Sunday 27 June 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 27/6/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Modes of conduct

Very often it’s the little things that remind us why life is a bit better in other places. These tiny events or established customs can stop traffic as visitors from afar come to a juddering halt and look around in amazement. Anyone who’s been to Japan and wandered the streets of Fukuoka or Sapporo in the early morning will be familiar with the sight of six- and seven-year-olds walking to school on their own.

For parents from places where this daily exercise in self-sufficiency vanished long ago there’s often a sense of bewilderment (“How can children so young be allowed to roam free in one of the world’s biggest cities?”), envy (“I wish I could send my kids out the door on their own and gain a headstart on my workday or an hour in bed”) and loss (“Well, that’ll never happen”). And therein lies the problem: maintaining or restoring social capital is not only a dying political art, it also comes with unpalatable costs and confronting some unfashionable though necessary truths.

When gauging liveability in cities big and small it’s easy to be seduced by the number of independent cinemas, amount of green space, quality of healthcare or investment in infrastructure. But it’s also easy to forget that daily pleasures come with having a social climate where, for instance, children are given a degree of autonomy and there’s little appetite for interference from newcomers. These are places where a shopkeeper can leave pots of flowers out overnight with little fear of theft or a bicycle can be rested against a shop window and the owner can be quite sure it’ll be there when he comes out with his groceries. In much of Japan this is standard; in parts of Switzerland, Finland and Denmark it’s still the norm and in rural areas, where there’s often a high degree of trust and easy accountability, social capital still runs high.

But what has happened elsewhere? Why has social capital eroded in so many otherwise-liveable cities? Could it be that citizens of entire nations have been conditioned to shun responsibility for themselves and others? Is there discomfort or fear that comes with explaining how things are done because one might be branded a bully or racist? Cities that rank highly in social capital tend to be places where there’s not only a respect for rule of law but also unwritten codes of conduct for specific communities. In simple terms it’s about “reading the room” and behaving accordingly. Of course, this is easier said than done – especially when the codes have all but vanished and half of society feels done wrong while the other half is constantly looking for cause of offence or outrage. The good news is that there are benchmarks and behaviours that point us in the right direction. A visit to our winning cities offers up a few clues.

For essays on urban planning, climate change and more – as well as the return of our annual Quality of Life city ranking – pick up a copy of our out-new July/August issue. Comments and questions can be sent to our editorial director at


Raising the roof

Helsinki’s distinctive wooden kiosks, built for its 1952 Olympic Games, have been given a new lease of life by Laura and Tom Hansen, the duo behind much-loved neighbourhood bistro Kuurna (writes Petri Burtsoff). The first, Kiosquito, specialises in Mexican-style tacos and paletas (ice lollies). The second, Kiosuku, offers the Hansens’ take on yakitori, the famed Japanese barbecue. And the third outlet, Kiosque, serves French-inspired croque monsieurs and beignets.

“The kiosks are very central and in key locations,” Laura Hansen tells Monocle. “But since they haven’t been in use, people have forgotten about them. We wanted to bring them back to life and give people new spaces for enjoying urban life.” The kiosks have been a hit at a time when indoor dining is still subject to restrictions. When Monocle visits, they’re full of life, surrounded by patrons basking in the sunshine. To keep them appealing to all, the Hansens have kept the prices reasonable: yakitori skewers sell for €3 and tacos for €4. “Just as it is in Kuurna, our food is about simple, high-quality ingredients,” says Tom Hansen. Other cities hungry for fresh ways to reinvigorate their streets would do well to examine the kiosk model closely.

Hungry for more? You can get the run-down on what makes great cities tick in our July/August issue, which is out now. Alternatively, subscribe today so you don’t miss an issue.


Deep dishes

“Most food magazines in Singapore spotlight posh dining experiences that are at odds with Singaporean cuisine, which isn’t a white tablecloth affair,” Pamelia Chia tells Monocle’s Zayana Zulkiflee. The former is a cookbook author and chef who co-founded new quarterly food magazine Seasonings with illustrator Hafizah Jainal. “The heart of Singaporean cooking lies at home with the aunties and the uncles,” says Chia. “Our contributors are almost all from home cooks such as Jainal’s mother. For us, storytelling and emotion is always the key component [to a story].”

