Sunday 22 October 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 22/10/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

Sweet spots

Monocle’s Sunday round-up of the best in hospitality, food and the week’s finds is packed with treats. Our Swiss chef Ralph Schelling shares an Austrian-inspired dessert of ‘Mohnnudeln’ before we whisk readers to a new Barcelona restaurant with the makings of a classic. Plus: a bakery rising to the occasion in Marseille and our editors’ favourite books. First up, it’s Monocle’s captain, Tyler Brûlé, with a few questions.

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Open to question

If it’s a Sunday morning, just past mid-October, then it must be time for a Monocle Weekend Edition Sunday quiz. If you’ve played along before, you’ll know that there are no right or wrong answers, just witty ones. Here are the rules, deadline and prizes. A small panel of judges will review the entries, which must be submitted to by 10.00 Zürich time on Monday morning. This allows for our readers in Honolulu and places elsewhere in the mid-Pacific to play along. There will be three winners who will be ranked accordingly and contacted by mid-week to join us on the next edition of Monocle on Sunday. Who doesn’t like a radio phone-in? On the prize front, we will dispatch a fine selection of Monocle print and a special little Swiss treat from our exclusive stash here in Zürich. Pens at the ready? Here we go.

If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter then you will have caught our story just over two weeks ago about the French and their love of the office. JLL released a report that the French and Swiss lead the way in working from the office but didn’t really explain more as to why. Superior workplaces? Easier commutes? Better lunch options? Explain.

Have you ever flown domestically in Japan? Did you marvel at how quickly ANA and JAL can board a high-density domestic 777 from Tokyo Haneda to Fukuoka? It’s an exquisitely choreographed exercise in social capital and everyone being alert. Can the Japanese teach the rest of the world anything? Or will we forever spend too long shuffling along a stuffy boarding ramp?

Have you noticed this one? Many booksellers still love wearing masks and working behind plexiglass. Why?

One more on this theme. It was weird the first time round but why are there still people driving around alone in their vehicles wearing masks?

What’s better for the environment? Reading off a screen or a printed page from a responsibly managed forest? Supporting evidence is required for this one.

As the northern hemisphere moves into cosy season, there’ll soon be a shift to more candlelight – real and LED. Like the question above, what’s better for the future of our fragile planet but also for our soul?

You’re in a tiny, woody alpine restaurant. It’s packed and it’s hovering at about 39C indoors. Like you, many fellow guests are visibly uncomfortable with this heat. The management, in wispy layers, seems oblivious to the temperature. Nearby there is a couple in quintuple-ply cashmere and down vests who seem fine with the sauna-style set-up. Their combined weight might be 80 kilogrammes. They look like trouble but you can tell that they’re regulars. People all around are starting to fade. There might soon be a need for medical intervention if a cross breeze is not created. What to do? Ask the management? Or take matters into your own hands?

Your head of HR has told you that one of your staffers in your sales team identifies as a Persian cat and would like a carpeted pole to rub against next to their desk. Who do you fire first?

Have you noticed that many new shower installations deliver a very unsatisfying washing experience? The pressure is poor and that refreshing gush is missing. I’m convinced that this lack of a fresh start has made for the West waking up grumpier. Is this water saving worth it?

Athens and Lisbon both lay claim to being Europe’s sunniest capitals. Okay, Valletta too. Which is the better city and why?

Eating out / Fonda Pepa, Barcelona

Worth its salt

The orange awning and old-school signage on Fonda Pepa’s façade hint at what’s contained within: a restaurant with charm well beyond its years. Founded by chefs Pedro Baño and Paco Benítez, this traditional brasserie has a purposeful feel thanks to its marble tables and black-and-white tiled floor. There’s also an open kitchen where diners can look on as chefs artfully prepare refined-but-hearty Catalan dishes. “Our menu is traditional with a twist,” says Benítez. “The idea was to create a neighbourhood restaurant where locals can enjoy fine dining with a casual atmosphere.”

Image: Anna Huix

Rising fortunes / Ferments bakery, Marseille

Oven ready

Marseille’s first-class food scene is having its moment in the sun and this little bakery is a good place to sample why. Ferments Bakery is run by Guillaume Tétu and Mati Touis. The former is a master baker who uses long fermentation techniques and flour made from ancient French grains to create his crusty loaves.

