A restaurant bar described to provide “contemporary pan-Indian cuisine with a modern twist” and serves Indian food “tapas-style” probably raises (a threaded) eyebrow or two, and it well should because many things can go wrong when people mess with one of the most beloved cuisines in the world. Thankfully Flying Monkey, one of the newest gastrobars to open up in Singapore’s Kampong Glam heritage district, gets it right more often than not.
Located along Bussorah Street, Flying Monkey is opened by Sumeet Singla, the same owner as behind Pizza Fabricca next door. His idea for Flying Monkey was simple – to rejuvenate the Indian dining scene in Singapore by offering authentic Pan-Indian eats spiced up with some modern touches, and pair them up against classic cocktails with Indian influences.
“I feel there is a lack of fun Indian concept restaurants here in Singapore,” Sumeet explains. “We don’t do fusion as classics should remain classics. All my chefs are hired for their authenticity and passion in Indian cuisine, but every item at Flying Monkey will have a fun element to it.”
We’ve seen how cocktails can go horribly wrong when incorporating ethnic flavours; after all, putting Indian spices into a drink does not a proper balanced cocktail make. To that end Singla appointed veteran bartender Kannan “The Beard” Pillai (pictured above) – formerly of Longplay and The Cufflink Club – to head up the bar. Ethnicity aside – important in understanding the proper use of Indian ingredients – Pillai’s experience behind the bar lends some serious cocktail cred.
And it shows in his drinks. The signature namesake The Flying Monkey ($18++, main picture) is a twist on an Old Fashioned using – unsurprisingly – Monkey Shoulder blended malt whisky, but cleverly melds Indian flavours through ginger liqueur and jaggery – a common Indian ingredient made from sugarcane and date palm not unlike gula melaka – balanced with some bitters for a pleasant balance of sweet, bitter and spicy.
Then there’s the Mind It! ($18), a version of a gin sour served on ice, but strongly scented with enough jasmine to remind you of an Indian wedding. Floral and refreshing, this is perfect for a blazing hot day.
Alternatively there’s Yo Yo Mani ($18++, above), an interesting cocktail that’s made somewhat creamy with the use of five spice Kerala blended rice syrup and coconut cream, in addition to Plantation rum, coconut water and coconut rum. The drink, Pillai shares, was inspired by the thin spiced rice gruel his grandmother used to feed him as a child when he was ill. We’d happily swallow this adult alcoholic version.
Any cocktail take on traditional Indian beverages can be somewhat tacky, especially when it comes to lassi. But Pillai’s Goa Mamma Lassi ($20++) is competent enough using mango, passionfruit, Aylesbury vodka, Plantation rum, milk and yogurt for a fitting tribute.
Less impressive is the Monkey on Fire ($20++), a version of the hot toddy, made with Monkey Shoulder whisky, Grand Marnier, maraschino, honey, spices, and coconut water, that’s served barely warm – because the coconut water is added later – and hence robs one of a full experience. A relook into the recipe may be necessary.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Singapore where you can have great cocktails with proper Indian food. Singla wasn’t kidding about keeping to the classics when it comes to food, and the Tandoori Chicken ($10++), Tulsi Cod ($15++), and Lamb Barra ($15++) at Flying Monkey are about as authentic as you can get. The Calamari 65 ($10++), a seafood take on the Chennai favourite of chicken 65, is perfect bar food, while the Nalli Gosht ($26++) features meltingly tender lamb shank in a sumptuous curry.
The only fusion dish here is the Truffle Naan ($14++), probably an influence from its Italian sibling next door. Served with a paneer mousse and a pear chutney, the combination is pleasant enough but can be utterly confusing.
Otherwise we daresay the food and cocktails are good enough for some monkey business here.