Saturday. 3/9/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Going with the flow

This week the Monocle Concierge is off to Taipei while our highly scientific ice cream survey winds up in Basel. We ponder the Ottolenghi effect on Europeans’ tastes and whether going grey is really all that bad. Plus: introduce our new running club. But first, Andrew Tuck on conversation.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Live chat

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We get on don’t we? I feel like we have an honest catch up every Saturday; we have breakfast together (and I never ask you to pick up the tab). But, if you have not already signed up, I’d like to ask you to take out a subscription to Monocle. Every month we are sending reporters and journalists around the world to tell stories that other media brands neglect, to discover opportunity and introduce you to people with inspiring takes on life. And we do this as an independent media brand; we definitely need your support. So if you sign up today, I’ll come round and cook you dinner to say thank you. Actually, that would be a bad idea: I can’t cook. But I’ll find a way of making you know how appreciative I am. In an entirely consensual, polite way. Just click here.

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On Thursday it was my colleague Sophie Grove’s birthday and we took her for lunch at a restaurant near Monocle called Fischer’s that serves classic Viennese fare and even looks like it’s been airlifted in from Austria. Fischer’s is part of a group of restaurants founded by the celebrated and much-loved restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King but which, earlier this year, was rather brutally taken over by its majority shareholder, the Minor Group (so not so minor after all). It was an ugly fight and most people hoped that Corbin & King would somehow triumph. Indeed, such is the loyalty that the two men inspire that, when one of my lunch group heard where we were going, she asked, “Are we allowed to?” Still, as she carved her way through a schnitzel the size of Tyrol, it looked as though the question had, at least for now, been put to one side.

But she is not the first person to ask me whether it’s OK to dine there and, for some, the former Corbin & King empire is in effect cancelled. My takeaway? I have been going to Fischer’s for years and while the management might have changed, many of the staff have not – so who should my loyalty be to? Minor paid some £60m (€69m) for the business and I would hope that the founders are OK, so does it really help if diners then engineer a boycott that sees staff lose their jobs? Plus, it’s one of the few places in London where the service doesn’t suck.

Because what’s happened to the world of catering? Whoever you speak to, it feels as though restaurants and bars are struggling to find good staff – and that’s from New York to London to Sydney. These jobs might not always be the best paid and are often demanding but is being a barista or waiter really so terrible?

After university, while I was trying to find internships at magazines, I worked in a restaurant to pay my rent. I loved being a waiter. The restaurant had one chef – a fun woman who took me under her wing and even let me make some of the starters (let’s just say it often involved a microwave). Tips were then shared out at the end of the shift and customers’ half-drunk bottles downed in the company of the owner. Nearly all my contemporaries have similar tales.

Some say that in London, Brexit is to blame for the shortage of staff; others that people only want jobs that allow them to work from home. But is it also that lots of people just don’t like having conversations, being open and engaged with people they don’t know? And it’s not just a youth thing: do our addictions to our screens, to dealing with even close friends and family via the likes of Whatsapp, mean that jobs that expose you to endless spontaneous interaction just seem a bit uncomfortable?

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So where did the story really come from? Last weekend we went to Mallorca and caught up with several sets of people we know who, by coincidence, were all staying on the island. On Saturday we drove out towards the town of Pollença to see Kate and Rob, who live in Australia but are travelling for three months (are there any Aussies not in Europe this summer?) and were staying for a few days in a house rented by Kate’s sister and brother-in-law. It’s a house that is secreted away in a silent valley that is filled with good art and has acres of land. Bitter? I must have looked like someone had stuck a wedge of lemon under my lip.

Over lunch we got talking about learning languages and Kate and Rob mentioned how they had been admonished in their Italian class – and that it was all my fault. Some years ago, they reminded me, I had told them about an aged aunt who lived in Halifax and how that, one day when my cousin had gone home to visit her, she had confided that, “Two nice ladies have moved into the house next door. I think they might be avocados.” My cousin, detecting some confusion, said, “Do you mean lesbians?” And the aunt had replied: “I am so sorry, I always get those two things muddled up because they both came to Halifax around the same time.”

Anyway, cut to a classroom in Sydney and the teacher is asking people to introduce themselves in Italian. The two women next to Kate and Rob give their names, explain that they are life partners, and are both lawyers, or as they say in perfect Italian, “avvocati”. Kate and Rob admit that they might have giggled. The teacher asked them what was so amusing.

