Sunday 15 January 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 15/1/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

Appetite for life

Why not kick off your Sunday with oven-warm scones? Irish chef JR Ryall sings the praises of doing so. If refined pasta is more your thing, the return of Milan institution Sant Ambroeus is sure to tantalise. Elsewhere, we buy less but better in Paris and visit a well-preserved ‘machiya’ in Kyoto. On the other side of the world, Tyler Brûlé lands in Canada – and is unimpressed by what he finds there.

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Going nowhere fast

Some landings are considerably more jarring than others. In this instance, it wasn’t my Swiss A330 touching down in Montréal last Sunday (the captain did a perfect job of gently tip-toeing the big bird onto an icy runway); it was the jolt that came when I pulled up to Ottawa’s Château Laurier hotel two hours later.

If you’ve never been to Ottawa, don’t bother. Of all the G7 capitals, it’s one that hardly conjures up much in the way of attractive images. Don’t believe me? Try it. What comes to mind? What stands out? You see what I mean? No Big Ben, no Lincoln Memorial, no Eiffel Tower. Ottawa might have had an easier time when Germany was partitioned and Bonn was its capital but that credit ran out when Berlin was reinstated as Haúptstadt and the Brandenburg Gate roared back as a symbol for the Federal Republic’s capital.

On arrival at what is supposed to be the city’s top hotel and is the only address for visiting heads of state, diplomats and CEOs looking to strike deals to sell fighter planes and trains to the Canadian government, I’m suddenly on guard. Near the car there’s a young man lurking between the pillars dressed in a black puffa jacket, baggy trousers and chunky black trainers. For a moment he hangs back and then approaches me. “Do you need help?” he asks. I size him up with a degree of confusion. Is he a homeless youth looking for a few dollars by helping me to the front door? As he gets closer, I notice that there’s a logo for the hotel on the jacket – albeit rather small. The driver gives him a nod and a few moments later a baggage trolley comes into view and bags are loaded onto the trolley. “Oh, he works here,” I say to the driver. So much for gold braiding, epaulettes, brass buttons, name tags and other simple signifiers from the language of hotel uniforms.

At the front desk there’s a queue and one person on duty. Five minutes pass and the gentleman in front of me is huffing and shifting his weight from left foot to right. I notice that there are two people at the nearby concierge desk chattering away and oblivious to the growing queue. I walk over and ask whether there might be other colleagues in the back office. “Oh yes, good idea; let me check,” says one before crossing the lobby. We’re at the 15-minute point and a young woman shuffles out. She might still be chewing her dinner and she barely engages while asking me for a credit card and the number of keys I need.

We walked into the bar and the whole space seemed gripped by a similar force that plagued the front desk: no speed, movement or sense of urgency

It’s a hike to the room. Dirty plates line the hallway: some half-finished pasta here, ketchup-caked fries there. The room turns out to be what many in hotel marketing might consider a suite. The proportions are decent; the furniture unremarkable. As I’m travelling with my mother and it’s already late-ish, I consider having her pop down and just ordering room service. But where’s the menu? It’s certainly not in the globally established zone where 99 per cent of good hotels leave room-service menus: on the desk, next to the phone. I start opening cupboards, closets and pulling open drawers. Nothing. And then a grisly discovery: I open the desk drawer to find that it’s full of shredded paper. For a moment it’s exciting. Was this room the scene of an intelligence operation cooked up by one of Canada’s enemies? Was I about to thwart a terror attack? I started to assemble the bits of notepaper and was then jolted by a chill. The bits of paper weren’t filled with letters and numerals that formed an elaborate code from a rogue intelligence agent; they were eerie-looking symbols that looked as though they’d been scratched onto a Fairmont Hotels notepad by someone holding a chewed-through Bic pen – dagger-style. Had the room hosted a satanic trance? Dare I open the door to the second bathroom?

I called down to room service and, after a couple of tries, a rather distant young man picked up the phone. Was he even in the hotel? Was he sitting at home taking orders? Was he at a call centre in Canada’s High North? “Sorry, we don’t have printed menus,” he said. “Can you give me your phone number and I’ll text it to you.” What!? I was so stunned – and scanning the carpet for blood stains while still traumatised by the menacing symbols – that I just went along with his request. After another 10 minutes, there was no text with the room-service menu so I called the duty manager. I described the shredded welcome note (zero interest in my discovery) and the lack of a room-service menu. He might have mumbled something about not being able to text to international numbers (because all of their guests are clearly Canadian or possibly American) but swiftly moved onto coronavirus measures and the dangers of paper. I had to stop him. “Seriously? I think we’re a bit past the pandemic as an excuse for poor service,” I said. “This is supposed to be a five-star hotel and you think it’s acceptable to text a menu to your guests? What about older guests who don’t even have a smartphone?” He then explained that they could print one and bring it up. It was clear that he’d had this conversation before.

Time passed, I called my mom and asked whether we dare leave our rooms and go down to the bar. “Sure, see you downstairs,” she said perkily. We walked into the bar and the whole space seemed gripped by a similar force that plagued the front desk: no speed, movement or sense of urgency. A man-child showed us to the table and barely said a word. His colleagues at the bar were having their own discussion, disconnected from the patrons around them. I started to laugh. My mother urged me to stop. “It’s incredible that this is the best that our country can do for people coming to the capital, no?” I said.

“Yes, shocking,” mom agreed.

We finished our order and downed our wine. It was on my way back up to the room that it hit me. Those shredded bits of paper were somehow linked to the general zombie state that had clearly gripped the hotel and likely much of Canada’s federal government. A lack of momentum, interest and engagement is something that my homeland seems to be struggling with. Perhaps someone can venture back to the drawer in my room and piece together the symbols, unlock the zombie curse and get Canada out of its trance. I’m quite sure it’s all in the drawer, undisturbed since I left it.

