Sunday 9 June 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 9/6/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday

Stepping up to the plate

This week we tuck into a plate of spaghetti alle vongole in a converted Roman residence, find fresh produce at the Marché de Talensac with a Nantais restaurateur and whip up spinach dumplings with parmesan courtesy of our Swiss chef. Plus: a charming guesthouse in Copenhagen’s historic quarter, where nostalgia meets contemporary elegance, and a modern take on an ancestral mezcal bottled in Oaxaca. Leading the way is Tyler Brûlé, with a call-in in from Canada...

the faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Hold the phone

This is a tale of two calls: one crisp, familiar and efficient and the other more marathon in nature – at times deliriously frustrating – but one that also had an efficient outcome.

Earlier in the week I decided that I could rearrange my schedule so that I could fly to Toronto and on to Ottawa to see my grandmother for her 106th birthday. (Note to King Charles: granny’s letter of congratulations has not arrived yet. Your mother was much more prompt with her correspondence.) Normally I fly Air Canada to Toronto but as Swiss has just launched a new service on the route, I rang its reservations line and within one ring I was speaking to a very charming Frau Schneider in its Basel call centre. With minimal security questions and tapping and clattering on the keyboard, she was able to find me the seat that I wanted and secured my booking. Within two minutes, the whole transaction was complete and the ticket landed in my inbox. I hung up wondering why more customer interactions with companies both large and small didn’t run as smoothly as this one. And what was it about the company’s booking set-up that allowed Frau Schneider to do her job with not only extreme efficiency but also such a sunny tone in the middle of Switzerland’s non-stop rainy spring? This was a shining example of understanding that the fundamentals of superior customer service involve speed, accuracy, warmth and personality. Despite the brief nature of the call, Frau Schneider came across as equipped to deal with any number of problems and had an empathetic air about her. So positive was the interaction that I hope she’s on shift next time I need to book a flight, swap a seat or redeem some air miles. Merci Frau Schneider.

On Friday morning I woke up bright and early at my mom’s place in Toronto and braced myself for a call with Bell to deal with some technical issues with a sim card, billings and other matters. I dialled the 1-800 number and was immediately thrown into an obstacle course of key prompts for language, services, privacy and questions about the nature of my call. After about nine rounds of various entries, I landed in what sounded like someone’s living room. There was a TV in the background and various other household activities. And as if showing up at the front door of an apartment in Manila, I was warmly greeted by a gentleman who asked how he could help. I explained the situation in some detail. The gentleman listened, tapped on his keyboard and, after a few minutes, asked me to log in into the Bell system so that he could help me identify the problem and get to grips with a solution. He saw a variety of things that needed passwords, resets and new codes. He also said that he wouldn’t be able to do anything without the passwords for confidentiality reasons and would also need to ask a series of security questions. I told him that the reason I was on the phone in the first place was that the whole online set-up was rather bewildering for me, let alone my mother, and that Bell had not created a system that was particularly friendly to older users. “Yes, I know what you’re saying sir,” he said after listening to my ramble. “Please hold the line and let me see what I can do.” Half a minute later he was back and we seemed to be in business. He asked to put my mother on the line for authorisation and after a few questions he was taking me through Bell’s maze of offers, drop-downs and personalisation menus. I checked my watch and we’d been on the phone for 45 minutes. I decided to get personal as this call was likely to drag on.

“Would I be correct in assuming you’re in and around Manila?” I asked. “Yes I am sir,” he said. “Right in Manila.” We talked briefly about the weather, typhoons and, along the way, established that while there was a billing issue with the account, there was a problem with the sim card. By this point I knew that I was talking to Sherwin and he was going to try to fix things remotely but first I needed to open the phone, retrieve the sim and read out some codes. In the end, Sherwin said that I would need to go to a Bell shop with mom and get them to fire up a new sim and, hopefully, we’d be back in business. The call ran for more than 90 minutes. Sherwin was clearly not equipped with the best tools but was so pleasant and very sympathetic to the frustration of his customers. Nevertheless, he was diplomatic and did everything in his power to solve the problem. Once upon a time, we used to loathe speaking to people in call centres. But in a world of bots, call backs that never come and “post your questions to our group chat” messages, the men and women wearing headsets and manning screens from Basel to Manila are modern day saviours who deserve a heartfelt thank you.

Image: Doriana Torriero

Eating out / Ninù, Rome

Home comforts

Italian interior designer and architect Alessandra Marino has transformed her Roman residence near Piazza di Spagna and Trinità dei Monti into a multifaceted establishment comprising a restaurant, cocktail bar and boutique lodging (writes Alexandra Aldea). In the restaurant, precious furniture salvaged from flea markets sits in front of a custom-made floor-to-ceiling library, alongside pieces by the likes of Eindhoven-based studio Paul Heijnen and modernist designer Marcel Breuer.

“We have more than 9,000 volumes on design, contemporary art and fashion,” says Marino. “Some are rare, others curious and they’re all available for guests to browse.” Chef Marco Gallotta has created a menu focused on Mediterranean flavours, with a particular emphasis on seafood delicacies. “I enjoy sitting on the terrace, even in the cold months, with some fried calamari or spaghetti alle vongole e bottarga and a good Italian wine,” says Marino. Should you have one too many glasses, guests can bed down in one of Ninù’s three suites.

Image: Albin Durand

Sunday Roast / Sarah Mainguy

Taste of nature

Nantes-based chef-restaurateur Sarah Mainguy is behind neighbourhood cave à manger Vacarme and garden-to-table restaurant Freia in her native city (writes Claudia Jacob). Here, she chats to us about foraging for produce, a trip to the Talensac food market and her penchant for a Scandinavian-style early dinner.

