Sunday. 11/7/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

THE FASTER LANE / TYLER BRÛLÉ

On the up

The Faster Lane cranked it up a gear this past week by covering more kilometres, at higher altitudes, than any period since March last year. Along the way this columnist experienced an emirate through a whole new lens, met exotic people and heard tales that suggested that the world is most definitely being reordered. Our mini grand tour starts at Zürich airport, midday, Monday.

Homecoming. I’m really not a fan of hotel managers that say “welcome home” when you’ve not spent much time at their property and, in some instances, you’re not particularly fond of their hotel but they have you captive as they’re the only game in town. The hearty, homey welcome from the Swiss maître de cabine just past noon was much more fitting. “Where have you been? We’ve been missing you,” said the jolly woman with a laugh. “I was very happy to see your name on the list when we did our pre-flight briefing and we’re all thrilled to have full flights again with super-regulars returning.” In an era when a lot of customer interaction can sound forced and phoney, this was anything but. My return to my favourite seat, in my favourite cabin, on a Swiss A340, really did feel like a homecoming and while the five-hour-50-minute flight wasn’t the longest of hauls it was the perfect tone-setter for moving beyond the frontiers of Europe.

The opposite of easy. I didn’t really eat on the flight so on check-in I’m feeling peckish. “Where do you suggest at this hour [circa 23.00 Dubai time] for a quiet glass of wine and club sandwich or similar?” I ask the duty manager. “I’ll book a table for you in the bar upstairs. They’ll look after you,” says the smooth and swarthy duty manager. I agree to meet my colleague on the upper levels in 15 minutes and head to my room. As agreed, I exit the lift right on time and I’m blown over by the sounds, scents and sights. Reminder: it’s a Monday night. A large man from sub-Saharan Africa is controlling the door; a young gent in a sharp suit walks me over to the table. In the neighbouring lift young women with super-heels, deep tans and brief dresses are checking make-up and messages as they make their entrance and in the corner of the bar a young woman, perhaps Thai, is playing DJ. All around are tables of 10-12 men and women chattering, drinking and scoping out the room. My colleague joins me, wide-eyed and bewildered. “Wow,” she says. “Wow!!!” I say. There’s a lot to absorb, no club sandwiches but the Asian bites are superb and the wine also works. Where are we? Dubai? Or Hong Kong in ‘95? It’s far from quiet but I like it.

In the field. It’s almost bedtime but there’s too much to watch on the drive-in-sized screen in my jumbo suite overlooking the city. I’m switching between various Arabic news channels that are swapping between various correspondents and contributors in Amman, Beirut, Washington, Istanbul and beyond. Everything is sharp and fast and measured. While I don’t speak Arabic, I like what I'm seeing. But why? As I’m about to nod off it hits me. No experts or analysts contributing from their sofas, desks or kitchen tables. After 18 months of too much nose-hair, plastic cacti and anaemic bookshelves from lazy western TV networks, what a relief to watch news channels with a sense of proper presentation.

Fine lines. It’s quite late at Dubai Mall and I’ve found a place to get a shave. The barber joint is packed with men getting haircuts, having pedicures, sharpening the arches of their eyebrows and getting beards clipped. I’m shown to a chair and the trimming, lathering and clipping starts. The barber is chatty and has dazzling eyes. “Where are you from?” I ask. “Syria, Aleppo,” he says. His name is Abboud and he hasn’t seen his family in 11 years. He is happy that he can live safely and make money in Dubai but he’d like to go home and be part of Aleppo’s recovery.

Plan B. On my last day in Dubai, I meet a friend from Beirut who’s setting up shop in the UAE. “Is it me or have things changed for the better?” I ask her. “It’s not just you or me,” she says, with a gentle laugh. “Things have really turned and it’s only been in the past year. It’s quite remarkable.”

We discuss the need, particularly when your base is Lebanon, to have a Plan B in life and she thinks a base in Dubai might just be the ticket. “I’ve been fighting the pull of this place but why? I have clients here and it works. So why the resistance?” she asks. A few minutes later she pulls out her phone and shows pics of a bungalow she’s found and talks of a “good crowd” settling in older neighbourhoods. We agree to revisit this topic when we’re due to meet in Beirut in a few weeks. She heads off to catch her flight and I order another coffee. Something’s happening here. Is Dubai coming good as the legitimate hub for everyone from Cairo to Dushanbe? Certainly feels like it. Also, if the number of French is anything to go by, maybe it is fashioning itself as a new Hong Kong. More soon.

