Sunday. 19/12/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

THE FASTER LANE / TYLER BRÛLÉ

Inboxing day

The sun has finally put in an appearance in our little stretch of Zürich (it’s been a soupy week of very low clouds) and there’s the gentle feeling of a city and country that’s winding down for the holiday. There’s plenty of last-weekend-before-Christmas shopping bustle in the city centre but on the street in front of Monocle’s HQ there’s a gentle flow of cars stopping by to pick up gifts, regulars popping in to wish us Frohe Weihnachten and friends gathering for a bottle of bubbles to extinguish any year-end troubles.

From time to time, people ask us why we maintain cafés and shops when we should be more active on social media and moderate our relationships digitally. It’s much cheaper, they explain. Others suggest that it must be exhausting doing all the meeting and greeting and cleaning of tables. As thoughtful as those observations might be, I wouldn’t have it any other way. For sure, being on a social media platform might give you more reach and the heady buzz that comes with lots of emojis and an uptick in followers but I don’t think it has quite the same impact as spontaneously sitting down for a morning coffee with a long-standing reader from Amsterdam or clinking glasses with visitors from Veneto who’ve never experienced Monocle first-hand and were keen to find out more.

In a little under 15 months we’ll be celebrating our 15th anniversary and while we’ve done much in the way of expansion and experimentation, being with our readers and listeners remains core to what we’re all about. As Andrew pointed out in this same slot yesterday, we did as much as we could this year in the way of bringing together our community in cities and events far and wide. Of course we could have hosted some summits online and reached more of you but is that really what we all want? Wasn’t it more fun flying in from Chicago to see us in London at the Christmas market? Or enjoying the sunshine in Hellerup for our book signing? Or sampling some lethal cocktails at Bungalow in Stuttgart?

Before sitting down to pen today’s column I was at our new little kiosk at Jelmoli department store, helping a customer select a book for her grandmother and exchanging ideas with others who thought we should be taking our concept to airport concourses far and wide. (A very good idea by the way and if you’re interested in becoming a partner I’m all ears, so drop me a note at tb@monocle.com.) Being on the shop floor is invaluable as you’re able to not only look your customer in the eye but also hear exactly what they’re looking for, where you can improve and what you’re doing well. Having these conversations face to face is usually quite pleasant; we know how easy it is to be rude and insensitive over e-mail or via anonymous feedback channels. And while we’re on the topic of correspondence, it’s that time of year when this editor’s e-mail hopper is full of special requests from readers looking to solve various Christmas gift and hospitality dilemmas. Here’s a small sampling:

Q: I want to give books to my friends, family and deserving colleagues but I also don’t want to give my money to a big online retailer. Thoughts?

A: You know I’m going to suggest you visit your local bookshop but it sounds as though you’re perhaps parked somewhere remote so might I suggest you ring up Sam at Daunt Books in Marylebone in London and have her sort out all your literary needs. But hurry, you might have heard there’s a global logistics problem.

Q: Any thoughts on the best way to be super cosy but also keep looking crisp and sharp over the holidays?

A: Okay, this can go in many directions but I think you’re saying that you want to spend the maximum amount of time in bed but also want to look respectable when wandering out onto the balcony or stepping outside to sign for packages. I’ve got one word for you: Tekla. It’s a super little textile company out of Copenhagen that makes most of its products in Portugal and can sort you out with sheets, blankets, nightshirts, robes and sharp jammies. They also deliver.

Q: I’m heading over to my grandparents’ for Christmas dinner and want to do something special – what could I give them?

A: I know exactly what they’d like: the gift of silence with a side order of tolerance and respect. If your grandfather uses terminology that you deem out of fashion because some self-interest group has suddenly rebranded itself over the past few hours, I don’t think it’s your place to call him out while he’s slicing the roast beef. It’s important to remember that though your world might move fast, others move at different speeds and not everyone needs to subscribe to the same worldview. Grandpa and grandma come from a different place from you, they certainly have had different lives and just because they’re not down with your politics, it doesn’t mean their lived experience isn’t valid. How about hearing them out rather than shutting them down?

Q: Any good wine tips?

A: Absolutely! As well as offering up a few festive suggestions within this very newsletter (see Top Cellars below), Chandra Kurt will appear on Monocle on Sunday today, with tips to get you through the season. Listen live at 10.00 CET or, if you’ve missed it, via our podcast. Failing that, might I suggest Monocle’s new Swiss pinot noir that just landed on Friday? If you bought our summer rosé, it’s the same drill – we can ship pretty much anywhere in Europe. Drop us a note at customerservice@monocle.com.

