The Royal Munkey Expands to Kips Bay
Colonialism in India is what first introduced the flavors of the sub-Continent to the rest of the world. The British, French, Dutch and the Portuguese all had landed in India, initially to trade, but later established a military presence. In time, the rich ingredients and spices used in the kitchens of the Indian aristocracy were incorporated into the recipes brought by European settlers and officers. Adapted variations of many of their own dishes emerged by carefully blending European cooking techniques and recipes with local ingredients and methods, which resulted in a distinct new cuisine – and being predominantly a British Colony, this collectively came to be referred to as ‘Anglo-Indian cuisine’.
The Royal Munkey strives to recreate, and pay tribute to the legendary flavors, style and ambience reminiscent of the famous cafes, bistros, and supper clubs of “Old Bombay,” while showcasing a touch of the old Raj.
The team behind The Drunken Munkey, Le Bateau Ivre (New York City), and Bar And Books (New York City, Prague, and Warsaw), reintroduced civilized cocktails to the Upper East Side in 2013 with the opening of The Drunken Munkey—a classic craft-cocktail bar in New York City alongside a full serving Indian kitchen. As Bar And Books approaches its 25th Anniversary, it celebrates with the expansion of its brands in two new locations—The Royal Munkey in Kips Bay in Manhattan, and the newest, and largest to date, Podwale Bar And Books, just opened in Warsaw, Poland, bringing the total to nine operations in three countries between two continents.
Founders Raju Mirchandani (Bar And Books & Le Bateau NYC), in partnership with Arun Mirchandani (Munkey Operations), and Chirag Chaman (Munkey Finance & Strategy) collaborated on the concept.
In the intimate and elegant front lounge, guests can enjoy hand-crafted cocktails surrounded by an array of Anglo-Indian artifacts: a tall stack of tomes for the host stand, whimsical lamps with monkeys on unicycles, wise monkeys in reading glasses with alabaster books inhabiting the sconces, and an old-style phone. In the dining room, bicycle sculptures, a flying monkey chandelier, and an authentic vintage electric toy train circles above humorous photographic portraits of monkeys in various guises—an astronaut, a Victorian gentleman, a yogi, and a businessman, all while old-school Bollywood films play on a flat-screen TV. Behind the scenes, numbered elephant coat hooks are paired with each table, cricket ball doorknobs and cricket bats mark the rear foyer, and book-covered wallpaper in the restrooms continue the theme across the Bar And Books and Munkey brands.
The staff is dressed in style: the bartenders are clothed in traditional Nehru jackets, the servers in “chudidaar kurtas” and bindis, and jhumkaas (dangling earrings), while the chefs sport Rajasthani turbans—all custom tailored in India. As at the uptown location, the bar here too is kitted out with Arun’s collection of vintage bar spoons, strainers, jiggers, shakers, and elegant crystal glassware.
The Anglo-Indian culinary collaboration continues with Executive Chef Derik Alfaro (Zak Pelaccio’s Fatty Crab) and chef de cuisine Chetan Patil (Tulsi), the same team behind The Drunken Munkey. The recipes are classic, authentic, and home-style dishes inspired by the officers’ clubs, railway cars, and streets of India—each with the hand stamp of approval from Arun’s mother and in some family based recipes, even Arun’s grandmother. A larger kitchen with a smoker in addition to the traditional tandoor ovens means more room for experimentation with meats and spices, as well as catering, and private parties.
This “Mess Hall” inspired menu offers classic and familiar cuisine, and is an ideal complement to the cocktail program: Chili Cheese Toast—Pullman toast and melted cheddar with the kick of fresh green chilies, cilantro, and red onion; savory street snacks such as Dahi (yogurt) Puri, and Paani (water) Puri—crispy flour puffs filled with potato and chickpea chaat with spiced yogurt or tamarind mint water (cleverly presented in a re-purposed escargot plate), Bhel Puri; Mutton Seekh Kababs, grilled hand-ground spiced mutton skewers, and Paneer Tikka served with fresh herbs, turmeric, onions, and bell peppers.
The main courses are elegantly plated in a European-style bistro format: saffron-ghee-rice, raita and naan, chilies, pickled onions, and lemon daal brimming with cilantro and lemon zest, easy to share as a group. Examples of the distinctive Anglo-Indian entrees include Railway Chicken Curry—an ode to a dish that varied with the destination on the railway lines, which the Anglo-Indian community played a vital role in establishing during British rule in India beginning in the mid-1800s—here in a sauce of tomato, onion, mustard seed, and curry leaf. There’s also Sindhi Fish Curry (a dish famous in Karachi even today), fork-tender monkfish simmered in a fenugreek based sauce. Other highlights include Goan Pork Vindalu, cubed pork shoulder in a spicy chili vinegar tomato sauce, Double Onion Goat Curry—oxtail on the bone and tender braised goat in a spicy brown double onion and ginger based sauce,and Bombay Lamb Chops, tandoor grilled with a five-spice marinade served with a side of lightly sautéed green beans, spiced potatoes (aloo) with mint and apple-butter chutneys.
Even familiar dishes like Butter Chicken Tikka Masala—cubed tandoori chicken breast in a creamy tomato sauce, and Bagara Baigan—roasted eggplant in a peanut and sesame curry, are elevated in the hands of these two chefs with more distinct flavors, delicately layered seasonings and amazing textures. Sides of crisp, chip-like crispy okra, and the chana masala (seasoned chick-peas), are also featured. Desserts including Gajar Halwa, rich carrot pudding with crushed pistachios, the Cricket Rum-Ball, a dark rum-soaked chocolate cake, and Caramelized Seviyaan, vermicelli noodles sweetened with coconut milk and brown sugar and spiced with cardamom, are served warm. The dinner prix-fixe is a steal at $34 as it includes a choice of: cocktail or wine; an entrée along with a side dish, and finally dessert.
For a large format option, a Slow-smoked Raan—a whole roasted leg of lamb, prepared for six-plus people, with accompaniments of breads, rice, and chutneys can be shared if ordered a day in advance.
Behind the full service and spacious bar, decked out in stylish arm-bands and tie clip, bartenders can stir up an East India Cocktail—D’usse VSOP Cognac, Combier, pineapple syrup, Luxardo, and Peychaud’s bitters; an Army & Navy—Spring 44 Gin, fresh lemon juice, a house-made orgeat syrup, and lemon zest; or the Lady Mountbatten, named after the wife of the last Viceroy of India before independence (Monkey Shoulders Scotch, Crème de Pamplemousse, strawberry gastrique, fresh lemon, and lime juice, peach bitters, poured over a slow-melting molded round cube ice). The cocktails are mostly classics, but some with twists, and are consistently well-produced.
With the Paanch of the Week, bartenders show their creativity with a rotating combination of five key elements: sweet, sour, spice, fruit, and alcohol. Beverage options also include Imported beers and well-priced wines by the glass ($10-15) or bottle ($40-60)