Sunday 24 March 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 24/3/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

Creative capital

This week we raise a toast to the neighbourhood haunts bringing communities together at any time of day or night. In Australia we head to Sydney’s best hangout for a subterranean soirée, before visiting South Korea to find Seoul’s slickest shops. Plus: we have tea and toast with a restaurateur bringing better grub to the UK capital and visit a high-end Helsinki hotel restoring neo-renaissance architectural glory to Finland. But first, Tyler Brûlé has a news flash...

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Making the headlines

Do you ever pause, take stock of your surroundings and ask yourself “What am I missing?” I did that a few minutes ago, while transiting through Zürich’s newly renovated main station. Switzerland’s federal railway operator, SBB, hasn’t taken on the whole Hauptbahnhof but, as a first stage, took much of the original grand entry hall back to a version of its former glory – and it’s impressive. It’s so well done that you’ll be able to see much of it in a forthcoming issue of Monocle. And for all those trainspotters among our readership (I’m quite sure that there are many), it won’t disappoint. The overhaul has been meticulous, the choice of new vendors careful and it does much to lift the travel experience.

As I’m en route to Tokyo and Hong Kong (there are still a few tickets left for The Chiefs by the way), I needed to do a little Easter shopping at confectionery retailer Sprüngli. While I waited for the bunnies, yellow-gingham egg baskets and other bits to be packed, I looked around the airy hall and was transported back many years, when the same space used to be home to one of Europe’s finest international newsstands. It was a bountiful affair, with a selection of newspapers from across the continent, pocketbooks and tourist guides for long distance journeys and an exhaustive selection of magazines. I imagine the first time when I went to the shop was in 1983, and, until it closed about two years ago, I probably spent about five figures in Swiss francs on glossies, weeklies, trade titles and newspapers. The friendly woman serving me walked out from behind the counter and handed me the bag of goodies.

As I strolled out, I turned to regard the space and felt more than a little sad that a once vibrant hub of commerce, culture and ritual was no longer. I missed it. Had the landlords moved the newsstand to a less grand space, it might have been an acceptable solution. Likewise, had the tenants been truly passionate about the business of selling fine print, they might have played the cultural card and lobbied hard to maintain the broad reach of periodicals. There’s another thing that I’m missing: passion. Does anyone put up a good fight for a business that they believe in? How did we end up in a place where a corner of a busy rail station, in a pint-sized international city, is now completely devoid of interesting journals and challenging volumes to read on the daily commute or the TGV to Paris? How can this be? I understand that magazines and books are not high-margin items. But is it not important that a federally owned enterprise does its bit to keep the standards high and for those in the book- and magazine-retail business to come up with concepts that keep customers coming back for more?

From a publisher’s perspective, we lost our biggest point of sale in Switzerland when the newsstand closed. Yes we recovered some sales but definitely not all. The customer who doesn’t want to subscribe, and perhaps wants to peruse before purchasing, is lost if they don’t have easy access to Monocle or any other publication on the newsstand. You might venture a bit further afield to look for us or other titles but if you’re no longer part of the walk from tram stop 4 to track number 12, it’s going to be difficult to win back sales. If you’re fond of a good kiosk on a Sunday (or any other day of the week), you’ll be well aware that they’re starting to dwindle at an alarming rate. Older independent operators can’t find new owners with the drive to wake up early, unbundle titles, pack up returns and keep their selection fresh. The global chains are only interested in flogging M&Ms and Fanta.

Thankfully, there’s a new generation out there that’s trying to tweak the model (News & Coffee comes to mind) and ensure that there are still places to not just buy your weekend newspaper but also to discover and sample new titles. If you don’t have a vibrant set of shelves stocked by an engaged manager or owner, the whole point of the exercise collapses. We’re trying to do our bit to make the kiosk a more interesting place and support our retailers where possible but it needs a coalition of like-minded landlords, publishers, distributors, retailers and customers to make it work.

Image: Declan Blackall

Eating out / The Caterpillar Club, Sydney

Vinyl frontier

Since the end of Sydney’s infamous lockout laws, a small group of dedicated hospitality operators have fought to restore the town’s former reputation for excellence in late-night drinking, dining and all-around fun (writes Callum McDermott). Much of the hard work has been done by Swillhouse, the collective behind some of Sydney’s finest bars and restaurants.