EATING OUT / OOKI PAVILLON, ZÜRICH

All under one roof

Despite only opening in April 2021, and with some restrictions still in place, Ooki Pavillon in a verdant corner of the Sihlfeld neighbourhood already has a crowd of regulars (writes Emily Rookwood). You can refuel after a busy morning with matcha and Japanese sweets on the sunny terrace or settle in for the night with the signature tantanmen ramen (offered in spicy, mega spicy or crazy spicy form) with a cold, crisp beer from Turbinenbräu, a brewery just one tram stop away. Others enjoyed a lunch of avocado and yuzu tartar, gyoza and a selection of other ippin ryouri (small plates).

Built in the 1950s as a leisure room for one of the city’s first high-rise apartment blocks, Ooki Pavillon is housed in one of just a handful of pavilions that survived in Zürich. Its seven glass sides open out onto a cheerful garden, its expanse of well-spaced tables and chairs shaded by mature trees.

Inside, the protected building is spacious yet surprisingly cosy thanks to the careful fit-out of the listed interior. The original rust-red ceiling, warm glow of the spherical glass lights and the honey-coloured Kreuzzargen chairs designed by Swiss architect and industrial designer Max Bill in 1951 are complemented by thoughtful new additions; koushimada-style sliding panels and a saké-laden bar add a touch of Tokyo to proceedings.
pavillon.ooki.tokyo

For more food scoops and profiles of the institutions and ideas adding zest to city life, pick up a copy of our city-themed July-August issue, which is out now. Subscribe today so you don’t miss an issue.

SUNDAY ROAST / CHARBEL EL FAKHRI

Bearing fruit

Charbel El Fakhri, co-founder of Lebanese firm Couvent Rouge, wants to put the nation’s wine-making back on the map (writes Carolina Abbott Galvão). Founded in 2010 with the aim of regenerating the small town of Deir El Ahmar, the business now exports its 10-wine range to Europe, North America and Australia. Here, El Fakhri holds forth on Beiruti restaurants, bubbles and his winery’s sizzling summer set-up.

Where do we find you this weekend?
We are having a barbecue at the winery. Everyone is really keen to get out now that it’s summertime, so we have a set-up in place for people to visit, taste our wines and enjoy lunch among Deir El Ahmar’s vineyards.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
Gentle, definitely. Orange juice in the garden with my children and my dog. Though it depends on whether I’m in Beirut with my family or in my village.

Soundtrack of choice?
The soundtrack to Les Triplettes de Belleville. It’s an animated film directed by Sylvain Chomet, a French comic writer. It contains the music of Matthieu Chedid [better known as “M”], a singer of Lebanese descent.

What’s for breakfast?
Fruit or man’ouché, a traditional Lebanese breakfast. It’s like a pizza but with thyme and oil. It’s not served as a pizza, it’s more of a sandwich.

News or not?
No, not on Sundays. Barely on any other day either.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Either, depending on my location. If I’m in the Bekaa valley, I’m usually walking my dog but if I’m in Beirut, I’m inclined to do a little yoga.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
Swimming. I usually drive to a pool that’s about five minutes from my house. Sometimes I’ll swim in the ocean.

Lunch in or out?
Sunday lunches are always out. Clap in Beirut is one of my favourites. Abdel Wahab is definitely a must-visit too.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
I like to keep it simple, so I’m going to say rice.

Sunday culture must?
A film, definitely. Though I’m more into TV shows these days. I recently started House of Cards and Ozark.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
A fresh and crunchy glass of pet-nat. Lebanese food is difficult to pair wine with. We tend to go for arak instead but pet-nat works well too. I usually drink a glass of it with my tabbouleh or fattoush.

The ideal dinner menu?
A light dinner; my Sunday lunches are always extremely filling. Usually a small salad or a bit of pasta.

