This week we’re celebrating Monocle’s retail awards with a sneak peek of a winning shop in Tokyo that lets location inform decoration, as well as a fresh take on food in Portugal’s Algarve. Elsewhere, our editorial director Tyler Brûlé answers your questions and we drop anchor in Portofino to meet an entrepreneur who has headed back to the land. We also whip up a sweet treat with a simple but sumptuous recipe that we’re sure you’ll want to try. Go on, it’s a piece of cake.
Too many months have passed since I last untied the Monocle Weekend Edition Sunday mailbag, dumped it on the floor and sorted through all the correspondence. Fortunately, I found a few hours and a clear stretch of floor in our Zürich HQ on Saturday morning and managed to get through all the post, collate all the questions and rank the ones in need of the most urgent responses. As ever, you can send your questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post them to my attention at: Monocle, Top Floor, Dufourstrasse 90, Zürich 8008, Switzerland.
Q: As the days get shorter and we move back into dinner-party season, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to accommodate the dietary requirements of many friends. Should I focus on more neutral menu territory? Exclude some friends? Or just book a table at a nearby restaurant?
A: You left out one important question: Why not make new, more adventurous, friends? In many corners of the world the dinner party has become a minefield where preferences get blurred with allergies and politics get in the way of accepting a generous invitation and having a jolly evening. Just as guests have a moral obligation to be lively, entertaining and ask questions of those seated around them, they also have an obligation to not stress out the host with unreasonable demands and confuse dislikes with the need for a clear rooftop for a helicopter medevac. There are a few essential rules here. First, lettuce was created to hide anything that you’re not fond of. Hosts should always have a bowl on the table to allow guests to shuffle over bites and conceal them under a crunchy iceberg leaf, while guests should know that the mound of leaves is there for that very purpose and make no further fuss. Two, be the busiest host you can possibly be. You’ve got napkins to fold, wine to uncork, two skillets on the go and you’re also the DJ. You’re allowed to miss questions such as ‘Is there soy in this dressing?’ Or ‘Did you use any wine in the cake?’ You can tilt an ear, smile and motion towards the window and say ‘Yes, the water is absolutely fine in the lake’ and then refill glasses. And third, you might want to seek out friends from elsewhere. From my experience, go French or Japanese – they devour almost anything and haven’t buckled to the food intolerance racket.
Q: I bought a pair of deck shoes earlier this summer and they’re now all I wear. Can I pull them off in the winter months as well?
A: Here’s a question for you. Are your winters spent grabbing a coffee in Gustavia on a Sunday morning? If not, then I think you should park them up until your next holiday to somewhere subtropical. If you like the moccasin-style details, you might go for something with more of a chunky sole but a similar upper by JM Weston.
Q: Any idea what became of flight shaming? It was such a thing for a while but it seems to have disappeared.
A: Funny how short attention spans are and how fickle the news cycle is, no? We end up with concepts like flight shaming when we don’t have conflicts across a nearby sea or when our once-model liberal democracy suddenly becomes a global hotspot for gang violence and innocent people start getting killed. Also, it becomes complicated to condemn others when you find that you need to buy a Qantas ticket to visit a dying relative because there are no trains from Malmö to Melbourne.
Q: Wait, wait. I have one more question. Is cultural appropriation still a thing?
A: Let’s be clear, in many corners of the world there are people who have no idea what this is or what all the fuss is about. Then there are a great many sensible countries who paid passing attention to this moment and then moved on. Unfortunately, there are also places (you know who you are) where there are vocal constituents who wake up every morning on a mission to be offended on behalf of others, jump on their digital devices and make considerable noise when they should concern themselves with being in the office, getting along with people and not hiding behind a screen. Earlier this week, Oktoberfest wrapped up in Munich and tens of thousands of people from all corners of the world got dressed up in the attire of their hosts, the indigenous Bavarian people. Not only were the Bavarians happy to rent out their national costumes (as they do every year), smart retailers were quick to upsell doe-skin lederhosen to Thai revellers by telling them that €3,000 is a sound investment for a pair of buttery shorts that they’ll have for life. The fact that the cultural appropriation brigade isn’t rushing to defend the Bavarians when Saudis, Koreans, Nigerians or even Berliners don dirndls, half-belted loden janker jackets and knee-socks suggests that this whole movement has been misguided since the get-go. As an Indian gentleman, whose brother was off to an Oktoberfest evening, said to me, ‘Why shouldn’t a non-Indian woman be allowed to wear a sari? It’s beautiful. This is about getting closer to our culture and brings understanding,’ he explained. In other words, if we’re being properly inclusive, everyone should be welcome in the Oktoberfest tent – pert bums, pushed-up boobs and all.
