For this week’s feast, morsels include an essay from The River Café’s Ruth Rogers on the past 15 years in restaurants, Afghan-Australian chef Durkhanai Ayubi on her ideal breakfast and a recipe from Aya Nishimura for miso-marinated lamb chops. First, Tyler Brûlé is back in school.
It was 1977 and the grade-three pupils of Suddaby Public School in Kitchener, Ontario had been asked to take home a special hand-out, explaining that the school would be holding a special day to celebrate ethnic heritage. It said that parents should think creatively about what their children should wear and share to explain their family backgrounds. Any chance to play dress-up and make a presentation was always a cause for excitement so the kitchen table was cleared, closets flung open and photo albums pulled from bookshelves, and we set to work figuring out how to tell my family’s story. As the Brûlé side of the family arrived in Canada in the 17th century, it was decided that the costumes would be too complex and there wasn’t enough known to make a compelling presentation. So we opted to go with my mom’s side, as we had the photos, flags and associated props to create a dazzling story about Estonia. As I knew the backgrounds of most of my fellow classmates, it was going to be difficult to stand out among the Polish kids with their homemade pickles, the Hungarians and their fancy cakes and the Ukrainian girls with their braids and fancy red boots. While no-one ever said our ethnic-heritage day was a competition, every pupil and parent knew that this was an opportunity to push their best dishes, dance moves and elaborate national costumes to the front of the class and hopefully score an A+ in what was already fashionably termed “social studies”.
When the big day rolled around, I was dropped off at school in a cobbled-together Estonian national costume (knickerbockers, knee-socks, clunky shoes, tab-collar shirt and vest) which was more “random peasant farmer from any eastern European country” than it was specifically Estonian. With my presentation materials under my arm, I entered the school yard. I recall a Greek family pulling up in a big truck and 20 family members walking in with trays of treats, with one of the kids dressed up in a perfect replica of the ceremonial uniform worn by Greek guards – complete with fluffy pom-poms on his shoes. Across the playing field, German kids were walking together in Lederhosen and Dirndls and the Ukrainian kids, as expected, were in their boots, braids and ribbons, brandishing pierogi in Tupperware containers. I was completely outgunned.
“We all hate Russia,” he said, and the class burst into laughter.
After singing the national anthem (does this still happen in Canadian schools?) at the start of class, our teacher set out the programme for the day and everyone started to pull together their presentations. For the better part of the morning, classmates whose families had come from Romania, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Yugoslavia and other points behind the Iron Curtain told stories about the respective cuisines that their grandmothers cooked (no sampling the baked goods till lunch), what their countries were known for and how their families had come to Canada. The really clever kids had boxes full of objects for show and tell (ceremonial knives, glassware and assorted knick-knacks sent by relatives left behind in Bucharest and Kraków). Little surprise, the Greek girl passed around chunks of marble that she claimed had come from some ancient temple but I was already onto her little racket and quickly seeded doubt amongst my classmates in the back: “Can she even prove it? And even if it is real, it means her family stole it!”
By the time the lunch bell rang, I had heard 27 presentations and most had a common theme: the majority of us came from countries that had been occupied by Russia; our families had been refugees; and our grandparents, moms, dads, uncles and cousins had to flee at various points since 1945 to find safer, happier lives in Canada. At the back of the classroom, tables had been set up and everyone crowded around to sample the enormous buffet that had been laid out with various national dishes. I was pleased to see that the pierogi were a bigger hit than the Greek dips and flatbreads. Out on the playground, the Ukrainian kids did a little impromptu dance in their elaborate costumes while the brothers from Dubrovnik organised war games to liberate Yugoslavia. Back in class and sitting up straight and tall at our desks (our teacher, quite rightly, had a thing for good posture) we started to discuss our backgrounds with our teacher, keen to find common themes. “What do we all share?” she asked. “What do we all have in common?” To be fair, this was a very long time ago but I believe the answer she was looking for was something a bit happy-clappy and along the lines of “we’re all in this together” or “isn’t it great that you’re all in law-abiding, welcoming Canada now?”. What she got was a quick show of hands and she picked one of my Polish deskmates at the back. “We all hate Russia,” he said, and the class burst into laughter. Not knowing quite what to do with this, our teacher attempted to change tack and got things back on message by letting everyone tell stories about their families’ journeys to Canada, some having arrived as recently as the start of the school year. By the end of the day, our teacher managed to summarise our presentations and discussions and listed some key themes on the blackboard. She said what unified all of us was that we all agreed that we wanted freedom. “But will our countries ever be free from Russia?” asked a Czech classmate. It’s a question that will be asked in classrooms across Europe tomorrow morning.