Ideal dinner venue?
I actually like to stay at home on Sunday nights. Mondays are always hectic, so I relax.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
Whatever is in reach. Nothing fancy. I’m always in sneakers and I don’t really like dressing up. Even on special occasions, I tend to keep it casual.

couventrougewinery.com

RECIPE / RALPH SCHELLING

Aubergine katsu-sando

In the last in our sandwich series we turn to a riff on a Japanese classic. “I had my best sando at the Konbi restaurant in Los Angeles,” says Swiss chef Ralph Schelling. “The chef Akira Akuto is a colleague of mine and my recipe is a simpler version of it.” You can also combine mayonnaise with the tonkatsu sauce or peel the aubergine before cooking, as you prefer. For a neater look you can trim off the crusts. These sandwiches are best served lukewarm.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 medium aubergine (about 350g)
60g plain white flour
10g cornflour, plus a little more for dusting
1 tsp baking powder
150g cold water
Breadcrumbs (Japanese panko are best)
Salt
¼ Chinese cabbage, finely chopped
1 tbsp rice vinegar
8 slices of thick white bread
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
Tonkatsu sauce to serve (the Bull-dog brand is widely available in Asian supermarkets)

Method:

  1. Cut the aubergine into 3mm slices.

  2. Mix the cornflour, plain white flour, baking powder and water to make a batter.

  3. Dust the aubergine slices with cornflour then dip them into the batter. Wipe off the excess, coat with breadcrumbs and fry in a hot pan with oil for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Take out, place on a kitchen towel to soak up the excess oil, then allow to cool and add a little salt.

  4. Add the Chinese cabbage to a bowl and mix with rice vinegar to marinate.

  5. Toast the white bread lightly and spread one side of four of the slices with the mustard.

  6. Add the cabbage, sauce and aubergine, and cover with the other slice. Press down lightly and cut in half.
    ralphschelling.com

WEEKEND PLANS? / VISALIA, CALIFORNIA

Nature’s bounty

In early summer, freshly budded white petals rain down from the almond trees surrounding Visalia, a city of some 130,000 people and the oldest settlement in California’s San Joaquin valley (rites Alex Schechter). The scale of farming in this valley, which stretches from Los Angeles to San Francisco, is vast. Driving east from Visalia along highway 198, the town grid dissolves into huge plots where cherries, pecans, persimmons, kiwis and dozens of other crops have earned this region the nickname of California’s fruit basket.

“We produce 80 per cent of the entire country’s citrus but most restaurants in Central Valley get it shipped in,” says 38-year-old Tate Darwin, a Visalia native and owner of Cellar Door, a dinner-only restaurant on West Main Street. Darwin, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, is the latest in a growing crop of local chefs capitalising on Visalia’s access to fresh produce.

David Vartanian, owner of 55-year-old bistro Vintage Press, has always had a penchant for homegrown produce and sees this generation of restaurants as a continuation of a tradition rather than a new start. Inside his throwback dining room, Tiffany pendant lamps hang above an original 19th-century Brunswick bar, while tuxedoed waiters deliver heaped salads topped with cara cara oranges and pistachios still warm from the sun.

Sequoia National Park is 56km from Visalia and its 1.2 million annual visitors provide a steady but transient trickle of traffic downtown. In July 2021, a new hotel gave them a reason to linger a little longer. The Darling, built in 1935, is housed in the former county courthouse and kept its original terrazzo flooring and prewar façade. But when the current owners took it over it had been abandoned for almost 15 years. “This place was in really bad shape,” says co-owner Matt Ainley from inside the lobby. “I’d driven by it my whole life saying, ‘Too bad it’s not very well taken care of.’” Ainley, a civil engineer by trade, had no previous hotel experience but was driven by a desire to preserve a unique piece of Visalia’s history and restore it to its former art deco elegance. The rooms boast 3.6 metre-high ceilings and there’s an outdoor pool in which to while away a lazy afternoon. But the showstopper is the rooftop bar with unobstructed views towards the snow-flecked sierras. It’s a stark contrast to the building’s past but from a local’s point of view, it’s undoubtedly an upgrade.

