Sunday 21 February 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 21/2/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Page one

It’s 2005, my five-year non-compete agreement (“don’t you even think about launching another magazine or we’ll sue your little pants off!”) has just expired and I’m ready to roll. I’ve got the idea for the mag, long-time creative director and friend Richard Spencer-Powell has already mocked up the covers and key pages, and Andrew Tuck is all set to resign from his comfy gig at The Independent. Little does the poor dear know what he’s signing up to. The planning is all going smoothly.

Jackie Deacon (our completely terrifying production director) knows what papers we’ll use, the furniture and phones are in place, and a couple of select advertisers have already committed to being in the launch issue. The only hitch is we don’t have the three million pounds required to make the whole thing happen. A few weeks into my newfound editorial freedom I have a meeting with a potential client who’s visiting from Barcelona. She wants to work with our agency and she’s in a rush. There’s a fluffy fur coat, multiple phones, fingers weighed down by chunky rings and of course there are enormous, smoky-tinted glasses. She’s on her way out of our building and she’s giving the offices one final inspection. “Where is this from? Who designed this? Where did you get that?” she asks without stopping. “And why is there no one working in this big room? So empty, no life. Why?”

I’m about to remind her that it is rather early on a Saturday and that I can’t imagine offices in Spain are packed at the weekend at such an hour either. But it’s clear that this is a woman who works round the clock and has her very own time zone so I explain that the idle space is for an upcoming magazine launch and that it’s going to...

“Magazine?! What kind? For who? Design? For a junger demographic? What’s ethpethial about it?” she asks (you really do need to read this with your best Spanish accent), checking the tag on an Artemide desk lamp.

“Do you have a business plan? I’ll let my CEO look at it.”

I’m about to give her my pitch but the door has already been swung open – she’s in the back of the car and about to become my biggest investor!

It took a bit longer to raise the other two million pounds but we got there in the autumn of 2006 and come mid-February 2007, Monocle hit newsstands. As mentioned in Andrew’s column yesterday it’s been a week of champagne-sipping, reminiscing and much laughter – particularly around the microphone, as we did a global ring-around to catch up with our editors and bureau chiefs on a speedy trip down memory lane for a very, very special edition of Monocle on Sunday.

While 14 isn’t a particularly special year, it does remind me of the crisis that we sailed into in 2008, somehow managing to emerge a more fully formed venture. It now feels like we’re sailing out of a storm (we really are, aren’t we?) and the past year has taught us much about sharpening our business, human nature and why we should have invested in a medical-sample lab ages ago. It was also a good reminder that we can only do what we do thanks to the newsstand owners and booksellers; the logistics teams; our ad partners; the technicians on our presses; the postman; our lovely baristas and super-regular café customers; and our readers and listeners. As we deliver a 24-hour-a-day radio station and deliver daily newsletters completely gratis, taking out a print or digital subscription is a great way to help us do the journalism. Thank you for being with us on this most wonderful journey. The party planning is well underway. More soon.


Healthy attitudes

Agung Prabowo, Roman Ghale and their partners know a thing or two about opening a bar, and their previous opening The Old Man remains one of Hong Kong’s finest (writes Nina Milhaud). Their latest, Penicillin, has something of a science experiment about it – all beakers and wipe-clean surfaces – and is stuffed with unlikely ingredients, including shell-ginger seeds, six-day fermented orange and wild gooseberries. The space on Hollywood Road is minimalist in feel and lit with recycled neon tubes: drinks and nibbles are served on low tables made from trees felled by Hong Kong’s latest typhoon, thanks to Betty Ng of architecture studio Collective.

The intimate, speakeasy-style space also runs on the founders’ commitment to limit waste and to exclusively use ingredients sourced nearby. Most of the liquors used here, including all of the whisky, gin and rum, are sourced from Ecospirits, a zero-waste spirit distribution system. Luckily the bar’s sustainability initiatives don’t preach too loudly or overshadow the service and style. Needless to say, the signature Penicillin (made with honey, lemon, ginger and Scotch whisky) is good for what ails you.


Fortune cellar

New wine shop and tasting room Glou is a welcome addition to Collingwood’s bustling Smith Street in Melbourne. Championing a considered approach to consumption, the bar only sells wine in reusable growlers, in barrels sourced from top Australian wineries. Oh, and if you do stop in, be sure to try the tapas-style Japanese bites while waiting for your fill.

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.


Dining stable

Jen Agg is a mainstay of Toronto’s budding (though currently hibernating) hospitality scene. Her 10th restaurant, Bar Vendetta, opened in 2019. Here she explains why Sundays would be incomplete without a Charles Aznavour soundtrack, a cappuccino and a cheeky pack of ketchup-flavoured crisps.

Where do we find you this weekend?
At home in Toronto, where I’ve been for what feels like forever.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
My husband Roland and I make a point of listening to music on Sunday mornings – often his choice, often Charles Aznavour. We stay in bed a little longer than normal and it’s a pretty relaxing start to what will inevitably turn out to be a pretty relaxing day.

