jam-filled buns) come out in full force and are served to unwitting visitors in the middle of serious business meetings. “Please, please, try one of our nice creamy, jammy buns,” your host begs. Thankfully I had flashbacks to other times in Helsinki and didn’t fall for it but Nolan, still hungry from missing his Hesburger nine hours earlier, couldn’t say no. Fluffy whipped dairy everywhere but a productive meeting all the same.

  4. Posti (yes, the Finnish postal service) recently launched a new concept complete with good lighting, dressing rooms, an organised recycling area and wrapping stations. Designed for city-centre workers who would rather not have their goods delivered to the office, the concept allows for outfits ordered via e-comm to be tried on in a dressing room and then sent back if they don’t fit. There’s also an array of paper, boxes, ribbons and stickers for wrapping and sending gifts that would challenge even the best Japanese department store.

  5. If you are running short on recipes, generally fed up with life lived at home and desperate for an elegant escape, then find a compelling reason to do business in Helsinki (there are many). Then, book the corner table at the Savoy, soak up the Alvar Aalto ambience that’s had the most delicate of face-lifts by Ilse Crawford, and let chef Helena Puolakka look after the rest. One of the finest dining experiences in Europe for sure.

  6. The Finns want you to know that they’re open for business and pushing hard to take a leadership role in getting the global economy moving. As one CEO said over lunch, “We need to remind big global players that there is a huge competitive advantage to being present and not on a screen. Business is won and relationships re-established over lunch.” Kippis to that!

  7. The fur business is doing just fine in Finland – especially when the temperatures are in the minus 15C to minus 24C range. The Bally curling bootie, long forgotten elsewhere, is also a style staple on elegant feet all over town. Brown suede is the colour chic ladies go for to match their sheared-muskrat parkas.

  8. Keep an eye out for opportunities to invest in any wood-based textile start-up that might come your way. All of those forests and all those engineers are generating some sharp ideas for removing plastics from our wardrobes and upholstery.

  9. Steak à la Sea Horse remains one of the best dishes you could ever ask for on a chilly evening with good friends and colleagues. And no, it’s not a collection of little seahorse fillets – it’s just the name of the restaurant.

  10. Finally, not all reindeer are created equal. Should one be offered up as a main course, ask if it was raised on a farm or allowed to roam the wilds of Lapland with a friend named Pekka who kept a close eye on him until it was time to travel south for a night in the big city.


Signs of the times

Geneva-based shutterbug Pascal Greco’s admiration for Hong Kong led him to photograph the city’s architecture by day and its neon signs by night for his latest book. “I was charmed by Hong Kong thanks to the Wong Kar-Wai films such as In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express; it’s a cliché but it’s true. In his films I really liked the old, beautiful Hong Kong buildings – this mix of Asian and British architecture – and those glamorous and sometimes kitsch neon signs. An undeniable magic emerges from their lights.”

During his documentation of the city’s signs, Greco was concerned to learn about new and stricter regulations that are putting an end to these iconic illuminations. “Unfortunately, 90 per cent of neon signs have disappeared in the past 15 to 20 years,” he says, going on to suggest that the changing visual culture is linked to rules introduced by the Chinese government after the British handover of power in 1997. “It was important for me to make the book a tribute to the visual heritage, design, typography and people who created and shaped these neon signs – and also to Hong Kong, a city entering an uncertain future.”

Published by Swiss imprint Infolio Éditions, Hong Kong Neon is handsome, heavy and freighted with quiet significance: a postcard from a city that’s flickering between a freewheeling past and times to come that some fear will be less glowing.,


As one door closes...

Fans of Freda’s, the beloved Chippendale venue that sadly closed in November 2020, didn’t have to wait long for another night-time offering in Sydney from owner David Abram.

Cafe Freda’s is a bistro, restaurant, neighbourhood bar and working space – and still a good spot for a late-night boogie which, before you ask, is still possible in Australia thanks to its decisive early response to the pandemic. Here’s hoping it can help the city’s famed, though currently quiet, Oxford Street get its groove back.

The Monocle Digital Editions allow subscribers to access the latest issue plus our back catalogue of reporting. There are also regularly updated tips on key cities.


Second cup

This January, fashion-industry insiders sat up when Parisian menswear brand De Fursac appointed Gauthier Borsarello as its new creative director. Replacing Alix Le Naour, Borsarello hopes to mark a new chapter for the label. He is an expert in vintage fashion and has a record of fusing contemporary design with old-school styling, including relaunching French heritage brand Kidur and running his own Paris showroom of vintage treasures. He is also editor and creative director of French menswear magazine L’étiquette and a trained classical musician. Here he talks flea markets, instant coffee and Tibetan rites.