Image: Nathalie Mohadjer
Image: Nathalie Mohadjer

The latter, meanwhile, is a coffee specialist who uses beans from Paris’s KB Coffee Roasters to brew the city’s silkiest espressos and flat whites. The duo opened their glass-fronted boulangerie last year and, alongside delicious sourdoughs, sell confections from apricot-and-honey pastries to lemon-meringue pies and cinnamon rolls. At Ferments Bakery, you’ll also be able to stock up on a range of goodies sourced from small producers across France.
95 Rue de Lodi

Image: Ryan Chen

Sunday Roast / Clarissa Wei

Out in bloom

Taipei-based journalist Clarissa Wei is the author of the cookery book Made in Taiwan (writes Julia Lasica). With recipes that range from popcorn chicken to pineapple cake, her cookbook is a seemly sketch of the island’s culinary landscape. Here, Wei – a sometime Monocle contributor – shares her breakfast essentials and explains her blossoming love of gardening.

Ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
I like to wake up early enough to go to my local food market in Taipei. I’ll walk around, see what is in season, say hi to the vendors and do some shopping.

What’s for breakfast?
That would have to be a cup of soy milk and a steamed mantou bun, which I like to totally smother with fermented bean curd. It’s quite spicy and has the texture of blue cheese.

Lunch in or out?
Usually out. I like to meet friends and go to a Japanese restaurant. There are many great bento places in Taipei.

Any exercise?
Tending to my tropical garden. It’s overgrown most of the time so there’s a lot of weeding to do.

News or not?
Yes, I’m a journalist. I subscribe to The New York Times and The New Yorker, which I like to flick through.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
Definitely white wine.

What’s on the menu?
Instant-pot Taiwanese braised pork. Absolutely delicious.

Sunday evening routine?
My husband and I usually watch a film to decompress, along with a local beer or some wine.

Will you lay out your outfit for Monday?
Unfortunately not. As a new mother, I spend most of my time in my pyjamas.

Illustration: Xihannation

Recipe / Ralph Schelling


This week, Swiss chef Ralph Schelling has whipped up a scrumptious, Austrian-inspired dessert of potato noodles. “You can roast the potatoes whole to make the noodles,” he says. “Forget all of the recipes in which they’re laboriously peeled, boiled in salted water and then dried in the oven.” A tip: crush and lightly toast the poppy seeds. “That way, their full flavour will come to the fore.”

Serves 4

1.5kg potatoes
100g potato starch
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
70g butter
20g plum jam
50g powdered sugar
150g toasted poppy seeds (ground)


Preheat the oven to 250C. Prick the potatoes so they can release steam while cooking. Bake until they’re soft; this should take between 45 minutes and an hour.

Take the potatoes out of the oven. While they’re still warm, remove the flesh from the skin.

In a bowl, add the potato flesh, along with the whole egg, egg yolk and starch. Knead all the ingredients together until they form a smooth dough.

Section the dough into 5 equal pieces. Roll out the individual sections until they are between 1cm and 1.5cm thick. Then, cut lengthwise along the dough to form the noodles.

Heat a large pan of water over a high heat. Once it comes to a rolling boil, add the noodles and cook until they begin to float.

While they’re cooking, melt the butter in a large bowl and then add the jam.

In another bowl, mix together the powdered sugar and poppy seeds.

Drain the noodles and toss them in the butter and jam until everything is well coated.

Arrange the noodles on a plate and sprinkle with the sugar mixture. Serve.

Weekend plans? / Belmond Orient Express

Keep it rail

It is mid-morning on a dazzling day in Venice and, as the Belmond group’s speedboat begins dropping guests off at the pier of the angular, Fascist-era Venezia Santa Lucia station, it already feels like walking onto a film set (writes Charlotte McDonald Gibson). A cast of characters approaches platform four, where a red carpet signifies the check-in desk of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the latest iteration of the legendary pan-European train that has captured imaginations around the world since its 19th-century heyday during the golden age of travel.

Monocle’s steward, Antonina, tells us that our carriage was marooned in snow for several days near Istanbul in 1929 – the apparent inspiration for Agatha Christie, the writer who helped to immortalise the service. It is this carefully curated mythmaking that ensures the Belmond train’s connection with the Orient Express brand. Technically speaking, though, “Orient Express” refers not to a train but a particular route launched in 1883, when Belgian entrepreneur Georges Nagelmackers realised his dream of connecting continental Europe by rail. The route has had many iterations and was plied by rather run-down rolling stock for much of its later years. But the Belmond train’s provenance is firmly placed in the art deco heyday of the 1920s and 1930s.

Image: James Mollison
Image: James Mollison

The current Venice Simplon-Orient-Express came together in 1982, when late US shipping tycoon James Sherwood bought two sleeping cars and set about recreating the journey. All 17 carriages on the current train were built between 1926 and 1931; many ran on branches of the original route. This honouring of the past – and what makes a journey worthy of the Orient Express label – is a topic that the train’s managers, Matthieu Ollier and Francesco Bonotto, are keen to talk about as we reach one of the route’s highest points: the Brenner pass at the Austrian-Italian border.

