Sunday 15 August 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 15/8/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


A vote for Common Sense

It’s a sunny, warm Wednesday evening in Stockholm and there’s a certain buzz about the city as holidays are wrapping up and locals have returned from Gotland, summerhouses in the archipelago and Swedish enclaves on the Med. Östermalm cafés are packed with super-tanned and plucked visitors from the suburbs; matte BMWs and Mercedes growl along boulevards; and dogs and their owners are out for evening strolls. Stockholm could be at its absolute best if it weren’t for the fact that there’s an unnecessary level of clutter and chaos about the place in the form of e-scooters. If you thought Paris had it bad, Stockholm could be the benchmark for what happens when there are no controls on this form of transport and chaos reigns.

“Isn’t it strange how we put so much emphasis on health and safety, and creating environments that are accessible to the physically impaired and yet somehow it’s OK to have a form of transport that blocks pavements and shows no regard for the blind, for example,” says a friend. She might add that the Stockholm approach – many other cities can include themselves in this list – also shows no regard for rule of law, human decency and environmental aesthetics, not to mention physical fitness. This evening at one of the city’s busier intersections, at Birger Jarlsgatan, there are more than 200 scooters scattered about. Some are tipped into traffic lanes; many more have fallen over in front of shop entrances and pretty much all of the others are just left in the middle of the pavement, creating a maze-like effect that runs completely counter to maintaining an urban environment that is accessible and easy for everyone to navigate.

As I’m waiting for some drinks to arrive at the table where I’ve decided to perch, I do a quick survey of e-scooter ridership and while we’re told that we shouldn’t generalise, I say, “Why not?” Most users are between 14 and 30; many are travelling in groups; 60 per cent are male; there’s a lot of high-waisted washed denim, braids (real or fake), platform trainers and pastel sweatshirts (this goes for the boys and the girls); and it’s clear that e-scooters are used by people without any common sense. I could add that they’re also permitted by politicians who lack common sense but let’s come back to that in a moment.

As you’re a civic-minded reader of this column, I’m quite sure that you’ve had one of those moments where you’ve watched, stunned and slack-jawed, as someone pulls up in front of a house, shop or restaurant on an e-scooter and just leaves it right in the middle of the pavement, as though some magical elfin valet was then going to scurry out from behind the shrubbery and park it neatly alongside a host of other scooters. Unfortunately, no such elves exist and every time I witness such an event, I’m further convinced that personal and public responsibility and common sense are disappearing faster than lakes in Central Asia or packs of spaghetti during a pandemic.

It’s for this reason and many, many more that I’ve decided it’s time to launch a new political party, which will seek to bring issues back to the centre, cut-through all the distractions that divert discussion away from the core and focus on pragmatism, level-headedness and restoring a sense of proportion to a narrative that is completely out of whack. Perhaps most importantly, this party will seek to bring conversations and discussions out of the shadows and from behind closed doors (I believe it’s called the “silent majority”) and re-establish proper debate, rational thinking and optimism as pillars for moving forward.

With dialogue stifled in too many nations, this party will establish itself in countries that can still demonstrate global leadership, boast economic and soft-power clout, and have the confidence to stand up to the likes of China while not blindly embracing American liberal values as a tonic for all. In the spirit of keeping things straightforward and simple, the party will be called the CSP (Common Sense Party). And yes, I know there’s an American political party that uses the words “common” and “sense” but they also use purple as a key part of their identity. That’s a no-go for a variety of reasons: it’s a colour for people who can’t decide on blue or red and it’s not embraced by people when they have to make big decisions, such as buying cars, boats, houses or aircraft, or casting votes.

Germany has elections in a little over a month; France and Sweden next year. In all of these countries you see an opportunity for a party that is neither left nor right, dove nor hawk. Instead, it is pragmatic and to the point, and tunes in to the things not being said in public; it builds a campaign that puts common sense and self-responsibility back at the core of society. And yes, removing useless modes of transport that pollute our streets and will eventually end up in landfill will be part of the manifesto.


Feast your eyes

Parisian restaurant group Fulgurances has plenty on its plate (writes Carolina Abbott Galvão). What started as a dining space in the 11th arrondissement has quickly evolved into an agency that hosts food events for clients ranging from Krug to Google and Volkswagen – and it recently opened a US outpost in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Now its agency team has cooked up a smart food title to chew over.

