This week, wrap up some pitch-perfect present shopping in Lisbon, whip up some earl grey-cured salmon blinis from our simple recipe and hear from three of our favourite writers on their festive favourites. Plus: how to wrap a present and some thoughts on the future of business travel from Mr Brûlé.
Monocle’s final print launch of 2021, our Winter Newspaper, is hitting newsstands and finding its way to letterboxes this weekend. Inside you’ll find interviews, last-minute gift ideas, recipes and essays, all to keep you entertained between runs down the slope or in that quiet moment when the relatives have left and tranquility returns to your household. Below is a little excerpt from our business pages. You’ll note that the latest variant has changed some of the measures around international travel but you should get the idea.
Do any of these stolen snippets sound familiar?
“I really wanted to go and see that exhibition in Paris with some of our clients but our company has a travel ban so we can’t.”
“We just sponsored a major new sports facility and I was looking forward to being there for the launch but our company has slashed travel budgets for the coming year and I couldn’t attend.”
“At this time of year we’re usually out on the road doing a benchmarking and competitive set tour but our CEO has told us we now need to do it from our desks.”
If you’ve found yourself on the receiving end of an array of new corporate travel and communication policies that demand you stay at home, only meet clients virtually and don’t dare think about getting on a train or plane, how do you feel about it? If you’re one of the departments or leaders that helped to implement these policies, how are you feeling as you look across the next year? Are you doing it because everyone else in your sector is doing it and you’re afraid of being shamed? Are you happy that your staff are all working from home and fulfilling their job descriptions via video conferences? Are you a little tempted to suddenly drop the no-travel policy and set your brightest and hungriest staff loose? If not, you should be.
As this newspaper was starting to take shape I boarded a Finnair flight from Zürich. My destination was Seoul via Helsinki. Since the start of the pandemic I’ve been monitoring Monocle’s key Asian markets to see which would move first in terms of opening their borders for business. At the start of November, South Korea shifted to a “living with coronavirus” policy, in stark contrast to the approach of China, Taiwan and even Japan. It means that business travellers can apply for a quarantine waiver, take a PCR test on arrival and, if the result is negative, freely hit the streets. It wasn’t until the A350 was rolling down the runway that I even considered what might happen if my test was positive, aside from how 10 days of quarantine at the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul would be pricey. Fortunately, all was fine and, with my colleague Guido, I blitzed the South Korean capital over three days of intense meetings, scouting, shopping and visual stimulation.
At companies big and small we were warmly welcomed. Once drinks had been served and cards exchanged, most meetings started with either, “It’s so wonderful to see you again,” or, “Thank you for making the effort to fly in to see us. You’re the first clients we’ve seen from outside South Korea in nearly two years.” When I heard this at a major electronics company (which could I possibly be talking about?) at the start of my trip, I assumed that it was just a polite form of greeting. But as the days passed, it became clear that we were taking on the status of exotic European explorers, re-establishing relationships with forgotten outposts.
“What’s it like, flying long haul? How was it entering our country? Is everyone travelling around Europe with ease? Where will you go next?” Aside from the curiosity about the outside world, every meeting revealed the power of human connection, the ease and efficiency that comes with being in the same space, and the advantages of stepping away from a screen and being able to take over a room with gestures and physical products, and to read an entire boardroom table in an instant. It’s the power that comes with being in the moment that too many corporations are dismissing as they seek to cut costs and avoid risk.
A CEO in the travel sector summed up this attitude more succinctly. “All of those companies that are banning travel and think they can manage relationships digitally after the pandemic has run its course are foolish,” he said. “We can already see that smart entrepreneurs are getting out in the world and cutting ahead of corporates who once might have owned a relationship.” Over an extended lunch he went on to suggest that this collective decision to not be out in the world could be the undoing of many corporations as more nimble, owner-operated businesses show up in person for presentations and employ the tried-and-tested sales tactics of showmanship, offering gifts that fall just below corporate compliance thresholds, post-meeting drinks, a jolly dinner and maybe even a round of singing.
All of this begs the question, how will you do business in 2022? If you’re feeling constrained by restrictions from on high, will you raise your concerns at the next company town hall or will you go along with the narrative that sitting at home is better for the environment and travelling is over-rated, exhausting and an unnecessary expense? If you’re the author of such policies, what will you tell shareholders when more agile companies steal big accounts and land huge contracts? For many businesses, an abundance of caution might prove more deadly than the pandemic.
Read more on business trends for the coming year, as well as culture, fashion and politics, in Monocle’s Winter Newspaper, which is out now.
“Fusion is confusion,” says chef Mohammad Orfali with a grin from behind his thick, round spectacles before serving a pistachio éclair from a glass vitrine. Along with his siblings Wassim and Omar, Orfali (pictured) co-founded Syrian restaurant Orfali Bros in Dubai in spring 2021 after more than a decade as a TV chef (he says that “chef” will do). He sees the food that the trio concoct as a link to their homeland but at the same time it’s a resolutely refined take – just don’t call it fusion.