The situation in Ukraine is fast-moving so stay informed with the latest news and analysis from Kyiv, Moscow, London and Washington on Monocle 24 this weekend. In the latest episode of The Foreign Desk we hear from Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko, former Nato chief Richard Shirreff, Russian journalist Ekaterina Kotrikadze and author Mark Galeotti. You’ll also receive breaking news updates through The Monocle Minute and coverage across the Monocle 24 schedule this weekend, plus our live weekday news shows The Globalist, The Briefing and The Monocle Daily.
Horses on Sunset Boulevard is the latest opening from Noma alumni Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian (both behind Nashville’s The Catbird Seat). The bolthole itself still resembles Ye Coach and Horses, a legendary bar that stood here before, but Johnson and Aghajanian (pictured) have done away with both the kitsch and the traditional kitchen hierarchies, instead encouraging their chefs to collaborate. “There are no egos here,” says Aghajanian.
Dishes tend to have several iterations before the team decides that “the simplest way is the best”. The chocolate tart, overseen by pastry chef Hannah Grubba, contains just four ingredients and the roasted Cornish hen with warm panzanella is a nod to one of Aghajanian’s childhood favourites. The menu changes seasonally but the burger will remain as a nod to the building’s roots. Guests can sit in either the Drinkery, the Sunshine room or Kacper’s gallery, which is named for artist Kacper Abolik, who put murals on the walls to complement the elegant blue banquettes.
To celebrate Monocle’s 15th anniversary and our March issue (order it here if you don’t have a copy yet), we asked people we admire to tell us how the world has changed over the past decade and a half. Here, River Café co-founder and star chef Ruth Rogers tells us how restaurants have stepped up to the plate.
“If you had asked me what’s important in society 15 years ago, I would have said hospitals, schools, theatres and museums. But when restaurants closed for so long during the pandemic, I started to realise how much joy they give people.
In the past 15 years, people have also been travelling more so they’re trying food that they’ve never had before. The good thing is that these new restaurants are cooking in the way that we started cooking at The River Café all those years ago. We always wondered why there was one kind of Italian food in Italy and another type in London and so forth.
I’ve also been excited to see more women in restaurant kitchens. Restaurants are better now. People want to be chefs because it’s a career that challenges and excites them. It used to be that if you couldn’t be much else, you would become a chef. Now it’s something that more women want to be as kitchens are becoming fairer places. We’re not putting up with any kind of bullying any more.
I’m not the best person to ask about trends. They don’t interest me very much. What I am excited about, however, is quality. These days people really care about ingredients and how sustainable food is. Was it flown in from miles away during the wrong season? I’m interested in meat that’s grown in labs and in how we will feed children in the future. Customers are fussier now too. They want to know where their food comes from and how it has been cooked.
I never say which my favourite restaurant is because too many of my friends own one. But I’m excited about Anna Tobias’s new joint Café Deco in Fitzrovia. She’s a River Café alumna. It’s always lovely to see people taking a plunge and starting something of their own. Whenever a chef leaves The River Café, the one thing I tell them is, ‘Just keep cooking.’”
For more on the past 15 years and what’s next subscribe to Monocle magazine today so you don’t miss an issue. Thank you for your support (and birthday wishes).
Durkhanai Ayubi is an Afghan chef, food writer and restaurateur based in Adelaide (writes Georgia Bisbas). After founding restaurant Parwana with her family in 2009, she now also runs popular lunchtime spot Kutchi Deli Parwana, with the help of her sisters. She tells us about her love of pearl couscous, her favourite Turkish tipple and tapping her toes to 1990s hip-hop.
Where do we find you this weekend?
I’ll be in Sydney, visiting family and meeting friends. It’s been a while since I’ve been there but it will be good to try the latest food spots and visit some great art galleries.
What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
Always a gentle start. Preferably a nice, long run followed by a dip in the sea. Then coffee.
Walk the dog or downward dog?
Downward dog, though I’m more of a cat person.
Soundtrack of choice?
Classical or Afghan instrumental music when I’m working; 1990s hip-hop when I’m not. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is an all-time favourite.
What’s for breakfast?
When I’m not in a rush, breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. It could be Afghan-style eggs with some naan or a simple bocconcini salad with cherry tomatoes, basil and olive oil, served with some fresh bread.