The Caterpillar Club might just be Swillhouse’s most audacious accomplishment yet. This diverse and adaptable subterranean space can, on any given night, feel as though it’s Sydney’s best bar, restaurant or dance floor – and sometimes all at once. Thanks to its late closure times (an unfortunate rarity in Sydney) and astonishing private record collection, this is one of the most dependable good times you can find in the centre of town.

For more fine drinking-and-dining spots, pick up the latest issue of Monocle, which is available to purchase now.

Sunday Roast / Ben Tish

Island life

Ben Tish is the restaurateur and chef-director at UK hospitality group Cubitt House (writes Claudia Jacob). Here, he shares his culture fix in London’s Whitechapel, the traditional roast dinner that graces his table and the mellow soundtrack on his airwaves.

Where do we find you this weekend?
I’m going to see The Picture of Dorian Gray at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and then we’re going to eat at Kolae, which is a new Thai place near Borough Market. I like a chilled Sunday.

Ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
It’s reasonably gentle. I get up and have lemon tea, followed by lots of coffee.

What’s for breakfast?
Mostly porridge with fruit and yoghurt. Rye toast with eggs and smoked salmon, Scandi-style, is another favourite. I’m not a bacon sandwich kind of man.

Lunch in or out?
Lunch is snacky, usually a sandwich or something. On Sundays, it’s all about the dinner.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Lots of dog walking. We have two French bulldogs that we walk in Victoria Park. We’ll pick up a coffee at Pavilion Café at the same time.

A Sunday soundtrack?
I like BBC Radio 4 on Sundays. I like getting some light classical music on while I’m pottering about in the kitchen. Or I’ll listen to something mellow, such as Desert Island Discs.

Sunday culture must?
The Whitechapel Gallery or the Tate.

News or not?
Definitely. We watch Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg on BBC One and we’ll always buy a couple of newspapers, which I’ll read throughout the week.

What’s on the menu?
Roast chicken because I like to be traditional on Sundays. Or North African flatbreads with salads and various mezze. It’s a comforting meal.

Sunday evening routine?
I’ll watch TV with a couple of glasses of wine and the fire on. Bed by 21.30, with a book.

Do you lay out an outfit for Monday?
Yes. I like to be ready to go on a Monday.

Illustration: Xiha

Recipe / Frederik Bille Brahe

Miso chocolate cake

This chocolate cake is from Frederik Bille Brahe, founder of Copenhagen restaurant Atelier September. Rye is a naturally sweet grain, which Atelier September harvests from Danish farm Kornby Mølle, while the addition of miso paste adds a surprising salty kick.

Makes 1 loaf

50g plain flour
190g rye flour
50g cocoa
60g dark chocolate, 70 per cent cocoa
360g brown sugar
6g baking powder
6g baking soda
2g salt
80g olive oil
2 eggs
55g brown miso
200g buttermilk
180ml coffee
1 vanilla pod
Cocoa powder
Crème fraîche


Preheat the oven to 160C.

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a bowl. Then add the wet ingredients and combine. Grease a loaf tin with a little butter and line with baking paper. Pour in the dough and spread it out evenly.

Bake in the oven for 1 hour. To check that the cake is ready to remove from the oven, insert a toothpick into the centre. The stick should come out clean.

Leave the cake in the tin and turn it out once it has cooled.

Serve it with a dusting of cocoa powder and top each slice with a dollop of crème fraîche.

This recipe appears in the restaurant’s new book, ‘Atelier September: A Place for Daytime Cooking’, which was published in December by Apartamento.

Retail safari / Seoul

Street style

Planning to spend a day in Seoul? Start by walking around Seochon, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, where the streets are lined with hanok houses and quaint alleyways (writes Jeyup S Kwaak). Near the Gyeongbokgung Palace, you’ll find Parlour, which has a great selection of men’s shoes and clothing. Head to the Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation if you’re a fan of contemporary handcrafts. The shop stocks everything from silver chopsticks to lacquerware jewellery boxes inspired by traditional designs.