Launched in spring 2021, with an initial print run of 350, the new title celebrates and showcases the island nation’s thriving food culture through its festivals with recipes, features and frank conversations. “People have become pretty territorial about their cuisine. There’s a lot of gatekeeping and calling out, which is scary. I think it’s why people are quite hesitant to have meaningful deep conversations about food, race and religion,” says Chia, who’s conscious that she’s bitten off plenty in talking about how food represents and reflects the city’s cosmopolitan population. “Singaporean food is so different from, say, French cuisine, where people such as Auguste Escoffier came out [in the early 20th century] with an authoritarian take on what it is and isn’t. Ultimately, such gatekeeping would be the death of Singaporean food culture. If your grandmother uses white pepper and my grandmother black pepper, who’s to say whose grandmother is right or wrong?” Plenty to chew over here.


Bids and pieces

Cheyenne Westphal is one of the biggest names in the art auction world (writes Carolina Abbott Galvão). Originally from the German spa town of Baden-Baden, she enjoyed a long, successful run as the worldwide head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s before leaving to join Phillips as global chairwoman in 2017. From her home in London, she told us about her gallery plans, a favourite bakery and a penchant for Tuscan wine.

Where do we find you this weekend?
I’m going to Galerie Maria Bernheim, which has just opened in Mayfair. I’m so happy that museums are open again.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
Gentle start. I meditate twice a day, so I start by doing that every morning. And I try to get up by 07.00 – but I don’t always do that on a Sunday.

Soundtrack of choice?
If I have to narrow it down, my favourite album is Eddie Vedder’s Into the Wild. I also like to listen to a bit of Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Sade and Fleetwood Mac. Recently, I discovered Jorja Smith and Khruangbin as well.

What’s for breakfast?
On the weekends, I love toasted sourdough. Hedone [in Chiswick] makes an amazing loaf. I pair that with a simple boiled egg, which makes me very, very happy.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Neither; I’ve always said no to pets because I used to travel so much. I live close to Hyde Park and walking has been wonderful. Even when you do the same route, you still see nature changing.

Lunch in or out?
I’m definitely a lunch-out person. We like to go to Pizza East or anything on Golborne Road – on the weekends, there are some amazing food stands.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
There’s a great Italian restaurant on Kensington Park Road called La Mia Mamma that sells fresh pasta and amazing sauces. My favourite is the alla norma with aubergines.

Sunday culture must?
I’m a reader. Right now, I’m reading a great detective story by Stuart Turton called The Devil and the Dark Water.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
My favourite wine is Le Pergole Torte. We know some of the people that own the vineyard, so it’s easier to buy – typically, it can be quite difficult to find.

Ideal dinner venue?
My favourite in London is The River Café.

The ideal dinner menu? A pizzette, followed by pasta with clams.

Who’s joining? When my mother comes to visit, I always take her. Or Tobias Meyer, who I used to work with at Sotheby’s; he’s one of my closest friends. Tobias loves The River Café, so we usually meet there when he flies in from New York – he’ll come straight from the airport just in time for a 21.15 reservation.

Will you lay out your look for Monday?
I’m into summer dresses as I’m back at work and going out for lunch again. I have some by Erdem, who is a friend; I like his work a lot.


Tortilla ‘bocadillo’ with pimientos

A riff on a Spanish classic. “This clever dish reminds me of when I worked at El Bulli, when we wanted to make something tasty quickly,” says our Swiss chef and regular recipe writer Ralph Schelling. “This is much easier than a classic tortilla and just as good.”

Serves 4

6 eggs
1 packet of salted crisps, about 120g, crushed
3 tbsps olive oil
10 pimiento, guindilla or similar peppers
1 long baguette

1. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk for 20 seconds with the broken crisps.

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a small pan on medium heat then add the egg mixture and cook for about 2 minutes so that it is still slightly runny inside. Don’t stir – you want this to set into something akin to an omelette.

  2. Remove from the heat and set aside.

  3. Fry the peppers with a little oil in a hot pan for 3 to 4 minutes until the skin begins to blister, then tip out and remove excess oil.

  4. Cut the bread in half lengthwise, lightly toast (if preferred) then add the tortilla, folding it to fit neatly inside the baguette. Add the pimientos. Slice in half and serve. Enjoy the crunch.


Road from ruin

When Lebanese-born hedge-fund manager Nabil Debs and his British wife Zoe moved back into his family’s historic stone home in the heart of Beirut’s Gemmayze neighbourhood, after living in London, they brought with them much of the art that they had collected. And, by summer 2020, their Arthaus hotel was ready to launch.