Where do we find you this weekend?
I’m usually at home in my apartment with my wife and two children. I’ll occasionally wake up early on a Saturday and visit a few old friends at the flea market in Saint-Ouen on the outskirts of Paris. They sometimes put vintage clothes aside for me and more than sometimes I’ll end up buying one or two pieces.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
That’s determined by the mood my children are in. A sudden whirlwind can roll in early or we might get a lie-in – but that doesn’t happen very often. One thing’s always the same though: breakfast together.

Soundtrack of choice?
I grew up in a musical household; both my parents were classical musicians and so was I; I still play the double bass from time to time, though not as well as I used to. I mainly listen to classical music but I do splice it with the sorts of things that I listened to as a teenager: The Alan Parsons Project, Jamiroquai, Massive Attack, Porcupine Tree and Black Sabbath.

What’s for breakfast?
It’s very straightforward: a cup of Ricoré [an instant coffee made with chicory]. Sometimes a second.

News or not?
During the week I limit myself to reading the round-ups on Le Monde on my phone. On the weekend I like to take the time to leaf through Le Monde’s supplement, M.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
A few years ago a friend introduced me to the Five Tibetans Rites [a yoga routine] and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Any other exercise to get the blood pumping?
I try to do a plank every morning. But if I’m honest, that sometimes gives way to another cup of Ricoré.

Lunch in or out?
In. My wife and I have a tradition: roast chicken with salad and potatoes, all together as a family.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
I’m a big fan of the organic apple juice Latapie. It’s produced by my wife’s family in Brittany.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
Dijon mustard.

Sunday culture must?
Once the children go for a nap, I generally switch on the TV and watch a documentary on Arte, which often gets me napping. I recently watched The Invention of French Luxury, which I highly recommend.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
A family walk in Parc Edmond-de-Rothschild in west Paris.

Will you lay out your look for Monday?
I select what I’m going to wear the night before, only to change it all up in the morning. But I always wear De Fursac, Beige Habilleur and a mix of vintage pieces.


Cod almighty

This warming stew works with any white fish – haddock or hake are particularly good. Ask the fishmonger to remove the skin. The mixture of chorizo and paprika gives the dish a piquant dash and it’s best soaked up with a little crusty bread. For the chickpeas, try to find the jarred variety, which tend to be better quality than their tinned counterparts.

Serves 2

4 tbsps olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
100g chorizo, casing removed, cut in half lengthways, then sliced
2 tsps sweet smoked paprika
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
150ml white wine
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp sherry wine vinegar
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tsp sea salt
400g cooked chickpeas, drained
2 x 200g cod fillets, skin removed
Small handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped


  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook for 3 minutes until the onion becomes transparent.
  2. Add the chorizo and fry until the chorizo releases its oil, about 5 minutes. Add the smoked paprika and fry for 1 minute.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes. Then pour the white wine into the empty tin of tomatoes, stir it to clean the tomato bits and add to the pan. Add tomato paste, sherry vinegar and sugar, and simmer for 15 minutes until tomato sauce thickens.
  4. Add chickpeas and cod fillets, then cover with a lid and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of fish. If you press the fish lightly with your finger and it flakes easily, it’s ready.
  5. Sprinkle chopped parsley and serve with warm bread.


Here to stay

Sad news came from the Sunset Strip in January when it was announced that stalwart West Hollywood bolthole The Standard would be closing after 22 years (writes Josh Fehnert). The low-slung hotel – all scalloped balconies, sultry glamour and a revolving cast of Hollywood extras – was dreamed up by set designer Shawn Hausman and was the first venue under the budding Standard brand by hotelier André Balazs, which was later rolled out worldwide.

“Unlike all of our other properties, The Standard Hollywood was leased and there was an unavoidable increase that made operations unsustainable,” says Amar Lalvani, CEO of Standard International. “It’s really a pure real estate issue and nothing to do with what has been a beloved and successful hotel for more than 20 years. It’s inspiring and heartwarming to know that we have had such an impact on our guests and the community.” It will be missed but The Standard will this year open an Asia flagship in the form of the Bangkok Mahanakhon and a seaside option in Hua Hin.