Almost 30 years since The Conran Shop opened its first outlet in Japan, it was high time for a reboot (writes Fiona Wilson). Its new Tokyo flagship in Daikanyama has been given an uncluttered interior by architect Keiji Ashizawa, who has reconfigured the space and introduced natural materials and paper screens from Kyoto. Tea master Shinya Sakurai has opened an elegant tea room in the basement; the product roster, meanwhile, has been refreshed under CEO Shinichiro Nakahara (pictured). The latter has been a key player in Tokyo’s interiors scene for the past 20 years but he credits Terence Conran for helping to shape his design outlook. “He always used three keywords – ‘plain’, ‘simple’ and ‘useful’ – which resonate deeply in Japan,” says Nakahara. “It was important to apply these values to the country’s Conran Shops.”
The reboot is part of a wider strategy by the brand’s CEO, Peter Jenkins, with a new logo and an acknowledgement that the shops should adapt to the needs of their locale. When Nakahara joined, the Japanese outposts contained few products from the country or the wider region; accordingly, he has put the spotlight on East Asia’s crafts, techniques and designers. This approach differs from shop to shop. In Fukuoka, The Conran Shop offers a complete lifestyle experience; in Shinjuku, it is pitched at professionals’ living spaces. The Daikanyama flagship celebrates Asian design and craft: customers will find Japanese brands Karimoku and Ariake, Podium furniture from Thailand and Nonfiction fragrances from South Korea. Nakahara brings his own talent to the shops but keeps the founder’s ideas in mind. “Conran’s work is very special,” he says. “I still aspire to be like him.”
For more retail innovations, neighbourhood stalwarts and top shops, buy a copy of the October issue of the magazine, containing our retail awards. Or subscribe today so you never miss an issue.
When Avelino and Célia Apolónia opened a tuck shop next to Célia’s mother’s house in 1983, they couldn’t have imagined that, 40 years later, they would be overseeing a chain of niche luxury supermarkets in southern Portugal with their sons, Paulo and Eduardo (writes Carlota Rebelo). But theirs is not an ordinary grocery shop. “There are some items on the shelves that we only stock because a customer asked for it,” says Paulo. This personalised ethos has always been at the core of the family business.
After living in Canada for more than a decade, where he worked in catering, Avelino returned to Portugal to set up shop and was eager to fill his shelves with the products that he had grown accustomed to finding in North America. “I used to drive to Lisbon every two weeks to pick up things for the shop that you couldn’t find anywhere else in the country,” he says.
The aisles are carefully considered, from the clean lines of the signage to the colourful organisation of the items on the shelves. “The design approach was intentional,” says Eduardo. “We’re a modern brand but true to traditional family values.” The two sons went to university and worked in other industries for a while but, as Apolónia grew from a small enterprise into a bigger operation, they decided to join the family business. Today the brand has three outposts (Almancil, Lagoa and Galé), its own pharmacy, an in-shop newsagent and a café.
Plans are in the works to set up an outpost outside the Algarve. “It’s important to keep the family values that have guided us until now,” says Paulo. “We are not competing with every other supermarket. There’s a reason why we’re different and that’s what we’re betting on.”
Known for crafting elegant yet lively spaces, Kerry-born interior designer Bryan O’Sullivan has worked on a range of hospitality projects over the years, from the Ballynahinch Castle Hotel in Galway to Claridge’s newly opened, art deco-inspired brasserie in London. Here, he tells us about the exhibitions that he has recently enjoyed, Irish sausages and why, more often than not, he prefers to stay at home.
Where will we find you at the weekend?
I travel so much for work that being at home in my apartment at the Barbican in London with my husband, James, and our son, Cosmo, is the ultimate weekend luxury.
Ideal start to a Sunday?
Since becoming a dad, slow starts have been a thing of the past. Cosmo wakes like clockwork at 07.00 so we are up early. A stroll to get the papers, coffee and some fresh bread is my ideal start to a Sunday.
Lunch in or out?
Ideally in. I always keep a stash of Irish sausages in the freezer. They are infinitely more flavoursome than English sausages. I fry them up with some free-range eggs.
I’ll usually try to squeeze in a jog along the Thames before breakfast. It’s the best way to shake off the cobwebs.
Walk the dog or downward dog?
On a Sunday I’m all about downtime, so I’d take the walk.
Sunday culture must?
I try to see at least one exhibition every week. I recently took Cosmo to see David Hockney’s immersive exhibition, Bigger & Closer, at Coal Drops Yard, which was incredible. It kept him completely enthralled for a whole hour. We also recently saw China’s Hidden Century at the British Museum.
