Monkey Garage – Not just for Monkeys.
One of my friends had been bugging me for quite a while to come and check out Monkey Garage in Bangsar. What I had heard about it was inconclusive except that they had a lot of pasta dishes and the place was “good fun”.
I finally made the time to check it out and was surprised how literal the “Garage” part in the name was. It is in fact a garage, with engines hanging from chains and a wide open specious feeling. The solid brick bar in the centre, and the walls covered in art and racing specific décor make it feel quite comfortable and colourful though. Quite cosy for an “art lounge”, despite the artsy feel there was a very relaxed and jovial atmosphere.
Something that my friends had already taken advantage of several times was the 60 RM all you can drink wine buffet, with a selection of reds and cooled whites standing readily available at the bar, no waiting times, no accusing stares from the staff when you help yourself to your twelfth glass of the night. I was happily surprised.
This night I wasn’t here to get sloshed though, I was here for the food. So let’s get down to it.
The menu is a short simple list of items, divided into starts, snacks (all day munchies) and main courses.
As best I can remember all the main courses are a combination of noodles (capellini pasta) and or rice.
As our starter we tried the Sesame Soba Salad, and the Chinese Chicken Soup with truffle oil.
The salad is French beans, garlic, mushrooms, Japanese soba noodles, pan fried tofu, black and white sesame seeds and spring onions. Now while it is called a salad, it is almost a cold noodle dish. The sauce especially reminded me of a dish I used to love from my time living in Beijing, called DanDan Mian. Both of these dishes have a very rich sesame based sauce, that gives a slight sweet but nutty flavour to the dish, the fresh vegetables bring a comforting crisp and crack to the otherwise creamy dish. I actually thought that the dish would have been an appropriate size for a full lunch, if you weren’t too hungry, well sized indeed.
The soup tasted very traditionally Chinese but with a twist, I enjoyed the strong flavours and the absolutely perfectly cooked chicken which just comes apart with the lightest touch. The truffle oil was a nice addition, though subtle as it should be. The soup’s flavours are very complex and I find it hard to describe without using atmospheric examples. So I will do just that: If you need a flavoursome pick-me-up, then I cannot imagine a better dish. Chicken soup is a traditional part of many cultures and has thousands of different faces and recipes. This one is a success, and even though it may be a step further from what you are used to, it will still instil the well-known comfort of the chicken soup your mother made for you when you had a cold.
Next up is the “all day munchie” roasted pork belly with crackling (Siew Yuk) with wasabi honey mustard sauce. Oh lordy, not much you can do to improve on an old classic that is pretty much been around for thousands of years. The southern Chinese style fried pork belly has been one of my favourites for years and quite often I found myself scouring the cities of southern China to find the very best version of this simple yet delicious dish. I won’t say too much about the meat itself, it tastes genuine, it’s good, if you love this kind of dish anyway, you will love this too. The kicker is the addition of the wasabi honey mustard sauce, which just works incredibly well. I was truly impressed with the combination since it felt like I learnt a secret about one of my favourite types of food, you go well with wasabi, who would’ve known? Thank god for fusion.
Next up: Signature Capellini Pasta and Garlic Prawn served with homemade dried Shrimp. Sambal Belacan.
Its pasta with dried shrimp infused olive oil, shrimp floss and a half boiled egg for 25 rm. Now this dish is a large shrimp atop a bed of capellini pasta, covered with a thin blanket of shrimp floss with sauces put around the edge. Now this dish will be polarizing. I can best describe the dish as being a distant cousin of the popular Nasi Lemak. Its mixture of sauces and ingredients needs to be mixed up to be fully enjoyed, since by themselves the shrimp fluff and the sambal sauce are too fragrant.
Mixed up you have a dish which is quite salty and very flavourful. If you enjoy anchovies, then you will enjoy this dish. The shrimp fluff is reminiscent of salted fish, but with the shrimp finish, the capellini pasta replace the rice in a Nasi Lemak and the half boiled egg does its part to dampen the strength of the flavours somewhat. All in all this dish is still infused with very strong flavours and some might find it too salty, so beware. If you don’t enjoy Nasi Lemak, most likely this dish is not for you. One thing that surprised me was the large prawn on top was fried in a way that the shell was really good. Yes I know most people dislike eating the shell and go to the trouble of peeling it. I don’t, I’m not much for fiddling around with food when I’m wearing my evening dress. I dare you to eat the whole prawn, head and all and am quite sure you will be surprised at how good the whole thing works together.
At this point we were unsure as how to continue our meal, there are a variety of cakes available, ranging from 10-15rm and my companion assured me that they were delicious. They were however not made in-house and I felt it would defeat the purpose of coming here in the first place, so instead we opted for another “all day Munchie” .
Signature Char Siew Skewer with Homemade chilli and Lime. A single Skewer with a large chunk of pork on it and a small bowl of Chilli and Lime. The pork, was prepared with a sweet bbq style, in the southern Chinese style. Something in itself with lots of flavour that doesn’t need any supplementing sauce. I had however earlier been surprised by the wasabi honey mustard sauce, so I was willing to give this homemade chilli and lime sauce a chance as well. Now to my tender and easily irritable western pallet this chilli sauce was too strong, too spicy and almost took away the delicious flavours the pork had. So except for the first bite I decided to leave the sauce and just enjoy the sweet sauce already on the skewer. My companion however enjoys spicy food a lot more than me and she enjoyed the chilli, even though we both agreed it was quite overpowering.
Last dish, and I realise now that we were quite greedy that day… : Caramelised Spicy Fried Siew Yuk (Pork Belly with Crackling) with Chilli and Garlic. Ok, this dish is dangerous. Mainly because it smells so good that you will end up shoving it in your mouth before the caramel has cooled off and burn the roof of your mouth like I did. Once you stop crying and return from the fetal position to your chair, it will have cooled off enough to be thoroughly enjoyed. How can you make something as awesome as pork belly with crackling any better? Cover it in sugar, fry it, and give it a subtle but definite spicy finish. Now this is the way I like my spice. It starts of just being sweet and hot and scrumptious and not until after you’ve swallowed it for a few second don you realise that there was actually some chilli there as well. A good spicy finish, proper bite with the delicious meat and just caramel goodness throughout. This is a decadent dish for sure, but every item on every menu ever that started with “caramelised” has been a decadent dish.
All in all Monkey Garage has a lot of enticing dishes. I found quite a few Chinese and Malay flavour influences and have to say I am still curious as to many of the dishes I couldn’t try. It has a lot of room for groups and the pricing is moderately placed so I’m sure this place will become “the hangout” for some. The service was friendly and attentive all night. In conclusion, for meat eaters a definite yes, for wine drinkers a definite yes, I can say this place is far from traditional but more than a fad. I love the concept of the entire place and am sure that it’s worth a visit, even for a sober vegetarian.