Q: I want to come to a Monocle event next year and I’d like to take my partner as a little gift. Will you be venturing out of Europe? Where do you think you’ll be hosting?

A: All staying reasonably normal we’ll most definitely be hosting events. Los Angeles is top of the list and we want to be there soon. We’re also looking at a Nordic tour for our new book devoted to the region. There’ll be a special spin on this, so if you’re a long-standing subscriber in Helsinki, Oslo, Stockholm or Copenhagen we just might be calling on your hosting services.

I’m off to the mountains for the next two weeks but will be back in this very same spot on 2 January. This newsletter will be taking a small break until then. Thank you for all your support; wishing you a very Merry Christmas, a relaxed holiday and all the best for 2022.

Eating out / Café de São Bento, Lisbon

Raising the steaks

For years, lisboetas have rung the bell next to Café de São Bento’s closed green door, before being welcomed inside by the familiar faces of the waiters. This manner of entry is as much a part of the ritual of visiting this restaurant as perusing its time-tested menu. Elegant and discreet, it feels a long way from the bustle of the Portuguese capital. In this wood-panelled room the upholstery is red tartan and the lights are pleasingly dim. “There are lots of memories here,” says António Miranda Cabral, the restaurant’s founder. Café de São Bento opened in 1982 but feels much older. Cabral and his partners – a small group of engineers, navy officers and an economist – sought to evoke the atmosphere of the Cafés Marrare, a late-18th-century set of restaurants well known for its steak in creamy sauce, served with fries.

Image: Rodrigo Cardoso
Image: Rodrigo Cardoso

“We found these photographs of those cafés in newspaper archives,” says Cabral, pointing at the black-and-white images lining the walls. Next to them are art deco lamps and two vast mirrors, bought from the space’s previous owner, an antiques dealer. In nearly 40 years, Café de São Bento has made few changes, none of them radical. Dining expanded to a room upstairs; the upholstery went from a plain cherry and yellow to today’s red tartan, always matching the waiters’ vests and bow ties. Initially the steak was the only dish that it served; the menu has since expanded to include a selection of appetisers and desserts. “We now have a vegan dish,” says Cabral. But that’s about it when it comes to novelty. The staff, some with as many as 30 years’ experience, are very much a part of the furniture. And you won’t find special menus or many frilly decorations for Christmas or New Year’s Eve celebrations.
cafesaobento.com

For the full story on what elevates a restaurant from a firm favourite to a culinary institution (plus five of Monocle’s top tables), pick up a copy of our Winter Newspaper.

Sunday Roast / Christmas special

Good tidings

This week we asked three people we admire for advice on preparing a successful festive feast and what they’re looking forward to over the Christmas season.

Peter York
President of The Media Society, London
“Christmas dinner should be different from a normal meal and have a crazed, ritualistic element in its presentation, irrespective of whether it tastes nice or not. There should ideally be a big turkey or joint and many side dishes, containing things that are never usually eaten. But avoid centrepieces so magnificent that people can’t converse with those on the opposite side of the table. Don’t bring out the china, silver or glass, which will divert too much attention from the food. And don’t employ table placement by rank. Make sure that you’re sitting at one end so you can see everyone. I like asti spumante sparkling wine and seasonal flower arrangements. I serve my family a four- or five- course meal, with a choice of two wines. I like fun desserts, such as ice cream with caramel popcorn and gold leaf. Then there’s more wine and some tea. I also like to prepare small gifts for guests to take home.”

Elena Reygadas
Chef and restaurateur, Mexico City
“I lay everything on the table so I can have a meal without needing to get up. That’s best for continuous conversation too. I ask people to bring a favourite Christmas dish so we can eat food cooked by us all; I like the idea of a collectively made dinner. I always make romeritos, a Mexican dish of seepweed with mole. I like hot, spiced fruit punch with tejocote, guava, tamarind and sugar cane. And don’t forget flowers. We get poinsettias, which are from Mexico. The Aztecs called them cuetlaxóchitl (‘wilting flower’) and saw them as a symbol of the life cycle.”