Part food almanac, part travelogue, Fulgurances magazine offers a thoughtful read on contemporary cuisine that’s packed with stories about great producers, recipes and reportage. It’s also charmingly off kilter, veering from a feature on wine-making in upstate New York to a Wakana Yamazaki comic about a person so meat-obsessed that they end up chasing a slice of beef to another dimension.

The annual is tastefully put together and, refreshingly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While surreal comics might not be to everyone’s taste, Fulgurances is an editorial buffet that is deliciously diverse enough to suit even the most curious of palates. Tuck in.


Whey to go

Chef Barry Quek brings some distinctly Singaporean flavours to Hong Kong’s dining scene at his new restaurant Whey, which opened recently in Sheung Wan (writes Nina Milhaud). Singapore-born and French-trained, Quek uses ingredients grown nearby but isn’t afraid to try unexpected combinations either.

Standout dishes include a charcoal-grilled pork rib paired with a pepper jus and black-garlic jam, a rethought laksa with flower crab and konjac rice, and a dreamy brioche infused with buah keluak (a native seed much used in Peranakan cooking). It’s all served in a room designed by Norwegian studio Snøhetta – a mix of oak furniture, rattan and earthy-tones that adds a Nordic flavour to the mix.


Full of beans

Entrepreneur Andrea Rasca worked in his native Italy and then Japan before settling in London and founding sustainable food market Mercato Metropolitano in Elephant and Castle in 2016, opening another in Mayfair three years later. He’s not done yet though. By 2025, he’s hoping to launch a raft of new sites in cities across the world. Here, Rasca tells us about his Sunday itinerary, coffee routine and why he likes to keep his weekend activity gentle.

Where do we find you this weekend?
I’ve just come back from Milan and now I’ll spend my weekend in beautiful London, where, apparently, the sun is going to shine.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
Sundays need to be gentle. I like to wake up very early, usually at about 05.00 or 06.00 in the morning and make an espresso. With my [stovetop] Moka that is, not a machine.

What’s for breakfast?
Italians don’t love big breakfasts. A good cornetto – what we call a croissant in Italy – or a fantastic slice of bread and an espresso is more than enough. On Sundays, I have a bigger morning meal: usually bread with butter or jam, or eggs. Maybe some parmigiano reggiano or taleggio. You see, my life is all about food and drink.

News or not?
I love The New York Times and I read a bit of the Financial Times while I drink my first cup of homemade espresso.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
If I’ve had time to exercise during the week or on Saturday, I’ll just do a long stroll on Sunday. And it needs to be a walk – nothing stressful. Sundays should be sweet and delicate.

Lunch in or out?
Out with friends. Lots of times we’ll meet at Mercato.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
I always have pasta, tomatoes to prepare a good sauce and fresh organic eggs.

Sunday culture must (book, film, radio)?
I’m currently reading a beautiful book by Jeremiah Emmanuel. It’s called Dreaming in a Nightmare: Inequality and What We Can Do About It.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
I love dogs but I can’t have one in London.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
I have so much to say. But I’m a big fan of a sauvignon blanc from Friuli Venezia Giulia, a region in the northeast of Italy. Or a very good lugana from Verona.

The ideal dinner menu?
I like to have a good aperitivo at 19.30: some bruschetta, some charcuterie, some cheese. And then I’ll invite some people over or go out.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
I’m always thinking [about work] but on Sundays I try to decompress and push things as much as possible to Monday morning at 04.00 – that’s when I wake up.

When you lay out your look for Monday, what will you be wearing?
My Milanese-style trousers, loafers and a white or light blue shirt. If I’m in the office, I’ll also be wearing my Mercato Metropolitano double-breasted jacket


Vietnamese summer rolls

This week we rustle up some fresh goi cuon (Vietnamese summer rolls) with a dipping sauce so good that you’ll add it to everything. These rolls are from scratch so they’ll require some folding but don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time: practice makes perfect and there’s a tasty reward at the end.

