Sunday 28 January 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 28/1/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

On the road again

Whether you’re hankering for a shopping trip across Lisbon or an evening of convivial conversation at a buzzing Paris restaurant, we have plenty to inspire you this week. Our local correspondent serves up her tips on the best way to explore Singapore and we meet the co-founder of Berlin’s Michelberger Hotel. Plus, we sample a canned wine that you’ll actually want to drink and serve up a comforting dumpling recipe from Tuscany. But first, Tyler Brûlé wants to turn up the volume…

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Tricks of the trade

Where did you learn your craft? How did you become the leader you are today? And when did it happen? Was it in 10th grade during social-science class when it suddenly all clicked and you recognised something rather genius about your teacher and how he commanded the room? Or was it during your first real job as a news cadet in a BBC newsroom when your series producer gave you such a telling-off that you recognised your faults and also her deep, ferocious wisdom? I’m not sure about you but all of my most valuable lessons have come from a handful of sharp teachers, excellent managers, inspiring clients and engaged colleagues. The best school of human behaviour was my time spent on the restaurant floor in Toronto in the late 1980s. I watched top waiters and managers deal with unruly families, charming regulars and the chaos that came with keeping a brasserie environment tight and tidy. The hustle (in this case landing interviews, booking guests and securing stories) was honed by watching Lisa and Cindy in the ABC News bureau in London and the utter fear of having to tell Janet at Channel 9 in Sydney that I hadn’t delivered on setting up a story. The hustle (in this case the art of the sale) was learned on the floor of Sporting Life in Toronto. I observed my department managers upsell new arrivals from South Africa on the need for superior skiwear from Germany and cold-weather gear that was more suited for Canada’s high north than a Monday-morning commute from home to subway to downtown office tower. In every instance I listened, absorbed, recorded and, then, attempted my own version in relevant scenarios.

I feel that I have done a reasonable job ploughing my own path as a business owner and most days I hope that there’s some degree of transmission to my colleagues across our businesses. Among my more senior colleagues, there’s a common understanding and language in terms of how we report, present, pitch and sell. Time together (in some cases decades) is clearly one part of it but the easy rhythm we have as an organisation also has a lot to do with the work environments we were exposed to – both in and outside the office. In an open office environment, where everyone is together and conversations ricochet around the room, there is an efficiency and high degree of workplace capital because client conversations can be overheard and interventions in the form of hand gestures, instant messaging or acrobatics can help a colleague refocus a conversation, cancel a trip or reconsider fees. New starters might not like being listened to but having an audience builds confidence and improves personal presentation. Perhaps the most important things are that everyone can share in successes and help pick up the pieces to reset a situation when a deal or project falls through the cracks. Add to this the power of intuition – the subconscious absorption of all that’s percolating across desks and meeting nooks – and you have a more switched-on company. But does such a company still exist?

I’m sure that there are many fearless entrepreneurs who continue to put up a good fight but the office of today is one of whispered conversations and total silence. The rise of headphones allowed colleagues to concentrate but also meant that they lost touch with activities around them. Instant messaging soon made it easier to clatter out a question or comment rather than walking over to pose a query or shout it across a department. At about the same time, the office radio disappeared as everyone wanted their own soundtrack in their ears. In an instant a deadly calm settled across office floors in much of the Western world – ringing desk phones would suddenly send hearts racing and every call demanded it be taken in a boardroom, corridor and or out on the street. We’re now at the point when no one takes a call out in the open and key conversations, which could use a bit of coaching or feedback, disappear from the ebb and flow of conducting client relations and running an informed operation. In the process, time is lost because there’s then a need for internal follow-up meetings to discuss what was said and what actions should be taken. It has made me think that work from home isn’t so much about wanting to sleep in an extra hour and avoid commuting but more the comfort of hiding from colleagues and not exposing yourself to on-the-spot feedback – positive or otherwise.

As we move full tilt across this first quarter, we’re starting to assess the way we work and where (newsflash: we’re in the market for retail and office space in Paris – please drop me a note if you have 200 sq m on offer). At the moment we’re thinking about acquiring some of those silence booths (Silen? Kettal?) for Teams sessions, one-on-one meetings and clandestine personal calls. I get the need for keeping things quiet but has the modern office become too hushed and buttoned-up? Isn’t it time to up the volume, celebrate the wins, share in the joke and simply follow along? How can we improve and learn if we can’t absorb cues and admire those around us? I’ll let you know how we get on over the months to come. Back to Paris: you can find me here if you have something in the 1st, 2nd or 6th arrondissements.