But as we ate lunch, I explained that there was a small problem: I don’t have an aunt in Halifax and I also remember repeating this story and explaining how my friend Kate had an aunt in Halifax. My partner then chipped in with how, actually, it was he who told us both this story and that he had been told it by a famous actress during rehearsals for a play – and it wasn’t Halifax; it was Dundee.

Crikey. Did this ever even happen? Or do they have versions of the same story in every country around the world with various fruit and vegetables – and gays and lesbians – switched in or out according to location? Let’s just say that I will be alert to my Spanish neighbours telling tales about two papayas moving into the building.

The Look / Ageing Grey-cefully

Hair conditioning

Rarely does the hue of someone’s hair spark a national conversation (writes Tomos Lewis). But in Canada, a beloved news anchor’s greying mane has stoked controversy. Two weeks ago, Lisa LaFlamme (pictured) announced that, despite hosting the country’s most-watched nightly newscast, she had been fired, in part, it was later alleged, because of the colour of her hair.

Image: CTV News

LaFlamme, who is 58, was the first woman to helm a nightly national news programme when she was appointed to front CTV National News in 2011. While salons in Toronto were closed during the coronavirus lockdowns, she allowed her voluminous, deep-chestnut-coloured hair to grey on-screen. For many, it represented a welcome change in how women in the media are often expected to present themselves. After news broke that the popular LaFlamme had been let go, it was followed by reports that the executive involved in her dismissal had repeatedly asked her to recolour her roots.

The story has consumed the national mood. There have been open letters and some pointed adverts, including one by fast-food chain Wendy’s in which it replaced its avatar’s red hair with gunmetal pigtails. These responses would suggest that rather than putting people off, LaFlamme’s graceful embrace of the natural ageing process has actually increased her appeal. It might, therefore, be in that regard – embracing age, rather than camouflaging ourselves – that the storm clouds of Lisa LaFlamme’s sacking find a silver lining.

Monocle Concierge / Your Questions Answered

Taiwan and on

It has been a joy hearing about all your wonderful holiday plans this week. Our chosen correspondent is looking for fun in Taiwan. Please do keep asking any travel-related questions you might have by clicking here. Each week, we will pick one to answer.

Image: Alamy

Hello Concierge,

If you had to choose a place to stay in Taipei, which area and hotel spring to mind?

Julia Yang, Taipei

Dear Julia,

Thanks so much for your question. The Concierge has to say, it is very flattering to be asked for our Taipei tips by someone who lives in the city. As the traditional lunar calendar approaches the mid-autumn festival, now is a wonderful time to visit the Taiwanese capital.

After landing in Taoyuan or Songshan airport (if you are coming from outside the island), drop off your bags at Eslite Hotel: 104 guest rooms curated by a bookshop of the same name, which itself is definitely worth a visit. Though you are in Xinyi district – Taipei’s commercial hub and home to Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest buildings – a few quiet neighbourhoods are a stone’s throw away.

Head east of the hotel and wander around the Songyan area. Here you will find Hermit’s Hut, a traditional teashop housed in a beautiful Axel Vervoordt-inspired space. Just around the corner is Jarana, a lively Spanish restaurant run by Madrilenian-Taiwanese couple Dani and Maia. Visit art gallery Contemporary by U and experimental florist Museum of Flowers. If you’d like to ditch your phone and capture this adventure in the analogue way, Snappp, hidden in a small alley on Zhongxiao East Road, is a treasure trove of film cameras.

When the sun is setting, head to the north of Songyan to enjoy a glass or two at the bar Dancing Elephant on Bade Road, which has probably the richest selection of natural wines in Taiwan. Then, if you still have an appetite, there are many restaurants in the east of Xinyi that are open until midnight. Chun Fa has a delicious set menu of hearty braised pork rice and soup. The Concierge’s mouth is watering just thinking about it.

How We Live / Ottolenghi-fication

Spice world

When my mother first moved to rural Worcestershire in the West Midlands, 40 years ago, she couldn’t buy any parsley to accompany her carrots (writes Violet Hudson). “Oh no,” said the woman running the local greengrocer. “We only get it in at Christmas.” These days it’s finding the carrots that’s more likely to be a problem. Northern Europe, and especially the UK, has undergone a food revolution in the past 20 years, with exotic ingredients and arcane spice mixes proliferating as quickly as the rabbits we now eschew in favour of moghrabieh and za’atar, two ingredients championed by the wildly popular chef Yotam Ottolenghi.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

A friend who grew up in Ireland recalls not having heard of hummus until she went to university in London; now her village shop in County Cork stocks pomegranate molasses and lime leaves. Another friend says that their Wiltshire butcher has become so trendy that traditional types have to phone ahead to order plain sausages. And this summer’s most fêted cookbooks – Oded Oren’s Oren and Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana Everyday – feature recipes for dishes such as matbucha and muhammara.

