Sunday. 1/8/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

THE FASTER LANE / TYLER BRÛLÉ

Sound effects

It’s late Tuesday afternoon, the skies over the Cyclades are dazzlingly clear and this columnist has just touched down at Athens airport in an Olympic Air Q400 that’s in need of a serious spa day and general scrub down. The airport is packed with hundreds of families, couples, singles and tour groups connecting to other flights or making for the baggage carousel and heading into the city. The jostling and zigzagging of tanned, happy people heading to Amsterdam, Chania, Milan and Tel Aviv feels energising and oddly reassuring.

Out of the terminal and in the car (actually a much-too-large Mercedes people-carrier) the driver confirms that business has been ticking steadily upwards and that the sector is now about to reach its busiest stretch of the season. “We’re hitting the peak,” he says, motioning with a hand in bar-graph fashion. “And soon we’ll be flat out.” About 30 minutes later we arrive at the hotel and as we look down at the yachts, sunbathers and swimmers below we agree to quickly change and find a place to enjoy the sunset, a few drinks and an end-of-day plunge in the Med.

As we descend to our room the clerk tells me that the hotel is fully booked: Americans, lots of Americans, plus Israelis and families from the Middle East. You can sense her delight that it’s busy, that the property is back in its groove and is functioning to its highest summer-season potential.

In the room, swimming trunks are pulled on, reading material is stuffed in a tote and Korres sunscreen is applied (the SPF 20 smells like a delicious mix of scorched cypress, dried lemons and salt), and it’s off to find a few loungers. As it’s the end of the day many have already drifted off to their rooms to prepare for the evening and there’s plenty of sunny real estate on offer. There’s still enough activity around the pool and seaside deck to ensure that we don’t feel like desperate stragglers trying to improve their tan-lines before returning to Europe’s high north. A bouncy waiter promptly takes our drink order and a few minutes later we’re saying cheers and enjoying the views toward Aegina. I’m squinting trying to read the name across the stern of a vintage Feadship at anchor in the bay. It’s a fine-looking vessel, a bit stubby but still elegant and I can make out that the bronzed crowd on the top deck are definitely gearing up for a big night out on shore.

I’m about to catch up with the weekend papers that have gone a bit crunchy and sun-bleached when I pause and attempt to tune in to a thumping bass beat that seems a bit out of sync with the setting. I glance up and notice a group of guests swaying to the beat and try to get a geographical fix on the conversation. The music gets a bit louder and another round of drinks arrives. Has the hotel installed a DJ for sundowners? If so, it’s a bit of an odd addition for this particular property. I decide I need to launch a reconnaissance mission and do a quick saunter past the sound source as if I’m looking for a pair of sunglasses/child/tunic. Perched on the pool edge is a large, rather ugly red speaker that’s being controlled by a large man with an iPhone in one hand and a fruity cocktail in the other. He’s in the pool, he’s swaying his arms, he’s speaking a mix of Arabic, French and English, and his group are starting to clap.

I return back to base and listen to the volume increase as other guests look up, return to their reading, look up again and shake their heads. The pool partiers are oblivious to the fact that they’re now disturbing those within ear- and eye-shot and as they become more boisterous it’s clear that I’m witnessing one of the more disturbing, antisocial aspects of this pandemic: the complete erosion of the private/public threshold. What people have been doing in their living rooms and kitchens for the last 17 months now seems completely acceptable in public. When a junior manager eventually approaches the group to explain that it’s not okay to bring their own speaker to the pool and that they should respect the privacy of fellow guests, the poor lad is told off by several burly chaps with a barrage of questions and hand gestures. “Who is this bothering? We are guests. It’s just a bit of music. What would you like us to do?” At this point, the hotel staffer makes the tactical error of suggesting they turn it down rather than sending them packing. As he makes his way back to the hotel building, the group erupts in laughter, the music goes up and a certain streak of anarchy shifts back into gear.

