This week we visit a new Helsinki food shop where the architecture is as fresh and appealing as what’s on the shelves. We also drop anchor at a new hotel in Abidjan, ask food writer Shivi Ramoutar about her weekend rituals and cast off for Capri. Plus: Ralph Schelling’s ultimate picnic sandwich. First up, Tyler Brûlé’s thoughts on the week that was.
I’m wondering what the coming weeks are going to look and feel like. From tomorrow, most of France and other nations along the Med will return to work, the UK summer comes to a symbolic close on Monday evening when gardens and terraces will be cleared up after long, lingering lunches (weather permitting) and, across the Atlantic, there’s another week till Americans and Canadians wrap up their Labor and Labour Day weekends. The question is whether there will be more than a symbolic return to offices. Will there be proper morning rush hours? And will the shops and services that once supported city centres see a return of lawyers, bankers, their assistants and interns buying coffees, sandwiches and beauty services?
A couple of months ago a friend whispered that one of the big players in the Bay Area was going to call for a return to the office and it would probably cause an uproar. Not only was her source well-placed but how right she was about all the fuss caused by Apple asking people to get back to their very well-appointed and catered places of work. I’m considering this question because over the past few weeks I’ve met a variety of CEO and business owners who are now feeling powerless as they see large-scale projects stalled because there’s too much time lost scheduling and rescheduling video meetings, decisions being pushed into the distance and clients (often in similar positions) frustrated by missed deadlines and stalled launch plans.
But there’s something else at play here: when your company tells you that you don’t need to leave home, that your travel budgets have been cut and you then go about creating a whole new metabolism that suits your lifestyle more than your employer and clients, a whole series of other small, at first undetectable, cracks start to affect households, businesses, neighbourhoods and cities. A week spinning around Europe illustrates the problem.
The little park behind my favourite hotel in one of the city’s more elegant neighbourhoods is usually well tended but during the past few visits it looks ratty and unloved. The bins are overflowing, there are cardboard wine boxes and PET bottles thrown in the bushes and cigarette butts everywhere. Stockholm never used to be like this. Is it budget cuts? Have these basic civic duties been assigned to a lazy, lowest-price contractor? Or could it be that fewer people on their daily commute means that no one sees their neighbourhood becoming increasingly filthy? And might it be that if the municipal member is only doing meetings via video and is not moving from home to town hall that they’re not seeing their city starting to get unsightly and saggy.
Zürich to Bern
Switzerland has a particularly odd relationship with graffiti, to the point that it’s almost indulged at official levels. Indeed, the former Swiss ambassador to the UK once invited top Swiss graffiti artists to cover the walls of the embassy’s basement parking lot. Some covered expanse of concrete might pass as art but most of it is just random tagging in support of football clubs or misguided political causes. The periods of low mobility during the pandemic created a perfect climate for the nation’s sprayers to run around defacing private and public property and making cities, towns and villages looking less loved as a result.
On the train between Zürich and Bern earlier in the week, I tried to look at the country through the eyes of a potential investor – perhaps the CEO of a South Korean pharma company looking to set up in a tax-efficient community. What would he or she think of a Zürich that is now covered with graffiti when you pull out of the airport by car or rail, or when you arrive in the nation’s capital, Bern? Does it suggest a city that cares about its appearance and status to visitors and citizens alike? Could all of the “FCZ” (Football Club Zürich) tags hint at a police force that doesn’t care and a criminal element that knows they won’t be prosecuted?
Switzerland loves nothing more than to build exceptional infrastructure and buildings in concrete but what’s the point if these works are covered in layers of lurid colours? Again, have things started to slouch because those responsible for public order and clean-ups aren’t moving about quite as much as they should and the companies that keep cantonal coffers full aren’t out and about enough, and therefore not asking tough questions of their politicians about the generally shoddy appearance of their communities?
Where to start? I guess the completely useless BER Airport is as good a place as any. I tried it out for the first time earlier in the year and attempted to forgive some of its shortcomings as Germany was still in a pandemic funk and it wasn’t operating at full steam. I also thought that, after all of the delays, they would have worked out the kinks and the capital of Europe’s biggest economy would get an airport that could become a third hub for the nation. Forget it. While there’s much that’s wrong with the hardware, there are also some basics that can be fixed. Do the pavements need to be quite so grubby, the windows so dirty and the whole thing so thinly staffed? I can only imagine that this is a problem that myriad political forces are trying to manage remotely and mitigate via social media instead of walking the floor themselves and seeing the bottlenecks and inefficiency first-hand. If you want to see a shining example of poor management, a lack of presence and little regard for first or lasting impressions, fly into BER. Better yet, don’t. It serves as a depressing portal of where Germany might be heading.
Nations, cities and companies need to start taking a hard look at themselves. Much of the world is back out on the road and seeking opportunities, deals and new places to conduct their affairs. Free-form clothing and stretchy waistbands might be fine for those working from home but our environments need to be nipped-in, sharp, well-manicured and attractive.
Set up in 1982, Finnish food retailer Ruohojuuri grew a hungry audience for its produce long before sustainability was a buzzword. Today it’s still bucking trends, opening a vast bricks-and mortar flagship in an art nouveau building in downtown Helsinki. “People need face-to-face, personal service,” says CEO Päivi Paltola, who worked with design agency Amerikka to make the most of the space. “For physical shops to stay relevant, they need to be places that people want to spend time in.” We're sold. ruohonjuuri.fi
Côte d’Ivoire has a smart new addition to Abidjan’s embassy-lined Les Deux Plateaux neighbourhood a 15-minute drive from downtown. Hotel owner Abdallah El Gandour tapped Abidjan-based Désiré M’Bengue to complete the nine buildings that form La Maison Palmier. Beyond the whitewashed façade is a playful interior of terrazzo floors and art deco-inspired mirrors.