Where will we find you this weekend?
You can always find me in the forest picking flowers. I particularly love going in search of sorrel, elderberries and acacia. We sometimes forget that foraging can be an urban activity.

Ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle or a jolt?
It’s a lively start but I’m always in a good mood. Then it’s on to the Talensac food market, where we meet up with our neighbours and talk to local producers.

What’s for breakfast?
Sourdough bread, fresh butter and homemade jam. A very classic French breakfast – but one that I love. You can find very good fresh produce in Nantes.

Lunch in or out?
I don’t usually have much of a lunch but I will have an early dinner, like the Germans or Scandinavians, at about 18.30.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Neither. For me, the weekend is all about family.

A Sunday soundtrack?
Sunday Morning by The Velvet Underground, without a doubt. I could listen to the album on repeat all weekend. Otherwise, The Smiths are perfect for any occasion.

News or not?
Nothing at all. Weekends are a sacred opportunity to focus on my loved ones.

What’s on the menu?
Homemade lasagne. I love these comforting, family-style dishes that you can put on the table and get everyone to help themselves.

Sunday evening routine?
I like to relax and read a book, which I don’t often have time to finish. It’s a good time for me to find ideas for my next menus.

Will you lay out an outfit for Monday?
I never do. Monday is my accounting day, so I try not to think about it too much.;

For more of the best French food, hospitality and design, pick up a copy of ‘France: The Monocle Handbook’, which is available now.

Illustration: Xiha

Recipe / Ralph Schelling

Spinatknödel (spinach dumplings)

This week, Monocle’s Swiss chef whips up some traditional South Tyrolean sour spinach dumplings. Made from leftover white bread and mountain cheese; serve warm with a crisp green salad.

Serves 4

250g white bread
250ml milk
500g frozen spinach
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsps olive oil
A pinch of salt and pepper
150g flour
1 pinch of nutmeg
75g Alpine cheese (such as emmental)
2 eggs
50g cottage cheese
75g butter


Place the bread in a bowl and pour over the milk. Leave to soak for 10 minutes. Defrost the frozen spinach.

Put a pan on a medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the finely chopped onion and garlic, and sauté until the onions are translucent. Tip the defrosted spinach into the pan and season with salt and pepper. Fry until the liquid from the spinach has evaporated.

Pour the mixture into a fine sieve and cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully squeeze out any remaining liquid. Add this mixture to the bread and milk.

Crack the eggs into the spinach-and-bread mixture. Then combine with the cheese curds, flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Knead thoroughly by hand. Let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. With moistened hands, make small balls out of the dumpling mixture and drop them one at a time into the simmering water. Let the dumplings cook over a low heat for 15 minutes with the lid off.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat until it begins to brown and develops a nutty aroma. Using a slotted spoon, remove the dumplings from the pot. Drain well and divide among deep plates. Roughly grate the mountain cheese.

Drizzle with the brown butter, sprinkle over the grated cheese and serve warm.

Image: Bella Grande

Weekend plans? / Hotel Bella Grande, Copenhagen

Grande dame

The new Hotel Bella Grande hotel sits in a building close to Copenhagen City Hall and has been welcoming guests since 1899 (writes Sonia Zhuravlyova). Alongside its 109 guest rooms and suites, it features an interior courtyard and a buzzing Italian restaurant, Donna.

“For inspiration, we went to Italy and found a Venetian palazzo with an atrium, natural lighting, gorgeous flower arrangements and peach-coloured walls,” says Malene Bech-Pedersen, who revamped the interiors along with Mette Bonavent of design agency Tonen. For those who want to spread out, there are family rooms and junior suites, plus two larger suites with private roof terraces.

For more restorative stays and retreats, pick up a copy of Monocle’s latest issue, which is available on all good newsstands now.

Image: Tony Hay

Bottoms up / Yola mezcal, Mexico

Hot shot

In 2007, Yola Jimenez inherited her grandfather’s farm in Oaxaca and quickly fell in love with the land’s most bounteous ingredient: agave (writes Katharine Sohn). This pointy plant is roasted and smoked in underground pits to produce the twice-distilled mezcal bottled for her female-founded brand, Yola. “Our motto is ‘Strong woman, strong drink’,” says co-founder Gina Correll.

But it’s more than just a tipple: the Yola bottle’s label was designed to reflect Jimenez’s Mexican heritage. Working alongside graphic designer Peter Miles, Jimenez carved out a spiky silhouette resembling the agave plant. But beyond being a spirit, Yola mezcal represents a community that converges around the powerful drink. From intimate dinners to music festivals, the brand’s following extends from Oaxaca and New York to Europe and back.

Cooking the books / ‘Kin’, UK

Spice of life

London-based British-Caribbean chef Marie Mitchell’s debut cookbook, Kin, is a love letter to her Jamaican heritage (writes Graeme Green). Mitchell’s recipes are driven by a desire to nuance the perception of Caribbean cuisine as limited to takeaway culture. Published by Penguin Books, the opening section is dedicated to bold spice mixes and flavours – think jerk rub and mango chutney – but Mitchell is also keen to show that Caribbean food can be subtle, layered and complex.

Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay

The cuisine brings together African, European, American and Asian influences, and its dishes are designed to be shared. Try your hand at the ackee-and-saltfish tarts, crispy pumpkin fritters, peppered tofu (there’s plenty here for vegetarians) and Jamaican patties. And leave space for dessert: the chilled cheesecake with lime and ginger is the ultimate palate cleanser.

For more ideas, inspiration and analysis, pick up a copy of Monocle’s latest issue or subscribe today. Have a super Sunday.


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