Visalia address book:

Eat:
Cellar Door. Chef Tate Darwin’s colorful riffs on veggie side dishes have turned his tapas-style restaurant, which also specialises in pre-prohibition-era cocktails, into a main attraction.
101 W Main Street, Visalia, 93291

The Vintage Press Restaurante. An antique Brunswick bar adds old-world glamour to this neighbourhood bistro, which has been owned by the same family since 1966.
216 N Willis Street, Visalia, 93291

Component Coffee Lab. Speciality coffee isn’t the only draw here: an in-house baking team serves up fresh bagels and brioche donuts every morning.
513 E Center Ave, Visalia, 93292

Shop:
Main Squeeze Market. Blood-orange sorbetto popsicles and bottles of tangelo juice make for edible souvenirs at this enticing roadside fruit stand.
33454 Sierra Drive, Lemon Cove, 93244

Stay:
The Darling. The 32 rooms at this mid-century gem pay tribute to the building’s former life as the Tulare County courthouse; head to the rooftop bar for stunning views of the Sierras.
210 N Court Street, Visalia, 93291

BOOK CLUB / ‘SIGURD LEWERENTZ’ FROM PARK BOOKS

Vital reading

Sigurd Lewerentz: Architect of Death and Life is literally and figuratively a rather heavy read but no less enjoyable for its rigour nor prodigious 700-plus-page proportions (writes Josh Fehnert). The flagstone-sized monograph, written by Kieran Long, Johan Örn and Mikael Andersson, combs through the Swedish designer’s life to reveal works of phenomenal formal beauty and grace, plus sketches and suggestions completed between the early 20th century and his death in 1975.

Lewerentz is known to most for designing Stockholm’s woodland cemetery, the Skogskyrkogården, with Gunnar Asplund. It’s a canonical creation that’s a good starting point for understanding the man’s enlightened take on the relationship between the built and the planted, the monumental and the memorial and, yes, maybe the life and death to which the title gravely alludes.

At first glance, Lewerentz is a modernist whose buildings ape some of the blocky strictures of postwar brutalism. However, the buildings shirk this simple categorisation to reveal humanity and humility – an instinct that gave rise to Stockholm’s most meaningful memorial to the fallen. Just don’t drop the thing on your foot. park-books.com

The monograph will be accompanied by an exhibition at Stockholm’s Arkdes museum this autumn.

PARTING SHOT / BEACH TYPES

Hot spots

With much of the world poised for a return to visiting sunnier climes, we’ve prepared a spotter’s guide to the world’s beach tribes (writes Robert Bound). After a year away from getting that much-needed dose of vitamin D at the best beach, this is a gentle reminder to respect your neighbours on the sand and think carefully before you slip off your swimmers to give your body a more even tan or really get into that volleyball game and end up trampling a family picnic. Play nicely now.

The Sun-shy Family
This cohort are all about maximising their time, so it’s up early to snare a spot of sand with the rough footprint of a Masai safari encampment. Why so? Well, Mum, Dad and the two children will each need a large-ish sun-reflective screen behind, with which to get changed before joining the master tent. Bi-hourly applications of a factor 90, sleeves and hats make for a fun-filled day that translates as chess in the shade.

The Naturists
You can spot them from the other end of the beach. Not because of the sun bouncing off boobs and bums as yet unkissed by sunshine but because they’re so damn active. When softball requires that much horizontal and lateral lunging you’d think some sewn-together support would be not just proper but a simple safety measure. It’s safety-first with the shades, hats and sandals, though: they’re all permanently affixed and at the “serviceable” end of fashion. Just not the clothes. Any clothes.

The Beach Bullies
This handful of lads have turned the beach into their own personal Olympics – and everyone’s... if not invited, then inevitably involved. The football ends up spilling drinks and lunches, that frisbee’s veering dangerously close to the hawkish lifeguard and the vigorous water polo ensures there’s not a dry eye (or ’do) in the shallows. Of course, the beach is big enough for all but it’s more fun to plant your own San Siro in the middle of everyone’s loungers, right? Duh!

The Ancient Adonis
Fabio has been tanning, flexing and looking inscrutable on a certain stretch of the Amalfi Coast since time immemorial (roughly 1973, when his tiny Tanga-style trunks were last di rigore). Fabio’s routine is well-disciplined: two hours of sun, morning and afternoon; lunchtime is for perusing La Gazzetta dello Sport, an espresso and a cigarette. Fabio knows two things to be the enemy of his physique: dolci and sitting down. Fabio is therefore almost literally a bronze.

The Horny Teenagers
What beach would be complete without a dozen teenagers falling in love for their first summer? There go the boys teasing the girls and the girls pretending not to notice. And there go the girls, swimming or doing a photoshoot while innocently licking ice creams. The boys, for once, don’t know where to look. Almost. Everyone, while faintly disapproving, is jealous, of course. Have a super Sunday.

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