Friday, 13 December 2013

DINING OUT: The Monkey Bar Has Arrived with Food in its Soul

This review first appeared in the Mail Today edition dated 13/12/2013. Please go to Page 23 after clicking on Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

WHERE: Commercial Centre, C 6 & 7,  Vasant Kunj (Adjacent to Kotak Mahindra Bank and Mini Cooper showroom)
WHEN: 12 noon to 12 midnight
DIAL: (011) 41095155
MEAL FOR TWO (WITHOUT ALCOHOL): Rs 1,200+++ (vegetarian) / Rs 1,800 (non-vegetarian)

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

A cosy nook at the city's most
anticipated new bar, which has
been designed for conversations
over soul food and alcohol
with new friends
MONKEY BAR couldn't have a more appropriate name. It makes a monkey out of the idea of stuffy dining, which is ironic because its lead chef and co-owner, Manu Chandra, is a Culinary Institute of America graduate who earned his spurs at Olive Bar & Kitchen in Bangalore. It makes a monkey out of hierarchies, what Delhiites revel in, because its gastro-pub seating promotes the practice of strangers becoming friends after an evening well spent in the company of good food, one's favourite poison and people you'd like to know.
And it makes a monkey out of the mindset of the city's bar owners, who believe, and it's impossible to stir their conviction, that a watering hole can rock only if it gets under-aged drinkers drooling at the thought of popping their alcoholic cherry in the company of loud teenagers who puke as much as they imbibe. It is a bar for grown-ups who believe in food and alcohol being the lubricants of intelligent conversation (in the afternoons, it doubles as a restaurant for families). The deejay does pump up the volume as the evening progresses, but the music is just what a particular generation likes to hear, or shake a leg to, and it allows you to hear yourself.
After garnering awards and accolades in its first year in Bangalore, Monkey Bar has opened at the glass pyramid in the C-6 & 7 Commercial Centre, Vasant Kunj, where the famed Ministry of Sound arrived from London and opened in a blaze of hype and expectations some seven years ago. It didn't survive after upsetting the residents in the neighbourhood, who complained about having to see young men and women totter out of the club at a time when elderly people would be taking their morning walks.
The RWA got into the act and got Ministry of Sound out, and people started whispering about the vaastu of the place not being right. I was talking about the place with a restaurateur friend a couple of days back and even he complained about the bad vaastu, but the problem was the Ministry of Sound formula (overcrowded weekends, under-age clientele and extended hours), not vaastu. Monkey Bar is all that Ministry of Sound wasn't -- it's the new watering hole of the generation that has had its share of binge drinking and snogging in public places, and is now seeking out a place where like-minded people gather to exchange ideas or just have fun, and go back home before the Cinderella Hour.
Wholesome comfort food is what really sets apart Monkey Bar, which is to be expected from a chef who loves to get his hands dirty in the kitchen, and from his mentor, AD Singh, who believes it's good food that draws people to restaurants, especially in a discerning city such as Delhi. Monkey Bar raises everyday food to a brilliant new level. I started my evening with Tiger Steak, silken fillets of Bangalore steak wok-tossed with pok choy in a South-East Asian spice mix that's impossible to forget much after the meal.
After the flying start (literally, because I had a drop of Blair's Original Death Sauce with bhoot jolokia), the rest of the meal was a procession of food that touches a heart: bacon-wrapped tandoori sausage dog; jumbo wings with sour cream and blue cheese dip; MoBar Bork, or double-cooked crispy pork belly that just melts in the mouth; Liver on Toast, where the toast also comes slathered with chicken liver pate; Chilli Brain -- minimal and memorable; Bang Bang Prawns -- simple yet sexy; and the addictive sticky date pudding with toffee sauce. In the spirit of Monkey Bar, our table had become a congregation of people I'd never met before, but we just connected over food. You'd expect it at your friendly neighbourhood bar, wouldn't you?