Sadly, this group is not alone with their selfish, rude behaviour. The following morning I note that it’s also okay to do a Zoom call from the breakfast table with the volume at full, have Alexa join you on the lounger and broadcast Bloomberg to everyone nearby, set up an outdoor YouTube cinema for the kids to watch TV reruns, and on it goes. While there are no signs telling guests that it’s forbidden to use devices with speakers in such a setting, one would think that common sense and consideration might prevail. Then again, we’ve allowed ourselves to engineer a world in which digital devices and the idiots attached to them can operate without boundaries. The Catholic Church has no shortage of orders or real estate built around vows of silence and inner reflection; perhaps there’s a new revenue opportunity for the Vatican to start accepting bookings for those in search of good manners and reformation programmes for the less enlightened.

HOUSE NEWS / QUALITY OF LIFE CONFERENCE

Come together

Eight weeks from now you could be soaking up the last rays of summer sun on the Athenian Riviera, having spent time in the company of inspiring entrepreneurs, industry captains and city leaders. That is, assuming you’ve joined us in the Greek capital for our sixth Quality of Life Conference. And why wouldn’t you? It kicks off on Thursday 23 September with a cocktail reception and delegates will then enjoy three days packed with big interviews, quick-fire panels and networking, topped off with fine food and drink. So go on, join us. Tickets are available here, and going fast.

EATING OUT / TAKA, LONDON

Dish of the day

Regulars were sad to see the shuttering of Providores on Marylebone High Street in 2019 after 18 years of excellent service but the new occupant of the site is raising eyebrows too. Taka, a sister restaurant to Maru in Mayfair, might have the same Georgian shell but the three-storey fit-out by the London-based B3 Designers is a masterclass in subtle design.

It’s all brought together by contrasting timber finishes (one pale, one charred), tan banquettes and a timber-and-terrazzo bar, not to mention the striking backlit installation made with shoji-paper umbrellas. The menu has a pleasing selection of tapas-style small plates, such as Essex salt-marsh lamb with ginger and onion sauce and black cod with yuzu miso, served sizzling from the robata grill.
takalondon.com

SUNDAY ROAST / TANJA GRANDITS

Out of the ordinary

German chef Tanja Grandits is known for her arömenkuche: an attempt to excite all of a diner’s senses using her sometimes kooky but always entertaining culinary creations. Naturally, dining at her restaurant Stucki in Basel is always a joy. Her experimental fare, sometimes consisting of one flavour or a single colour, strives for harmony but there’s also a focus on the unexpected – think mackerel with matcha oil or rose sorbet topped with rooibos brittle. Here the chef takes us through her ideal weekend in and around Basel, reveals her daughter’s playlist and enjoys an afternoon glass of champagne.

Where do we find you this weekend?
My goddaughter is visiting from Germany and we’re having a lovely day at a very nice farm restaurant that is owned by a friend of mine. It’s great to spend time together among the cows having a beautiful brunch.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
The first thing I do is brush my teeth. Then I do yoga, drink a matcha latte and light some candles. I’m thankful all day, but in the morning, I really like to celebrate the life I have.

What’s for breakfast?
My Sundays tend to be pretty quiet; my daughter and I like to have a nice, long breakfast together. Usually we have Japanese rice with a rolled omelette and cucumber salad but sometimes it’s bread with fresh tomatoes from the garden and some goat’s cheese.

Soundtrack of choice?
My daughter loves having music on and I love listening to her music, so we often listen to her playlists. She loves Billie Eilish.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Both, of course, but my dog doesn’t really like walking – she’s lazy and also kind of sick. I would love to go on longer walks with her but she can’t so we go for a quick stroll instead. In the afternoon, I always lie down with her and read.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
I see a personal trainer once a week and I love walking in the forests near Basel. I do it for hours sometimes.

Lunch in or out?
In. I’m around people all week, so on Sundays I prefer something quiet.

Sunday culture must?
Sunday is movie day; documentaries in particular. Recently, we watched My Octopus Teacher together.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
I’m not a wine drinker but I like to celebrate the end of the day with a glass of champagne. I live in the restaurant, so I have a nice selection to choose from.

Will you lay out your look for Monday?
I tend to go with the flow but I’m always wearing my uniform so I don’t have to think too hard.

