This week I paid £3.50 for a chocolate bar. A chocolate bar called ‘Crunky’. I don’t know quite what madness came over me. I was in Marylebone’s newly-opened Monocle Café, a spin off from Monocle magazine, and somehow I’d taken leave of my senses.
Whatever force it was that was driving me was overwhelming, and I didn’t understand it, but I knew I was happy. Any power of independent thinking that I may once have possessed had been overwhelmed by slick Japanese-Scandi design, a slick international clientele, and the giddy but probably desperate hope that I might just pass as someone slick enough to belong there myself.
£3 for a macchiato, explained the dapper staff. No problem. Would you like to try Tyler Brûlé’s favourite Japanese chocolate bar for the aforementioned eye-watering price? God yes. How about a Parisian macaroon baked by a London-based Japanese bakery? Oh, please. My wallet still hasn’t forgiven me, but I don’t regret a bit of it.
Monocle – the magazine edited by Mr Brûlé, that is – may be a fascinating read and a beautiful object, with its endearingly earnest mixture of business, current affairs and calmly aspirational lifestyle features. But above all, it’s an exercise in the canniest of branding. It’s this that has enabled it to break all the rules in the publishing book and come out on top. You just want to be part of their gang.
Monocle has always been much more than a magazine. To read it is to feel like a member of an international elite – jet-setting, entrepreneurial, and with impeccable taste, whether that’s really the case or not. If there’s one word that sums up Monocle, it’s ‘precious’.
It’s also full of articles on just how various institutions – department stores, cafes, hotels – would be run in an ideal Monocle world, a world in which we would all rejoice in the life-changing benefits of great design, and where entrepreneurship would skip hand in hand through the streets with social democratic values. So, when the first Monocle Café outside of Tokyo opened in London this month, I had to go and see what life in Monocle-land would be like.
(Actually, I’ve spent time in Midori House – the mag’s HQ – before and it was every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped. The café was good, but not quite as good, probably because this time the food and drink weren’t free.)
The Monocle Café is a small space with an aesthetic that, exactly like the pastries, lies somewhere between Scandinavia and Japan. The glasses and carafes, the cups, the trays, the teaspoons – all are, naturally, impeccably selected. Monocle’s radio station plays all day long, and back issues of the magazines stand proud against the walls. You can sit outside under a striped awning, or tucked away in an adjoining back room with sofas and a 24-hour news channel on a TV.
A customer asked if it might be possible to mute the sound on said TV while I was there. It was not possible, he was informed. Tyler Brûlé had decided that the TV would show what the TV was showing – with sound – and that the radio would play what the radio was playing. And so it would be.
The Monocle Café is a totalitarian mini-state under the rule of an apparently benevolent and design-obsessed ruler. The brainwashing effects are remarkable – witness my profligate spending on what were nice, but by no means outstanding, things.
The Allpress-supplied coffee is good but far from being the best-made in central London. You can get much finer coffee for less. The tea is bagged, not loose-leaf. The pastries are great, because they’re brought in from great suppliers (Fabrique Bakery and Lanka Pâtisserie). The way the space is designed doesn’t allow you to sit in the front window, which in my mind is the best thing you can possibly do in a café. But I’ll go back and spend more money there because it made me feel good, even though I know that’s daft.
I’m a bit of a mug, I know. But an impeccably-designed Japanese Hasami porcelain mug. So that’s all right.
Edit: One of the nicest things about this day was getting the chance to catch up with my incredibly talented friend, the photographer Jonathan Daniel Pryce. He’s best known for his 100 Beards project but as you can see, he takes a damn fine photo generally, follicular accessories or no. Here I am outside the café, grinning about having been so stylishly ripped off. If you like stylish things in general then you must check out Jon’s photography…