Sunday 29 August 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 29/8/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Capital ideas

Monday morning. It’s 04.55, the alarm’s about to sound and I’m already up asking myself, “Is this it? Is summer officially over? Is the crazy coming week the start of life back in the faster lane? Am I happy about it? And will anything change if I sleep for another 25 minutes and take the later train to the airport?” I opt for a snooze, scramble to the shower at 05.25, throw some things in a bag at 05.29, make a coffee, find some other things to drag along and am out the door at 05.56, on the platform at 06.01 and in my seat to the airport at 06.02. London awaits.

At 06.30 I arrive at Zürich airport, glide up the escalator to security and am at the gate by 06.45. This is travel as it should be and there’s still time to catch up with colleagues Anna and Julia at the Pret beside the gate. We have a coffee and wait for most of the flight to board. It’s all going swimmingly until somewhere in the boarding process we’re told that some passengers didn’t have the right forms and their bags need to be found and off-loaded. A few minutes later we’re told that the bags have been found and they’re closing up the hold but we’ve now missed our slot and we’ll need to stay at the gate for another half hour. Note to airline: wouldn’t it have made sense to check the vax docs before you allowed the passengers to check in the bags? Just a thought.

London. The last time I was in London was April and I’m looking forward to being back at base, seeing the crew, checking out the neighbourhood, going to the River Café and just being back in the city. The arrival is remarkably smooth and the cab ride into town is fast, but all the rubbish strewn along roundabouts and motorways suggests that the UK doesn’t just have a shortage of van drivers at the moment – the local councils just don’t have the manpower (or attention to detail) to deal with all the fast-food wrappers, face-masks and plastic shopping bags wrapped around tree branches. Note to Global Britain: don’t forget about first impressions as Heathrow flights return.

Marylebone. Our neighbourhood is looking much better than it did in spring; a bit of sunshine and more traffic helps. There’s life on the street, cafés are boisterous and bustling, and you can feel that the city’s ready to give it another shot – just as soon as the August bank holiday is out of the way. That said, there are a worrying number of empty shopfronts. You don’t notice them at first but when you start to tally them up it becomes alarming. Shopkeepers say that landlords are in no rush to offer rent rebates and don’t seem particularly interested in filling up stretches of empty shops with any great speed. They should! And they should use this period to think about how they might subdivide space, as well as engaging existing tenants to see if they’re up for expanding and launching new concepts. London has every opportunity to reposition itself as one of the world’s most dynamic places for retail but the various players are not in lockstep. Note to landlords: drop your rents a bit, take a punt on new concepts and do your bit to help kick-start the retail scene.

Midori House. We had a wonderful end-of-summer party on Tuesday evening at our London hub and I made sure that the Turkish and Greek ambassadors spent as much time together as possible in order to ensure that we have a smooth conference in Athens. Note to eastern Mediterranean watchers: keep a close eye on Istanbul and Ankara. More soon.

Seat 1A. It’s Wednesday evening and time to return to Zürich. I’m beat after three days in London. Swiss has put on a long-haul aircraft for the one-hour jump back to Switzerland. Note to airline, part two: keep doing this; it’s a good tease to remind passengers how lovely it is to fly transcontinental.

En route to Stuttgart. I’ve had to do a little roadtrip up to Stuttgart to do an interview and I’m stopped by the German border authorities. I’m thinking that they’re going to want to see assorted coronavirus paperwork but they’re more interested in my wrists. “Why are you wearing two watches?” asks the border guard. “Will one of them be staying in Germany?” I explain that I’m having fun accessorising and that the Swatch and Rolex will be staying with me. He then asks who I’m interviewing. I tell him it’s the CEO of a rather large German car-maker. “What’s the name of this CEO?” he asks. His grin suggests that he’s now having fun. I pass the quiz and he waves me off with a slight chuckle. Note to Grenzkontrolle: more human interaction like this please; it’s good for brand Deutschland.

Friday afternoon. It’s apéro time at a grand hotel in the Engadine and I’m chatting to a media baron who likes to take a week out for a bit of hiking. His empire is in the process of transformation and we both start to question why the creative landscape has become so corporate and dull and devoid of interesting people. I tell him to read Offline Matters (very, very good) as it underscores the need for fewer metrics and less digital guff, and more risk and weirdness. I also tell him that it’s time his company brought back some star personalities, creative freaks and oddball geniuses, and maybe moved away from misguided targets and bland box-ticking. He seems to agree. Note to readers: what’s the point of going back to the office if there’s no sense of fun, adventure and daring? When did we stop hiring personalities? And why?

Saturday evening. Monocle’s Merano end-of-summer party is starting in 30 minutes and I need to shower and get spiffy, and ensure this copy lands in Wellington on time. Note to all those attending the Salone in Milan next week: a full Monocle crew is on hand to host you across the week. Hope to see you at our USM and V-Zug events from next Sunday onwards.


