Sunday 8 January 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 8/1/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

All aboard

This week we sample chef Ralph Schelling’s Spanish-style ‘croquetas’, scan the shelves at a smart new bookshop in Barcelona and take a seat at a top table in Tokyo. Elsewhere, we ask chocolatier Kathy Johnston about her weekend itinerary and sample some British skincare products after dropping anchor in the historic city of Guimarães in northern Portugal. To begin, Tyler Brûlé gets stuck in to 2023.

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Action plan

The original start-of-the-year plan, devised in the last week of November 2022, called for a gentle start to 2023, with a leisurely drive down from the mountains on 5 January, an easy afternoon in the office sorting through Christmas cards and gifts, a busier Friday kicking things up a gear, then a relaxing weekend in Zürich followed by a well-paced return to the office for the first full week back. Come 24 December, this had all changed. It was during a walk around the lake in St Moritz that I started going through the actions I’d discussed with colleagues at the end of the year and realised that much had been proposed but little had been officially sanctioned. By the time I hit the last bend in the lake, I was also wondering why I didn’t have any big trips planned for the start of the year and why I was content with just being in comfy Zürich waiting for 2023 to find its momentum. Ten minutes later, as I trudged up the hill back to the apartment, it was decided: it would be back down the mountain bright and early on 2 January, my top team would fly over for a start-of-the-year mini-summit on the 5 January and then it would be “Mr Brûlé Goes To Washington”.

It’s now exactly two weeks since I cooked all of this up and it’s pretty much all going to plan. The departure from St Moritz might have been a bit slower than first plotted but I had a super two days of scheming with dreaming with my team, had to go back up to the mountains to deliver a small speech, and the Washington trip now includes stops in Montréal, Toronto and New York.

The last time I was in Canada (February last year), the country was still caught in a coronavirus fog and funk. I’m curious to see how Ottawa feels a year after the truckers pulled out but, more importantly, how my grandmother is faring as she approaches her 105th birthday. When I called in to see her last year, it was all face-shields, masks and gloves (the retirement home’s idea, not my grandmother’s). At last count, despite all the precautions, my grandmother has had at least three bouts of coronavirus. I have a feeling that I’m going to have a very strong urge to spring her from the joint and jet her off to somewhere sunnier. Will let you know where that lands.

Cities such as Toronto need to take a leadership position and tell companies and residents why it’s good to fill up downtown

During our conference in Dallas in November, two Toronto-based friends of the Monocle family told a sorry tale of the crisis in the city’s downtown retail trade thanks to scores of empty office towers. While this is not a new story and many cities face similar situations with dead shopping concourses and shuttered services, Toronto Inc needs to wake up before it’s too late. As one of the few North American cities that was able to confidently claim a vibrant, working urban core with residential buildings, offices, retail, culture and sport all blending together comfortably, much of this has now been lost as companies are too timid to demand (not politely tiptoe) that their staff get back to the office and help to move their business forward.

We’re hearing murmurs and rumbles suggesting that owners and managers are realising that company culture is eroding, clients are being lost and that it’s simply inefficient to run large-scale businesses using chat and video. Still, cities such as Toronto need to take a leadership position and tell companies and residents why it’s good to fill up downtown, why it’s important to stimulate the service economy, and keep the lights on from early morning till late to ensure that there’s life on the streets for the purposes of public safety and necessary urban hum.

It has been a long while since I was in Washington and I’m not sure what to expect. I’m on a real-estate hunt, so if you have any ideas for office and shop space, I’m all ears. I’m also there on a diplomatic mission of sorts as well, so if you’re swinging in the right defence circles, I might just see you on Wednesday evening.

On Thursday it’s up to New York, a city I’ve not been to since September 2019. Crazy! From what friends, readers and colleagues report, it’s far from the same place it was three years ago but I want to see it for myself. I know that it has lost residents, businesses and some of its snap but it’s still New York; much of the media I consume is pumped out of the city on a minute-by-minute basis. So let’s see what’s on offer. One thing is for sure: there’ll be more than a few observations in this very same column this time next Sunday. Wishing you a good week ahead.

House News / The Monocle Companion

Illuminating ideas

The Monocle Companion: Fifty Essays for a Brighter Future is our indispensable new paperback that’s packed with fresh ideas – and it’s out now. Expect 50 insightful essays on everything from the way we work to urbanism, utopia and how to be a good country, plus plenty of nudges about how to help ourselves, each other and the planet.

