Move over, Sher Khan! The monkey is the king of this jungle. And by ‘jungle’ I mean, the resto bar scene in Mumbai. The monkey in question here is Bandra’s newest gastro pub Monkey Bar – making both food lovers and party goers go bananas! After a successful stint in both Bangalore and Delhi, the much talked about Monkey Bar arrived to the queen of suburbs in May this year. Bandra is derived from the word ‘Vandre’, meaning monkey in Marathi because of the frequent sightings of monkeys during olden times, making it an apt and ironical location for the Monkey Bar!
I have had the opportunity of visiting Monkey Bar on three occasions – twice anonymously, and once on invite. Here is my take on why Monkey Bar has been able to achieve unprecedented success in all three cities, and why I think more such drink and dine spaces are required.
Concept – Claiming to be the country’s first gastro-pub, Monkey Bar pleases both the foodie and the alcoholic. Gone are the days when places either serve great food or great cocktails. I love that one doesn’t have to make that choice any more. Places like Monkey Bar offer the best of both – the vibe and essence of a pub, backed with great food. The menu is non-conformist and quirky, bringing together all the signature dishes you would see at a bar with a desi twist. The drink menu is exhaustive with signature cocktails. There’s a fun element throughout the bar, seen in the decor, music, and they even have a foosball table. So clearly, Monkey Bar provides the best of both worlds, having the potential to be your friendly neighborhood bar where ‘everybody knows your name’.
Decor – Thankfully there is no jungle decor in the home of this monkey. Both the inside and the outside sections are warm, vibrant, and inviting with grafitti, pop art, and quirky light fixtures which seem to have become a mandate at most bars. My favourite is the ‘Bandra- Bandar’ signboard – both funny and ironical. The music is predominantly 90s and 80s pop – you’re going to love it if you are from that era. I sang along to Ace of Base, M.J. and The Backstreet Boys while a group of teeny boppers around me looked lost. Ha ha, how the tables have turned!
Food – What I love about the food menu is the desi connect that a lot of newer restaurants seem to be doing. Comfort food with flavors that are close to home. Here you’ll find a taco made out of a phulka stuffed with Rajasthani Lal Maas, or Baingan Pakodas for the herbivorous. There’s a playfulness in the menu evident in items like Kheema Bao – a cheeky, modern Kheema Pao or Aam Aadmi Eggs – namesake of the party leader, Eggs Kejriwal.
Small Plate Recommendations – Laal Maas Phulkas, Crab Rangoon, Kheema Bao, Goan Chorizo Pao, Pao Bhaji Cheesy Grits, Dal Pakwaan.
Chef Manu Chandra deserves a pat on the back for focusing on mains too, which otherwise are non existent on a bar menu. Delicious fusion food like a Butter Chicken Khichdi where the combination of two comfort classics leave you beaming. The indigenous menu also has the famed vegetarian Black burger, and a chicken Red burger which has been taking the global food scene by storm. I enjoyed the Idaho Bill- a red burger bun encasing a fried chicken patty and blue cheese mayo – not for the faint hearted. You’ll also find a delicious Goan chorizo pot rice and Chandraji’s Mutton Curry which ensures mini food-cations to Goa and Kolkata while you devour them.
Main Course Recommendations – Butter Chicken Khichdi, Pandi Curry and Pita, Jackfruit Biryani, Chandraji’s Mutton Curry, Idaho Bill.
Again one wouldn’t expect a bar to dole out such delicious and inventive desserts like a Rasmalai Panna Cotta, and a rich Chocolate Pot de Creme with salted caramel, that comes with caramel popcorn on top. Their Cheesecake topped with tons of caramel, and a sublime coffee ice cream was thoroughly sinful.
Drinks – The bar menu is fairly exhaustive as well. Here you’ll find craft beers from Gateway brewery, conventional cocktails, and a variety of hard liquor. Do what I have done on every occasion I’ve visited, and head straight for the Mobar special cocktails. The potent, heady mixes are delicious, and incorporate desi flavors into your drink. For example the Shazia Imli hits you with tamarind, whereas the Mangaa uses aam panna and sweet lime in the mix.
Cocktail Recommendations – Copper Monkey (100 Pipers whisky + passion fruit + mint + lime), Mangaa (vodka + aam panna + sweet lime + mint + jeera), Don Draper (Ballantine + sugarcane + clove & bitters) – if you are a Mad Men fan!
Perfectly priced – not exorbitantly high, not questioningly low, the Monkey Bar has the potential to be your next watering hole. I saw the crowd range from youngsters who have just crossed their drinking age limit, to middle aged group of friends having a fun night out. I’ve seen people stop by after work to grab a drink, couples out on a date night, and groups of friends celebrating. This is a monkey you’ll definitely want to pet. Dunston has checked in!
Note: Pictures courtesy Tandem PR. The lighting was way too off to click any decent food pictures.