Saturday 30 December 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 30/12/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Icing on the cake

As the year comes to a close and the temperatures drop, we meet a brand whose approach to fashion will keep you warm and stylish – on and off the slopes. We also head to Finland for a lesson in ice-fishing but is it all it’s cracked up to be? Plus: how to spend a week in Hanoi and a Greek cake with which to kick off the new year. But first, Andrew Tuck reminisces on the past 12 months – and the people and places encountered along the way.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The opener / Andrew Tuck

Golden year

It was the year that…

James Chambers, our Asia editor, decided that he needed a change of scenery after several years – and a slog of a pandemic – in Hong Kong. How’s he enjoying being anchored in Bangkok? He is a man revived by the cultural shift.

The outgoing (both in the departing and social meanings of that word) Turkish ambassador invited us to his farewell reception at the embassy and we were delighted that, even now, these high-ranking postings come with a chef attached.

I discovered, in my personal world, that there’s something called a rug whipper – a person who can trim and rebind the edge of a rug. “I am at the whipper tomorrow,” I cheerily told my colleagues. Nobody seemed at all surprised.

I went on an Urbanist day trip to Brussels and, despite its reputation as a city of EU staffers, found a place pushing ahead with impressive urban fixes.

Back to my private life. In Palma, almost a second home, we had a guided tour on a winter’s day of Can Vivot, an Old Town palace that’s still lived in by the family (indeed one of them showed us around). A secret world behind an anonymous wall. The city is slowly revealing itself.

Went to the real-estate convention Mipim in Cannes with my colleague from Monocle Radio’s The Urbanist, Carlota, and saw again how trade fairs are the place to get a snapshot of an industry in full colour and, more importantly, find people who are willing to tell you more than what’s being touted in the glossy brochures. It’s tougher out there than they let on.

Launched Spain: The Monocle Handbook and got compliments from Spanish readers.

Hiked in Mallorca. Pulled up and away to another world. Perspective gained.

Joined the crew for Salone del Mobile in Milan. A rich confluence of global talent that can feel almost overwhelming. Should have gone home earlier from the Zeit Magazin party.

Visited Bratislava for a story about the mayor, Matus Vallo, and the urban transformation of the Slovak capital. Ended up seeing him gigging in the town of Trencin on the Czech border and came home inspired by how a team of like-minded, design-passionate souls, can deliver so much change – and enjoy the process.

The Monocle Weekender in Asheville, North Carolina – what readers we have. Watching friendships being forged against the backdrop of the Appalachians.

Athens for the Rolex Arts Festival with our design editor Nic Monisse. The city provides an extraordinary venue for this celebration of the passing on of knowledge.

Palma. It has punctuated every month. It’s hard to explain the lure; it can be too busy, too hot. But it’s that notion of the perfectly imperfect. And it’s also down to the people who have shown us such generosity – a welcome.

Away days with the boss at the Gstaad Palace. A renewed appreciation of all things flambéed is key among the takeaways.

Went to the theatre to see A Little Life and was glad when it was over. Hard to understand the people getting boozed up while watching someone self-harming on stage.

Monocle’s Mediterraneo newspaper. The Monocle Companions. What a year for print.

Drove to Mallorca. On board, a dog and a partner. The bedrocks.

Friends. Loyalty across the years keeps you grounded. But a departure. A loss.

The Monocle Quality of Life Conference in Munich. Everything comes together: speakers, venues and our team. The conversations and connections are amazing. And it’s fun being on stage.

Dinner at Can Lis, the house in Mallorca built by Jørn Utzon, architect of the Sydney Opera House, to mark 50 years since both were erected. I am invited by the Utzon Center. We sit in the open courtyard facing the sea as the sun sets. The sky turns an inky colour and the ocean transforms to steely silver.

Swim & Sun: A Monocle Guide comes out. Taking the plunge has always been central to life at Monocle.

Riyadh to Dubai to Abu Dhabi. It’s important to see things from different angles. It might not change your thinking but it’s good to at least be tested.

Team meeting in Paris. London staff Christmas party. Monocle Christmas Market. Events in Zürich. And then the escape – yes, back in the car, back to Palma.

It has been a big year and I have a feeling that 2024 will be even more interesting. I think that I am just about ready.