Image: Julie Mayfeng
Image: Julie Mayfeng

Chapter 1 sells furniture and homeware, while earthenware maker Soilbaker is known for its clay bowls and ttukbaegi crockery. In need of a little pampering? Visit Tamburins, the cosmetics label owned by Gentle Monster, which has opened its latest flagship shop in Seongsu. Next head to Hannam-dong, where the city’s best-dressed gather to people-watch and drink coffee. Drop in at menswear brand Pottery to pick up a few shirts, which are cut to allow for ease of movement. Finally, near the Hannam-dong post office is Handle with Care, a winsome arts and crafts shop so small that you might miss it. Make sure that you don’t.

Discover more styles and places to shop in Monocle’s latest issue which is available now.

Weekend plans? / Hotel Maria, Helsinki

Superior Finnish

In Helsinki’s historic Kruununhaka district, four protected neo-renaissance buildings have been renovated into a new five-star offering, The Hotel Maria (writes Petri Burtsoff). The residence boasts the largest number of suites in the city (there are 38), as well as private saunas and bespoke services such as in-room butlers. Its founders spent a great deal of time staying at some of Europe’s leading high-end hotels and felt that Helsinki lacked somewhere that could compete.

Image: Ernest Protasiewicz

While many of Helsinki’s luxury properties lean on Nordic minimalism, The Hotel Maria confidently opts for elegant finishes, such as art deco-inspired chandeliers, a white-and-ivory colour palette and natural textures, including marble and wood. There are even subtle nods to the hotel’s heritage, with one room displaying its original wallpapers and ceiling paintings. “We commissioned several works by Helsinki-based painter Pia Feinik, who uses Finnish landscapes to inspire her art,” says Heli Mende, the hotel’s commercial director. The sleek bar provides guests with signature cocktails and rare champagnes, and the hotel’s two restaurants offer delicacies such as wild-caught fish and reindeer from a herder in Lapland. The Hotel Maria is the latest opening that has tapped into Helsinki’s growing luxury market – and its take on grandeur is a welcome addition to both the Finnish capital and northern Europe’s offering of high-end residences.

For more inspiring stays, pick up the latest issue of Monocle, which is available on all good newsstands now.

Image: Tony Hay

Bottoms up / Mothaiba, UK

Spirit of home

When Vietnamese interior designer Liliane Nguyen found herself pining for the flavours of her motherland, she took matters into her own hands (writes Hanna Pham). Through her botanical vodka, Mothaiba, she reimagines the tastes of her childhood for adult palettes. This spirit, distilled in the UK, is infused with fresh Vietnamese pandan leaves as well as hints of lime leaf and ginger.

“The flavours we use are part of everyday life,” says Nguyen. “Our mission is to introduce the vibrant flavours of southeast Asia to those unfamiliar with them and to give a taste of comfort to those who are.” The name refers to the Vietnamese toast, Mot hai ba, a joyous expression of togetherness.

Parting shot / The Waiters’ Race, Paris

Garçon! Rapidement!

It was once customary for Olympic host cities to stage, as part of their Games, demonstration fixtures of some, hopefully, enticing recreations peculiar to the locality (writes Andrew Mueller). In 1908, London offered bicycle polo and duelling; in 1956, Melbourne attempted to interest visitors in Australian rules football; and in 1992, Barcelona served up Basque pelota and roller hockey. This tradition has fallen, sadly, into abeyance and there are no plans to formally revive it for Paris this summer. But in the French capital’s Olympic year, one eccentric local pastime is being revived. Today, for the first time since 2011, the cobbled avenues of the city’s Le Marais district will once again serve as the course around which the Waiters’ Race is run.

First held in 1914, the Waiters’ Race is exactly what it says on the tin. Entrants wear formal waiters’ attire and attempt to bolt about 2km carrying a tray bearing a croissant, a coffee and a glass of water as quickly as possible without dropping anything. It is an extraordinary spectacle, not least as it’s the only time you’ll ever see a Parisian waiter trying to do anything quickly. The comeback of the Waiters’ Race, a few months before the Olympic flame is lit, must surely prompt hopes that it is not too late for uniquely Parisian recreations to be added to the programme. Who would not tune in for the 100 metre shrug, synchronised philosophising or freestyle throwing of café chairs at the gendarmes?

For more of what to see once you’re out there, buy the latest issue today. Better yet, subscribe and join the club. Have a super Sunday.


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