To round off a demanding first full week of the year, settle in for tales of Arabian oysters, a lesson in weekend relaxation from auctioneer Marie Filippi and a recipe for mushroom stroganoff to dish up this evening (secret ingredient: whisky). Plus: where to eat and shop in Faro, Portugal. Starting us off, Tyler Brûlé has a train to catch.
The first working week of this new year has been spent on the rails rolling up, down and all across Switzerland. It started last Sunday afternoon in the Gourmino dining car of the Rhätische Bahn with me, Mom and Mats on one table and our friends Gillian and Judy across the aisle on another. If you’ve not yet experienced this little slice of civilised essential infrastructure then it’s time to rethink your next Alpine holiday and ensure that, somewhere between Chur and St Moritz, you book yourself a spot in one of the vintage dining cars and settle in with a good bottle of white from Graubünden, as well as some of the most arresting scenery that Europe has to offer.
Having been a regular on this route for over 20 years I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve parked myself on one of the banquettes and marvelled at the fact that such a railway network was ever built, and that the regional and Federal governments continue to indulge such a setup for locals and visitors alike. While the likes of Amtrak focus on reducing their service and making things more casual for a new generation of passengers they believe don’t like tablecloths, the Swiss are sticking to linen, proper candles, chunky glassware and windows that still pull down so you can fill your lungs when you pull into tiny stations.
As the train passed in and out of snow squalls, I took stock of the general life improvement that comes with public transport that doesn’t simply function but also elevates your mood
On Wednesday I pulled out of Zürich’s main station – destination St Gallen. The one-hour journey turned out to be even more picturesque than planned as a light snowfall had just blanketed the fields and forests and it brought a certain calm to the mood in the carriage. On arrival I met my colleagues Carlo, Raffi and Linus and we made our way up to the University of St Gallen for a preview of architect Sou Fujimoto’s new building at the heart of the campus. Dubbed Square, the glass, concrete and steel structure feels like a bit of Aoyama dropped in the middle of a bourgeois neighbourhood and makes for a most handsome contribution. After a quick tour, briefing and brainstorming session (watch this space for a new project) it was back down the hill and on the train back to Zürich. We made our way to the dining car, found a table for four, ordered some nibbles and a bottle of white from the Valais, and the 65-minute journey sped by like it was 15.
The week wrapped with a lunch in Basel on Friday via a fresh bit of rolling stock for the outbound journey with well-positioned plugs and good air circulation but lights that were a bit too bright (worse when the sun dips). After 52 minutes I pulled into Basel, jumped on a tram that took me to the Volkshaus for lunch and an hour and a half later settled into a comfy, deep seat from one of SBB’s older carriages headed back to Zürich. As the train passed in and out of snow squalls, I took stock of the week just passed and the general life improvement that comes with public transport that doesn’t simply function but also elevates your mood because it’s been well-designed and is staffed by people who clearly take pride and love their jobs. Though Switzerland’s railway companies have delivered some clever initiatives on the digital front, this week on the rails was that little bit better because every conductor had a smile, kept a spring in their step and took the time to wish all passengers a gutes Neues (happy New Year) while scanning or punching tickets. Publicly funded transport as it should be.
Markthalle Pfefferberg isn’t in one of Berlin’s airy, purpose-built 19th-century marketplaces such as Markthalle Neun. Instead, it’s squeezed into a street-level space in a former brewery. Yet since opening in spring 2021, word of this latest food court has quickly spread around the city. Heribert Willmerdinger, one of Pfefferberg’s two owners, sits at a table in the wood-panelled dining area as 1970s rock music from the bar mixes with reggaeton from the taquería. To his left is natural wine shop Valla Vino; to the right a tattooed barber gets to work.
What the area needed, according to Willmerdinger and his partner Michael Heiden, was a place like White Trash, the legendary burger bar and music venue that closed in 2016. The DIY feel of Markthalle Pfefferberg’s interior is a nod towards that old rockabilly hangout and part of a streetwear shop opposite the bar doubles as a DJ booth. When Markthalle Pfefferberg opened in June, butcher Maurice Wengatz, who makes his own sausages on site, was the only tenant. A Mexican grocery shop by cookbook author Ivette Pérez followed, stocking fresh tortillas and salsas. Today there’s also pizza, cakes and Vietnamese food. And then there’s Taquería El Oso, arguably the Markthalle’s crown jewel, since it grew out of Berlin’s best taco truck, Sabor a Mí.