But let me also take this moment to wish you a good 2024. I hope that you make it to a Monocle event and find inspiration, common-sense views and lots of encouragement in our pages. And if you ever need the number for a good whipper, just let me know.

Image: Zak Andrea Zaccone

The Look / Natural Thermals

Shear genius

As you hit the slopes this winter, you might find yourself struggling with thermal clothing that’s made from synthetic fabrics and results in unflattering shapes. By design, thermals are intended to be hidden away under layers of clothing and, as a result, brands take liberties with quality and comfort. This season, we suggest raising your expectations – and, thankfully, one firm is bucking the trends. Founded in 2015 by Rodolphe Huynh and Salvatore Mandra in Lausanne, Switzerland, Emyun provides merino thermals that are both stylish and easy to wear.

Produced in Italy by long-standing textile maker Reda, the garments are prized for their breathability and lightweight quality, as well as their versatility. “Our thermals are perfect for sports such as skiing in the winter but can also be used when travelling or in town,” says Huynh. “Our wool has all the characteristics of sports fabrics and mimics the feel of plastic-based mixes without causing environmental damage.” Huynh points to best-selling items such as the Languard zipper jacket and St Moritz slim-cut sweatpants. The clothes’ easy-care instructions also help the brand stand out from the competition. Using heat-regulating and odourless wool fabrics, Emyun’s designs need only to be washed in cold water and left out to dry after use. Seamless.

Image: Juho Kava


Hook, line and winter

It’s a sunny winter’s day with subzero temperatures, clear blue skies and little to no wind, and we are preparing to set out for the open sea. “Perfect conditions for fishing,” says our instructor, Antti Zetterberg. We are here today because Zetterberg, an avid fisherman and editor in chief of fishing magazine Kalastus, has agreed to teach Monocle the ins and outs of ice-fishing – a popular pastime in Finland. Zetterberg has come prepared – think winter overalls, ice drill, sonar, various rods and lures, a stool, pliers, Swiss Army knife and dry suit. Should we be worried? “The ice should carry us,” he says, handing us ice picks that we can use to pull ourselves up in case we fall into the freezing water. “But it’s best to be prepared in case it doesn’t.”

Once we settle on a location, Zetterberg begins showing us how to use an ice auger (a hand-operated drill) to make a hole. After about 10 seconds, we manage to pierce through the frozen lake. Then it’s time for Zetterberg’s party trick. “These are a game changer in ice-fishing,” he says, handing Monocle a small gadget that looks like a stethoscope. This sonar transducer shows you in real time whether fish are lurking beneath the surface. We cast the rod in the water through the small hole, letting it sink almost to the bottom. After a few minutes, we ask Zetterberg whether we should change spots again. “Are you kidding me?” he says, laughing. “Sometimes it takes hours – and that’s the beauty of it.” Ice fishing is not a pastime for the impatient. But it is therapeutic and calming, a mindfulness exercise of sorts. Something pulls at the fishing rod then suddenly stops. No luck for us this time.

For more agenda-setting stories and ideas to beat the chill, pick up a copy of Monocle’s December/January issue, which is out now.

Image: Ehrin Macksey

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Special brew

The Monocle Concierge is our purveyor of top tips and delectable recommendations for your next trip. It’s also on hand in audio form on Monocle Radio, with reports and the latest travel news from around the world. If you’re planning to go somewhere nice and would like some advice, click here. We will answer one question a week.

Dear Monocle Concierge,

I’m planning to spend one week in Hanoi to attend a conference. I’m interested in beer, food and crafts. I plan to rent a scooter. What would you recommend?

Cédric Jamet

Dear Cédric,

Good call on renting a scooter – there’s no better way to zip around Hanoi. Head to Banh Mi 25 for sandwiches, Mr Bay Mien Tay for bánh xèo – crispy, savoury pancakes – and Pho Bò Au Trieu for an unbeatable bowl of pho. Chon and Tranquil Books & Coffee are two of our favourite cafés, though you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad cup of coffee in Hanoi. There’s also Tadioto, which is a lovely salon-style hideout for cocktails, art exhibits and jazz performances. Tired City is a great stop for clothing, accessories and gifts made by young Vietnamese designers. Mo Art Space showcases emerging local artists, while the multidisciplinary Work Room Four has an open studio and gallery and Cerender Ceramics sells beautiful handmade pottery.

