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The Monkey checks in

After success in Bengaluru and Delhi, Monkey Bar opened at Bandra last week. Partners Chetan Rampal and Executive Chef Manu Chandra promise great food, cocktails and a wholesome gastropub experience

Monkey Bar's first night in Bandra is a retro one. Gone are the days when Wednesday and Friday were the only official 'party nights'. The city has a great nightlife throughout the week, and this latest entrant, which replaces Bombay Blues at Bandra, has a foot-tapping vibe. An old-world charm, a pub atmosphere with décor in tin and wood, retro posters, illustrations of the fluorescent green Mascot Monkey and distressed walls greet us.

Chef Manu Chandra and Chetan Rampal, partners Monkey Bar
Chef Manu Chandra and Chetan Rampal, partners Monkey Bar 

It's an organised chaos as chef Manu Chandra likes to put it. While many bars in the city boast this look, it is the lighting that uplifts our mood. Soft on the eye and accentuating accessorised corners, the inside seating has red diner seatings and high-chair tables. The outside, which has colourful chairs and tables, is inviting but too hot for the weather, but will be a perfect seating to sit and watch the rains.

Under the expertise of Bengaluru-based executive chef Manu Chandra, the menu is international food with a desi twist — an interesting conglomeration of Indian food gems. You'll find Mochar Ghonto made of plaintain and banana leaves, Bihari Liti Choka, Aloo Vadiyaan cutlets and slow-cooked pork curry from Coorg. All packaged in a contemporary, quirky style. While the bite-size servings on the launch night ensure we will go back for a fuller experience later, we savour more than many pani puris which have a touch of molecular gastronomy. Excerpts from the interview:

Q. This is the third city and fifth Monkey Bar (MB). How different is the experience in each city?
Chetan (C): We have two MBs in Delhi and Bengaluru each. Every city is different, as the experience depends on the space at hand. While some spaces may have a great ceiling – the one at Vasant Kunj, Delhi is a glass pyramid — we also have to adapt to the rules of each city, the nightlife culture and food-beverage preferences.
For example, Bengaluru, till last year, had an early deadline of 11.30 pm. This meant last orders would close at 10.30 pm. In Delhi, the deadline is 12.30 am, and now Mumbai, will be open till 1.30 am. When we first opened in 2012, we introduced the vada pav on the Bangalore menu, but we won't do it in Mumbai, which has the best vada pavs on the streets. But all of them have the same underlying ethos.

Q. What is the Monkey Bar experience?
Manu (M): MB is a gastropub, which offers great food, drinks and a wholesome good time. Our bars don't have a cookie format. The décor is old world but not grungy, and has a mix of seating options. Mumbai is known for its space crunch, but we have made a conscious effort to give enough breathing space between tables, which is a rarity in the city.

Q. What's on the bar menu?
C: We don't like to ape the West. We work with local flavours, so you'll find Mangaa, an aam panna with vodka, Shazia Imli, a tamarind and rum concoction, GT & Karnal, which is gin and fennel, cucumber and our signature drink Don Draper which has Ballantine's, sugarcane, clove and bitters. We really like to encourage our patrons to opt for cocktails and mocktails, rather than their regular beers and spirits. It's all part of giving the customers a new experience to take home.

Q. There is a flood of new restaurants and pubs in Mumbai. But not all find a long-term grounding. Comment.
Today, everyone wants to pursue an MBA or a degree in engineering, but dream of opening a restaurant. While it looks like the coolest thing to do, the job is not all that rosy. The challenges are many — rent, real estate, overheads, staff etc. To add to this, to keep up with the competition, a lot of places drop their prices to gain more footfalls, and keeping up with competitive pricing can take a toll.

Q. Can you talk about the present food trends in India?
M: Today, there is a breather from aping the West. we see more of Indian food, served in a fun and contemporary. In the 90s, whenever I came to Mumbai, people took me to restaurants that served a creamy, cashew nutty north Indian gravy. In my opinion, I would get get better food on the streets
of Delhi. In this millennia, the segment of people born between 1982 and 1995 have the highest disposable income. While I grew up watching DD, they grew up with MTV and Star Plus. The challenge is to serve fresh, original dishes.

Q. How did the name Monkey Bar come up?
C: Monkey Bar was an easy name to remember and had maximum recall value. In 2011-2012, AD Singh, Chetan and I were riding in a tuk tuk in Sri Lanka when our phones beeped. Our creative agency had emailed us the logo which went well with the name.

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