Bottled up

“We have La Fromagerie next door, which provides cheese for our restaurants and Dawson’s here does our flowers,” says Dan Keeling, co-founder of the just-opened wine shop Shrine to the Vine. “Luckily we haven’t had to use the undertakers yet,” he adds, gesturing across the road (writes Josh Fehnert). We’re standing on Lamb’s Conduit Street in London, outside the shop and almost opposite Noble Rot, Keeling and business partner Mark Andrew’s (pictured, on left, with Keeling) ground-breaking restaurant. It opened to much fanfare in 2015 on the back of the success of the pair’s magazine of the same name and spawned a venture that currently includes a wholesale business, a book, magazines and another restaurant in Soho.

“The pandemic spurred us into action,” says Keeling about the decision to move into retail. “It was a good time to negotiate and we love old buildings.” The pair signed the lease in June before tapping Stephen Saunders of London-based Fabled Studio to transform the former bike shop into a welcoming space neatly stacked with more than 450 bottles, about which Keeling fizzes with enthusiasm, advice and suggestions.

The pair has already fostered close relationships with up-and-coming vintners through their magazine, book and restaurants so the retail space seems like a natural next step from their wholesale businesses. And despite his obvious expertise and boundless enthusiasm for his wares, Keeling wears his wine knowledge lightly. “We just love wine,” he says as his hand hovers across a tattered bottle of 1985 Chateau Latour and towards a bottle of natural, biodynamic sagrantino by Paolo Bea from Umbria, as though he were showing the breadth of what’s on offer. “The restaurant taught us to cater to everyone. We meet the 80-year-old who just drinks claret and the 20-year-old hipster who wants to try natural wine.” And as for the pair’s own preferences? “We’re still exploring,” says Keeling.

Three wines to try:

Paolo Bea Montefalco Sagrantino ‘Pagliaro’ 2012. “A benchmark producer” of natural reds, says Keeling. “I also really like the label.” This spirited sagrantino is made in Umbria.

Quinta do Ermizio Vinho Verde ‘Chin Chin’ 2020. Noble Rot’s house white in its Bloomsbury and Soho restaurants. A fresh vinho verde adorned with artwork by Jose Mendez, who also did the shop’s mural and signage, and a snip at £12 (€14).

Rousset-Martin Savagnin ‘Cuvée de Professeur’ 2018. A deep, rich, savoury wine from the French Jura from Beaune-born winemaker-to-watch François Rousset-Martin. Pairs nicely with a nibble of comté.


High hopes

Mexican architect Frida Escobedo’s buildings have been praised for their interplay of light, shadow and geometry, earning her recognition on both sides of the Atlantic (writes Carolina Abbott Galvão). She has won various prizes, including The Architectural Review’s Emerging Architect award, and her work has been featured at the Venice Architecture Biennale and Lisbon Architecture Triennale as well as in San Francisco and New York. She also remains the youngest architect to have been commissioned to design the Serpentine Pavilion in London’s Hyde Park. We talk to her about mornings in Mexico City, long walks and why she always keeps bread and butter in the house.

Where do we find you this weekend?
Visiting some friends. But usually I’m here at home.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
Breakfast with my partner. He’s from Chihuahua and there’s a particular dish we like to make from that region with eggs and cured meat. Then maybe we take a nap afterwards.

News or not?
I try to avoid it. During the week we usually have the news on when we eat breakfast and it can all become a little overwhelming. So on weekends, it’s usually some lighter reading.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
A few months ago I started going on long walks and it’s something I really enjoy. I buy flowers and bread while I’m at it and sometimes I take my cousin, which gives us a chance to catch up.

Lunch in or out?
We try to go out, though it’s more difficult now. There are a couple of places nearby that we trust and go to often: Contramar and Cascabel. They’re super nice, old-fashioned restaurants.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
Coffee for my partner and black tea for me. Also bread and butter. If there’s no bread in my kitchen, it feels like there’s nothing there.

Sunday culture must?
It depends on what I’m working on. Right now I’m rereading Homer’s Odyssey.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
In the morning, tea with a bit of milk. In the afternoon, it’s probably white or orange wine.

The ideal dinner menu?
If we don’t eat out, we’ll usually order burgers.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
I take a very long bath. It feels like a treat.

What will you be wearing on Monday?
Usually just jeans and a shirt. I’ve become very practical lately, especially since during the summer in Mexico City the weather is always changing. It can be cold in the morning, hot around noon and then start raining later.


Where next?