It’s always disquieting to see a storied hotel close but elsewhere there are signs of hope, recovery and investment from the industry as a whole. In 2021, new projects will open and fresh ground will be broken as brands weigh up the sites that offer the best value. The Ace Hotel brand’s site in Shoreditch, London, for instance, closed in 2020 but new properties will welcome guests in Sydney, Toronto and Brooklyn this year. Meanwhile, other hopeful openings include the Rosewood São Paulo; Adrian Zecha’s Azumi hotel in Setouchi, Japan; the Habitas Bacalar, Mexico; and Accor’s Orient Express in Bangkok. Not to mention the Nomad landing in London, five new sites from Four Seasons and plenty more besides.

Last year was an annus horribilis for hotels – a reckoning for restaurants, bars and a battered hospitality trade. But it’s important to remember that this isn’t forever. When it happens, opening up will release pent-up demand and drive travellers to new destinations. It’s too easy to see The Standard in West Hollywood as a bellwether by which to judge the entire industry – it’s the end of an era in some sense but not the end of the trade. By contrast, the busy line-up of openings in 2021 suggests that standards are far from slipping – great hotels, rest assured, are here to stay.


On with the show

Some corners of Europe rejoiced when organisers of the Eurovision Song Contest announced that the event will go ahead in Rotterdam, come what may (writes Fernando Augusto Pacheco). The European Broadcasting Union has worked with four different scenarios for this year’s grand final, happening on 22 May. The first option is to go ahead as normal, with another three scenarios introducing various levels of physical distancing and crowd limitations – little of which is likely to change the televised output much. What we do know is that there will be sequins, Europop and a winner, whereas last year fans were subjected to a tribute broadcast.

There are already four confirmed acts that were picked last year. Lithuania’s The Roop will perform the dancefloor-friendly Discoteque. The lead singer’s voice is Leonard Cohen-esque, there’s great choreography and he’s known to sport a distinctive pair of high-waisted yellow trousers – one to watch. Meanwhile, France has plumped for an Edith Piaf-inspired ballad in the form of Voilà by Barbara Pravi.

The contest itself was created as a way to forge a sense of European unity after the Second World War, and that bond of fun and togetherness has never been needed more. I’m happy that it’s happening. For a signed-up fan like me, a remote contest isn’t perfect but there would be no winners at all if it were cancelled.

You can hear Pacheco’s coverage of the run-up to Rotterdam on Monocle 24.


Screen rules

In the penultimate part of our digital-decency drive, we’re drawing attention to the small but meaningful ways in which we can all contribute to a better online social contract (writes Josh Fehnert). Remember that other people might be less interested in your phone call than you are and less disposed to the buzz and fizz of your children’s games on full volume. Let’s look out for each other a little.

1. Mute the munchkins
Don’t click, beep or jingle. You can’t keep your children quiet without a screen but don’t inflict the soundtrack on everyone else. It’s great that you’re messaging a friend but do we need to hear the irksome artificial clack of the keyboard as you thumb your platitudes? And why are you listening to that awful racket out loud on phone speakers? Have a little respect and, well, button it.

2. Keep it down
Another thought on volume. You might be speaking to someone on the other side of the world but that doesn’t mean that everyone on the other side of the room wants to hear it. On French trains, polite callers often retire to spaces between cabins to argue with lovers or catch up with cousins. The message hasn’t made it to Italy, mind, where long, loud conversations on the phone are undertaken with aplomb. We know which approach we endorse.

3. Think about the future
It’s good to express yourself and be spontaneous – but might your online proclamations be risky? Will a future employer, spouse or friend be surprised to see you saying, wearing or doing that? If so, be careful and curb your enthusiasm. Even the most innocuous and well-meaning comments have led to bitter recriminations, firings and fallouts. Avoiding this means taking care on the one hand and showing compassion on the other.

4. Read on paper
Now and again at least. It’s better for retaining information and the act of putting that phone face-down and turning to a book allows some much-needed detachment. Now you’re free, you can explore other worlds, ideas and opinions without the constant clatter of notifications tempting you back into the virtual vortex.

5. Look something up (for real)
We’re not Luddites, promise – we are contacting you by email after all. But we are also trying to condone a balance. Try things in their good old analogue forms once in a while and you might just enjoy it. So here goes. It’s like Googling but involves a book or, better yet, asking someone who might know the answer. It’s a simple act but better for recall and more fun too. The act of looking something up should start interesting conversations, not stop them in their tracks. Have a lovely Sunday.

For Monocle’s full Digital Decency Manifesto and 50 ideas on how to hit play this year, pick up a copy of our February issue. If you’re having trouble getting to a newsstand, you can also access our journalism online with The Monocle Digital Editions.


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