Schönhauser Allee 176
Oysters have long thrived off the warm shores of the Arabian Peninsula but it took a Scotsman to see a market for selling them at scale to an increasingly hungry market. In 2016, Ramie Murray founded an 18-hectare farm in the Indian Ocean, off the town of Dibba, Fujairah, in the shadow of the Hajar mountain range. As the coastline is sparsely populated, the water is clean and rich in nutrients, which keeps the oysters healthy – after all, these are the same conditions that once made the region famous for its pearls.
Production has increased tenfold over the past two years, and Ramie expects it to double again by early 2022 as exports now account for nearly half of sales. Although they’re now sold in more than 100 restaurants and shops in the UAE and Russia, Dibba’s seaside restaurant in Dubai is the best place to sink a half dozen and toast Murray’s harvest.
For more on the UAE’s food scene and other highlights, pick up a copy of the December/January issue of Monocle.
French auction house Piasa has been evolving under the directorship of Corsica-born CEO Marie Filippi, who joined in 2016 after a career in finance. Located in a grand townhouse on Paris’s Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Piasa offers its clients a varied selection of design pieces, contemporary art and rare books. Filippi tells us about an invaluable kitchen appliance, online art classes and splashing out.
Where are you this weekend?
I am staying in Paris, at Piasa. During the sales season, I am always in Paris during the weekend.
What’s your ideal beginning to a Sunday – a gentle start or a jolt?
Mornings are always for swimming.
Soundtrack of choice?
Young French rap producers. At the moment I’ve been listening to Livaï’s new album Une Belle Mort.
What’s for breakfast?
Fruit and cheese.
News or no news?
I read Le Monde in the evenings and in the morning I reach for Les Echos, the Financial Times and Le Figaro. But I also love Elle, most interior design magazines and Vogue.
What’s for lunch?
I work out then eat a salad in the office. I don’t like going to restaurants for lunch unless it’s with clients.
Any kitchen essentials?
My Thermomix! I make soup with it nearly every day. And I need vegetables.
A cultural recommendation?
Yes, but I’m not really up to date. I loved the Danish/Swedish series Broen [The Bridge] and the Israeli series Fauda.
Any Sunday rituals?
On Sundays, I make soup, pour myself a little glass of red wine and watch replays of online art classes by Le Paon. I love their portrait and watercolour classes. I’m awful at it but it’s very relaxing and open to all levels. It’s important to let your creativity take over and to disconnect a little before Monday.
This week, Swiss chef Ralph Schelling whips up a new take on a Russian classic, stroganoff. His version swaps the meat for mushrooms and is best enjoyed with rice or wide egg noodles (cook those according to packet instructions). Enjoy.
1 red onion
2 garlic cloves
4 pickled onions
4 sprigs fresh leaf parsley
300g mixed mushrooms
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp capers
150ml vegetable stock
¼ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp ground cumin
80g crème fraîche
Finely chop the red onion and garlic and slice the pickled onions and cornichons. Separate the parsley leaves from the stems and roughly chop both, keeping them separate.
Heat a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the mushrooms and red onions. Shake and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
Drizzle in the oil, then add the garlic, pickled onions, cornichons, parsley stems and capers.
After 2 minutes, add the whisky and ignite carefully (it’s flambé time). Add the stock, reduce slightly and then add paprika, cumin, crème fraîche and the parsley leaves. Stir everything well. Season with sea salt and black pepper to serve.
Thousands of Portuguese fled António de Oliveira Salazar’s dictatorship and emigrated to Paris in the 1960s, seeking a better life. In 2018, Christophe de Oliveira surprised himself by making the journey that his parents had made in reverse: he and his wife, Angelique (pictured, on right, with Christophe), left the French capital with their two children to live and work in southern Portugal. “We initially just planned to come for a year,” says de Oliveira. “Then we decided to stay.”
Among their first projects was the renovation of a neglected 1970s building in Faro’s city centre. “People used to say that it was the ugliest building in the city,” says Angelique. After three years of painstaking work (“You have to be patient and adjust to the local rhythm,” she says), it opened for guests in 2021 as The Modernist, a striking six-suite hotel. “For us, Faro is a sleeping beauty,” says Angelique, referring to the city’s beautiful yet long-overlooked building stock.
