Sunday. 10/4/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

Get your fill

On the menu today is Egyptian comfort food and a glass or two of Bulgarian wine, quaffed while whipping from the country’s capital to its second city by train. Elsewhere, comedian Mina Liccione explains why laughter is key to a great Sunday and we test out a portable speaker that packs a punch. For starters, here’s Tyler Brûlé.

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Virtual insanity

It’s Friday evening, early autumn, and I’m dining with colleagues and new acquaintances on Lake Zürich. The host has decided to mix things up a bit, so his table placement ensures that everyone sits next to someone they’ve either never met properly or spent much time with. To my left is a gentleman from the US and, before long, it’s clear that he is not just a pioneer from a whole new world nor an intrepid explorer attempting to navigate uncharted territory; he’s also “citizen zero” in the metaverse.

Our conversation started in the conventional fashion of most dinner-party discussions: “How do you know the host?” “You’re from where?” “Oh, you’ve been there that long? Do you like it?” It was all going predictably perfectly until we got onto the topic of residency and identity. Then the conversation became somewhat strange.

“Well, it depends on how you define identity,” he said. “Identity is ever-evolving and, of course, it depends on who you want to be.”

At this point I was trying to recall whether the host had said something about changing seats with the arrival of every course or if I could pretend that I spotted someone drowning in the lake, dive off the balcony and swim as far away as possible. I was thinking about other escape scenarios when I found myself signalling to the waiter to refill an already topped-up glass and trying to get back into the story.

“I could say that I identify as being an American male but that only represents a tiny fraction of who I am or the possibilities,” he said. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

Good lord! How to respond? Just employ forehead, brow and eyes in an upward jolt that might suggest agreement but also intrigue and maybe even hint at, “Oh please, go on, tell me more.” Dare I engage? Or do I start to conceal a heavy cough? There is a pandemic happening, after all.

“The amazing thing about what we’re about to experience is that we can live multiple lives across multiple platforms,” he says.

Whip-pan the camera over to my side of the table and cue wincing smile.

“Right now I’m an American tech entrepreneur having a conversation with you in the middle of Switzerland. But I’m actively living many different identities while I’m speaking to you. That’s what’s awesome about where the digital universe is about to take us.”

I was about to say, “And right now a Swiss Federal commando unit should squeal up in front of this restaurant, officers should drag you from this table, gag you and have you deported without delay.” But, instead, I continued to show something that resembled tipsy interest.

“Some days I feel much more connected to my personalities in the digital world than I do in this world,” he said, motioning to the hills and lakefront. “You know what I mean, right?”

“Actually, I don’t,” I said. “You’ve kind of lost me. But I think you’re saying that you feel more connected to the characters you become in your gaming world.”

“No, no, you’ve got it wrong,” he said, clasping his head. “Whoa, this isn’t about gaming; this is about living a real life, only it’s a digital life – it’s not a game. When I leave this dinner, I’m going to a concert tonight that would blow your mind. I’ve already bought new trainers; I’ve got the best seat; and I’ll be there with all kinds of other friends. Best of all, we’ll be in Vegas but I don’t have to go there!”

What to do at this point? Go along with it and say that it’s all awesome? Or pull the chord and say that you’ve never heard such a load of old pony in this life, Second Life or since the beginning of humanity. Thankfully, the host jumped in with a toast, my neighbour to the right threw me a social life preserver, things moved on, I went home, jumped into the lake and ensured that I was still mentally intact.

It’s Friday evening, last week, and I’m dining with a friend who knows a thing or two about the human brain, multiple personalities and multi-tasking. “We’re not made for this,” he says calmly. “We might think that we can jump from one identity to the next, do multiple tasks at once. But it simply doesn’t work like that. We’re not designed to live multiple lives – in this life or digitally. We can try but it comes at a cost; something will go wrong.”

And there you have it, dear reader. Focus on the life you have rather than wasting money and precious time on a digital mirage. We have enough to solve and enjoy in daily life without spending it all on an overhyped, dangerous distraction.

Eating Out / Fasano Restaurant, New York

Northern exposure

With its member’s club and hotel on Fifth Avenue, which opened late last year, Brazilian hospitality group Fasano already had a presence in New York (writes Fernando Augusto Pacheco). But since late February the city has also been home to Fasano Restaurant at the former Four Seasons site on Park Avenue.

Image: Eric Medsker
Image: Eric Medsker

The charming space was designed by Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld, while the menu focuses on northern-Italian fare, including osso buco with saffron risotto, and rich tiramisù. You might even bump into the dapper, unflappable patron, Gero Fasano, at the osteria bar (as Monocle did). And for New Yorkers who crave a little bossa nova? Baretto, a bar and lounge, opens this spring and will bring some tropical flair to the Big Apple.
fasanorestaurantny.com

Retail Survey / King and Godfree, Melbourne

Hidden treasures

Monocle’s April issue, which is out now, includes a bumper retail survey profiling the top shops and streets that are reviving the art of the sell. The past two years have been challenging for the high street but there are energetic and optimistic retailers from Zürich to Bangkok. This week we drop into Melbourne’s King and Godfree.

