Sunday 26 November 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 26/11/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

Small but beautiful

This week we hoist a glass in a convivial and compact bar in the Netherlands and suggest a stay in the small Brazilian city of Petrópolis. Plus a seasonal recipe from our Zürich-based chef, a Milanese shopping itinerary and – in case you happen to fancy staying home this Sunday – the month’s best TV recommendations. Before that, our editorial director, Tyler Brûlé, checks in after a week on the road.

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Island of plenty

Let’s pretend for a brief moment that you’re an officer in the US military. Perhaps you’re flying a chopper for the US Marines. Or maybe you’re an air-traffic controller in the USAF. Or what about a DJ for AFN radio or a tank commander with the army. Now, if you could spin the globe, where would you want to be based? Would it be a stint at the sprawling naval facility on Crete, or is that a bit too remote during the winter months? Would Ramstein Air Base be more attractive – heart of Europe and all? Or maybe being on home turf is easier? Tampa? Norfolk? San Diego? I asked myself these questions as I wandered around the massive Parco City mall on Friday afternoon, observing hundreds of American service personnel and their families enjoying the Thanksgiving long weekend and pondering whether they all thought that their assignment on Okinawa was the best gig on offer from the Pentagon.

The last time I touched down on Okinawa was more than 10 years ago and, while it looks pretty much the same on the way into Naha from the airport, it doesn’t take long to feel that the place is moving. While the tropical breezes and gentle pace of life continue to attract entrepreneurs from Sapporo and Tokyo looking for a warmer, easier place to start new ventures or manage existing ones, Okinawa is upgrading, with new highway extensions, bridge refurbishments and housing developments. Up the western coast, old motor inns are being overhauled and it seems that most major luxury hotel groups either have projects under development or are looking for land to start constructing villas and spa facilities.

It’s for these reasons, and many more, that we ranked Naha at the top of our Small City Index in the current issue of The Forecast, which is on newsstands and available to order now. But as tensions in the region continue to heat up, the city is now starting to punch above its weight. Military operations are drawing in more listed personnel and contractors, and improved connectivity (Naha Airport is a dream) brings it closer to its allies in Taiwan, South Korea and The Philippines. Add to this stretches of modernist bungalows, abundant greenery, hidden bars and cool cafés, and a minimum sea temperature of about 24C at the end of November, and you know why living on Kadena Air Force Base probably beats life at Fort Liberty. Below are a few more observations from the mall, beach, balcony and Naha’s side streets.

Not a foreign car in sight. Compared to Tokyo, with its vintage Jags, big-wheel Mercedes G-Class wagons, Bentleys and BMWs, Okinawa is almost exclusively a domestic affair. There is a high concentration of kei cars (that special breed of super cute, boxy compacts), Toyota Alphards and surf boys in old school Land Cruisers. One set of wheels that seems to dominate Okinawa’s roads is Toyota’s small-scale Raize SUV and its Daihatsu sibling. More butch and boxy than similar models from Volkswagen and Audi, Toyota should get this handsome little runabout on European streets sooner rather than later.

‘The sea is closed.’ So said the man at our hotel when I asked where it is best to swim along the beach. “It’s winter and you can’t swim,” he said. Though I’m quite familiar with Japan’s obsession with often illogical rules, the idea that there’s a cut-off date for swimming when this stretch of Pacific is warmer than much of the Med in high summer truly stumped me. When I pressed the beach boss for a clear reason why, he mumbled something about fish, rocks and that it was no longer summer. I thanked him, grabbed a towel and jumped in anyway. Japan’s tourism authorities and hotel owners are missing a trick (read: revenue) by not embracing the sea rather than scaring away tourists, not to mention locals.

Menswear mecca. I wasn’t expecting to walk into one of the best menswear shops in Asia along a canal in Naha. But that’s what happened when I made a right through the door at South Store. The mix of Japanese brands, German and Okinawan ceramics, and smart accessories was the best I’ve seen anywhere of late – surpassing even Tokyo and Seoul. It’s a long hike to grab a jacket from Mittan or gilet from Still By Hand – but if you’re in the neighbourhood…

And speaking of ’hoods, hopefully I’ll see you round ours in Zürich and London over the coming weekends. All of your favourite Monocle crew will be on hand to help with gift selections, snap pictures with Santa and encourage one more round of Glühwein.

