Sunday 22 January 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 22/1/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

Feeding the soul

Hungry for food and knowledge? This week’s dispatch is just the ticket. The latter comes in the form of an exhibition on the Korean Wave and a check-in with Tyler Brûlé, while the more literal sustenance is provided by Ralph Schelling’s Puglia-inspired pasta recipe, a trip to rural France for inspiring culinary creations at Le Doyenné and a cookbook celebrating intimate dinners for two. Care to join us?

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Remote control

There are many things that I’d like to tell you about from my recent travels, which dramatically improved as soon as I took off from Ottawa and touched down in Toronto. (If you missed last week’s column, all is explained there.) I would like to spend some time talking about what great retailers the people at Summerhill Market are; how tasty the food was at Osteria Giulia on Toronto’s Avenue Road; what a delight it was to eavesdrop on a nearby stranger (did someone say “Beirut”?) and end up striking up a conversation with a former diplomat and his publisher birthday companion, tour Sid Mashburn’s sharp space in Georgetown, dine with the Swiss ambassador and his chic wife at the stunning residence in DC, and how great the new McNally-Jackson bookshop at Rockefeller Centre is. But there’s a more urgent set of topics that needs addressing: North America’s hollowed-out city centres, the problem with work from home and the creation of an underappreciated service class. Where to start?

Downtown Toronto
You’d think that the second week of the new year would be a busy one, particularly in the heart of one of North America’s biggest financial centres. But on a Tuesday morning, Toronto’s financial centre is dead. There are a few commuters trickling into town, the odd businessperson in front of a hotel loading luggage into a cab and some couriers delivering and collecting packages. But who’s receiving and sending? A couple of weeks ago I commented on what some readers relayed to me about the state of the city’s depleted downtown and, while I trusted their views, I needed to see it first-hand, walk the streets and get a proper sense of the situation.

Here’s a frightening number: 18. According to a real-estate consultant, 18 per cent of the office towers housing the Royal Bank of Canada, CIBC, Bank of Montréal, large law firms and various national and global brands are occupied. And here’s another number: 50. That’s the percentage of shops, restaurants and services that have shuttered their operations at street level and in the underground concourses that link much of downtown Toronto. As recently as three years ago there was a sense of hustle, of buying and selling, deals being done over lunch, contracts inked in conference rooms and expense accounts being stretched at the various bars favoured by bankers. Today such behaviour feels like it might have been from a heady era decades earlier, not 36 months ago.

Toronto’s mayor, the CEOs of the banks and the property groups who own and manage these towers need to snap to it and show some leadership. For all the ESG/CSR guff they all trot out about building better communities, inclusion and “bringing people along”, what about doing the correct and quite simple thing and telling staff that it’s time to get back into the office and do their bit for reviving the city they most likely enjoy calling home. The alternative is a Toronto (insert any North American city here) that will resemble the world portrayed in Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It’s already veering in that direction – at speed.

‘I’m here, where are you?’
There’s a crisis in service, retail is imploding, it’s impossible to run a restaurant and airlines are having to hire tens of thousands of flight attendants. At the same time, it has never been more difficult to retain staff and some companies are now so desperate that they’re paying potential recruits to simply show up for an interview. How did we get here?

For sure, the world’s big consultancies have various theories and fancy solutions (for sale) but let’s cut to the chase. The reason for the shortage of staff in frontline positions is that both the public and private sector have created a climate where the joys of working remotely are being celebrated and those who have to make the commute, put in the hours and be in direct with customers and suppliers are not recognised for their efforts and, too often, looked down upon because they’ve become the 21st-century version of blue-collar workers.

It’s rather difficult to be a shop or restaurant manager working 10-hour shifts knowing that your boss, who used to be in a nearby office and walked the floor, no longer bothers because the company has allowed him to relocate to the other end of the country. Likewise, it’s hard to respect junior partners in your law firm who want to enjoy all the same perks as the seniors who built the firm but don’t want to meet clients within the walls of the office that defined the business in the first place. We either get to a place where HR and PR departments stop talking about equality in the workplace and accept that there’s a class and status divide or we set a course correction to get back to a better place that helps to build culture, revenues and brand equity.