How can we improve the design of our cities? What’s the next great sunny destination in which to set up shop? How can we bounce back after a crisis? For the Monocle Quality of Life Conference 2021, we’ve assembled a line-up of bright minds and business leaders to answer these questions over three sun-kissed days in Athens, running from 23 to 25 September. Expect to hear from mayor of Athens Kostas Bakoyannis about how he keeps his citizens happy, as well as from Emma Tucker, editor of London’s The Sunday Times, who will be giving her views on the future of media. Plus, our panel on Beirut with designers and architects examines the best ways to rebuild the beleaguered city. And there’s plenty more food for thought besides. Now go ahead and secure your ticket here. We can’t wait to see you there.


Clafoutis with blackberries

Clafoutis (cla-foo-tee) sounds rather grand but is really a rather simple baked-fruit flan. Swiss chef Ralph Schelling adds a hint of salinity to the mix and olive oil to the batter for a richer texture. This recipe suggests blackberries but seasonal riffs are advised and could include strawberries, cherries, raspberries or figs. Stone fruits work well in autumn too. Schelling’s recommendation? “I also like to mix in a little lemon curd with bergamot and lemon zest, or add flaked almonds on top.”

Serves 4

450g blackberries
130g cane sugar
6 eggs
2 pinches sea salt
100g flour
450g cream
4 tbsps olive oil
Icing sugar
Crème fraiche
Flaked almonds (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Sprinkle berries in a baking dish with half the sugar and crush lightly.

  2. In a bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining sugar by hand for 1 to 2 minutes or with a mixer until soft peaks are formed, then add the salt and fold in the flour while stirring gently.

  3. Gently add the cream and oil to the egg mixture.

  4. Pour the liquid batter over the berries – don’t worry if some of them peek out the top, it all adds to the effect. Bake in the oven at 180C for about 35 minutes. Top with icing sugar and flaked almonds if you have them, and enjoy warm with a dollop of crème fraiche.


Less is more

Brazilian hotel group Fasano’s first US property recently opened on one of Manhattan’s most sought-after streets, just across from Central Park. But Fasano Fifth Avenue feels different from the group’s previous offerings. It bills itself not as a hotel as such but as a members’ club: there’s a 30-day minimum stay on its 11 guestrooms, which reflects New York’s strict occupancy requirement for apartment-hotels.

While Fasano’s flagship in São Paulo is famous for its opulence and glamour, Fasano Fifth Avenue, between 62nd and 63rd streets, aims for something more subtle. Behind the handsome 14-storey limestone façade, discretion is the watchword for architect and interior designer Thierry Despont. There’s a barely-there lobby with just a couple of cognac-leather chairs beside the check-in desk.

The gym, sauna and terrace are just as intimate, as is club restaurant and bar Baretto New York, in which, given founder Rogério Fasano’s well-known good taste and restaurant experience, you can count on the cuisine. Behind a door at the back of the building, in a nod to the Fasano family’s heritage, Baretto offers small-plate Italian food alongside classic cocktails. Wine-red and mustard-yellow velvet chairs and a mirrored wall add a decadent touch; outside, there’s a quaint courtyard for a breath of fresh air.

Once upon a time, the well-to-do would stay at the nearby Plaza Hotel to announce to the world that they’d “arrived” in New York. Today they might consider putting down roots at Fasano instead: there’s a sense that once you’re settled here, you might not want to leave.

For more of what you’ve missed from the world of travel, buy our July/August issue, which is out now


Halls of power

The names of architectural movements, even if they win fans over time, usually start life as insults (writes Josh Fehnert). You name it, from “brutalism” (from the French béton brut, meaning “raw concrete” but also alluding to the sometimes-barbarous aesthetics) to “baroque” (from a word meaning a misshapen pearl), the terms we now apply to styles started as scoffs before grudgingly gaining acceptance. The chilly reception usually subsides a generation or two after construction, when the pleas for conservation and re-evaluation start.

The term “mid-century” has a positive connotation today but it remains a rather muddy catch-all. In the UK alone, the ambit ambles from cheap prefab housing to colossal concrete behemoths of culture (such as London’s Royal Festival Hall) and pretty much anything erected between the 1930s and 1970. The broadness of this church was one reason why I was intrigued to open the lemon-yellow covers of Elain Harwood’s new title Mid-Century Britain, published by Batsford. She doesn’t disappoint. The book helps to contextualise the great shifts in thought and technology that shaped the UK in those formative years, resulting in the structures we see before us today. She traces the excitement of the 1951 Festival of Britain through spurring commissions and a vernacular that still raises pulses and eyebrows to this day.

Enter a procession of potted histories of notable and lesser-seen buildings across the UK, from the cake-stand of a ferry terminal in the Isle of Man to a south London bus station, a Plymouth bank and a Liverpool sugar silo. Many curmudgeonly town planners and residents had misgivings when they were erected but today they are intriguing examples of their ilk and ideology: each a sentence in the sometimes-loathed and sometimes-adored story of mid-century architecture. And no, that isn’t by any means an insult. Have a super Sunday.


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