This week we wander through the shady streets of Valencia’s Benimaclet neighbourhood, take a right turn into a smart London trattoria and drop anchor in Venice to hear from chef Luca Pronzato. We also share a sweet recipe for a show-stopping crumble-and-cake creation and get our hands dirty at a new Vancouver bakery. First, Tyler Brûlé takes the reins.
A few weeks ago, I decided that it was time to plan a reunion with a dear, old friend. Given various travel restrictions and limited flights, I knew it was going to be complicated at short notice but I was sure that the hurdles would be worth the effort, so I pushed forward with making it happen. For background, this relationship goes back to the early 1990s. And while we didn’t become the fastest of friends, there were enough areas of general interest and platonic attraction to keep in touch and even go the distance to see each other from time to time. Over the years, unexpectedly, things became a bit more intense between us and what used to be occasional visits turned into a near-monthly rendezvous for well over a decade.
On Friday, I boarded Swiss flight LX160 filled with the excitement of reconnecting with a figure that has played such an influential role in my life and re-establishing bonds that simply can’t be maintained digitally. On board I quickly sensed that I wasn’t the only person in the cabin (mostly Italians) experiencing similar feelings of anticipation. Before long, doors were closed, drinks poured and we were heading east on an extended, southerly routing; thank you, Russia.
After 12 hours our 777 dropped through the clouds and the farmland and villages of Chiba came into hazy view. Ninety seconds later the wheels hit Narita’s runway and I was on Japanese soil for the first time in 26 months. Prior to departure I was warned about 1km-long queues and waits of more than three hours to get out of the airport. But I armed myself with a book and some mags, went through an endless maze of checks and double checks (never before have so many people been employed to do a series of tasks that could have been done by a quarter of them) and braced myself for two hours of waiting for the result of a coronavirus test. Much to my surprise, the wait took just over an hour and, with a bit of extra checking and document-stamping, I was through customs and on the way to my reunion.
Just as I was getting that pleasant tingly feeling and fluttery knot in my stomach, the whole point of the exercise suddenly took shape
For the first part of this leg of the journey, I checked messages, read the news and generally caught up on the world. Out of habit, I asked the driver to set the mood for my reunion by switching on the radio and tuning in to J-Wave. Angèle was halfway through her track “Bruxelles je t’aime” (I guess someone has to, non?) and just as I was getting that pleasant tingly feeling and fluttery knot in my stomach, the whole point of the exercise suddenly took shape. In the distance I could see the towers of Nihonbashi, then Marunouchi. In a few minutes the spires of Shinjuku and, in particular, the Tokyo Gas Building, would come into view. As we sped over and under the city, I was already getting reacquainted with my dear Tokyo. Had much changed? Not at first glance. But as I turned from one window to the next to take in everything I’d been missing, I spied little interventions and smaller-scale developments that would require further interrogation over the coming days.
At the entrance of the Park Hyatt, the same team that said goodbye when we all knew that it might be a while till I returned were on hand to say hello. And as I was escorted to my room, I was assured that everything was exactly as I left it in March 2020 – give or take a few staff promotions and number of overseas guests.
My favourite room still smelled the same and the views across Tokyo, with a changing backdrop of stormy skies, couldn’t have been more perfect. Given the long absence, the reunion will be a full week. Up first is a shave and hair chop, drinks with our bureau chief, Fiona Wilson, and dinner with my colleague Noriko – then we’ll see where the evening takes us. There’ll be more thoughts and impressions on today’s edition of Monocle on Sunday (anchored live from Zürich) and much more in the way of tips and observations in next week’s edition of this column. Before I go, a thought: if Brussels can have a poppy anthem by a respected singer, Tokyo needs to get into the recording studio.
Chef Chris Leach’s trajectory might not be utterly unique – moving from pop-up to permanent space, turning an awe of cookery into a tasteful trattoria – but the Welsh chef’s restaurant Manteca, co-founded by Barbados-born David Carter, is a special thing indeed (writes Josh Fehnert). The former factory building in Shoreditch has been fetchingly kitted out with yolky-yellow walls, a woody trim and floor-to-ceiling windows by Box 9 architects.