Top of the shops / Milan

Lombardy bartering

Milan is a diverse and international city but its beauty is also in its compact centre – meaning that it’s a doddle to dart around for some pre-Christmas shopping, from homewares to artisanal panettone. Let’s start things off in a residential neighbourhood in the east of the city at the beautiful homeware and clothing shop Vicolo Via Mameli, a cosy nook ideal for picking up handmade Italian ceramics, dried flowers, rugs, workers jackets and candles. Next, skip over to Via Melzo in the Porta Venezia neighbourhood for some stunning luxury vintage clothing – with heavy influences from the US and Japan – at Fortela. The brand has two shops on the street (which is also packed with restaurants): one for menswear and womenswear. From there head to Alcova Project Space, the showroom of Fuorisalone’s Alcova platform; it’s worth a visit if you feel like splashing out on furniture from up-and-coming international design talent (you’ll also find a wider collection available online at the Alcova Design Shop).

Image: Luigi Fiano / Gianfranco Gallucci

Heading south near the Fondazione Prada, Bonvini 1909 is a historic stationery and printing shop (and a Monocle favourite) for all your pen, paper and artwork needs. If you’ve got any stamina left after splurging on the above, Miniampère is a cute space for well-selected brands for kids. Make time for a dash to a tiny, minimalist space called Reading Room, where you can get a fix of international magazines, and then end as all good things should: with food. Dispensa Milano on Corso Venezia is a gourmet stockist with a modern aesthetic. We did promise you panettone, after all.

Eating out / Café Marcella, Amsterdam

Light touch

Though the influence of Amsterdam’s traditional brown bars is present at the bijou Café Marcella, the interiors have been lightened with a marble-effect ceiling and art deco-style zigzag shapes around the bar (writes Ed Stocker). The weekly flower market on the Amstelveld opposite helps brighten things up too. The café is a place where everyone seems to know each other; where you come for cake and coffee in the day and stay for a beer washed down with a jenever chaser in the evening.

“Nobody drinks the cheap wine here,” says co-owner Thijs Barelds, as waiters whisk their way around tables serving snacks, including bitterballen (fried meatballs) and slices of gouda, served with mustard and pickles. Traditional cursive lettering has been used to etch the name of the bar onto one of the large windows – a nod to its 19th-century heritage – while custom-made mirrors, which have been given a weathered feel to create a sense of intimacy, help the 39 sq m Studio Modijefsky-designed space feel bigger than it is.

Image: Ania Smelskaya

Sunday Roast / Honey Spencer, London

Pride of place

Sommelier Honey Spencer is co-founder of Sune, a Nordic-inspired restaurant that opens on Wednesday in London’s Broadway Market (writes Claudia Jacob). Launched with Spencer’s partner Charlie Sims, the restaurant draws on the pair’s experience of working in hospitality in kitchens across the UK capital, as well as stints in Sydney, Mexico and Copenhagen. Here, Spencer shares her penchant for sausage rolls and an apéro with friends at a neighbourhood wine bar on Columbia Road.

Where do we find you this weekend?
With all that’s going on with our restaurant Sune, weekends have been about escaping for an apéro at our local pub The Empress in Victoria Park Village, followed by a long family roast at home with our son Len. And roughly 65 loads of washing.

Ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
Gentle Sunday starts, although there’s definitely a balance to be struck to avoid feeling unkempt and a bit stir-crazy if you push it too far. Our limit is 11.00.

What’s for breakfast?
Usually a few rounds of coffee at home followed by a sausage roll from The Ginger Pig in the village or a maritozzo from Forno near Regent’s Canal. When we open the restaurant for brunch in the New Year, I’ll have anything our chef Michael Robins gives me – his cooking is magic.

Lunch in or out?
This week in, but we usually try to do a circuit of our friend’s spots such as 107 [formerly P Franco], Cadet and Hector’s, and have a few small plates there.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
The best and most virtuous intentions are best saved for Monday, but a long walk is always a good idea.

A Sunday soundtrack?
Alabaster DePlume, especially during the winter months.

Sunday culture must?
We live very close to Columbia Road, where we often stroll and sit on the kerb with friends and a glass of wine on Sundays. And also the farmers’ market in Victoria Park, where we’ll inevitably pick up a few new bottles from the Natural Born Wine stall.

News or not?
I like catching up on local news on a Sunday, so I’ll pick up a Hackney Citizen or The Wick from the pub and flick through. Otherwise, Sundays are all about firmly shutting the real world out and dreaming big for the week ahead.

What’s on the menu?
Roast chicken and a big mix of all the leftover veg from our Growing Communities veg box.

Sunday evening routine?
Collapse in a heap around 20.00, especially if we’ve broken into a second bottle of wine over lunch. But that’s what Sundays are for, right?

Do you lay out an outfit for Monday?
I look forward to one day being the kind of person who says yes to this sort of question.

Illustration: Xiha

Recipe / Ralph Schelling

Chestnut cake

“This tastes even better after a few days,” says Swiss chef Ralph Schelling. “It doesn’t dry out thanks to the chestnut purée.” Schelling also suggests variations such as adding 50g of cocoa nibs for an added earthiness and even the addition of a teaspoon of sugar when beating the egg whites. “This gives a firmer consistency, like that of meringue,” he says. “And the beaten egg whites collapse less when mixed.”