Soundtrack of choice?
Usually it’s older, more nostalgic stuff, like Super Jazz des Jeunes or Les Fantaisistes de Carrefour. Eydie Gormé, Celia Cruz, Willie Colón, Hector Lavoe and lots of Haitian music are also regular Sunday picks for us.

What’s for breakfast?
We have a fruit and yogurt bowl sprinkled with Fiber One – the world’s least-inspiring cereal. But there is a pleasing thrum to eating the same, familiar thing every morning. In the winter it tends to be anchored by oranges, pineapple and apples, or any fruit that isn’t totally robbed of flavour by the colder months. The best bowls are the ones with late-July peaches. We prep the fruit first and then we pick up a cappuccino and a green tea at Sam James, my favourite coffee shop.

News or not?
I try not to but I tend to scroll first thing in the morning, as a way to wake up. I also use this time to deal with emails.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Definitely downward dog. I have taken all this excess time and poured it into two things: my husband’s recovery from a stroke and a very serious but low-impact workout routine. Caregiving will swallow you whole if you let it but we have done really well. I just love cheering him on; I see the effects of the work and care, so it’s easy to keep doing it.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
I take Sundays off but usually it’s 25 minutes of rowing, five days a week; 30 minutes of hula-hooping (with squats) six days a week; 30 minutes of yoga or pilates (rotated every other day) six days a week. I have no idea how I will maintain this with a more normal work schedule, when the world rights itself. But I just took in all my jeans so I’m going to have to find a way.

What’s for lunch?
I have a lighter lunch as I’m never that hungry by midday – too many years of restaurant work. My go-to is a mix of bulgur and cauliflower-rice, chicken, toasted almonds, pomegranate seeds, feta, mint, parsley and preserved lemon, with a splash of olive oil and lemon juice.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
It is a long list: Bianco Di Napoli tomatoes, lifted from the restaurant; Diamond Crystal kosher salt; good olive oil; Ramon Pena mussels in escabeche; and Italian tuna in oil, to name a few. And, my forever, first crisp love: Lay’s ketchup crisps. I am often derailed by those.

Dinner venue you can’t wait to get back to?
Well, my own restaurants – all of them and in no particular order. I also dearly miss dining alone at the bar at Sakai or Imanishi. It’s a pleasure that can only be pleasurable when surrounded by the buzz of happy diners. Alone, but not alone. That’s probably what I miss more than anything else.

Who would join?
My first meal out will be by myself. I will chat with the bartender and probably run into a bunch of people I know – and it will be beautiful.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
You’re going to regret asking – it’s serious! The best purchase I have made during this entire pandemic is a facial steamer. I very much miss my monthly facials. But for now, this will have to do.

**Will you lay out your look for Monday? **
No, I most certainly will not. I will be wearing the same sweater I wore on Sunday and probably Saturday too. The choice is only: which jeans? I have fallen in love with these cashmere joggers, which I don’t wear to jog in but generally I will still wear jeans most days.


Mushroom and chestnut risotto

The trick to any good risotto is patience and keeping the rice moving. A constant stir will help to create a fluffy texture. In this recipe, make the most of the mushroom mix – closed cups are all well and good but a mixture of less obvious varieties, from oyster to shiitake, will help the dish to sing and create a better depth of flavour.

Serves 2


25g dried porcini mushrooms
800ml hot water
4 tbsps olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
300g mixed mushrooms (such as chestnut, shiitake or oyster)
200g risotto rice
200ml white wine
90g cooked chestnuts, roughly crumbled
60g parmesan cheese
40g unsalted butter
1 tsp sea salt
2 large pinches of crushed black pepper
5g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped


  1. Pour the hot water over the dried porcini mushrooms. Cover and leave for 15 minutes. Drain and keep the mushroom stock. Finely chop the mushrooms.
  2. Heat olive oil and garlic over a medium-low heat in a medium-sized pot, then add onion over a low heat for about 5 minutes until it becomes transparent.
  3. Add one third of the mushrooms and the crumbled chestnuts. Cook until lightly browned, remove from the pan and set aside. Cook the rest of the mushrooms until slightly wilted, then add the chopped porcini and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the rice to the pan and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour in the white wine and boil for 2 minutes until the wine evaporates, stirring occasionally.
  5. Pour the mushroom stock into a separate small pan and keep it warm over low heat. Add one ladleful of stock at a time to the rice and keep stirring. When the stock evaporates, add more stock. Repeat with the rest of the stock. This process will take about 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Tip in the grated cheese and stir until it has dissolved. Season with salt and pepper. Plate up in bowls, top with fried mushrooms and the remaining chestnuts. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with extra parmesan cheese, if you like.


Basket case

Buried deep in my parents’ loft, gathering dust, is a folder containing a modest collection of basketball trading cards, which I hoarded and cherished in my youth (writes Thomas Reynolds). Perhaps you had a similar experience with stamps, sporting paraphernalia or magazines. I can still remember opening the packets, the smell of the ink from the printers and the glue from the plastic wrapping – the joy of gathering rare (as well as less-coveted) treasures and committing them to my collection.