The first thing you’ll notice as you enter is the lively din of diners smacking their lips and scraping their plates (it’s not a quiet place) plus the smell of the embers from the wood-fired oven. The dishes didn’t fail to delight either, from the pig head fritti, seabass crudo and garlicky-good bagna càuda to start. All before the amped-up technicolour temptation of flawlessly handmade pasta: think pig-tail ragù, brown-crab cacio e pepe or served duck with duck fat pangrattato. Bellissimo. The menu’s many high points are best discovered over multiple visits and Leach and Carter have even added an attractive Italian take on the Sunday roast for the end-of-week crowd. The rub? Word has spread and getting a table is tough.
Vancouver’s favourite flour brand now has two new bakeries. The spaces are flooded with natural light and the flour here is milled on-site and sourced from Canadian farms to offer greater traceability. Flourist aims to connect people to the sources of their foods and the farmers who grew them. For this bakery, it’s not just about making a beautiful loaf of bread – though, naturally, it does this rather well indeed – it’s also about protecting farmlands, sharing knowledge with its community and creating food security for generations to come. And, of course, all that is served with a coffee and a croissant.
Following stints at Noma in Copenhagen and a number of restaurants in his adopted hometown of Paris, Italian entrepreneur Luca Pronzato founded We Are Ona, a collective of chefs, food producers and wine-makers with a focus on pop-up spaces. Fresh after opening his newest temporary venture at the Palazzo Merati in Venice, Pronzato tells us about the biennale, his favourite spots in the city and what he’ll be wearing on Monday morning.
What’s your ideal way to begin a Sunday – a gentle start or a jolt?
A V60 filter coffee.
What’s for breakfast?
Breakfast is at Caffè Florian, where I’ll be eating an amazing focaccine farcite con prosciutto cotto e formaggio.
Lunch in or out?
I’ll go to one of my favourite restaurants in Venice, Antiche Carampane.
What’s your Sunday soundtrack?
Lucio Battisti’s “Ancora Tu”, of course!
Your Sunday culture essentials?
Recently, I visited an incredible show at the biennale. It was Galerie Templon, representing Kehinde Wiley and some of his monumental art pieces.
News or not?
On Sunday I like to get up to speed with what’s happening in the food, art, design and architecture worlds, all while cooking pizza.
A glass of something?
Yes, an Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. The older, the better.
What’s your Sunday-evening routine?
I live in Paris, so usually spending time with my family and having a glass at Septime La Cave, before eating at Clamato on Sunday night.
Are you preparing Monday’s outfit?
Yes. Every Monday morning I wear a black outfit: Gucci shoes, Lemaire trousers and a Jil Sander trench coat, as it’s still chilly outside.
This week, Monocle’s London-based recipe writer Aya Nishimura rustles up a sweet figgy treat that combines the charms of a cake with the crunch of a crumble. Enjoy.
For the crumble:
20g plain flour
20g caster sugar
1 pinch ground cinnamon
20g cold butter, cut into cubes
For the sponge:
150g unsalted butter, softened (plus extra to butter the tin)
150g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
150g ricotta cheese, crumbled
150g ground almonds
1/4 tsp almond extract
75g plain flour
1 large orange, for its juice (75ml) and peel (grated)
¼ tsp of salt
150g fig jam
6-9 fresh ripe figs (depending on the size, approximately 270g)
15g almond flakes
First combine the flour, sugar and ground cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour mix with your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs. Keep the crumbs in the fridge until needed.
Preheat the oven to 190C (or 170C with a fan). Lightly butter the inside of a 20cm spring-form cake tin.
Now for the sponge mix: beat the softened unsalted butter, caster sugar and baking powder with an electric beater until fluffy. Slowly add the eggs while whisking. Then add the ricotta and beat until combined.