Image: Bouche

Eating out / Bouche, Paris

Going local

Bouche is part of a new wave of restaurants emerging in the French capital that cater to Parisians and a hip international crowd (writes Liv Kessler). Angela Kong and Antoine Bernardin founded the restaurant in 2021 and created a rotating menu of small bites and a mix of formal and informal dishes. But what makes the restaurant stand out is the location.

“We fell in love with the neighbourhood,” says Kong. “It was really important for us to be in the 11th arrondissement.” Inside, architecture studio Leymarie Gourdon worked on creating a pared-back space with exposed concrete walls, warm wood accents and vintage furniture. The restaurant has become a popular local hangout. “We’ve been packed since opening,” says Kong.

Image: Rodrigo Cardoso

Retail Safari / Lisbon

Take to the hills

Shopping in hilly Lisbon can feel like a slog so start your expedition by picking up a pair of comfortable walking shoes at JAK (writes Gaia Lutz). Combine them with a plaid shirt and corduroy jacket from Fairly Normal and you’ve already nailed the city’s laid-back style. If the weather is cool, head to Luvaria Ulisses for its cashmere-lined gloves – the shopfront of this 1920s glove-maker is worth the visit alone.

Paris em Lisboa has stocked the softest bedding, pyjamas and dressing gowns since 1888. Burel Factory makes elegant shawls, cushions and bedspreads from the Serra da Estrela region. A lobster, mushroom or walnut-shaped ceramic bowl might not be something that you urgently need but Bordallo Pinheiro’s homeware makes for playful gifts. Depozito is a one-stop shop for textiles, toys, toiletries and jewellery. Hungry for culinary pleasures? Then drop by Comida Independente, which stocks an excellent selection of Portuguese wines and pantry classics.

Image: Zoe Spawton

Sunday roast / Nadine Michelberger

Be my guest

Nadine Michelberger co-founded the vibrant Michelberger Hotel in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district with her partner, Tom, in 2009 (writes Liv Kessler). She recently opened the Michelberger Farm in Spreewald, which supplies the hotel’s restaurant with seasonal produce and offers accommodation away from the capital. Here, she tells us about the tranquillity of Berlin’s streets on a Sunday and the flea market that she likes to visit in Boxhagener Platz.

Where will we find you this weekend?
At our farm in Spreewald, preparing breakfast for our guests and neighbours.

Ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle or a jolt?
Gentle but early. Tom and I have coffee on our sofa at home, listening to music, talking and cuddling with our dog, Maya.

What’s for breakfast?
A big savoury or sweet breakfast, ideally at our hotel. I love seeing our guests and the team, and having conversations.

Lunch in or out?
We are spoilt. We eat lunch at our hotel almost every day.

Walk the dog or downward dog?

A Sunday soundtrack?
The silence of Berlin’s streets on a Sunday morning and the sound of atmospheric music when I enter the hotel lobby. Also laughter and the noise of the coffee machine.

A Sunday culture must?
I like to stroll around one of Berlin’s lively flea markets, such as Boxhagener Platz. You’ll find some remarkable pieces. A bike ride at the old Tempelhof airfield is also good.

News or no news?
I stopped reading the news a long time ago.

What’s on the menu?
I’m happy with broccoli and rice.

Sunday-evening routine?
I love it when the evening starts in the afternoon. We take time to enjoy our home, have a nap, eat an early dinner and make the house look beautiful.

Will you lay out an outfit for Monday?
I wear more or less the same thing every day – some beige, grey or white comfortable clothes – so there’s no problem picking out an outfit.

Illustration: Xiha

Recipe / Brutto

Spinach-and-ricotta dumplings

These little dumplings, from Brutto: A (Simple) Florentine Cookbook, are known as gnudi (meaning “naked”) in the Tuscan dialect. The traditional Italian flavours of spinach and ricotta make for a simple starter that’s easy to prepare. Serve with butter, sage, parmesan and black pepper.

Serves 4

500g baby spinach leaves, washed
50g ‘00’ flour (finely ground Italian flour)
250g ricotta
1 large free-range egg, beaten
150g grated parmesan
A pinch of flaky sea salt
Black pepper, to taste
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
250g semolina
100g butter
A large handful of sage leaves


Steam the spinach for 3 minutes over a large pan of boiling water. Thoroughly drain and squeeze to remove the excess water, then chop the leaves finely. Set aside.