I had forgotten my folly until last week when a colleague alerted me to a new collecting craze called NBA Top Shot. The platform offers budding buyers the opportunity to “own” basketball’s best moments but in a less tactile, digital format.

These virtual trading cards contain video clips of NBA highlights and can be swapped in a marketplace made up of three-pointers and slam dunks from favourite basketball players. The most exciting way to be involved is to buy a (digital) pack.

With a click of the mouse, investors and amateur collectors can “unwrap” the Moments they have purchased, turning them over one by one. These are then sent to an encrypted wallet to “keep” or sell on as they see fit. And there’s money to be made too: a LeBron James Moment was recently bought for $71,000 (€58,500). The rarer the Moment, the higher the value. But is this progress?

As we’ve seen after a topsy-turvy few weeks on Wall Street and in the surging value of cryptocurrencies, investments are volatile and inscrutable at the best of times. Stocks, assets and rows of numbers rocket in value, while others plummet due to an invisible hand and unseen forces.

As my colleague starts his collection, I wish him well, of course. But part of me also thinks that it’s time to take stock, to consider investments that hold personal significance beyond their resale value (be it books we treasure, furniture we’ll use or art that moves us). There might be profits to be made in speculative online trades but to me there’s also something valuable about creating a collection that is tangible, that sums up something we care about even if it ends up gathering dust in a loft. On paper, my childhood collection isn’t worth much. Still, the experience was priceless.


Mind your language

Reports that the world’s oldest living language is under siege from English loanwords are worryingly familiar (writes Alex Briand). “Lockdown”, “click and collect” and “curfew” have entered the Greek language – which was first recorded 3,400 years ago – faster than lexicographers can conjure homegrown Hellenic equivalents. This is largely because shops have a tendency to use English signage, coupled with teenagers’ increasing use of the Latin alphabet online. It all means that Greek vocab is once again in danger.

For advice, the Greeks could look to Iceland, which in its relatively sprightly 900 years has barely surrendered a morpheme. Having a freezing grey sea separating the country from its linguistic relatives has certainly helped over the centuries but efforts to ring-fence the language swelled in the 18th century. The pride that Icelanders have in their own tongue is now celebrated annually, on Icelandic Language Day.

France has long relied on the rather austere Académie Française to keep its language in check, with mixed results. Anglophone howlers such as le shampooing are commonplace and last year’s joylessly literal list of alternatives, including audio à la demande (podcast), fell on deaf ears. The challenge is, of course, to make your language feel just as vital, poetic and relevant as the invading terms. Otherwise, it’s all Greek.


Here to stay

“There was a proliferation of guesthouses and bunk-bed accommodation in central Kyoto,” says Nobuyuki Fujimoto, who designed the smart Malda Kyoto hotel (writes Junichi Toyofuku). At this newly opened bolthole, time flows slowly and the mood is one of quiet contemplation.

Under the direction of Hideaki Matsuura, the designer of eco-lifestyle brand Jurgen Lehl, Fujimoto kitted out the interior with natural materials, polished concrete floors and walls finished in a matte charcoal black. Set across three floors, the hotel’s guests can relax in the comfy organic-cotton loungewear and enjoy in their room Malda’s signature breakfast, which is cooked at its café downstairs.


Reality bytes

In the last tranche of our four-part online etiquette guide, we cover a few thought-provoking ways to widen your view on the world by inching away from our phones and laptops (writes Josh Fehnert). It’s time to let go, push aside the constant need to answer an email or “revert back”, and to get out more.

1. Consult the facts
Don’t be so sure. Check yourself, the news you read and the Ghanaian prince offering you riches in exchange for your bank details. All is not as it seems online, which means that we all need to be extra careful. Take the silly bits in your stride and with a pinch of salt, and give the more sinister stuff a wide berth.

2. Tracking progress
Location tracking is another social ill that’s quietly crept into our lives. Search engines know where we live and when we get home; apps track our speed and calories burned in the name of health. But how helpful is data that monitors our every movement? And how unnerving? This is all before we talk about applications that track users’ locations indefinitely: fine if you’re finding someone in a forest, less easy to justify in the everyday.

3. Slow down
Instant messaging is great for conveying information quickly but remember, it doesn’t always demand instant responses. Whether you are irate or elated, allow some lag and turn off your notifications so you can focus on something else for a while. The fine line between being informed and being hounded is rather hard to see sometimes.

4. Let it go
Forget about replying first and to every last dull, unedifying, impersonal email too. The Sisyphean task of answering all of our missives is a drag. The figure of commercial drudgery used to be the “paper-pusher”: it’s time we noted that even the cringey so-called “digital nomad” is nothing more than a “plastic-pusher” or “glass-tapper”. Some people email out-of-hours to show that they’re busy or on top of things. Often though it can create the opposite impression: that you’re struggling to get things done during the day.

5. Get out more
Last up, take time away from your screen. Take a hike and listen to the birds, cars or cats – whatever’s to ear. Leave your phone in another room when you sleep and turn off the updates and news alerts that barrage, berate and bother us. You’re not at your best when you’re distracted or doing a dozen things at once – no one is. 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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