The view from Washington
While in DC, I looked at some office space for a possible new Monocle setup. It was Wednesday afternoon but it could have been early Sunday morning. Most of the traffic on the street was homeless men and women pushing around shopping carts, picking through bins and harassing Starbucks staff. I toured a few offices and asked the agent what percentage were back working in this particular building and Washington in general. “High twenties, maybe low thirties,” she replied. “It’s so, so bad and no one’s doing anything about it.”

As we made our way to look at another suite, she paused and turned. “Correction. The mayor of Washington just wrote a letter to the president to tell her that it’s not sustainable for the capital that so many people are being allowed to work from home. And she’s completely right. How can you be a business encouraging people to get back to the office when the president of the country doesn’t have your back?” You didn’t hear it here first but it all starts at the top.

House news / ‘The Monocle Companion’

Second helping

The Monocle Companion: Fifty Essays for a Brighter Future is brimming with canny and upbeat ideas – modest, big and world-changing – to improve everything from our daily lives to the public discourse. The second outing of our paperback format is packed with knowing nudges, inspiring ideas and positive suggestions for fixing some of the problems facing the planet. You’ll learn whether national service is worth fighting for, why leaders should care more about how we feel than what we earn and why there isn’t an app for everything – nor should there be. For more fresh perspectives and long reads, ambitious ideas and perceptive titbits, click here to order your copy today.

Eating out / La Doyenné, Saint-Vrain

Fresh cuts

An hour south of Paris is the Gâtinais Français Natural Regional Park and on its outskirts is Saint-Vrain, a honey-hued village of pretty stone houses along narrow streets (writes Rooksana Hossenally). Follow the signs past the wooden gates that open onto the grounds of a château and you’ll find Le Doyenné, a new farm and restaurant from chefs James Henry and Shaun Kelly of Paris restaurant Bones (along with their associates and owners of the estate, the Mortemart family). For Australian-born Henry, it was time to work closer to nature. “At Bones we’d be creating dishes with seasonal produce but still be receiving it in Styrofoam,” he says. He and Kelly began their journey in 2017 and supplied top kitchens with produce before opening the doors of Le Doyenné in late 2022. Inside the restaurant, gabled ceilings are held up by timber beams that tower above glass-paned walls offering views of the surrounding farm, which provides the inspiration and produce for the creative pair’s culinary creations.

For more food finds and hospitality scoops, pick up a copy of the February issue of Monocle magazine, which is out now.

The Stack / ‘Table for Two’ by Bre Graham

Alone together

At the heart of Australian food writer Bre Graham’s debut cookery book is the notion that cooking for two – no more, no fewer – is the most intimate way to enjoy food (writes Claudia Jacob). Table for Two, published this week, explores this theme in thoughtful essays and more than 80 tried, tested and sometimes stumbled-upon recipes.

Expect dishes such as scrambled eggs with brown butter and sage – perfected, we’re told, after the London-based cook left the hob on a little too long – and a honey, chorizo and peas-on-toast concoction inspired by Graham’s grandfather. Free of formality or stuffiness, this is a book in which leftovers from the night before are seen off with gusto. Evi-O Studio’s old-fashioned illustrations add a sense of nostalgia, nodding to mid-century classics of the genre by the likes of Ambrose Heath. Graham makes an admirable case for cooking for two. All that’s left to decide is who to invite over.

Sunday Roast / Bel Coelho

Home comforts

For Bel Coelho, the chef and activist behind São Paulo’s Cuia Café, food is political. She has long promoted native, accessible ingredients, hoping to help regenerate the environment and prevent the country’s food traditions from disappearing. Here, she tells us about Brazilian breakfasts, her favourite street markets and her Sunday soundtrack.

Image: Flora Vieira

Where do you spend your Sundays?
Either at Cuia, my restaurant in São Paulo, or with my husband and children at home – though sometimes we have a family getaway in the countryside.

