At 7.30 on a Saturday evening, there’s barely a table available. By 8.30 pm, there’s standing room only. By 9.30 pm, people are dancing to ’80s classics where they stand.
Monkey Bar has a warm, casual vibe and feels more like you’re at a friend’s house party than a bar. Instead of cramming every inch with seating space, they’ve left plenty of space to mill around, and have your drinks standing.
When it opened in Bengaluru three years ago, Monkey Bar was one of the first gastropubs to put home-style and street food on the menu. In Mumbai, its fifth outlet, the menus display much the same quirky innovation. Unfortunately though, both the food and cocktails are hit-or-miss: half our meal was fabulous, half bordered on the inedible.
The whisky sour was perfect, and we loved the sour-sweetness of the shazia imli, a blend of rum, tamarind, chilli paste and salt. The saat rasta — a mix of seven spirits, beer-ginger juice and fresh coriander — was out of balance, with absinthe dominating; the sickly sweet copper monkey had way too much passion fruit.
A large part of the menu is devoted to small plates. Two small plates certain to become signature dishes are the choriz pao and the laal maas phulka. Made with a filling of two different kinds of Goa sausages (choriz), the choriz pao is definitely an improvement on the traditional version. The choriz, cooked in vacuum-sealed packets until all the fibre is broken down, for a soft, marmalade-like consistency, still retains its spicy-sour flavour.
The lal maas phulkas have the layered complexity of tacos — at the base is the mutton, which tastes just like the frankie filling; arranged over it is ker sangri, finely shredded radish and onions, dollops of chilli mayo and a garnish of coriander and garlic chutney. It’s a delightful balance of flavours, the sweet-sour mutton, bitter sangri, pungent radish and spicy mayo.
Also good were the chilli brain and the rasmalai pannacotta, which wasn’t chilled but was delicately flavoured.
And then there were the disasters. The skin of the kheema baos had the chewiness of Styrofoam, and the filling was under-salted and tasteless. The tangy Aunty Periera’s sorpotel pickle tasted like a cardamom grenade had exploded in it — each mouthful had an unpleasant sweet aftertaste. I pity the vegetarian who orders via Amritsar, the galouti-style tikki that tasted like sour, spiced potato mash.
Still, Monkey Bar scores for its pocket-friendly pricing and the relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere — and most of all, the chance to listen to ‘Joanna’, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, ‘Comfortably Numb’ and other ’80s hits.
Published Hindustan Times, Mumbai 20 June 2015