Mix the flour with the ricotta in a large bowl until it resembles lumpy breadcrumbs. Stir in the egg and two thirds of the grated parmesan. Add a pinch of salt, a twist of black pepper, the nutmeg and the spinach. Combine thoroughly with a wooden spoon or with your hands.

Put half of the semolina into a bowl and shake the rest onto a baking sheet or a tray. Take small lumps of the flour, egg and spinach mixture, and form it into small balls by rolling it between your palms. They should be the size of large olives. Turn each ball through the bowl of semolina, then place them on the tray with the rest of the semolina. When finished, you should have between 24 and 30 little balls.

Fill a large pan with water and bring to a boil. Place the gnudi in the boiling water and continue to simmer for about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over a medium heat, melt the butter and add the sage leaves. Reduce to a low heat once bubbling. This should take no more than 2 minutes.

The gnudi will float to the surface when they are ready. Turn off the heat, remove them with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper to absorb any excess water. Transfer to a warmed plate and then pour over the melted butter and sage. Scatter the remaining parmesan on top and finish with freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Image: Tony Hay

Bottoms up / Canetta canned wine

Living in tin

Though most wine is stored in stainless-steel vats before it’s bottled, there’s a stigma against drinking anything that doesn’t come in a long-necked glass receptacle (writes Alexis Self). Sure, there might be a time and a place for a goon sack of chardonnay but that time is usually when nothing else is available. With wine drinkers’ palates becoming ever more refined and their habits less voracious, however, a gap has opened for something new.

Enter Canetta, the brainchild of French-Italian restaurateur and sommelier Luca Pronzato and his wife, Clara Cornet. Its tin receptacles each contain 187ml – roughly a large glass – of delicious natural wine, which is available in red, white, rosé and orange. The contents will change to suit the season but the cans will stay the same: bright, light, recyclable and perfect for packed lunches on the beach.

Weekend plans? / Singapore staycation

Home from home

As a resident of Singapore, I often wonder what it is that brings tourists here (writes Naomi Xu Elegant). For people in neighbouring countries, the city-state is a top destination for a weekend of shopping and dining. For those from further away, it’s often a quick stopover on a grand tour of Southeast Asia. To put myself in visitors’ shoes, I booked a stay at the Mondrian Singapore Duxton, a new hotel that opened in June. When I arrived, I made myself a coffee and snacked on some kuih – colourful, gelatinous Malay cakes that are popular in Singapore and Malaysia. As a child growing up in Kuala Lumpur, I loved them.

Image: Alvin Ng
Image: Alvin Ng

The Mondrian’s rooftop infinity pool offers a panoramic view of downtown Singapore, with its twisting rows of shophouses. I live on the ground floor so I rarely see the city from this vantage. It was a lovely sight. Sipping my daiquiri, I overheard an American couple planning a trip to the Night Safari, the Singapore Zoo’s nocturnal wildlife offering. I’d been meaning to go but still hadn’t made it. I resolved to buy tickets as soon as I could.

Later I went down to the third floor for dinner at Bottega di Carna, an Italian restaurant whose menu is put together by Tuscan butcher-chef Dario Cecchini. The Mondrian is well known for its emphasis on art and design; accordingly, the restaurant is impressive, with calligraphy-ink ceiling murals, delightful angular chairs and a large Tracey Emin piece against one of the walls. I left the hotel with a fresh sense of my city and a checklist of places to explore.

Parting shot / Charm offensive

Thrill of the chase

Whereas some parts of Europe are trying to limit visitors due to overtourism, countries in Eastern Europe such as Estonia and Slovenia are staging stunts and running campaigns to attract more travellers. One city that has mastered the art of a risqué tourism push is Vilnius. In a bid to become famous – or at the very least, less unknown – the capital of Lithuania ran a bold campaign in 2018, describing Vilnius as, “The G-spot of Europe. Nobody knows where it is but when you find it – it’s amazing.” The campaign ruffled feathers, partly because it directly preceded Pope Francis’s visit to Lithuania. But it worked: visitors to Vilnius increased by 12.5 per cent during the campaign, with a particular upswing in the number of German and British tourists.

For more travel tips, pick up a copy of ‘The Escapist’, which is available now on all good newsstands. Have a super Sunday.


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