As we stop to switch engines and smokers alight for their postprandial cigarettes in the crisp alpine air, Ollier concedes that the term “Orient Express” is an idea, a brand and “the title of a book”. But he also likes to look at it through a more romantic lens. “It’s a dream,” he says. “It was the dream of a Belgian man in the 1880s; it became the dream of an American man in the 1970s; and now it’s our dream.” Determining which train can claim to be a “genuine” Orient Express will become even more complex next year, when Accor is expected to launch its Orient Express La Dolce Vita, offering luxury train journeys across Italy. The group will follow that in 2025 with a pan-European, Orient Express-branded train featuring 17 original cars from the art deco period. (Accor’s press materials mention “the return of the legendary train” and the “rebirth of the Orient Express”, conveniently ignoring that the Belmond’s Orient Express has been in operation for more than 40 years.) Yet despite some gentle jibes about the provenance of their carriages, Ollier and Bonotto are magnanimous about the prospect of a little competition. “It’s another train, another offer and another product,” says Ollier in a matter-of-fact way. “It’s a very good thing because it means that the market is dynamic. We are happy about that.”

For the full report on how luxury travel is getting back on track, subscribe to Monocle.

Report / The World’s 50 Best Bars 2023, Singapore

Raising the bar

Singapore isn’t renowned for its blowout raves but one event last week came rather close (writes Naomi Xu Elegant). More than 1,000 people filled the cavernous halls of Pasir Panjang Power Station to celebrate the hospitality high watermark that is The World’s 50 Best Bars awards. The set-up felt more Warsaw techno club than subdued speakeasy, as tattooed Argentinian bartenders and mysterious Japanese mixologists grew raucous on free cocktails as the countdown advanced. The emcee spoke with reverence about “the academy”, the 680 industry judges who decide the rankings. Since the list launched in London in 2009, it has indeed become something of an Oscar night for the cocktail crowd, with a spot on the list guaranteed to drum up business. Corporate partners such as Perrier, Campari and Rémy Martin sponsor awards and fund scholarships for some winners. As the tension built, finalists could be seen wiping tears from their eyes and kissing their partners before jogging onstage to pose for photos.

At last, the winner was revealed: Barcelona’s Sips, which first entered the list in 2021 at 37th place. Its founders were ecstatic. “No one wants to be 37th,” co-founder Simone Caporale told Monocle at the post-awards brunch the next day. “Everyone wants to be first.” When asked to describe a signature Sips cocktail, Caporale launched into an explanation of “the krypta”, a concoction consisting of clarified green apple juice, gin, armagnac and herbs. Of note is the intricate glassware in which it is served. “It’s kind of egg-shaped, almost like a mask,” he said. Right. He assures Monocle that it’s not as complicated as it sounds but we’ll have to head to Barcelona to see for ourselves.

So what does Caporale order when he goes out for a drink and isn’t conducting green, boozy experiments for his customers? “I go for a manhattan, a daiquiri – sometimes a beer.” For all of the showmanship and bluff, bars often overlook that rarest and most vital ingredient: simplicity. We’ll drink to that.

The Stack / Editors’ picks

Matters of perspective

Every month, Monocle’s editors select the month’s best new books (plus art shows to see, films to see and TV to watch). Here are our a few of our November picks.

‘A Shining’, Jon Fosse, translated by Damion Searls. Norwegian essayist, novelist, poet and playwright Jon Fosse has been compared to Henrik Ibsen and Samuel Beckett, and has attracted a loyal following with his “slow prose”. This 56-page novella tells the story of a man who gets lost in the woods as he sets off on foot through the cold and dark in search of help after his car breaks down. Beautiful, haunting and sensitively translated.
Published on 31 October

‘Julia’, Sandra Newman. US author Sandra Newman’s latest novel is a provocative retelling of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from the perspective of Winston Smith’s lover, Julia Worthing. It takes courage to reimagine one of the 20th century’s most iconic novels and Newman serves up some compelling revisions.
Out now

‘Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop’, Hwang Bo-reum, translated by Shanna Tan. This quirky debut novel tells the story of Yeongju, who leaves her corporate job and career-oriented husband to open an independent bookshop in Seoul’s Hyunam-dong neighbourhood. It’s a tale about community and finding comfort in small things.
Published on 26 October

Buy a copy of Monocle’s November issue, which is out now, for more culture picks and a read on what’s shaping the world. Or subscribe so you never miss an issue. Have a super Sunday.


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