News or no news?
Definitely news, though there are days when I just want escapism.
A glass of something you’d recommend?
I don’t drink so it’s an alcohol-free option for me.
Menu for the weekend?
I love a Sunday roast. It’s my favourite comfort food and ritual. My husband, James, has perfected the art of roast potatoes, which he’s militant about – he won’t let me near them.
Any Sunday evening routine?
I always get that back-to-school feeling before Monday, so I prefer to lay low. I usually socialise early in the day so that I can get home early for dinner. I need time to reset and mentally prepare for the week ahead.
Will you lay out your outfit for Monday?
Yes. It reduces stress and means that I have more time to spend with Cosmo before heading to the studio.
This week, Monocle’s Japanese recipe writer, Aya Nishimura, rustles up some sweet treats in the form of steamed coconut cupcakes. “They’re very nice with warm tea and delicious with a little butter spread,” she says.
75g dark brown sugar
1 medium egg
3 tbsps whole milk
1 tbsp neutral oil (such as vegetable oil)
110g plain flour
5g baking powder
A large pinch of salt
20g desiccated coconut (15g in the batter, 5g to sprinkle on top)
5 cupcake cases
Put the dark brown sugar in a food processor and blitz to remove any lumps.
Prepare the wet ingredients. In a large bowl, mix the sugar, egg, milk and oil together with a whisk until combined.
Prepare the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and 15g of the desiccated coconut. Tip into the wet mixture and whisk until combined.
Set water in a large pot with a steamer on top and bring the water to a boil. (Wrap the pan lid with a kitchen cloth as this will help to prevent any excess steam from dripping over the cakes.)
Set the cupcake cases in heatproof ramekins, dividing the batter between the five.
Set the ramekins in the steamer and cover with the lid. Steam for 16 minutes.
Serve warm. If you want to eat them later, you can also re-steam them for a minute before serving.
Up in the hills above Portofino, overlooking the Ligurian Sea, is an unexpected bounty of fruit, vegetables and herbs that is giving rise to a food and hospitality business (writes Ivan Carvalho). La Portofinese celebrates another kind of luxury altogether and its founder, Mino Viacava, is the sixth generation of his family to call the area home. Though his relatives were bricklayers, Viacava remembers stories that his grandfather told him about the family’s past tending crops on this same patch of land amid the cliffs, sea and maritime pines. “It was a simpler life then, one that was focused on the land,” says Viacava as we pass an olive-oil press where Ligurian cultivars, lavagnina and pignola are turned into the grassy, golden condiment that’s served at the firm’s rustic restaurant, Osteria dei Coppelli. “There were none of these fancy boutiques that you see here today,” he adds with a wistful grin.
For Viacava, whose six projects include a farm, bar and restaurant, the aim is to draw attention to the part of Portofino’s identity that goes well beyond its reputation for glitz, glamour and yachts. Today his supporters are everywhere, from local market sellers and residents to in-the-know concierges at resorts nearby, such as Belmond’s Hotel Splendido. They are all happy to recommend La Portofinese’s restaurants and experiences to guests in search of something genuine and modest. Despite his success, Viacava remains sanguine about his mission and what drives him. “It’s about maintaining traditions and passing them on to the next generation,” he says, gazing out to the sea. “What’s better than that?”
Every month our well-read editors select a few titles that have caught their eye and captured their imagination. Here are three for this month.
‘Shame’, Annie Ernaux, translated by Tanya Leslie. The first sentence of Annie Ernaux’s memoir, Shame, is hard to forget: “My father tried to kill my mother one Sunday in June, in the early afternoon.” What follows is the story of a 12-year-old girl, the Nobel Prize-winning author, whose life is irrevocably changed from that moment onwards. A delicate but deeply emotive coming-of-age tale.
‘Shame’ is out now
‘Roman Stories’, Jhumpa Lahiri, translated with Todd Portnowitz. Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest collection of short stories, originally written in Italian but translated into English by the author and Todd Portnowitz, captures the experience of living in a city and, at the same time, being separate from it. Expect Lahiri’s signature prose – simply told, full of thought – and quizzical characters who wander, watch and listen.
‘Roman Stories’ is published on 12 October
‘Tremor’, Teju Cole. The novel follows Tunde, a West African photographer and professor, as he reflects on his upbringing in Nigeria, his current life working at an elite US college campus and the transformative events and experiences in between.
‘Tremor’ is published on 17 October
If you’re a fan of fine storytelling and pristine print, then there’s a good chance that you’ll get a lot from a Monocle subscription. Support us, our independent journalism and get an unrivalled read on the world today. Oh, and have a super Sunday.