When you come home after a long time, you tend to gravitate to the familiar places, to further reinforce that sense of nostalgia that starts manifesting from the moment of touchdown. Over time, these places change, so the place you return to is never quite the place you left, be it your old bedroom, your college, or even your favourite restaurant.
Monkey bar in Camac street, Kolkata, has been one of those places for me. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve visited this restaurant, located on the 9th floor of a posh building of a rather posh area, with the Victoria memorial and the St Paul’s cathedral in view. The menu is eclectic, modern and bordering on experimental.
I visited Monkey bar yesterday with an old friend. Their menu has now merged with that of Fatty Bao, a Pan Asian restaurant from the floor below. We started off with Asian fare, a prawn and crab bao, followed by spicy, delicious Naga chilli pork stir-fry, washed down with a mocktail that looks deceptively like a sangria, followed by their classic butter chicken khichdi for mains. But I want to focus on one dish from the menu that stood out head and shoulders above the rest.
It was a dessert called “Mango Mia”, a part of a special mango festival they have going right now, featuring dishes like South Indian pepper chicken cooked with raw mango and Bengali style chingri paturi cooked with mango and coconut milk. We decided to go for the dessert, since we felt like a fresh dessert would go well after the heaviness of the pork and the khichdi.
The dish celebrates the classic trio of mango, coconut and ginger, a combo white people call “tropical” and associate with long relaxing vacations in the Bahamas, with a glass of pina colada in one hand, the smell of seawater in the air. For us though, it is the flavour of mango lassi, of aamada, the countless carefree childhood summer afternoons when we gorged on coconut water and mangoes, both ripe and raw. Whatever the context, the flavour pair works, and the dish held promise.
The dish was a play on yellow and white, and the blaze of the setting sun created an almost monochrome effect. The brown of the tuile and the shades of yellow of the mango elements all bathed in gold, with the added effect of light and shadow, created a truly marvellous visual spectacle. Too bad the spectacle was short-lived, as the setting sun which created this beauty was also destroying it slowly, as the beautiful quenelle of ice cream was melting quickly on our plate.
The plating was very dynamic and eye-catching. A yellow disc of panna cotta in the center, with the added visual texture of rehydrated chia seeds, the random dollops of yellow and white, the almost cliched slick across the plate, the jagged shard of tuile: it all worked brilliantly. You might call it pretentious but, to each his own. The edges of the panna cotta were a bit uneven and inexplicable sprig of mint could have been done away with since it hampered with the almost monochrome effect of the dish but once again, I’m nitpicking.
The centerpiece of the dish was a panna cotta, the Italian dessert of flavored cream set with gelatin. The panna cotta in question was made with coconut milk and flavoured with mango. It was topped with rehydrated chia seeds which add little more than visual appeal. The dollops of mango and ginger coulis acted as a fresh foil to the mellow panna cotta, as do the cubes of fresh mango and the slick of mango coulis. The quenelle of coconut ice cream packed a punch, and really helped to round out the flavours.
The crumb underneath the ice cream added some texture, as did the crisp tuile, whose bold flavour of toasted coconut really contrasted well with the milky mildness of the other coconutty elements on the plate. The biggest surprise however, was the meringue. The texture was crumbly as expected, but the flavour of ginger that issued from it when the meringue had disintegrated in the mouth helper cleanse the palate and imbue the dish with an ever so subtle warmth that took it to the next level. Balance and restraint at its finest.
Few desserts strike such a perfect balance of visual appeal, flavour pairing and textural contrast while highlighting seasonality at its finest. It celebrates the mango in all its glory, reinforced by elements which create a superadded effect. It is light and refreshing, perfect for the summertime, and a near-perfect way to end a meal. The festival is on till 19th June so if you’re in town, do try it out. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to go back and sample some of the other dishes from the menu, but the dessert has set the bar very, very high.