Carefully fold in the ground almonds, almond extract, flour, orange juice, orange peel and salt with a spatula.
Pour half of the cake mix into the tin and spread evenly. Then spread the fig jam on top. Spoon over the remainder of the mixture, distributing evenly. Slice the fresh figs in half and press them lightly into the cake, cut side up. Lightly sprinkle the crumble and almond flakes over the top.
Bake for about an hour and 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when you pierce the middle of the cake.
Remove the cake from the oven and cool over a wire rack for 10 minutes. Extract from the tin and let it cool for another 10 minutes. Slice generously and enjoy with a cup of tea.
Inspired by the ancient art of making a samurai sword, Tog’s knives are forged from layers of steel in the city of Seki, where industrial designer and Tog founder Bert Beagley-Brown combines British design with Japanese craftsmanship. The knives incorporate layers of copper for its antimicrobial properties, while their handles are laser-etched with a traditional pattern. And they can cut it in the kitchen too.
A 15-minute walk from Valencia’s historic city centre, over the gothic Pont de la Trinitat, is Benimaclet, a neighbourhood that retains the spirit and human scale of its days as a village independent from the port city. The poble of Benimaclet wasn’t officially part of Valencia until 1882 and had its own mayor until 1972. The neighbourhood’s distinction from the rest of the metropolis is evident in its architecture, with its narrow, largely pedestrianised lanes and two-storey buildings with art nouveau details (such as trencadís mosaics, often made using glazed-china shards and found materials). These buildings, known as casas de poble, or “village houses”, are most often private homes with interior gardens. “We moved here from a block of flats a few streets away, on the main avenue,” says professor Elena García Testal, sitting under the blooming jasmine in her courtyard. “We were so surprised by how quiet it is by comparison. Now we hear birdsong in the mornings, rather than traffic.”
Benimaclet’s Arabic name is a reminder of its history as part of al-Andalus, the area of the Iberian peninsula that spent seven centuries under Muslim rule. Alquerías, or farmhouses, from which you can still buy fruit and vegetables directly from producers, were central to the village’s largely agricultural activities. “Valencia’s allotment gardens are a very important part of our cultural heritage,” says Arturo Sanz, a Benimaclet resident and architect. He takes Monocle on a tour of community-led areas that provide valuable green space and act as a buffer between the neighbourhood and the city’s busy ring road nearby. “Residents have begun considering that this could be something special; that it might act as a transitional space between the gardens and the city, and that we can create a different type of urban planning here,” he says.
Benimaclet address book
The Little Corner B&B
Though Benimaclet doesn’t yet have its own boutique hotel, a quick walk through the University of Valencia’s vibrant campus will lead you to this inviting spot.
Avenida de Suècia, 27
Eat and drink
Chef José prepares small plates that update traditional regional recipes.
Carrer del Mestre Caballero, 7
Enjoy Spanish interpretations of international dishes on a bustling terraza.
Calle del Doctor Vicent Zaragoza, 28
Letras & Vinos
Sample regional wine and cheese pairings selected by the owner.
Carrer del Músic Belando, 15
A treasure trove of limited-edition art prints and unique graphic novels.
Carrer de Benicolet, 2
The first thing to note is that this is most definitely not a smartphone (writes David Phelan). Designed for calls and texts, rather than apps or endless online use, Swiss firm Punkt’s MP02 seeks to remind us that we don’t have to spend all of our time with our eyes glued to portable screens. Crafted by product designer Jasper Morrison, the phone has a modest 5cm colour screen but it sticks to monochrome in most situations, giving it a retro feel.
As well as the original black model, it’s now available in a quiet but eye-catching pale blue. Its soft-touch finish is tactile, as are its number keys. Its features include an alarm clock, calendar, calculator and note-taking tool. The MP02’s 4G connectivity might seem unnecessary but it’s there to allow you to link your tablet or laptop to the internet. A final benefit of forgoing a big, colour touch screen is that the battery lasts and lasts. Speaking of which: take some time to recharge and have a super Sunday.