Athens – Summer 2021

Athens has 129 neighbourhoods climbing its hills, and urban canyons stretching from the Acropolis to the sea. There begins the Athens riviera, a 70km coastline that wraps around the city. The classic weekender starts at Kavouri Beach. Head south along the zigzagging coastal road and through the rough-hewn tunnels toward Cape Sounion. There are five-star resorts and laid-back beach towns along the way, with turquoise water and kite surfers riding the gentle waves. Then head back to the city with salty toes to dine on your roof deck under the Acropolis.

RECIPE / RALPH SCHELLING

Beef salad with lime and chilli

This week our Swiss chef shares a sizzling summer salad inspired by his travels in Thailand. This simple dish includes creating a zingy paste, which can be made in advance and used as the base of a curry or a salad dressing. All the ingredients below are pretty simple to source but some may struggle with the kaffir lime leaves – they’re optional but worth seeking out if you can find them. Enjoy.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 lime
2 kaffir lime leaves
40g coriander, with stalks
1 garlic clove
½ spicy red chilli
1tsp cane sugar
250g beef (fillet works well)
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsps coconut oil
1 shallot
1 bunch of spring onion
½ cucumber
1 head of lettuce
1 tbsp fish sauce or soy sauce
½ tsp roasted chilli flakes
40g mint (or peppermint)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 130C. Separate coriander leaves and stalks, setting the leaves aside. To a mortar, add the coriander stalks, finely chopped lime leaves, garlic clove, chilli, sugar and the juice and zest of the lime. Crush with a pestle to form a thick paste.

  2. Season the meat with salt and pepper and fry with some oil in a hot pan on both sides to brown, about five minutes each side. Then, set the pan aside and place the beef into the oven for 15 minutes.

  3. For the salad, finely chop the shallot, spring onion, cucumber and lettuce and mix in a bowl ready to serve.

  4. Mix the paste with the remaining oil in the pan, add the fish sauce (or soy) and the chilli flakes, and stir together.

  5. Remove the meat from the oven and allow it to rest for a few minutes before slicing thinly and combining with the salad and the sauce. Scatter with mint leaves and coriander then serve.

ralphschelling.com

FIELD WORK / PROJECTO MATÉRIA, PORTUGAL

Land of plenty

It’s early morning at Hortelão do Oeste and the clouds are beginning to part, throwing streaks of sunlight across the fields and clumps of orchids (writes Gaia Lutz). Ahead of us are corridors of leaves in every shape and colour, from olive green to purple, mauve to burgundy. Hortelão do Oeste is 50km north of Lisbon in an area of central Portugal that’s responsible for much of the country’s agriculture. Amid the acres of industrial-sized farms is this small plot of land, which is humble in size but fabulously ambitious in scope.

Walking alongside the farmers between the rows of kale and tubers, is chef João Rodrigues of the Michelin-starred restaurant Feitoria in Lisbon. Hortelão do Oeste started supplying Rodrigues four years ago and exchanges such as this one have become ever more commonplace since the launch of Projecto Matéria, Rodrigues’s latest creation.

Projecto Matéria is the result of a five-year investigation into high-quality, ethical producers in Portugal, culminating in 2020 with the launch of the platform’s website. “This is not just meant for chefs,” says Rodrigues. “I want this to be a tool that anyone can use to find special people and products. Along with a small editorial team, Rodrigues scoured the country to map out and profile everyone from cattle ranchers to yoghurt-makers, edible-flower growers and algae harvesters. Sustainable, small-scale practices are one thing but helping them find bigger markets in key restaurants is the next step. Projecto Matéria may be an intrinsically Portuguese affair but there’s plenty the world can learn from this growing movement.
projectomateria.pt

Five Portuguese producers worth seeking out:

Hortelão do Oeste. After a stint in the kitchen, Miguel Neiva Correia turned to the land. Along with his brother Diogo, he grows 600 species of vegetables and aromatics, which are sought after by the country’s top chefs. The orchard’s calling card is its tomatoes – more than 200 types are grown here.
Rua da Liberdade 24, Runa

Porcus Natura. This bucolic farm is home to some of the finest Alentejo pigs. Francisco Alves and his father have developed a unique farrowing system for the sows as well as implementing regenerative soil management that keeps the grasses greener.
Herdade de São Luís, Serra de Monfurado, Évora