In 2018 cousins Jamie Valmorbida and Luca Sbardella completed the transformation of the King and Godfree building in Melbourne’s Little Italy into a busy retail and dining precinct. The heritage building belonged to their Italian-born grandfather, Carlo Valmorbida, who ran it in the 1950s as a grocery shop, serving the immigrant population and helping to introduce delicacies such as parmesan cheese to the city’s palate.

Today the building houses a rooftop bar, wine shop and cellar, and café-deli hybrid. On the corner of two busy roads, it’s the centrepiece of the King and Godfree precinct, the inside of which is a web of tucked-away paths. “When it comes to hospitality, Melburnians love an adventure,” says Sbardella of the design concept. “They don’t want it to be too easy to find.” When the pandemic began and dining inside was no longer permitted, the cousins reverted to Nonno Carlo’s model, trading on the ground floor as a light-filled, spruced-up grocery, stacked with Italian supplies.

Image: Gareth Sobey
Image: Gareth Sobey

Though Valmorbida and Sbardella own and operate almost all of the hospitality venues, their idea was for each to have its own Italian-accented identity to attract a different demographic and broaden their appeal. While the vibrant red graphics and DJ sets at rooftop bar Johnny’s Green Room pull in students from the nearby Melbourne University, the downstairs coffee bar with its classic awnings takes its cues from Milan and attracts older customers, many of whom have been coming to King and Godfree for the past 70 years.

For more sunny takes on everything from kiosks to department stores and developments to watch, pick up an issue of Monocle’s April issue today. Or become a subscriber so you don’t miss an issue.

Sunday Roast / Mina Liccione

Best medicine

Dubbed the “first lady” of the UAE’s comedy scene, American comedian Mina Liccione’s jokes have tickled audiences in Dubai for more than a decade. In 2008 she and her husband, Ali Al Sayed, set up the region’s first comedy school, Dubomedy, which offers courses in stand-up, improvisation and more. She tells us about singing on Sunday, her favourite dessert and what she’s grateful for.

Where do we find you this weekend?
In Dubai. Weekends are all about the three Fs: family, food and funny. We have our weekly gathering at my husband’s big Arab family’s home, filled with loads of amazing homemade food, games and laughter. Then I’ll head to the stage to tell jokes.

What’s your ideal start to a Sunday – gentle start or a jolt?
Our little twin boys have been our early morning alarm clock since birth, so the thought of sleeping in sounds amazing!

Soundtrack of choice?
I’m Italian-American. So growing up we’d always make a huge sauce on Sundays – or as we called them, “Saint Sinatra Sundays”. We would sing along to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Louis Prima. For me, Sunday will always be for the crooners.

What’s for breakfast?
Emirati pancakes with date syrup. Oh... my... Lady Gaga!

News or no news?
No news is good news.

Any larder essentials you can’t do without?
Pasta, tomatoes, courgette, mozzarella, olive oil, fresh basil and rosemary, and bread.

A Sunday culture must?
I’m a comedian who’s married to a comedian, so we like to end the weekend laughing. In the Middle East, Saturday Night Live comes out on Sundays so that’s the usual go-to.

Ideal dinner venue and menu?
Home, in the garden, under the stars. We flip-flop between Italian and Arabic. If Arabic, it’s a fish machboos [roast chicken and spiced rice], fattoush salad and luqaimat [dumplings] for a sweet ending! Yum. If Italian, I love to make a classic antipasto platter, baked aubergine parmigiana and cannoli for dessert. Now I’m drooling.

Who’s joining?
I suppose my husband and boys can join.

A glass of something you would recommend?
I’m going through a ginger ale phase – the spicy, old school ones with fresh lime.

Any Sunday evening routine?
Make a gratitude list. When you go to sleep with positive thoughts, you wake up on Monday and start your week with positive thoughts.

Recipe / Ralph Schelling

Koshari

This week our Swiss chef brings us a dish from his travels in Egypt and a piece of culinary wisdom: some great dishes aren’t as pretty as others. Koshari, a hearty comfort food that’s usually made using leftovers, is a great example of this. Schelling first tasted it on a trip to the Siwa Oasis. “I recommend adding crispy onions,” he says. “And feel free to use your leftover pasta, chickpeas or lentils – or whatever else you have that you want to use up.”

