Friday, 1 June 2012

Eating out: Monkey Bar ~ Flying high

Images by Kunal Chandra

‘Hey, let’s meet for a drink this evening. We could wrap up that deal…’

‘Sure, but where shall we go for dinner later?’

Quite out of the blue, Bangaloreans have a one-stop answer to such everyday dilemmas. One that bypasses the hearty (sometimes stodgy) fare and standard tipples around this pub city. If you ask me, all foodie and pub-hopping roads today lead to the spanking new Monkey Bar, India’s first gastropub!

This funky take on the global phenomenon of a gastropub had a soft launch in late May. Its tagline is right on cue:  ‘New York meets Bangalore, Bangalore meets New York.’ Its logo? Three winged monkeys – one in sharp shades, one with headphones on, the third with a pipe. 

What’s a gastropub? A restaurant-pub that yokes together pub ambience, fine food, affordable prices, and great service. The term originated in the UK in 1991, when new generation pub-goers tired of a ploughman’s lunch or fish-n-chips. By 2000, the US had Father’s Office in L.A., The Spotted Pig in Manhattan, and more. Norway joined the bandwagon in 2009. By 2012, The Hand & Flowers gastropub in Buckinghamshire had earned 2 Michelin stars.    

Back in Bangalore, a blackboard at the Monkey Bar entrance reads: “Welcome! We’re teething. Please bear with us.” Grinning, we step in. First impressions? Wooden floors, eight-seater bench-booths, exposed brick walls. Assorted light fixtures and retro posters strung together with casual cunning. More intimate tables for four. A bright Vespa scooter parked on a ledge.  Nostalgia-prompts line the walls: a Hershey’s plaque, a curved blackboard that promises an American-style breakfast in the future. A DJ who spins retro music – Abba, Don McLean, Ozzy Ozbourne, et al – has us nodding in approval long before we’ve downed our first drink.

I do not drink beer. But the edgy cocktails menu, like the imagination shaken and stirred, woos us through gusts of laughter. On offer?  A mega-sized King Kong, a blend of rum, cream, banana and (ahem) chocolate Horlicks. A tongue-teasing Ginny of cranberry, ginger and gin. Goose bum’s of gooseberries, gin and salt (a far cry from the fruity schnapps/vodka combination of the similar-sounding Goosebumps). A chocolate vodkatini lends sparkle to our smalltalk. More traditional drinks, wine and sangria are listed, too. Our cocktails gained a 4.5/5 approval rating from our gang of four. 

Monkey Bar burger

Wandering past built-in bar stools with GI pipe footrests, and wrought-iron tables for standees, we tromp into the basement, where billiards and fussball (a.k.a. table soccer) tables are set up. Perfect to unwind over after a long day at work.

We frown, then grin, over the main menu. It is a contemporary, tweaked take on a global palate. Some choices for starters: spicy Goan sorpotel in a jam jar paired with pav; silken beef galouti kebabs (less fatty than the Lucknow street version); peppered, skewered lamb hearts with Moroccan spices (La Kama, maybe?); eye-watering Thai Tiger Beef salad ~ its subtle notes of chili, lime, galangal and ginger, surface with each bite.  

The main courses are both generous and dramatic (bye-bye, shepherd’s pie). We sample saffron-rich Iranian berry pulao topped with potato straws, that stars chicken kebab and shredded chicken. We tuck into peppery noodles with creamy Chicken Stroganoff. Faced with choices straddling Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, Cajun, Lebanese, Bengali, Kodava, even ‘Chindian’ cuisine, we unanimously agree on our favourite dish: Bork. What’s that? Aromatic, ultra-tender pork slices, double-cooked, served over black beans and noodles. Soul-enticing, to the last lick.  

Desserts entice us, too. The Lemon Meringue, for one, teases with the tang of passionfruit curd and fresh mango. The flourless chocolate XS cake is delicate and heady, all at once. 

Sorpotel in a jar!
As the volume turns up, folks roll into Monkey Bar through a Saturday evening in micro-shorts and saris, in linen shirts and skinny jeans, undeterred by the shoulder-to-shoulder crush. How does one describe this gastropub’s essential vibes? As airy as joie-de-vivre. In sync with pub style, with mismatched crockery, hot sauces in springform tins, cutlery in beer mugs. And coasters that are worth a big belly-laugh. Besides, it is all served with a smile!

Who thought up this menu, which defies definition? Who decided Bangalore was the right testing ground for a gastropub? The trio of partners are from the upper-crust Olive kitchen brand – pioneering restaurateur A.D. Singh, strategic ideator Chetan Rampal, and wizard chef Manu Chandra.

Why Monkey Bar? “It’s playful. We all grew up with monkey bars and jungle gyms. It rolls off the tongue easily; it has quick recall,” responds Manu over email. “The logo is funky, cool and definitive all at once. In neon, the three monkeys with wings, speakers, headphones and sunglasses are young and edgy.”

Bingo! I’m no gastronomic pundit. But I was drawn back to the all-day gastropub twice within a week, an atypical response. All around me folks – whether businessmen, journalists, teachers, travel professionals, designers or foodies – were head-nodding happy, long before they were high. So was I.

This could prove addictive, I fear. I’d bet my best stuffed monkey that the day of the Bangalore gastropub has arrived. Perhaps Monkey Bar will fan into a pan-Indian chain one day.  

Mangaa cocktail
That brings in its wake another set of dilemmas: Will I dare to order its signature MoBar burger one day, its dry-aged multiple cuts grilled over a wood fire? Or will I opt for spicy beef pickle instead, with ker, sangri and curry leaves in gingery oil, in memory of a Rajasthani childhood? 

Either way, I can’t resist a toast to Monkey Bar with Mangaa, their aam-panna/ sweetlime/ vodka cocktail, served in (believe it or not!), a Nutella jar with a squiggly straw. Hic-hic-hurrah!   

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Address: 14/1(Krishna Manere), Wood Street, Richmond Road, Ashok Nagar, Bengaluru 560025
Phone: +91 - 80 -  41116878/ 79
Hours: 12 noon to 11.30 p.m.
Wallet Factor: Meal for two, including drinks and taxes, about Rs. 1200-1400.

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Here's an online link, too:

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(The Hindu Business Line, June 1, 2012)


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