The dishes are delicious, from the umami-rich wagyu-beef shish with sour cherry ketchup, pine nuts and cinnamon, to the stracciatella pide (flatbread) with heirloom tomato and Aleppo pepper. Yum. Despite the flair and invention on show, Orfali is humble about his work. “This food thing was a mistake,” he says with a giggle. “I’m just a man who wasn’t so good in school and who likes to eat.” Thankfully for us, he likes to cook too.
Monocle’s December/January issue, which is on newsstands now, features a dedicated 48-page guide to the UAE.
Despite being built across seven hills, Lisbon is a gratifyingly walkable city for a Christmas shopping spree. Heading up our retail hit list is Chapelaria Azevedo Rua, a city institution dating from 1886, which stocks hats including trilbies, bowlers, berets and a dapper range that riffs on regional Portuguese headgear. A shortish walk away from Baixa is Chiado, where you should keep your eyes peeled for a diminutive space on Rua do Carmo called Luvaria Ulisses. Here you can get your hands on a pair of excellent custom-made cashmere-lined gloves.
For more Portuguese goodies – and perhaps a bottle or two of port – we suggest a visit to A Vida Portuguesa’s space on Rua Anchieta. After dashing down to Javá Rooftop for a quick coffee and a bite to eat, you can jump in a taxi for a short ride north to well-heeled Príncipe Real and Embaixada, a residence dating from 1877 in which a cluster of independent shops now sell everything from woollen throws to vinyl records and cosmetics. Nearby, both Kolovrat and Maison Nuno Gama have you covered for clothing, including suits, shirts and shoes. We’re then heading over to the Alcântara neighbourhood, where Margarida Fabrica (pictured) offers a wonderful collection of ceramics. The closing chapter of our tour is at Livraria Ler Devagar, a palace of print that’s piled high with a best-in-class bookshop that’s all housed in a former newspaper-printing facility.
To get us into the festive spirit this week, we’ve asked three people we admire – Kylie Kwong, Thomas Chatterton Williams and Mirkku Kullberg (pictured, from left) – about their ideal Christmas, how to entertain and what they’re looking forward to seeing on the table.
Chef, restaurateur and cookery book author, Sydney
“Sydney recently emerged from a three-month lockdown, so the only real rule seems to be to engage in endless holiday dinners to make up for all of that precious lost time. I love cooking with Australian ingredients: stir-fried sweet yabbies (a freshwater crustacean) with XO sauce; lemon aspen and Geraldton wax; steamed school prawns with ginger, shallot and sea parsley; my Australian-Cantonese coleslaw with bush mint; plus deep-fried silken tofu with ‘old man saltbush’ salt and finger lime. Forget the fancy tablecloth; it’s all best eaten with your hands and plenty of chilled drinks.”
Thomas Chatterton Williams
Author and cultural critic, Paris
“I’m a fan of using the nicest things you own, even when it isn’t a particularly important occasion, while not making a big fuss of it. In France it’s easy to find well-preserved sets of vintage porcelain, crystal and silverware, so I try to take advantage of that. There should also always be colourful cloth napkins and table linen. Place settings don’t have to match perfectly. And a beautiful red wine looks so much more significant when it’s transferred from the bottle into a decanter. My mother makes delicious, homey American holiday meals involving baked ham, huge turkeys, gravy, greens and a genuinely unforgettable sweet potato pie. In Paris, my mother-in-law makes equally impressive, more refined fare: a turkey or capon that she wraps in lard, served with mounds of baked apples and chestnuts, and a celery purée. I don’t want to see any smartphones, plastic bottles, cigarette packets, scented candles or empty glasses on the table. When it comes to drinks, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel: everyone feels best when champagne is flowing.”
CEO, Glasshouse Helsinki, Helsinki
“I have two daughters and love having them and their families with us. Dinner is served after 19.00 but we have a festive porridge at about midday, after the Christmas Peace is announced on TV. First we have the fish dishes and drink schnapps, then ham with wine and beer. After the main courses, there’s a break before the desserts and cheese. Always have good chocolate available. Take your time and do everything with care. Create traditions. Make time for joy and hope. Write your own Christmas stories.”
Swiss chef Ralph Schelling shares one of his favourite seasonal starters (with a twist, of course). As well as the bergamot scent of earl grey tea, this recipe also offers an invitation to the art of curing, which is easier than you might imagine. Enjoy.
400g fresh salmon (loin or royal fillet)
35g cane sugar
25g coarse salt
10g loose-leaf earl grey tea
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
Zest of one lime
2 tbsps sour cream
Dill or chives
Remove any salmon bones then mix the sugar, salt, tea leaves, coriander seeds and lime zest in a small bowl.
Coat the salmon with the mixture and cover. Leave this to marinate in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
When done, scrape off the sugar and spice, drain off the liquid and leave in the fridge until ready to use.