What’s your ideal way to begin a Sunday? A gentle start or a jolt?
A gentle start: a good breakfast with my family.

What’s for breakfast?
Tapioca, fruit, Brazilian honey, cheese and a good cup of coffee, please.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Downward dog, for sure.

A Sunday soundtrack?
My husband, João Camarero, is a guitarist and composer. He has played with artists such as Maria Bethânia and Paulinho da Viola. My weekend soundtrack is mostly him rehearsing at our home studio.

A Sunday culture must?
Street markets are part of our culture. My favourites in São Paulo are the Parque da Água Branca’s organic market and Instituto Chão. When it comes to museums, I love the Pinacoteca, Masp, the Instituto Moreira Salles and many more.

News or not?
For me, it’s news 24/7. In Brazil, we can’t afford not to keep up with it.

Recipe / Ralph Schelling

Orecchiette with aubergine, lemon and basil

The weather in northern latitudes is chilly so we thought we’d transport you to southern Italy with a Puglian pasta special. It’s currently a vegetarian dish but adding a few tinned anchovies with the oil and garlic would introduce a hit of umami.

Illustration: Xihanation

Serves 4

400g orecchiette
2 medium aubergines
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cloves of garlic, diced
200g passata
4 tbsps grated ricotta (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt
Black pepper, to taste
1 handful of fresh basil
Zest of one lemon


Cut the aubergines into 2cm by 2cm chunks. Salt and then drain in a colander for at least 30 minutes.

Sauté the cherry tomatoes and garlic in oil for three minutes on a medium heat.

Add the passata. Stir and simmer the sauce over a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Rinse the aubergines and pat dry with a kitchen towel.

In a separate pan, sauté the aubergine pieces in olive oil for about 5 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to packet instructions (minus a minute or so to keep it al dente). Save half a cup of the cooking water before draining.

Add the aubergine pieces to the sauce and cook over a medium heat for another 5 minutes.

Mix everything well and serve, sprinkled with cheese, basil and lemon zest.

Weekend plans? / Hotel das Amoreiras, Lisbon

Inn the know

On a leafy plaza that shares its name, Hotel das Amoreiras is a cosy property in the heart of Lisbon, just steps from the Aqueduto das Águas Livres. The hotel is a fusion of two upmarket townhouses, which were renovated to carve out 19 guestrooms and a bar, with a courtyard that doubles as a space for an alfresco breakfast.

Image: Francisco Nogueira
Image: Francisco Nogueira
Image: Francisco Nogueira

One of its co-owners, Pedro Oliveira, left behind a job in private banking to pursue a degree in hospitality and designed the project from the ground up. Its interiors are full of muted hues in beige, sand and forest green, with splashes of Portuguese marble in the bathrooms.

Image: Victoria and Albert Museum, Michael Bodiam

Parting Shot / ‘Hallyu! The Korean Wave’, London

Waving the flag

Hallyu! The Korean Wave is a new exhibition (and an accompanying book) that opened to much fanfare at London’s V&A museum recently. Among the interactive dance floors, discussion of kimchi and boiler suits from the Netflix hit Squid Game, sits a more nuanced narrative about how South Korea came to wield its cultural might.

The story is told in products, easily traded across borders and around the world: K-Pop, cinema, cosmetics, consumer electronics and fashion, to name a few. But the show also delves deeper to reveal how the Korean War in the 1950s and the subsequent push and pull of Sino-American influence shaped the nation’s modern history. It also sheds light on the risky but rewarding economic strategy of innovation and South Korea’s restless, ppalli-ppalli (“quick-quick”) ethos on everything from technology to trends.

South Korea’s cultural ascendency has built slowly and the nation will hope that this wave hasn’t crested just yet. Luckily, Hallyu! The Korean Wave is a soft-power coup – and it doesn’t seem like the East Asian nation is waving goodbye to its international goodwill anytime soon. Have a super Sunday.


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