Our editors have tapped their global network of key CEOs, authors and thinkers to share their thoughts, perspectives and pushes for a fresher future. Keen to know what’s next and what you could do to improve your home, neighbourhood, business and more? Don’t delay. Buy your copy today.

Eating Out / Pony Pasta, Tokyo

Italian job

Inside Keshiki, a new micro-development put together by Media Surf Communications in Tokyo’s Kabutocho financial district, you’ll find a cosy, laid-back restaurant called Pony Pasta. “I selfishly wanted to create a place where I’d want to eat,” says British chef Tim Mawn. “The food looks simple but there’s a lot of work behind it. Many local producers were involved: the prosciutto comes from Sumida and the stracciatella from Omotesando.” Customers can enjoy delicious homemade recipes that might include Tuscan ribollita soup with pesto and parmesan, and tortelloni with ricotta, sage and brown butter. A great addition to the neighbourhood.

Image: Kohei Take

Top of the shops / Llibreria Finestres, Barcelona

Shelf improvement

Another remarkable recent opening is Llibreria Finestres, a bookshop created by entrepreneur Sergi Ferrer-Salat. Spread across two grand buildings from the early 1900s with elaborately carved façades and balconies, it stocks about 40,000 titles on everything from dance theory to Afghan history. There’s also a café-cum-wine bar that regularly hosts talks and events, as well as an apartment above the shop where visiting authors can stay. Finestres also recently launched a publishing arm to promote and support the Catalan comics scene.

Image: Adam Heffernan

For a rundown of Monocle’s favourite new bookshops and a few time-tested classics, pick up a copy of our soft-power-themed December/January double issue, which is out now. Or subscribe so you always have something upbeat to read.

Sunday roast / Kathy Johnston

Sweet inspiration

New Zealand-born Kathy Johnston is chief chocolate officer of Mirzam, Dubai’s only craft chocolate factory. Based in the UAE for the past 35 years, Johnston worked as a marketing consultant before spotting a sweet spot in small-batch, well-made and delightfully packaged chocolate. Here, she tells us about the joys of a Swiss farmers’ market, her penchant for panettone and her favourite restaurant.

Image: Susann Johnston

Where do we find you this weekend?
If I’m making the most of Dubai’s winter, I’ll be out of the house by 05.00 and then drive to the mountains to enjoy a cup of coffee in the wild. I love hiking and looking out for warm halvah [a sticky, sweet confection] in the markets.

How do you like to begin a Sunday? A gentle start or a jolt?
My body clock has an in-built alarm, so it’s nearly always with a jolt. I have been practising sleeping in on the weekends, though.

What’s for breakfast?
Swiss Bergkäse [Alpine cheese] and scrambled eggs on fresh sourdough with pepper.

Lunch in or out?
Out, ideally at Orfali Bros. The Syrian co-founders are always exploring new ways to present regional cuisine, ingredients and flavours. I like to go with nerdy food people and eat slowly, discussing every part of the dish in detail.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
My poor 15-year-old dog isn’t much up for walking, so downward dog for me, mostly in the form of leaning down to pick him up.

A Sunday soundtrack?
“Phenomenon” by Odie, listened to while drinking a flat white from a pink cup.

Sunday culture must?
When I’m in Switzerland, where I spend some time every year, I’ll get on a train to be the first person at any farmers’ market. All the brilliant bread, natural produce and, in August, blackberries are incredible. And museums for hot-weather Sundays.

News or not?
No news. It destroys my creativity and mood, and makes life so much less fun. My social-media feed is all chocolate, pastry and flower farming. That’s all I want to see.

What’s on the menu?
I’m plotting out a driving tour of bakeries in Italy to try different kinds of panettone. I’ve only recently discovered the heavenly delights of fresh panettone dipped in warm marsala custard. There’s a place that makes it with whole segments of candied mandarin. Have you ever heard of anything so delicious?

Your Sunday-evening routine?
I create space for the week ahead with an early evening, no screens and a diary entry.

How do you prepare an outfit for Monday?
I like to do star jumps at 06.00. I make better fashion choices when I’m fully awake.

Recipe / Ralph Schelling

Spanish-style ‘croquetas’

Croquettes, whose name derives from the word croquer (to crunch), are a creamy, breadcrumb-coated staple in France but our chef Ralph Schelling prefers the Spanish version that he learnt to make while living in San Sebastián. Schelling suggests adding to the richness of the dish by using jamón ibérico de bellota, made from acorn-fed pigs, which gives the ham a “wonderful nutty flavour”. He also recommends using a mild olive oil. “Otherwise, the taste will be too bitter,” he says. To give the dish a little extra colour, he finishes it off with a dash of oak-smoked paprika. Enjoy.