This is all wonderful, of course. The rise and rise of the kind of Mediterranean cuisine typified by Ottolenghi has democratised gourmet-level cooking and introduced a world of deliciousness: creamy tahini, smoky dips, charred (rather than “accidentally burnt”) meat, lightly pickled everything. But even a writer as heavily dusted in turmeric as this one begins to wonder: what if you’re in the mood for something plain? On a scorching hot day in the English seaside town of Whitstable recently, café after café offered poké bowls and the closest we could get to a cheese sandwich was a halloumi burger. On holiday in Devon in late July the choice was stark: fish and chips or truffle-flavoured crisps and bottled queen chickpeas. Which led me to question: Où sont les overcooked cabbages d’antan?

House News / Monocle x Tracksmith

Home run

In the lead-up to the 2022 London Marathon, Monocle and Tracksmith have joined forces on an exclusive run club – and you’re invited. Every Wednesday evening during September, join the Monocle team and our friends at Tracksmith for a run around Regent’s Park, followed by refreshing drinks and bites at The Monocle Café. These runs are free and open to all abilities, and we will be offering pacers and different route options.

For more information and to sign up, go to monocle.com/events

Culture Cuts / Hydra Book Club

Greek speak

Hydra has long been an inspiration for artists, writers and musicians attracted by the island’s stunning scenery and gentle pace. Greek painter Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas was one of its first champions, followed by authors Henry Miller and Charmian Clift and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.

Image: Alamy

Josh Hickey, a frequent visitor, has launched a travelling bookshop to honour these influences. The Hydra Book Club opens its doors from today until 22 October at the Historical Archives Museum of Hydra, following pop-ups in New York and Bodrum. The shop sells vintage and new editions of titles by writers connected to the island. “Beyond being a bookshop, it feels more like a museum show, an installation in which I present a researched collection of the literature written by authors linked to Hydra,” Hickey tells Monocle.

To find out more about the project, listen to Josh Hickey on Monocle 24’s ‘The Stack’

Scoop of the Week / Gelateria di Berna, Basel

Last lick

As the nights draw in, so too do the ice-cream vans. It has been extremely cool sharing our writers’ favourite ice-cream parlours with you over the summer. For the last scoop of the series, Monocle’s Maja Renfer heads to Gelateria di Berna in her native Basel.

You might not think of the Swiss as an ice-cream-loving people but the second the sun starts shining on their country’s many lakes, people begin to mass outside its ice-cream parlours. Four Bernese ice-cream lovers spotted an opportunity and founded Gelateria di Berna, an homage to a parlour in Verona that they often visited as children. What began in an old cheese factory in Bern has now acquired cult status, with eight locations in that city, as well as outposts in Zürich and, most recently, Basel.

Opened last summer in the trendy Matthäus neighbourhood, the new gelateria has already established itself as a fixture of the summer routine. After completing the famous Rhine Swim – an annual 30-minute paddle or float along the river – participants can find sweet succour in the form of a delicious scoop at Gelateria di Berna. Actually, make that two, as it is impossible to decide between beetroot and wasabi, apple and parsley, and former Gault Millau chef Simon Apothéloz’s cherry with mustard and cardamon. And don’t worry too much about the wait: the Swiss aren’t only good at making gelato, they are probably the world’s best queuers too.
gelateriadiberna.ch

Image: Christie's Images LTD

What Am I Bid? / Christie’s Staff Art Show 2022

Homegrown hits

London’s famous Christie’s auction house has come up with a novel way of raising money for charity. Its Staff Art Show highlights the creative talent of the people who work there via their paintings, photography, sculpture and textiles. We are particularly taken with this photograph by Benjamin Youd, titled “Seascape #6”.

Bidding starts at £300 (€346) and Christie’s will donate 100 per cent of the buyer’s premium to Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, which provides specialist nurses and support for seriously ill children. The auction runs until 11.00 on Wednesday and all 63 lots can be viewed at Christie’s King Street saleroom in Mayfair.
christies.com

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