Food and Drink
Posted by Jessica Morris
27. Jul, 2015
The legend behind the Monkey King is a funny little tale – the story of an arrogant King whose enthusiasm for entitlement leads to his appointment as Keeper of the Peach Garden of Immortality. After gorging on the peaches, evolving into an immortal and thus causing utter chaos, the King is imprisoned under a mountain to learn a lesson in patience. After 500 years of captivity, the King is released into the new world of 2015, offering Melbourne an unique dining and drinking experience where, like its ruler, there are no rules. Except that peaches will always be on the menu.
The restaurant and bar honours one of the four great classic novels of Chinese literature, the 16th century novel Journey To The West. It is the clever creation of hospitality guru David Zhou (Oriental Teahouse, David’s, Zhou Zhou) and offers up a vast variety of Pan Asian dishes, covering all corners of Asia with Thai fish cakes, Tibetan lamb skewers, China chicken ribs and Vietnamese rice noodle salad. But it is in the drinks menu that Zhou truly concedes his character.
Monkey King does not have a drinking problem. He has an appreciation of alcohol. The King’s rule? If the day ends in Y, there’s a Happy Hour. The MK bar menu is 8 pages long and is going to knock you off your seat. What was most impressive was the excellent selection of not only traditional, but craft beers from all corners of South East Asia, rarely found in Melbourne. The King’s inclination for peaches is honoured across a number of beverages, from the Steinbok Peach Schnapps, to the stone fruit hinted Yoshinogawa Ginjo Gokujo sake, and the Silk Road coacktail, with blends of vodka, lemon and Orgeat, and finished with peach tea.
No matter what people try to say, first impressions matter. Upon entering Monkey King, tucked away in a stereotypical Melbourne laneway adjoined to the behemoth that is Melbourne Central, the effort, enthusiasm, and intent was obvious. Greeted by enthusiastic waiters, amongst a scene of mock authentic, but not overtly contrived decor, the first impressions of this place were one of the most memorable parts of the journey. The service is bold and inviting, delivered with great confidence and not a hint of derision or disdain that can come with the customer service industry.
The Pan Asian menu is an interesting take on the convention, segmenting the offerings into categories, enticing the customer to try more than they intended. As much as I love to eat, I’m useless at choosing, so I leave the options to my dining partner. We indulge in something from almost every section (we’re both massive meat heads, so forgo The Roti Wrap or The Enchanted Garden), working our way from top to bottom of quirky, appropriately named dishes.
By far the most memorable of these are the Cantonese lightly battered prawns, sided with a swanky XO sauce. The Sate Madura chicken skewers are perfectly cooked and come with a satay sauce that is absolutely to die for. Everything we have is loaded with sauce, the perfect accompaniment to the fluffy steamed buns. Despite being filled to the brim with our feast, I’m a firm believer in leaving room for desert (even where there may be none) and are once more delighted with Chinese banana fritters and the very cunning combination of Nutella and peanut butter in a spring roll.
The Monkey Bar offers a variety of specials to enhance the experience and entice the local student population to wet their whistle on a weekly basis. From $8 premium spirits on Monkey Madness Mondays, to the Ultimate Unlimited Lunch for $20 per head from Monday to Thursday, and if you check their Facebook frequently, they’ll pop up a special for anybody who walks in wearing a hat.
The level of attention to detail, without being fake or too contrived, sets Monkey King apart in a saturated Asian food market, especially in the Melbourne Central complex. In a surrounding such as this, there is the temptation to appeal to the mass markets, churn and burn, and chase the dollar, but Monkey King, in my opinion has hit the mark. A nice calm oasis away from the hustle and bustle of city shopping, excellent service, tasty and moorish food, in a very well thought out and impressive space, all for a very reasonable price. This restaurant come bar is definitely worth a visit if you want to escape the rapid pace, and have a relatively inexpensive, high quality meal in a relaxing and authentic environment.
Have an adventure down Menzies Alley; there is always something awesome happening at Monkey King.
Monkey King Bar
69 Menzies Alley, Melbourne Central Shopping Centre, Melbourne
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