Illustration: Xihanation

Serves 4 as a main

Ingredients
2 onions
2 tbsps olive oil
250g tinned tomatoes, strained
2 tbsps tomato paste
4 cloves of garlic
50ml vinegar
1 lemon, squeezed for juice
1 pinch cumin
1 pinch dried coriander
1 pinch dried chilli
1 pinch cardamom
400g boiled rice
300g cooked pasta
150g cooked lentils
150g cooked chickpeas

Method

1
Peel and chop the onions, then sauté in a pan in hot oil until translucent.

2
Add the strained tomatoes, tomato paste and chopped garlic. Deglaze with the vinegar and lemon juice. Season with the cumin, coriander, chilli and cardamom.

3
Heat the rice, pasta, lentils and chickpeas, then transfer to a serving dish. Pour over the tomato-based sauce.
ralphschelling.com

Weekend plans? / Kai Poroto, Hokkaido

Village life

For all its beauty, Shiraoi, a forest-fringed village in Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, wasn’t always an obvious holiday spot. But the opening of the National Ainu Museum and Park (known as Upopoy) in July 2020 has shed a light on the coastal settlement and the indigenous Ainu people of northern Japan. Now there’s a new place to stay, which may tip the balance of the area’s desirability.

Image: Fuminari Yoshitsugu
Image: Fuminari Yoshitsugu

Kai is Hoshino Resorts’ hot spring-centred hotel brand and its latest venture, Kai Poroto, opened in Shiraoi in January. The 42-key hotel, situated by Lake Poroto and the museum, is a partnership with the local government. “The idea was to create an onsen facility for the locals,” says general manager Misato Endo.

The hotel’s design nods to the Ainu people’s culture and heritage. Architect Hiroshi Nakamura placed the fireplace at the centre of the building as in traditional village life. The lobby and rooms are decked out with intricate embroidery and patterns by designer Nobuko Tsuda. There are modern touches too: the restaurant and guest rooms are kitted out with pieces made in Hokkaido by Japanese furniture-maker Time & Style.
hoshinoresorts.com

Fresh connections / Serbia and Hungary

Road to recovery

A few weeks before his recent re-election, Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić is plying passengers with two different chardonnays as they relax in the comfortable leather seats on the upper deck of a new train carriage (writes Guy De Launey). The only question is whether there will be enough time to savour the wine, as Belgrade approaches at a rate of knots: 200km per hour, to be precise.

It is quite a transformation for the train line linking Serbia’s capital and its second city. In the past the journey from Belgrade to Novi Sad could take the best part of two hours in rolling stock that could kindly be described as rustic, with buttock-numbing plastic seats in the graffiti-daubed carriages. Now, on its inaugural journey, the pristine double-decker Stadler Kiss 200 zips between the two cities in just over half an hour.

This is the fruit of an eyebrow-raising multinational collaboration – with German project managers overseeing Russian and Chinese engineers constructing the tracks for the Swiss rolling stock. And the new highspeed rail line could shift transport thinking in Serbia – and beyond.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

“We’re at the start of a rail revolution in the region,” says Matej Zakonjšek, director of the Transport Community, an international organisation facilitating transport infrastructure upgrades in the Western Balkans. “It’s the first time in the region that a train journey is faster than the equivalent by car.” Almost three times as fast, in fact.

The ultimate goal is to create a high-speed, 21st-century version of the Orient Express. The sizeable presence of Hungary’s recently re-elected prime minister, Viktor Orbán, among the canapés and camera crews, indicates the imminent extension of the line to Budapest. That should happen by 2025, cutting journey times from eight hours to not much more than three. EU funding is in place to modernise the tracks towards Serbia’s border with North Macedonia. And Zakonjšek is hopeful that Zagreb and Istanbul will join the network by the end of the decade.

In between sips of chardonnay, President Vučić is licking his lips at the prospect. “It will connect us in our mindsets, change our habits and change the paradigm of how successful the Western Balkans can be,” he says. Less high-minded passengers will just be happy to relax and enjoy the ride.

Sound decision / Bang & Olufsen, Beosound Explore

Outside chance

Aptly called Explore, this Bluetooth speaker is robust enough to offer high-quality audio in the great outdoors and packs enough battery power to last more than a day (writes David Phelan). Its punchy bass and lively mid-range are impressive even in open spaces and it delivers 360-degree sound, so you can put it anywhere. At about 12cm in height, it is compact and has a grippable shape, making it ideal for taking on the move. It is also resistant to dust and water, giving you peace of mind if you’re sitting on the beach or by the pool.

Image: Tony Hay

The design is classy enough to look elegant indoors, especially in the discreet but eye-catching navy blue or chestnut. As you’d expect from Bang & Olufsen, the build quality is excellent; made from anodised aluminium with a rubberised base, it is scratch-resistant, lightweight and durable. You can also turn it up to 11 by pairing it with a second speaker. bang-olufsen.com

For more from our itinerant editors, correspondents and snappers – and to support our independent journalism – consider a subscription to the magazine. While you’re mulling it over, have a super Sunday.

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