Larkin Erdmann
Gallerist, Zürich
“Always decorate the table with seasonal fruit, branches and leaves. For Christmas I suggest pine tree branches and candles. Make your dinner as cosy and boozy as possible. Start your guests off with a punch or a cocktail. Christmas dinners should be convivial; my go-tos are pots of goulash, fondue or a big bowl of fresh truffle pasta. And they shouldn’t be too formal. Think fuzzy sweaters rather than ties; leave the fancy dresses at home and bring the ugly sweaters out – it’s the only time of year when you can get away with them.”

Top of the shops / Munich

Markt improvement

Bavaria’s capital is especially welcoming at this time of year thanks to its many inviting bars and museums, and we’ve rounded up the best places for a seasonal spree. Get a taste for the city at the Viktualienmarkt in the Old Town. One of Europe’s largest open-air markets, it has sold everything from food to flowers and spices since 1807. Warm up with a mulled wine before heading to Soda (pictured) on Rumfordstrasse for magazines and books on art and culture.

Image: Conny Mirbach

Next up is Stereo Muc by the 17th-century Hofgarten. Expect menswear from Barena, Aspesi, Sunspel and more. For a mix of global and Bavarian labels, head to Lodenfrey on Maffeistrasse. This six-level department store near the gothic Frauenkirche offers tailor-made clothing and the city’s best selection of traditional Trachten, to be worn on festive occasions. There’s more Alpine fashion at Luis Trenker, which recently opened in the Fünf Höfe complex up the road from Maximilianstrasse. It’s close to Manufactum on Dienerstrasse, which sells everything from hardy homeware to fashion and has a good delicatessen (which can also be said of Dallmayr down the road). Next up is glove-maker Roeckl on Marienplatz. Founded in 1839, the family business sells hand-stitched leather gloves and accessories. Finish with a drink and hearty fillet at Brenner, in the former stables of Munich’s royal residence.

Recipe / Ralph Schelling

Duck legs on red cabbage

This week our Swiss chef offers a tasty alternative to turkey with the aromatic inclusion of red wine and five-spice. Don’t forget the redcurrant jelly for a sweet note.

Illustration: Satoshi Hashimoto, Xihanation

Serves 4

Ingredients
500g red cabbage
Salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 onions
1 tbsp of clarified butter
2 bay leaves
3 tbsps red wine vinegar
100ml red wine or chicken stock
4 duck legs (about 300g each)
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp of five-spice
1 tsp sweet paprika powder
2 tbsps olive oil
1 tart apple
1-2 tbsps redcurrant jelly

Method
1
Remove the tough outer leaves from the cabbage, halve it and cut out the stalk in a wedge shape. Slice the cabbage into 2mm strips. Put in a large bowl, season with salt and sugar, and knead vigorously. Cut onions into 2mm strips.

2
Heat clarified butter in a wide frying pan on a medium heat. Sauté onions for a minute then add cabbage and bay leaves, and simmer, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes or until it softens. Add vinegar and red wine, and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.

3
Cut the thigh bone out from each of the duck legs.

4
In a small bowl, combine the honey, five-spice, paprika, salt and olive oil. Massage legs with seasoning.

5
Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the red cabbage into a roasting dish at the bottom of the oven and the duck legs on a rack above it, so that the juices fall onto the cabbage.

6
Roast for 30 minutes then reduce the temperature to 180C for a further 45 minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, peel and grate the red apple. Remove the red cabbage and duck legs from the oven and mix the apple into the cabbage. Salt to taste, season with redcurrant jelly and serve.
ralphschelling.com

Postcard from… / Hong Kong

Season’s eatings

A few days before Christmas, Chinese people in Hong Kong will get together to eat tangyuan, a clear soup full of sweet rice dumplings (writes James Chambers). There’s a symbolic meaning behind every Chinese tradition and tangyuan represents family unity. You eat together and stay together. Sharing a bowl of these rice balls will have added meaning this year for all of the Hong Kong families who have been waving off loved ones at the airport – and I can relate to their pangs of separation. This will be my second successive Christmas in Hong Kong and the first with my son, who will not be able to meet his grandparents in the UK. But Christmas is always more special with children around and I have added reason to go big on the family traditions. Sure, my son might be only nine months old but he’ll wake up on Christmas morning with a stocking next to his cot stuffed with tangerines. I might even throw in some dragon fruit to add a taste of Hong Kong. Years from now, when we’re back in the UK, he’ll be able to look at photos of himself in front of Hong Kong skyscrapers that are lit up like Christmas trees and shopping centres decked out in fake snow with models of penguins and polar bears.