Lunch in or out?
Out! During the week I’m cooking and serving at our lunch spot, Kutchi Deli Parwana, so I’ll eat there. Usually, I’ll have kabuli palaw rice with some dahl or our simmered aubergine dish.
Larder essentials you can’t do without?
Pearl couscous; a favourite. It’s so easy to prepare and to have alongside stews or roast vegetables. And then spices, of course. I love turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamom and smoked paprika. Plus an array of herbal teas; Afghans are huge tea drinkers.
A glass of something you’d recommend?
A twist on a traditional drink called rose sharbat. I love mixing it with sparkling water, a teaspoon of soaked basil seeds and lots of ice. It goes down a treat.
The ideal dinner menu?
Any combination of carbs and cheese. Maybe a burrata to start, drizzled with olive oil and served with fresh bread, followed by handmade pasta with a fresh neapolitan sauce. Or freshly made bolani – pan-fried Afghan flatbreads – stuffed with leek and feta.
Ideal dinner venue?
At home with loved ones, preferably alfresco, among greenery and gentle lighting.
Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
Something casual and comfortable: jeans, a patterned top from Zimmermann – one of my favourite Australian brands – and Suicoke sandals. I also love accessories and tend to reach for jewellery and pieces made by local artisans I might have picked up when I was last in Afghanistan.
London-based recipe writer Aya Nishimura rustles up an umami-rich, miso-marinated take on lamb chops with a fresh side salad. Note that though the recipe takes less than 15 minutes to complete, the marinating process takes two days, so be sure to start that in advance.
For the marinated lamb chops (prepare two days in advance)
50g white miso
2½ tbsps runny honey
1 tbsp cooking saké
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed into a paste
6 lamb chops (ask the butcher for a French trim with the fat removed)
For the salad dressing
1½ tbsps black sesame seeds, roughly ground with a pestle and mortar
1½ tbsps light soy sauce
1½ tbsps rice vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
For the side salad
1 gem lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 handful coriander, roughly chopped
2 spring onion stems, finely shredded
Mix the miso, honey, saké and crushed garlic in a small bowl and brush over the lamb chops. Place in an airtight container and keep in the fridge for 48 hours.
An hour before cooking, bring the marinated lamb back to room temperature. Preheat the grill to 250C.
While the grill heats up, combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Drain and pat the salad ingredients dry and keep in the fridge until you are ready to serve.
When the grill is hot, scrape most of the miso marinade off the lamb and cook the meat under the grill on a baking tray. A medium-rare finish should take 5 minutes a side; leave for a minute longer on each if you prefer it well done.
Remove from the grill and cover with a piece of foil. Allow it to rest for 5 minutes. Mix the salad and the dressing. Serve the rested lamb alongside the salad.
Until 2016 this grand building was occupied by radio stations Renascença, RFM and Mega Hits. Now the tranquil Rua Capelo hosts The Ivens, a hotel founded in tribute to Portuguese explorers. From the outside it still appears stately but indoors, designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán has created a style that nods to the nation’s swashbuckling past.
There are snug spaces and a few suites with terraces overlooking the city’s terracotta roof tiles. Downstairs is Rocco, a homely bar and restaurant. The dining room is filled with comfy sofas, dim lights and a kitchen serving mainly Italian mainstays. Crudo Bar serves seafood and champagne. You know where you’ll find us.
It’s perhaps fitting that Florence, home of the poet Dante Alighieri who so vividly brought the Italian language to life in print, is hosting the inaugural edition of publishing trade show Testo (writes Ivan Carvalho). Organised by Pitti Immagine (organisers of the Pitti Uomo menswear shows), Testo is more than just a book fair. Set in Stazione Leopolda, the event highlights multiple facets of the industry, from manuscripts to translation and graphic design as well as the role of the bricks-and-mortar bookshop. Speakers include Pulitzer prize-winning American novelist Andrew Sean Greer and Frankfurt Book Fair CEO Jürgen Boos. Among the panels is Monocle favourite Christian Rocca, editor in chief of Linkiesta, discussing the recent boom in cultural publications in the Bel Paese. The show brings together some 70 Italian publishers from heavyweights such as Mondadori to niche houses such as Quodlibet from the Marche region and Milan’s Iperborea, which specialises in translating contemporary northern European fiction writers into Italian. The best news? There wasn’t an e-reader in sight. Perhaps it’s a sign that the world really is turning a page? Have a super Sunday.