Makes 6 rolls, a good starter for 2-3


For the dipping sauce
4 tbsps crunchy peanut butter
3 tbsps rice vinegar
3 tbsps light soy sauce
1 tbsp maple syrup or sugar
1 small garlic clove, lightly bashed and peeled
1 bird’s eye red chilli, finely chopped
2 tbsps water

For the rolls
18 large prawns, peeled
1 nest rice vermicelli noodles (about 50g)
⅓ large cucumber, cut into matchsticks
½ medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
3 spring onions, finely shredded
6 sprigs coriander, stems removed
6 sprigs mint, stems removed
6-12 sheets rice paper (the standard diameter is about 22cm)
2 tsps vegetable oil to coat noodles and tray


  1. Mix all of the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl, stir until combined and set aside. Keep the garlic clove whole.

  2. Soak the rice noodles in hot water and leave for 4 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water, then drain completely. If you’re not planning to use the noodles straight away, drizzle 1 tsp vegetable oil over them – coating them will prevent sticking.

  3. Boil the prawns for 3 minutes, drain and set aside to cool.

  4. Now prepare your work station. Pour warm water in a shallow tray, put a damp kitchen towel over a chopping board and arrange all of the ingredients in front of you so that you’re ready to assemble the roll.

  5. Soak 1 rice paper sheet in the warm water for about 15 seconds, until pliable but not too soft. Lay it on the damp kitchen towel, smooth side down. Place ⅙ of the vermicelli and chopped vegetables on the rice paper about 6cm from the bottom. Place 3 prawns over the vegetables, then lightly scatter the herbs over the prawns.

  6. Lift the bottom part of the paper and drape it over the stuffing. Then lift the left and right sides of the paper and enclose the stuffing. Lift the bottom of the spring roll and tightly enclose all of the stuffing. Roll away from you, as though you were making cigar shapes. Don’t worry if it isn’t neat – it’ll taste the same and you’ll have more chances to practise.

  7. Place the roll on a plate lightly oiled with the remaining vegetable oil or tray to prevent sticking. Cover with a damp towel. Repeat to make 5 more summer rolls. If the paper breaks, simply soak another one, put the broken summer roll on top and roll it (you have spares).

  8. Once they are assembled, remove the garlic from the dipping sauce and serve the sauce with the summer rolls. Ideally eat straight away but they can be prepared a couple of hours in advance. Leave the rolls on an oiled surface and covered with a damp tea towel and cling film to keep them fresh. Enjoy.


Taking wing

Fancy a quick hop for a holiday but can’t face the queues? Aero is an under-the-radar new carrier offering a service that falls somewhere between a scheduled airline and private charter operation, and running to a handful of cities in the Mediterranean and western US. Its smart, black Embraer jets connect Mykonos, Ibiza, London and Nice, and shuttle travellers between Los Angeles and the likes of Sun Valley and Jackson Hole.

The aircraft offer extra space onboard and all seats have direct aisle access. Passengers can bring pets along too. Aero uses private terminals so you can skip the crowds and enjoy breezy security checks.


Pilgrim’s progress

The pilgrimage to the US from the UK – my first trip back to my native land in three years – began with an embarrassing oversight (writes Christopher Cermak). When I dusted off my US passport last month, vaguely remembering that it was due for renewal in October, I found out I was right; only it was October 2020. If there’s a better metaphor for that collective sense that the past year has simply passed us by, I can’t think of one.

Luckily for me, the US is bending over backwards for its own citizens at the moment: not only are we allowed to travel home while foreigners remain mostly barred from visiting, but they’re even allowing us to travel on passports that expired on or after January 2020. Although this “Americans first” approach didn't help at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. I have many memories of teasing my Austrian father as he had to wait an hour in the immigration queue for foreigners while my mother and I could zip through as Americans. Suddenly the tables had turned: the line for Americans was nine rows deep and the one for foreigners significantly shorter. I thought I caught my father sniggering all the way over in Arrivals.

I should be grateful. As I write this, relaxing on the balcony of my parents’ apartment in Annapolis, Maryland, overlooking a marina full of sailing boats, I’m reminded that for the many of us who don’t live where we grew up, travel isn’t just about seeing new things; it’s about catching up with old friends and family, and reconnecting with our roots. My pilgrimage to the US has so far involved playing tennis on the courts I used when I lived near Washington, passing two of my former apartments and a familiar cycle route along the Potomac river, and taking in a couple of slices of Sicilian pizza at Mario’s (OK, that’s more Italian-American but it still counts). Expats need to be able to travel home. So lobby your employer and government if you must (here’s looking at you, Australia) and embark on your own pilgrimage back home. Take it from me, it’s worth the effort.