Illustration: Xihanation

Starter for 4 people


500ml full-fat milk
Grated nutmeg, a pinch
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
2 shallots, finely diced
100g jamón ibérico, finely diced
100ml olive oil, plus extra for frying
100g plain white flour, plus extra for dusting
2 large eggs, whisked
150g breadcrumbs
Dash of smoked paprika (optional)


Heat the milk in a pan and flavour with a pinch of nutmeg, some salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder.

In a separate pan on a medium heat, sauté the shallots and ham in olive oil for 5 minutes. Add flour and stir to form a paste, then gradually add the milk while stirring to create a roux (like making a very thick bechamel sauce).

Once you have a thick sauce, pour the mixture into a bowl and refrigerate overnight (no less than five hours).

Once the mixture is set, flour a surface and form the paste into croquetas; these are usually longer than they are wide but can be ball-shaped. Dust them with a little more flour.

Place the beaten eggs and breadcrumbs in two separate bowls.

Now coat the croquetas with the eggs and then roll in the breadcrumbs. Deep-fry for 2 or 3 minutes. Once golden brown, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on a few sheets of kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil. Add a dash of paprika if you want extra colour. Allow them to cool a little and serve warm.

Weekend Plans? / Guimarães, Portugal

Out of the past

In 1953 the city of Guimarães in northern Portugal celebrated 1,000 years of existence – and the opening of Café Milenário (pictured, top). This popular spot reflects pride in the medieval city, which is often referred to as the birthplace of the country because of its links to its first king; the adjoining Torre da Alfândega bears the inscription “Aqui nasceu Portugal” (“Portugal was born here”). From the mid-century clock to the glass doors, the interior is more or less the same as it was in 1953. You’re as likely to see a circle of silver-haired gentlemen sipping coffee as a group of young people watching football over a round of Super Bock beer.

Image: Matilde Viegas

Today, Guimarães is working hard to entice those who might previously have moved to Lisbon or Porto. The Unesco-listed city is within Portugal’s globally important fashion-manufacturing region, making it a strategic spot for designers seeking easy access to world-beating textile-makers and more. Named the European Capital of Culture in 2012, Guimarães has benefited from significant investment. The city is now home to shops selling smart wares, squares packed with diners and an abundance of leafy parks. Plazas have been repaved, buildings refreshed and new institutions launched. Visit the gold-hued Platform of Arts and Creativity building, drink up at the Evineo Wine Boutique and take in the sights on the Teleférico de Guimarães before you leave.

For more about Portugal’s best bits and where to stay, eat, sleep and even put down roots, pick up a copy of ‘Portugal: The Monocle Handbook’ today.

The Stack / ‘The Sustainable City’ by Harriet Thorpe

Green and pleasant land

Cities occupy a meagre 3 per cent of the world’s surface but account for some 70 per cent of carbon emissions (writes Polina Morova). But why can’t they also create opportunities to share resources, lower individual carbon footprints and keep nature alive? Well, some can, according to The Sustainable City, a new book about London by writer Harriet Thorpe and photographer Taran Wilkhu.

Image: Tony Hay

Published by Hoxton Mini Press, the title explores the question of what makes cities sustainable in a broader sense that captures the importance of making them walkable, green and fun. Featuring a wide range of projects, from a self-built housing estate in Lewisham to a workspace in Southwark’s railway arches, The Sustainable City shows that it’s possible to nudge cities in a better, more sustainable direction.

Image: Tony Hay

The Rub / Baz & Co cosmetics

Follow the herb

While many might argue that basil is best deployed on pasta or pizza, entrepreneur and farmer James Chase believes that it’s also an ideal base for a new line of UK-made skincare products, including an exfoliator and moisturiser. Baz & Co’s produce comes from a vertical farm in Lincolnshire, which is mostly powered by solar energy and uses 85 per cent less land than conventional farming. If Chase’s name sounds familiar, it might be because he and his family already made a mark after his father founded Tyrrells crisps in 2002 on their Herefordshire potato farm, then Chase Distillery in 2008 to turn the waste vegetable skins into award-winning vodka and gin. “We put a lot of research into developing a gin with herbs,” Chase tells The Monocle Minute. “I discovered [that] they’d be of great use in cosmetics too.”


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