Rattan furniture from Parisian architect Maxime Liautard sits atop rugs by Senegalese textile designer Aïssa Dione. The restaurant offers an international menu from French chef Matthieu Gasnier and the bar is a smart spot for a poolside tipple.
Born in Trinidad and based in London, food writer and broadcaster Shivi Ramoutar is best known for contemporary Caribbean cooking with a twist (writes Monica Lillis). Her favourite things about the weekend? Morning pancakes, some soothing music and (if there’s time) a brisk jog.
What’s your ideal way to begin a Sunday – a gentle start or a jolt?
Definitely a gentle start. My husband usually takes the boys to football training straight after breakfast and I get to swan about the kitchen concocting delicious things for Sunday lunch.
What’s for breakfast?
Sunday pancakes with caramelised bananas and drenched in maple syrup have become a ritual.
Lunch in or out?
Quite often I like to test a recipe on a Sunday, something that is generous, colourful and would certainly induce a post-lunch nap. Otherwise, dim sum at Min Jiang in Kensington.
Walk the dog or downward dog?
Usually a 30-minute run in the neighbourhood but recently a combination of pilates, yoga and dance movement at home via online site Paola’s Body Barre.
Classic FM or some atmospheric piano or soundtrack music while I’m alone at home. Once the rabble returns, Bob Marley always seems to hit the right note.
News or not?
Yes. I’ll read snippets during the course of the afternoon in the moments that I have to myself.
What’s on the dinner menu?
Last Sunday it was lemon-and-garlic roast chicken with a Spanish-inspired chickpea-and-chorizo summer stew and the most divine homemade garlic bread. I want it all again.
A glass of something?
Not now that I am pregnant but BC – before conception, that is – always. I’d usually drink whatever was left over from Saturday dinner.
Sunday evening routine?
Get the kids to bed by 19.00, then bath, some form of face mask or skin treatment, early supper in front of the telly in my pyjamas. Heaven.
Are you preparing Monday’s outfit?
Not unless I am in the studio filming something, then definitely.
A humble sandwich? Perhaps but it’s chef Schelling’s final picnic-themed recipe of our series and you can be sure that we’ve saved the best until last. “This is the Waldorf Astoria’s classic recipe to go,” says Schelling. “I recommend the best seeded bread you can find, lightly toasted.” He means the bread, not you after too many glasses of rosé in the sun. Enjoy.
2 chicken breasts, cut into pieces and cooked
1 apple, cored and diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
Handful of grapes, halved
Handful of walnuts, crushed
3 tbsps mayonnaise
3 tbsps greek yoghurt
1 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsps lemon juice
Salt and pepper
8 slices of bread
Lettuce leaves or purslane (optional)
Mix the mayonnaise with the yoghurt, mustard and lemon juice in a bowl and season.
Mix the chicken pieces and the rest of the ingredients into the sauce and divide between the bread to make sandwiches. It’s that simple – you can thank us later.
This neo-gothic palazzo hotel is in the perfect sunny spot for a late summer break (writes Sahar Khan). It stands next to the former home of art patron Graziella Lonardi Buontempo and has had a revamp courtesy of her niece and namesake Graziella Buontempo.
There is a Neapolitan restaurant and a rooftop bar that supplies sunsets and aperitivi, while in the rooms bamboo furniture and subdued pastel palettes defer to the vistas of the Gulf of Naples. “It’s where the eye spontaneously goes,” says Buontempo.
While some of the Western world is still on holiday, Japan thinks rather differently about recreation (writes Fiona Wilson). Last month we celebrated Marine Day, for example, a public holiday dedicated to all things oceanic. Japan’s public holidays tend to have a clear and prescribed purpose: there’s Sports Day, Greenery Day, Mountain Day and Culture Day. You get the picture. While Marine Day does have a backstory (it marks the day that Emperor Meiji arrived in Yokohama after a sea voyage from Hokkaido in 1876), it only became a public holiday in 1995. There’s a reason for that too. For years the government has been trying to coax people into taking their full paid leave entitlement but with little success. It was long considered inconvenient to take a holiday when others were still working; there’s no such guilt about public holidays since everyone is putting their feet up at the same time. In 2003 the government introduced the Happy Monday System, shifting public holidays to Mondays and foisting long weekends on the holiday-shy workforce. Anchors aweigh!
Samsung’s latest laptop is a convertible (writes David Phelan). By which I mean it doubles as a tablet and can be propped up for watching films. What did you think I meant? In tablet form you can scribble on the screen with a smart stylus. The 13.3-inch display is touch-sensitive and, unusually, is an AMOLED screen that’s colourful and bright with pin-sharp resolution. Performance is strong, with a choice of fast processors, memory and storage. It’s very lightweight, beating rivals such as the MacBook Air. The webcam is not as high-quality as many, so you won’t look as good video-conferencing but that can be your excuse for leaving the camera off. Battery life is up to 21 hours of video playback, Samsung says, but real-world times will be lower. A great excuse to get away from your screen and out of the house, at least. Have a super Sunday.
To support Monocle’s independent journalism and for a reliable, upbeat and opportunity-orientated read, subscribe to the magazine today.