Eating out / Sant Ambroeus, Milan

Bringing it all back home

Sant Ambroeus restaurant was a Milan institution until it was sold in the 1980s. Years later, the Sant Ambroeus brand found new success in the US, where its blend of thoughtfully designed interiors and modern, northern-Italian dishes quickly found a cult following in neighbourhoods including New York’s West Village. Now the family-run group has returned to the original Milan building, which was first opened in 1936.

Image: Romain Laprade
Image: Romain Laprade

The recently refurbished space contains pendant lights and marble, alongside white tablecloths and classic wood panelling overseen by designer Fabrizio Casiraghi. The menu runs from breakfast to dinner and spans eggs with applewood bacon in the morning to king crab paccheri in the evening. Sant Ambroeus is finally back where it belongs.

Top of the shops / Landline Paris

Lasting treasures

As part of her mission to encourage shoppers to buy fewer but better items, fashion-industry veteran Caroline Morrison transformed a near-dilapidated pharmacy building in Paris’s vibrant 11th arrondissement into Landline, a general-supply shop stocking homeware, paper goods, stationery, French linen, cashmere blankets and wooden toys.

Image: Olivia Tran
Image: Olivia Tran
Image: Olivia Tran

“I grew up with hippy parents in San Francisco and everything we consumed was natural and sustainable: food, the products we used, the cleaning supplies,” says Morrison (pictured). “That was our normal way of life. After working in fashion and seeing the industry’s darker sides of overproduction and waste, I realised that this wasn’t the case for most people.”

Sunday Roast / JR Ryall

Sweet talk

JR Ryall is the head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House, a fêted hotel in East Cork, Ireland (writes Claudia Jacob). Every year he travels the world for two months in search of new culinary ideas, incorporating his discoveries into his cooking. His new book Ballymaloe Desserts showcases his dessert repertoire. He tells us about his morning rituals, evening swims and the pleasures of jazz piano.

Image: Joleen Cronin

Where do we find you this weekend?
I’m in London for a short visit, catching up with friends. I’ll be having dinner at 40 Maltby Street and drinks at Bar Termini and Quo Vadis.

Your ideal way to begin a Sunday: a gentle start or a jolt?
Usually a jolt. Most Sundays I’m working in the pastry kitchen. I go in at 06.00 and get stuck in with the day’s projects. When I’m off, my Sunday mornings involve a late-ish breakfast at home and listening to the radio.

What’s for breakfast?
My team and I take a short break at 08.00 every day. It’s a ritual: oven-warm scones with salted butter, homemade jam and cream, and a pot of strong coffee. It’s the best part of the day.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
I’ll happily walk for hours, particularly when I’m in a new place. When I’m at home, I like to meet up with a friend and walk four or five miles along the strand in Ballycotton Bay.

A Sunday soundtrack?
I’m easy-going. Classic jazz piano is a Sunday go-to.

A Sunday culture must?
Whenever I’m travelling, food markets are usually the first thing that I seek out. They’re great for people-watching too.

News or not?
At least twice a day.

Your Sunday-evening routine?
I try to go for an early-evening swim in the sea when the weather is fine. It helps me to reset after a busy week.

Recipe / Ralph Schelling

Ribeye with marsala shallot confit

Swiss chef Ralph Schelling shares a slow-cooked shallot confit recipe that goes perfectly with a quickly seared ribeye steak. “You can put the confit into jars for later too,” says Schelling. “It will keep in the fridge for about two months.”

Illustration: Xihanation

Serves 4

50g cane sugar
500ml red wine
200ml marsala wine
1 sprig thyme
1 star anise
500g shallots, peeled
50g olive oil
3-4 tbsps red wine vinegar
4 premium dry-aged ribeye steaks
Fleur de sel


Preheat your oven to 160C.

Caramelise the sugar in a medium ovenproof pan (with a lid), then deglaze with the wines and add the thyme and star anise. Bring to a boil then add the whole shallots.

Season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer in the oven for about three hours until the shallots are soft. The wines should be almost completely reduced by the end of the cooking time.

Finely chop the cooked shallots if required. Mix with the olive oil while still hot and season with vinegar. Leave to cool.

Season the ribeye with fleur de sel and grill each steak for about four minutes on each side. Leave to stand in a warm oven for a few minutes to settle. Serve with the shallot confit

Weekend plans? / Maana Kiyomizu, Kyoto

House proud

Kyoto’s remaining traditional wooden machiya (townhouses), which survived earthquakes, fire and the rise of glass and concrete in postwar Japan, are now facing an existential threat: foreign investors. “Machiya are being torn down every day, even though they’re listed,” says Hana Tsukamoto, creative director of Maana Homes.

Image: Maana Homes
Image: Maana Homes
Image: Maana Homes

With Irene Chang, Tsukamoto began to buy and convert them into guesthouses. Their latest is Maana Kiyomizu, a boutique hotel with three suites that fuse Japanese craftsmanship with Danish design. A kissa (café) serves seasonal cuisine and the craft shop doubles as a workshop to learn kintsugi, the art of repairing tableware. “Kyoto is more than just pretty gardens and temples,” says Chang. “It’s a humbling way of living that we are trying to convey.”

Make my day / Elena’s buns, Mexico

Baking up a storm

Mexico City’s food scene offers plenty to chew over and Elena Reygadas’s Panadería Rosetta, a small but perfectly formed bakery that opened as a spin-off of her wildly successful restaurant Rosetta, is a highlight. Here you’ll find her culinary ingenuity on full display, including in these crispy-on-the-outside and gooey-within guava buns. The challenge is having just one. Have a super Sunday.
Puebla 242, Roma Norte, Cuauhtémoc


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