Serves 4 (makes a loaf tin of about 24cm)

4 eggs (separated)
150g softened butter
100g cane sugar
150g chestnut purée
80g ground almonds
2 tbsps cocoa powder
2 tsps baking powder
2 tsps salt


Preheat the oven to 180C.

Line a loaf pan with baking paper.

Cream the butter, sugar and egg yolk, and add the chestnut purée.

Beat the egg white with salt until it forms stiff peaks.

Now mix the almonds, cocoa and baking powder, and carefully fold in alternately with beaten egg whites (keeping some air in the mix). Pour it into the loaf tin.

Bake in the middle rack for about 60 minutes (check after 45 or so and cover with aluminium foil if it begins to burn or the top catches).

Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool a little before slicing and serving.

Weekend plans? / Petrópolis, Brazil

Powerful attraction

Less than a two-hour drive north of Rio de Janeiro in the mountainous Serrana region, Petrópolis was built in the 19th century as a summer resort for the Brazilian imperial family (writes Constance Malleret). The factors that drew Pedro II here remain its biggest attractions: a cool climate, tranquillity and proximity to the country’s second biggest city. A popular weekend getaway from the chaos of its formidable neighbour, this city of 300,000 offers closeness to nature, lively culinary and cultural scenes, and a good choice of universities. The walkable city centre mixes neoclassical architecture with an eclecticism that reveals the influence of German settlers. It’s also just a short distance from the Serra dos Orgãos national park and Rio’s international airport.

Image: Kristin Bethge

Tourism and hospitality are important to Petrópolis’s service-oriented economy but the city is also known as a centre of organic produce and beer, with 21 breweries. The SerraTec technology hub attracts cutting-edge talent and there’s a lab that hosts Latin America’s fastest supercomputer. Petrópolis’s creative scene is thriving too. Rio-born furniture designer Gustavo Bittencourt moved here 10 years ago for the space and skilled labour that the city offers; his workshop is now located in a hangar in an industrial neighbourhood surrounded by a verdant forest. “There are innumerable good things about Petrópolis: safety, the climate, the people, the cuisine,” he says.

Some accuse the Imperial City, as it is still known, of being stuck in the past. It is certainly hard to escape the weight of history, whether you’re sipping a coffee in the gardens of the former imperial home or people-watching under pink-flowered sapucaia trees on Freedom Square (where the enslaved used to buy their independence). But entrepreneurial Petrópolitanos returning from bigger cities or from abroad are keen to keep their city relevant. Among them is Dani Abaut, who runs a ballet studio for professional dancers and is an enthusiastic advocate for her hometown. “My main reason for coming back to Petrópolis was that I wanted to contribute to making it a better place,” she says. Luckily, these improvements are starting to show.

For more of Monocle’s Small Cities Survey and the best places to call home if you’re looking for an escape from a global hub, pick up ‘The Forecast’ today. Or subscribe so you never miss a story.

Editors’ picks / TV

Dream streams

Every month, Monocle’s observant editors chart the films to watch, books to read and exhibitions to admire. This week we’re talking about TV and three shows to watch this November. Enjoy.

‘Race to the Summit’, Netflix. After Dani Arnold broke Ueli Steck’s record for the speediest ascent of the Eiger’s north face in 2011, the two Swiss mountaineers began a rivalry that culminated in a series of dangerous ascents up the Alps, often with little regard for safety equipment or procedures. This documentary by film-makers Nicholas de Taranto and Götz Werner follows the death-defying duo up the snowy peaks, from the Eiger to the Matterhorn.

‘A Murder at the End of the World’, Hulu. A mysterious billionaire invites guests to a remote resort, where they witness a murder. Despite its rather old-fashioned premise, this gripping new series from The OA’s Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling defies expectations. A Murder at the End of the World features an impressive cast that includes Marling, Emma Corrin, Harris Dickinson and Clive Owen, who bring humanity to a plot with plenty of twists and turns.

‘The Sea Beyond’ (‘Mare Fuori’), RaiPlay. Filippo Ferrari, a gifted piano player from a wealthy Milanese family, and Carmine Di Salvo, the son of a Neapolitan crime boss who dreams of becoming a hairdresser, form a bond when they are arrested on the same night and sent to a juvenile detention centre. This hit Italian drama, created by Cristiana Farina, follows the pair as they navigate life beyond bars. Watch it for its suspenseful storylines and top performances by a cast of mostly unknown actors.

For a full rundown of all our cultural recommendations, buy a copy of the out-now November issue of the magazine or subscribe today.


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