Cut the salmon into thin, 2mm to 3mm slices using a sharp knife. Drape across the blinis and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of herbs.
The Danes have a habit of taking German inventions and then going all in (writes Michael Booth). They did it with Lutheranism, with the use of cinnamon in their baked goods and, boy, do they go to town with Christmas traditions. Then again, what is Christmas if not an almighty collision of Lutheranism and cinnamon? Like hygge, the classic Danish Christmas can be seen as a natural reaction to the country’s climate and topography. There is little going on outdoors here in the months of November and December (jealous glances are cast towards the ski slopes of Sweden and Norway) so the focus is very much on the indoor sphere. Christmas is the ultimate domestic festival to ward off the winter gloom and see people through to spring.
Aside from the afternoon trip to church on Christmas Eve, which is probably the only time that Jesus is mentioned, the Danish Christmas is above all a celebration of home and family. The ritual varies from family to family but it roughly goes like this: after church, you return home for drinks and marzipan-heavy confections. The centrepiece of the ensuing dinner is typically flaeskesteg (roast pork with crackling) – the reasoning being that pork is fine for every other day of the year, so why not Christmas? Alternatives might be duck or goose. Turkey, not so much. Sides: red cabbage and boiled potatoes inexplicably rolled in caramel.
Another notable aspect of a Danish Christmas is how child-unfriendly it is, almost to a sadistic degree. Though their thoughts will naturally be fixated on presents, first the little ones must endure church, then a very adult-oriented meal, traditionally followed by rice pudding. Within this hefty dessert will be concealed a whole almond. Whoever finds it must keep shtum until the entire bowl is empty, forcing people to eat more than is comfortable in their quest to win the “almond present”. Next comes the lighting of the tree, a magical moment to melt even the Scroogiest of hearts. A sidenote about the tree: it must be real. Since the Danes culled mink as a coronavirus precaution, the country’s Christmas-tree industry is even more vital for the national economy. Meanwhile, the candles in the Georg Jensen candleholders are real, effectively turning the things into giant indoor firelighters.
Family members then take turns to choose a Christmas hymn for all to sing as they hold hands and dance around the tree. After half a dozen or so songs, someone will finally launch into “Nu är det jul igen” (“Now it’s Christmas Again”) and lead a tipsy conga through every room of the house, tramping joyfully over the beds, before returning, perhaps a little out of breath, to collapse on the sofa for the orgy of present-opening; all are unwrapped long before the dawn of Christ’s actual birthday.
The Ida Historic Town Apartments in the South Tyrolean village of Sterzing are the latest endeavour of entrepreneurs Veronika Stötter and Daniel Planer. The 10 flats are just three doors down from the couple’s Vinzenz wine bar, named after Stötter’s grandfather, and their 12-bedroom hotel Haus am Turm, which opened in summer 2021. Both buildings are 14th-century townhouses and are a short walk from the cable-car, which takes you into the mountains.
The flats were designed by Brixen-based architect Armin Sader and finished with grey terrazzo, oak trimmings and sturdy larch floors. Corner benches and ceiling panelling bridge the gothic and baroque elements of the parlours, while the handcrafted furniture gives the interiors a welcoming feel. Have your breakfast and a newspaper delivered or enjoy them at Vinzenz, which Stötter describes as the living room. “Our next project is to plant our own plot of land on the mountainside so we can grow our own fruit and berries for our compôtes,” she says.
For more places to cosy up, plus scoops and ideas to see you through the season, pick up Monocle’s ‘Winter Newspaper Special’
A neat and nattily wrapped gift shows more than the giver’s dexterity with double-sided tape; it suggests that care and attention has gone into the process. And if all else fails? Bows and ribbons to the rescue. Kristina Heinrichs, owner of stationery shop RSVP Papier in Berlin, here tells us how to become a wrap star.
“The secret – though it’s not that secret – is to always cut the wrapping paper the right size for the gift that you’re wrapping. It can’t be too big or too little but you can cut any excess as you go along. I always fold exposed edges of the paper to make it look neater and use double-sided tape to hold down the folds so there’s nothing visible on the paper. I like combining different patterns, so for the finishing touch I use a strip of leftover wrapping paper from a different design to create a kind of band that I wrap around the present.
“I’ve worked at places before that went in for really extravagant wrapping but the service that we offer our customers is much more subtle. We use all different kinds of paper, including a really delicate, gold-speckled variety that I love. My technique for tackling awkward shapes involves cutting a large square of wrapping paper and placing the object diagonally against one of the corners. You then fold in the edges before wrapping the rest of the paper around the item. My old boss told me to think of it like a fishmonger wrapping up a fish at the market. And, if all else fails, remember that a beautiful ribbon can hide all manner of sins.”
If you’re still stuck for gift ideas, consider giving a Monocle subscription to your nearest and dearest. We’ll take care of the wrapping. Have a super Sunday.