So you've been there and done that. You've flirted with the foie gras, you've sashayed the sushi and undoubtedly 'khao'ed the khao suey by now. You've explored the Delhi food scene right from the 'Kake Da Dhabas' to the 'Wasabis'. But the palate seeks new pleasures. For food is the new 'F' word apparently.
Food shows rule lifestyle TV — tantalizing, mesmerising, tempting, and innovative. There are no rules when it comes to what works for you and what does not. Narrow definitions of cuisines don’t hamper you. But who’s going to whip up that storm after clocking 12 hours at work and commute home through dense traffic?
We have to outsource the oeuvre of culinary inspiration and creative stimulus. Five stars intimidate at times with their oh-so-perfect smiles. All you want is to grab a drink with friends and chill out and yeah, have some great food!
Monkey Bar, the New York-inspired gastro pub in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj set up by the incredible Olive Cafes South Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of Olive kitchen and Bar Pvt Ltd, is just the place for a chilled out, fun, casual, geography-defying food experience.
First there is the structure. Designed in a stunning Louvre-like 47 feet high, all glass pyramid, the one thing that hits you about Monkey Bar is the sense of space and openness it offers.
It is almost as if you have entered a seamless zone. Chef Manu Chandra poetically tells me, “There’s a beautiful sunset view you get from here. And after a few minutes there is a brilliant moon rise right out there. There are birds that fly down this route in a V at a certain time daily, there are planes landing nearby.”
Monkey Bar Delhi definitely has a dynamic energy, a kinetic vibe. The menu too is cloister-free if not cholesterol free! There are no boundaries.
This Chef who hates a ‘chef uniform’ meets me in cool faded denims and is easily one of the best-spoken Chefs I have met. Along with his partner Chetan Rampal, a hospitality professional turned entrepreneur, Manu was clear that after capturing the Bangalore market with the first Monkey Bar, they were ready for Delhi.
“People are ordering unconventional dishes. They are experimenting with food like never before. Chicken has been our least selling item here!” Manu informs me, breaking the notion of the typical traditional ‘Butter Chicken-buoyant’ Delhi crowd.
“People are well-traveled now and want their international favorites here. We are way more innovative than most fine dining restaurants in Delhi, product quality wise, product mix wise. Philosophically we are way ahead.”
Quick Gun Murg-Hen
"We run promotions, we run contests. The idea is to let as many people participate and we change the menu as often as we can,” says Chetan, pointing out a name of a dish in the menu called Quick Gun Murg-Hen which was a contest winner!
Just flipping through the menu is quite a stimulating start. Each name pops out with quirky puns and teasers. The mood is set for a culinary adventure and Monkey Bar does not disappoint, be it the trendy music, the ruddy wooden floors, the pool tables and the Fois Ball, the little booths reminiscent of typical New York pubs. You instantly feel ten years younger just stepping into this place!
So for starters you can have something called Salmon Khan. Talk of monkeying around!
I start with a refreshing Mangaa, a delightful blend of Aam Panna, sweet lime and jeera salt served in a jar that quenches my thirst in a jiffy and sets the taste buds tingling! You can spike it with vodka but it is only 5 pm so I avoid. Monkey bar has a stunning collection of wines, spirits, liqueurs, beer and cocktails !
Sorpotel in Jampot
Up next is Chilli Brain, a brain cutlet with green chilli and fenugreek, which is anything but brain drain! Then a delicious, devilish Sorpotel, that classic Goan dish, served in a jam pot along with an angelic mini-bread, soft as a cloud.
The burgers are highly recommended. I excuse myself though, as I am going easy on carbs, preferring to sample small, finger food. You know it’s always quality over quantity for me! But there is a big selection of great sounding burgers and rolls.
I then try the Devilled fish, sautéed Seer with galangal and lemongrass, the full-bodied taste of which actually takes me to a faraway beach. Manu says, “That’s because we use kingfish or some real fish. Talk of bland we don’t use Basa, the optimization of bland, which I feel is gutter fish! Yes, Delhiites are infatuated by Basa right now but we’re sure to wean them off it!” he grins with a dimpled smile.
The ‘Kheema Bao’ and ‘Butterfly Chicken’ tarts are again very different and delicious. The ‘Steak Cubes in Black Bean Sauce’ is piquant and fiery. I soon realize it is a little bit about the taste, a little about the presentation, a little about how it all comes together in mismatched crockery and funky asides.
There are many dishes that may sound familiar such as Vada Pao or Dabeli but the moment it comes in front of you, there is a teasing twist.
Tikki of Joy
Lot of interesting veg options. For a moment we exchange notes on how difficult it is to please vegetarian guests but again Monkey Bar scores. One veg burger has no potato at all, made out of assorted veggies, tofu with panko coating and is pan seared.
Another one has a filling of vada pao aloo and ghati masala. Other veggie hot-sellers are ‘Chubby Mushrooms’, ‘Mee Goreng’ and ‘Fried and Wok Tossed Japanese Eggplant and Paneer’.
The main course boasts of dishes as diverse and creatively intense as ‘The Parsee Orderlies’ Mutton Curry’ or the ‘Ethiopian Chicken Doro Wat’ and ‘Shrimp Newburg with Brown Rice’. But ‘Pickled Tenderloin with Ker and Sangri’ sure takes the cake as far as thinking out of the pyramid goes!
Manu explains here, “See if one were to conceptualize a fine-dining restaurant, it is a matter of 3 hours for me. It is more challenging to use local ingredients and elevate them to an altogether different place. We want more and more people to sample innovative food. That’s why we ensure affordability on the right side of the menu.”
It is not unusual now for a bunch of teenagers to walk in, order one coffee and be at the pool table for hours. But Manu and Chetan do not frown upon that. The place is meant to be fun, happy and non-elitist. It doesn’t matter if everyone does not come and splurge. But they want to take the Monkey Bar brand to many more cities, Mumbai being the next stop.
Very tempting as the desserts are, I let it pass for I am already sweetly satiated. I realize these funky food-entrepreneurs, Manu and Chetan are poets at heart after all, dreamers and philosophically way ahead. They have their creativity to tackle food ‘cost’ and innovation to overcome ‘inventories’. Their guests are happy at the end of the day and seriously, that’s no monkey business!