If you’re a craft beer fan, check out Turtle Lake Brewing Company or Standing Bar, both of which have an impressive selection of local brews and tranquil lake views. Ho Chi Minh City’s Pasteur Street Brewing Co also has two taprooms in Hanoi if you’re interested in exploring the beers of Vietnam’s southern metropolis. But you can’t leave without enjoying a few glasses of ice-cold bia hoi, Hanoi’s signature, fresh-brewed local beer, outside one of the city’s innumerable street-corner bars.

The Interrogator / Piotr Wilczek

Pole position

Piotr Wilczek has been the Polish ambassador to the UK since February 2022 and is committed to strengthening ties across all sectors between the two powers. Prior to his UK role, he served as ambassador to the US from 2016 to 2021, boosting transatlantic relations in defence, energy, and trade. Here, he shares how a cup of tea helps him set the right tone in the morning, as well as some ways to wind down in the evening.

What news source do you wake up to?
I like to keep a finger on the pulse of things. My mornings usually start with a casual scroll through a mix of newsletters from the likes of Politico, The Guardian, BBC News Daily, The Independent and The Times. It’s like having a mini UN on my phone.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
A classic cup of tea is like a warm, comforting companion while I’m digesting the day's news. A good brew sets the tone for the day.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
Nothing beats humming along to “Here Comes the Sun”. It’s like a dose of morning optimism. It gets you ready to face the day with a bit of a spring in your step.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
My weekend reading is quite the global tour. I start with The Economist, which is like having a worldly-wise friend to explain global affairs. Then there’s Monocle, for its unique take on international culture and design. National Geographic transports me to far-off places from the comfort of my sofa, The New Yorker offers a blend of insightful commentary and, finally, Forbes keeps me updated on the business world.

Favourite bookshop?
Daunt Books in Marylebone is a real gem. It’s a traveller’s dream and has an impressively comprehensive section on Poland. I always find the selection to be thoughtfully curated. For a book lover, it’s a little slice of heaven.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I have recently been tuning in to The Rest Is Politics, hosted by Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart. They bring together their rich political experience from opposite sides of the aisle. It’s enlightening because they have a knack for civil discourse, despite their differing views. Just before I met with Theresa May, I listened to their two-part conversation with her, which was engaging.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
Definitely Jakub Józef Orliński. He’s a standout Polish countertenor with a vibrant presence in the classical music world. But he is also known for his crossover into popular culture through his breakdancing, which showcases his diverse talents and brings a fresh take to classical music.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I tune in to something calming, perhaps a mix of light classical music or soft jazz. It sets the right tone for unwinding after a long day. A good audiobook can also do the trick, especially one that’s in the realm of history or literature. It’s a gentle lullaby for the mind, which helps me drift off into a peaceful slumber.

Any good restaurant and bar recommendations?
I would recommend Ognisko Polskie in South Kensington. It’s a Polish restaurant with a refined take on traditional Polish cuisine. Set in a charming Georgian townhouse, the ambience is elegant, making it ideal for a sophisticated dining experience. The menu features classics such as dumplings and it has an impressive selection of unique spirits. It’s a great spot for both casual and formal occasions.

Cake Makers / Athens

One of a kind

For Athens bakery Asimakopouloi, the festive period is a race against time. Racks of vasilopita – traditional Greek New Year’s cake – are wheeled in and out of industrial-size ovens, arriving still warm into the clutches of customers who queue around the block to get one. “It’s all hands on deck at this time of year,” says Vasilis Asimakopoulos, a third-generation baker who today runs the business with his sister Jane, father Dimitris and uncle Thanasis. The business was founded in 1915, originally selling a small range of dairy-based products such as milk, yoghurt, rice pudding and galaktoboureko (syrup-soaked custard pies).

Image: Marco Arguello
Image: Marco Arguello

Over the years, this grew to include chocolates and baked goods, and the business has garnered a reputation as the producer of some of the city’s finest vasilopita. The dessert, which is something of a cake-brioche hybrid, means “bread of Vasilis” and is named after the medieval Saint Vasilis, a bishop from Cappadocia in modern-day Turkey. Along with Spyros Dimopoulos, head chef at the pastry department, Vasilis can be found honing the exact recipe for the vasilopita. “Our cakes are the result of 60 years of trial and error,” he says.


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