Neptun Pearl. Célia Rodrigues’s tanks of sealife in the Sado Estuary supply restaurants with more than a tonne of oysters every month. They are grown in an integrated aquaculture system using non-intensive production: every oyster is provided with more oxygen and food than it would at other farms, which allows them to develop to a premium quality.
13 Largo António Joaquim Correia, Setúbal

Lugar do Olhar Feliz. Ann Kenny and Jean-Paul Brigand traded Paris for Alentejo, where they created their own small edenic plot. The couple grow exotic species such as Javanese turmeric and kaffir lime, as well as pomegranates, mulberries and rare varieties of ginger.
Cercal do Alentejo

Salsicharia Canense. The 73-year-old Dona Octávia and her family have earned a reputation among the finest delis and restaurants in Portugal for their premium charcuterie. By smoking meat from Portuguese pigs in open smokehouses using aromatic herbs from their own garden, this family is stoking interest in one of the country’s longest-held culinary traditions.
Rua de São José, Cano, Portalegre

LISTEN UP / KEF MU3 HEADPHONES

Sound investment

Anyone who’s hurtled back to reopened reality and hopped on a busy bus or train lately will know the spellbinding qualities of a decent pair of noise-cancelling headphones (writes Josh Fehnert). The exact formulation of fairy-dust and thunder that goes into these little saviours escapes me but I can assure you, the effect is magical. Fittingly, even the case of the Mu3 wireless headphones by UK-founded audio firm KEF looks like something from a fairytale – a kind of enchanted oyster-shell containing two shimmering pearly earbuds designed by British designer Ross Lovegrove.

Hardware-wise (I hoped you’d ask), these wireless wonders are splash-proof, comfy and quick-charging with a battery life of 24 hours (the new average length of a daily London commute since all the transport staff were sent home to isolate). Sadly the teleport function that allows you to bypass the rickety-tube-carriage section of the journey isn’t functional on my set. Never mind the delays – the audio quality is moving enough for now.
kef.com

PARTING SHOT / TIME FOR A PITSTOP?

On the road

0Most motorway service stations aren’t places you’d consider lingering within. In our July/August issue we profile some stop-offs that show how a canny few are changing lanes.

Gloucester Services in the UK’s southwest is not your usual mid-journey pit stop: it’s a place to refuel and spend an hour (or three) when travelling from London to the Lake District or Wales. The family at the helm of the Westmorland group, which runs it, has a unique vision of what a service station should look and feel like. There are no Golden Arches or gambling machines; the sunken building design fits seamlessly with the nature around it, covered in a living roof that blends into the Cotswolds landscape, providing respite from the noisy eyesore that is the M5 motorway. The floor-to-ceiling windows even offer views of the greenery and pebble-rimmed pond.

The origins of Westmorland group are of happenstance more than anything else. In 1972, John Dunning’s hill farm in Cumbria was dissected by the construction of the M6 motorway. So the family opened a café for passers-by, Tebay Services, which served home-cooked food. The success of this venture – the first family-run motorway services stop in the UK – prompted them to branch out over the following decades. “The farm is the source of inspiration for all our businesses,” says Dunning’s daughter Sarah, who took over operations in 2005 and now manages a number of service stations including Gloucester, which opened in 2014. “We have a connection to the land and the people that produce the food we eat. The farm and the values of farming – that sense that you don’t just farm for today but for future generations – gives our business a long-term view rooted in respect for local communities.”

It’s the quality of the products on offer – more likely to be found in a Harrods food hall than between junctions – that represents a shift in the purpose. As well as food, Gloucester Services also sells alcohol including craft gin, as well as camping gadgets and Patagonia clothing. And it’s all done with a simple idea in mind: that instead of racing to your final destination, drivers should have a chance to enjoy the journey. As Andy James, Gloucester Services’ operations manager puts it: “When people go on a holiday, it starts here.” Have a super Sunday.

For more on the fast-moving world of service stations and our bumper Quality of Life special pick up a copy of the latest issue of the magazine or become a subscriber so you don’t miss an issue.

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