Maybe this year my son will try mashed-up turkey for the first time. Chinese don’t eat “fire chicken”, as turkey is known in Cantonese, so we have yet to feed him any. Indeed, last year I had my first insight into how curious culinary customs can seem to the uninitiated. We hosted Christmas dinner for my wife’s friends, all of whom are Chinese, and it was my job to plan the dinner, carve the turkey and explain what Brits eat at this time of year. Seeing the bewildered faces of my guests when they were presented with a mountain of roast potatoes, sprouts, stuffing, sausages, Yorkshire pudding, parsnips and carrots reminded me of my first run-in with one of their delicacies – chicken feet. There was a lot of gravy-soaked food being pushed around plates and little clamour for seconds.

We’ll adjust it all to regional tastes this Christmas, though I’m expecting fewer sign-ups. Several of the people at our table last year will be spending their first winter in the UK. As they settle into their new surroundings, I hope my crash course has given them a taste for this magical time of year, if not a hankering for turkey with all the trimmings.

Top cellars / Wines to buy

Christmas corkers

Christmas is a great time to share wine discoveries with family and friends. Welcoming your dearest with the right glass creates a sense of occasion. The following bottles, bursting with flavour, are festive memories in the making. Wine writer and author Chandra Kurt offers her top tips.

Image: Véronique Hoegger

White

Balaton 2017, Hidden Treasures / A Moric Project No 3, Hungary
Riesling, furmint
This aromatic white, a collaboration between superstar Austrian wine-maker Roland Velich and small Hungarian winery Villa Tolnay, is a treasure. Aromas of citrus, honey, lemongrass and exotic fruits make this lovely as an aperitif or with nibbles.

Santorini 2019, Estate Argyros, Greece
Assyrtiko
Estate Argyros celebrates the beauty of the Greek assyrtiko grape. Wonderfully juicy and complex, bone dry and with a creamy texture and salty minerality, it has the taste of concentrated fruit. Ideal with starters.

Sparkling

Lacourte-Godbillon, Premier Cru, France
Pinot noir, chardonnay
Géraldine Lacourte and Richard Desvignes are the couple of the moment among champagne-makers. Their wine benefits from the best premier cru locations in the Montagne de Reims, grapes that are grown on naturally cultivated vineyards and an elegant approach in the cellar. Consider this insider tip an early Christmas present.

Red

Tschuppen 2017, Ziereisen, Germany
Pinot noir
After a six-week maceration, this wine is aged in small barrels for 26 months. It seduces with notes of spice and cherry aromas. It’s light and pairs well with poultry.

Grain gamay 2018, Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Switzerland
Gamay
Stephan Reinhardt, who judges for Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, gave this pure gamay 96 out of 100, making it one of his highest-ranked Swiss wines.

Rosé

Brancaia 2020, Italy
Merlot
A pure merlot from Maremma, near the Mediterranean. It’s a fresh, delicate drink that is medium-bodied with notes of raspberries, roses and red cherries.

Sweet

2015 Jean-Rene Germanier Amigne de Vetroz Mitis Reserve, Switzerland
Amigne
One of Switzerland’s most extraordinary sweet wines, with notes of honey, sweet peaches, nougat and tangerine sorbet. There’s no better accompaniment to Christmas pudding. Cheers!

Parting shot / How to start a fire

Hot pursuit

We’ve turned to a star Swedish chef for his tips on creating a heart-warming hearth around which to warm yourself. Here are Niklas Ekstedt’s tips for a chestnut-roasting inferno that burns brightly and smells good too.

“Growing up in northern Sweden, I was taught how to light fires by my dad. The first thing he told me was that you can’t make a fire with damp wood. He also taught me that you have to start small – the smaller the better – and then grow it. The most common mistake that people make when lighting a fire is to put huge logs on it too early, which will just kill the flame. At home we always burn birch wood, starting with the bark. To create the kindling I’ll carve the bark into very small pieces and then use some small sticks, which I light with matches to get things going. It’s a very nice smell. When the fire is roaring, we like to heat a cast-iron pan over the fire and add sugar, cognac and spices to it. It’s a Swedish version of mulled wine, called glögg.”

For more tips, tricks and plenty in the way of inspiring writing and fresh photography, pick up our December/January issue of the magazine or treat yourself (or your loved ones) to a subscription. Have a super Sunday.

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