Please note that the meal was complimentary. However, the opinions expressed in my blog are 100% my own!
I was recently invited at The royal Munkey, an Indian restaurant located in Kips Bay. The experience there is sort of unique as, usually, you would go to an Indian restaurant for the food, the decor and ambiance not being really considered. Well, it is not the case at The Royal Munkey: you might want to go for the cocktails and ambiance first, and then for the food. Not that the food is not good, but the atmosphere at this place is kind of festive, as the photo below can attest, a birthday being celebrated there.
There, I met one of the owners, Arun Mirchandani, who passionately described the theme of the restaurant and introduced me to the Execution Chef, Derik Alfaro, who, although Colombian and not Indian, succeeds in crafting a succulent menu with some dishes cooked in a tandoor oven hidden in the large kitchen (in fact they have two tandoor ovens: one for naan and one for cooking dishes).
Let's first talk about the amazing decor: very colorful, it is an homage to cafes and bistros in the old Bombay, in the colonial era; it is surrounded by an impressive number of monkey artifacts, from paintings to lamps, to the impressive chandelier that lights up the VIP table that sits apart from the dining room. Even the wallpaper has monkeys on it. All around the dining room, you cannot also miss the small replica of bicycles you would commonly see in India.
But one thing that people may miss is the train that circles on top of the center column, as well as the monkey that dominates the bar, being the sole monkey with a crown: it is indeed The Royal Munkey!
Next, let's talk about the cocktails: they have numerous made with whiskey, bourbon, gin, vodka, etc. I decided to go with a classic, The Lady Mountbatten. It is made of Scotch, Crème de Pamplemousse (grapefruit cream), house-made strawberry gastrique, fresh lemon and lime juices and peach bitters. I really liked it as it had this delicious citrusy taste that was very refreshing, slightly acidic and bitter.
Now, let's talk about the food. There are two things to know about The Royal Munkey menu. First, it is a European like bistro (hence the boiled eggs on the bar as an homage to classic bistros). In a bistro, you typically get all the components of your dish on a plate: nothing comes on the side. At The Royal Munkey, the main dishes are coming with everything: saffron-ghee-rice, raita and naan, chilies, pickled onions and lemon daal. Indian food is typically a meal to share and, sometimes, people do not understand that such presentation does not prevent them from sharing.
Then it is colonial Indian cuisine. Like me, I am sure you wonder what it means. Their website describes it well:
"Colonialism in India is what first introduced the flavors of the sub-continent to the rest of the world. The rich ingredients and spices used in the kitchens of the Indian aristocracy were incorporated into the recipes brought by the European settlers and officers. “Memsahib’s cooking”is a hybrid style that evolved when the British “Lady of the House” asked her Indian household cooks to prepare traditional British dishes. Over time, the cooks incorporated rich ingredients and spices used in the kitchens of the Indian aristocracy into the recipes brought by the European settlers."
But at The Royal Munkey, you will not get fusion cuisine but a rather traditional one, "similar to what we eat at home" Arun told me, "representing no particular region". So I was very excited and he graciously offered us a tasting of their most popular dishes (know that it was smaller portions). We started with dahi puri, a classic street food dish that originates from Mumbai. This little crispy puff has to be eaten in one bite so the mint water and yogurt inside does not fall all over when you bite on it...
Then, we got a tandoori sampler composed of a mutton seekh kebab, cottage cheese (paneer tikka) and a tiger prawn.
For sure, of the three, the prawn was the most spectacular. De-shelled, it was a big prawn and not those small one you often get served. And it was perfectly cooked. Then, the mutton seekh kebab was very tasty, the spices adding a nice flavor to it. Last was the paneer that was very good, far from the rubbery paneer we sometimes get and with a nice char.
Then was the Bombay lamb chop, cooked in the tandoor after being brined in a five-spices marinade. I think that was one of the best lamb chops I had in a long time! It was perfectly cooked medium, not dry and tender, with the delicious bold taste of lamb I adore.
Another incredible dish was the quail or tandoori batayr. First of all, I have never seen quail in an Indian menu, even during my multiple trips to India. Second, cooking quail is hard, because few seconds more and it can be very dry. Well, I can tell you that this one was perfectly cooked, not dry at all. It has been brined with hung yogurt masala, ginger, garlic, chili, turmeric, maize and bay-leaf, before being cooked in the tandoor, giving to it a delicious char. Normally, you get two quails when you order the dish and, at that point, I regretted not to have the second bird on my plate...
After that came some entrées samplers. Vegetarian for Jodi (well, not really for her as I tried some) and non-vegetarian for me. The one for Jodi had:
Butter paneer tikka masala that is paneer (cottage cheese) cooked in the tandoor oven and served in a creamy tomato sauce. Very comforting, that tomato sauce is very addictive (I had the chicken version and could not stop dipping my naan bread in it...).
Bagara Baigan or marinated baby eggplant and coconut curry (delicious, with some nice nuttiness from the sesame seeds).
Garden fresh vegetables korma that is seasonal vegetables in a creamy almond sauce (and you definitely taste the almonds).
On my side, I got:
Butter chicken tikka masala as mentioned above.
Lamb shank rogan josh or braised lamb in a curry sauce. I admit that it was my least favorite dish, the lamb being a bit tough.
Sindhi fish curry or monkfish served in a fenugreek sauce. This dish, very good, the fish being well cooked and very flaky, with a slight kick, is interesting for few reasons. First, it is a classic Sindhi dish. In fact, Arun's father is from this community that originated from the Sindh province in Pakistan. In 1947, after the segregation of Pakistan and India, many Sindhi left for India and dispersed all over the country. The second fact about this dish is that it is Arun's grandmother's recipe. And apparently, she approved it after trying it at The Royal Munkey, a seal of approval that cannot be ignored!
Both samplers were served with some delightfully fluffy naan and some ghee rice.
Last was dessert. And we got another sampler...It was composed of Gajar Halwa that is a carrot pudding, a warm caramelized seviyaan (made with caramelized vermicelli noodles, cardamon, molasses and confectioner sugar) and a cricket rum ball that is a rum infused chocolate cake.
Interestingly, besides maybe the carrot pudding, the desserts were different from what you usually get in Indian restaurants, like Gulab jamun or kheer. I liked them and noticed that they are not overly sweet, that can sometimes be the case.
Our dinner at The Royal Munkey was very good and we really liked the vibe in the restaurant. Dining there is truly unique whether you consider the decor, the cocktails, the food or the ambiance. Would I go back? Definitely for dinner and probably for brunch.
Enjoy (I did)!
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