Central reservations

London’s restaurants are resolutely open but the uncertainty of the pandemic has led to some quirky service (writes Josh Fehnert). When the city was locked down, some chefs swiftly pivoted to a delivery model and added seats. Many have now excelled with reopening, while others are still having teething troubles. For some it’s the best of times; for others the worst. Here is a tale of two sittings.

Sitting one: Fishy business
Cornerstone, Hackney Wick, London

I was late to the party in visiting this one but unlike the people due at the table behind us, at least I got to the restaurant on time. Tom Brown’s fish-first, Michelin-starred revelation of a restaurant in east London is the sort of place that you’re allowed to show off to your friends about having a table at. In fact, I did some gloating before visiting on a recent sunny Saturday. “How did you get a table?” a friend stammered incredulously, perhaps unaware that being a journalist who writes about food might at least have some perks. This time, though, I didn’t need to pull any strings. “It was easy,” I said smugly, having booked a few days earlier from the oddly open online booking system.

On our arrival, our smiley waiter confirmed my suspicions: the pandemic had made people flaky. Very flaky. As a result of being asked to isolate by apps and check-in when arriving at a restaurant, and having gained a new taste for alfresco dining, many prospective customers were dropping out, leaving room for walk-ins and short-notice bookings. Cornerstone’s culinary creations, meanwhile, are beyond reproach, though between the masks and the staff speaking too quickly, I didn’t know what almost any of the set menu was as the plates arrived (try it, it’s an interesting experiment).

The highlights – as I found out from reading the menu later – included a hunky hake kiev oozing with umami-rich potted shrimp butter and a sharp dill salad-cream. There was also an unctuous sea bream tartare with egg yolk, briny soy and tangy ponzu. Yum. The seafood cocktail crumpet with brown crab and oyster Marie Rose sauce was worth a visit in its own right but the empty tables told another tale. “My compliments to the chef,” I mumbled as I left – my wallet much, much lighter for the experience and the decision to have a decent Grüner veltliner and a couple of stiff negronis. “It’s just on the left,” the waiter mumbled through his mask, pointing to the loo.

Sitting two: Economies of scale
Brat x Climpson’s Arch, London Fields, London

I haven’t been too sparing when it comes to praising the Shoreditch restaurant Brat. To my embarrassment I even scribbled a slightly overwrought essay in Monocle last year about how it was the place I was most looking forward to returning to. So consider this a “PS” to that culinary love letter. Welsh chef Tomos Parry’s brilliant Basque-inflected cookery has a new outlet: a pop-up space in the railway arch of Climpson’s coffee roasters on Helmsley Place in east London.

The grand, wood-panelled dining room of the original space in the Tea Building is open again too but there’s something special about the makeshift covered marquee on a backstreet that’s quietly serving some of London’s best grub. My dilemma? Whether I’ll decide that this well-ventilated, socially distanced pop-up might actually be better than the original. On arrival, the space looks more carpark than haute cuisine but the attentive service quickly sets the tone. These guys know what they’re talking about and very soon our table is trying an organic chablis that neither needs an apologetic “Yes, it’s natural wine” nor smells like a farmyard. A good start.

Parry’s place under the arches is a return to a space where he was head chef before moving to Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair, then founding Brat in 2018 and quickly nabbing a Michelin star for his efforts. The food shows why. Dinner is a blur of beautiful flavours, from the wood-fired bread and burnt onion butter to the smoky roast potatoes and silky-sweet crab (mind you, it’s hot, messy and hard when you’re clumsy with your shell crackers). My shirt was ruined but it was worth the endeavour – even when a shard of pink shell ricocheted off a neighbouring table and hit a woman on the nape of the neck. Luckily, she is anything but crabby. We end up too full to face down a signature turbot (these are the size of bike wheels here) and share a John Dory fillet that’s tender and toothsome before rounding out the trip with an affogato (we’re in a coffee roastery, for goodness sake). “Will you be back?” the waiter says, lowering his mask as we exit into the fresh air. I certainly will. Have a super Sunday.


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