On 4 August Debs and his guests watched, sheltering under the solid zinc bar, as it all came tumbling down. The Beirut port explosion brought down the ceilings, shattered every window and door, and turned the 200-year-old façade into a pile of rubble in the courtyard.

“When we saw that energy, those young people who had their homes destroyed but were determined to help everyone, we knew that we had to do something,” says Nabil. “In a war you have limits, red and green lines, but this… Our way of life had never felt more under threat; it makes you even more attached to the land, to the country, to the house.”

Now reopened, Arthaus has nine bedrooms but there will be 23 when the property is complete. Also in the works are a sauna and steam room, a separate bar and live music space, and an underground lounge built around the main house’s ancient water well. There’s sun for those who want it on the wicker loungers surrounding the outdoor pool, and plenty of shade for those who don’t under the leafy trees and high-arched porticos. The hotel’s restaurant – the hottest new ticket on Beirut’s culinary scene – offers fresh, inventive twists on classic dishes, showcasing high-quality ingredients cooked to perfection.

The hotel’s signature cocktails are the stars of a very well-stocked bar and offer combinations themed around art and architecture. After so many challenges, Arthaus is at last thriving. As Debs walks from table to table greeting old friends and regular visitors, it’s easy to see his satisfaction. “Yes, it’s a business and you have to be commercial,” he says. “But what’s most important to me is that you’re putting in your feelings, your life, what you enjoy – and you are sharing it.”

Gemmayze address book:

Nada Debs. The small shopfront of Nada Debs (no relation) is a gateway to the furniture designer’s studio. Climb the spiral staircase for a taste of her Libano-Japanese aesthetic. The smooth lines and intricate details of her designs are set against the architecture of a traditional Beirut apartment.

Aaliya’s Books. This café-cum-bookshop stocks a range of Arab and international writers in English, Arabic and French translations. Stay until evening for nightly talks and live music.

Sip. A safe bet for some of the city’s best coffee, this calm space is a great option for getting work done or catching some sun in the leafy back garden. Or get a takeaway and stroll through Gemmayze to check out some of the city’s best street art.

16MM. Silent films play on the wall of this open-front bar where stools spill out onto the street along with the laughter of customers sampling the bartenders’ inventive cocktails and homemade spirits.
+961 371 3060

Loris. This historic rose-pink house offers an inviting courtyard and a lush, softly lit garden in which to enjoy some of the best traditional Lebanese fare in town.


Checking in

Hong Kong’s lengthy quarantine requirements, which have recently been reduced from 21 to seven days for international arrivals, have stripped away a little of the glamour and decadence of living in a hotel (writes James Chambers). Acting eccentric in one of the Beverly Hills Hotel’s famous bungalows might have worked for Hollywood mogul Howard Hughes. But try telling that to Steve, a British friend of mine, who recently had to endure a three-week stretch at the Best Western in Sai Ying Pun, trying to learn Mandarin, playing a lot of online chess and failing to complete a Panini football sticker album. Nevertheless, at the luxury end, the draw of residing in a hotel is (ahem) here to stay – and it looks set to become an even bigger part of the hospitality business in years to come.

Recent conversations with several Hong Kong hotel chiefs have confirmed the significance of residences (rather than just rooms) to their future revenue growth. These branded apartments are often attached to a hotel development as a sweetener for property owners. According to James Riley, CEO of Mandarin Oriental, adding the hotel’s name to an address can raise the price tag by up to 25 percent. Riley is also experimenting with standalone developments close to existing hotels. The Residences at Mandarin Oriental, Mayfair are due to open in London’s Hanover Square next year, ahead of new apartments from The Peninsula and Raffles.

These hotel-homes fit in with a growing demand for privacy: wealthy travellers want the five-star experience without bumping into smartphone-carrying strangers at breakfast. But for hotel bosses it’s just the beginning. The ultimate goal is to turn the likes of Mandarin Oriental and Rosewood into lifestyle brands that consumers can use every day, not just when on holiday. Hong Kong’s luxury hotels have been sending their star chefs to cook in people’s houses during the pandemic and for many of them there will be no going back. Have a super Sunday.

Images: Juho Kuva, Monika Hoefler, Maria Klenner. Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon, Xihanation


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