In 2017, innovation consultant Raquel Ponte, a former journalist, decided to make a career move of her own. She started working for the Faro delegation of Berlin-based digital media company Turbine Kreuzberg, where she met her partner, Austrian-Iranian programmer Rozbeh Sharahi. In early 2021 she started acting as a consultant for entrepreneurs who wanted to set up new projects and break away from the “monoculture of tourism” that dominated the conversation in the Algarve. “There are many opportunities for those willing to take risks and do things differently,” says Ponte.
But it’s not just the technology industry that is inspiring people. João Currito was in Australia the first time he saw a chocolate-like sweet made from the pods of the carob tree. Currito had grown up surrounded by the trees but their fruit had been used only “to feed pigs and the poor”, he says. When he found out that they could be used as a substitute for cocoa, he saw an opportunity. “It’s always hard when you’re trying to create something new,” says sound designer Miguel Neto, who previously lived in Barcelona for nine years. “But that’s what made me stay here. There’s still so much to do.” His wife, Lithuanian Toma Svazaite, says that Faro’s peaceful way of life, its proximity to the beach and its tight creative communities are big draws too. She also mentions projects such as Open Studios Faro, an annual event that she co-founded in which creatives open their ateliers to curious visitors. “Even I was surprised by the high number of creative people in such a small city,” says Svazaite.
Faro address book
A warm mix of time-tested recipes and regional ingredients. The menu changes regularly. Try the lamb with caramelised pears.
+351 28 982 5500
Chef Josefina Cardeza channels more than 20 years of travels to Argentina, Thailand and Portugal into dishes such as tom yum inspired by the Ria Formosa or farinheira sausage gyoza with hot pomegranate sauce. It works.
+351 91 033 0072
The best oysters and shellfish in town can be found at this respectfully renewed 200-year-old building. The house sparkling wine is an excellent surprise too.
+351 96 862 3355
Learn how to use a traditional cataplana pan, cook a tiborna (open-face sandwich) or make bread, among other culinary experiences.
Gama Rama Gallery
Set in a former 17th-century palace, this cool and welcoming space offers a wide range of works by the city’s painters, illustrators and jewellers.
13 Rua do Prior
If ever you needed proof that Danish electronics company Bang & Olufsen knows a thing or two about sound design, then treat your ears to the latest launch from its Beoplay line of headphones. The HX model is wireless but without the fiddliness of its competitors; the Bluetooth set-up takes moments.
It looks the part in dark maroon with stainless-steel trim but it doesn’t neglect the basics. The HX boasts 35 hours of battery life, excellent noise cancellation and a build-quality that guarantees that it’ll last.
To celebrate the launch of ‘The Monocle Book of Entrepreneurs’, we’ve selected a smattering of inspiring advice, ideas and bright businessfolk to spotlight. This week, Brian Collins tells us about starting his eponymous design studio and why he’s proud that his mother was his first employee.
“I started my first design company when I was 22 years old. I had no money so I worked out of the bedroom that I grew up in, set up a drafting table and ran a telephone line down the hallway and into the kitchen. My mother would answer the phone and say, ‘The Brian Collins Design Group.’ This was a conscious branding decision: I wanted to be seen as having a group of people or a company. It gave me a greater chance of landing bigger, better projects. Incredibly, it worked. Today, I’m chief creative officer of Collins. We’re an independent strategy and brand-experience design company in San Francisco and New York. We work with some of the most remarkable brands in the world, including Spotify, Nike and The San Francisco Symphony.
From the moment that you start talking about your company, launch a website or have someone answer your phone, there’s a brand there. So my argument is simple: be conscious of it. Protect it. Manage it like you would any valuable asset. Today the big challenge is no longer finding new business ideas but instead building attention for them. You create a brand by asking two key questions. First, what do you believe? That’s an internal question about authenticity: what’s the world seeking that only you can provide? Second, how do you behave? How are you relevant for your customers? At the intersection of your belief and behaviour sits your brand. A good brand seamlessly connects what it says with what it does. And the brands that are thriving right now recognise that people no longer buy only what you make. They buy who, what, where, when, why and how you make it.
Entrepreneurs are so busy running the day-to-day puzzles of their companies that these kinds of conversations can be hard to conduct but they’re necessary. The top challenge facing any entrepreneur will be not knowing exactly what next step to take or figure out how everything fits together. A good brand will keep an entrepreneur focused and motivated. Best of all, it will help them answer the question at the heart of every entrepreneur’s story: “what happens next?”
For more inspiring start-ups, tips, advice and provocations about making your passion your vocation, pick up a copy of ‘The Monocle Book of Entrepreneurs’. Have a super Sunday.