With a name like Flying Monkey, one does not know quite what to expect. Playful primates gliding through the trees of some tropical island, perhaps? Or a wild party brought about by the copious application of coconut rum?
Or perhaps, quite unexpectedly, an Indian tapas restaurant and cocktail bar?
Those are some words that you don’t often find together.
It’s a complex challenge to blend many South Asian ingredients with contemporary cocktails and spirits. There’s a whole bevy of ingredients that don’t play particularly well with other components in a drink. Spices like cumin, saffron and tumeric have very strong, identifiable flavours, that we love in our curries and spiced desserts. Yet, this potency works against them when you want to taste something other than spice in your drink- even in spiced Glühwein.
That is not to say that the challenges in making Indian-influenced cocktails are insurmountable. One can either balance them with lighter spices, herbs, or ingredients, or embrace their power and make it a showcase. It’s a tricky balancing act- one that we’re not ashamed to have tried and failed at, personally.
Setting the Scene
The man behind Flying Monkey’s bar is Kannan “The Beard” Pillai. The nickname needs no explanation of course, but what of the man himself? The born and raised Singaporean is an alumni of LongPlay, LongChim and Cufflink Club.
Pillai speaks with conviction and passion when he describes his vision for the drinks menu. He is determined to bring the flavours of Indian cuisine into classic cocktails and house them in a cosy, approachable atmosphere.
In the latter, they’ve succeeded. The ambience at Flying Monkey is a blend of quirk and casual chic. A pink sign casts a neon glow over the bar and monkey motifs litter the Arab Street shophouse.
As for the former…we’ve all heard the term classics with a twist before, but this one is a fairly unique twist in Singapore (surprisingly, actually!). Prices are deliberately a little lower than the rest of the cocktail world to provide fair value.
We start things off with a Flying Monkey ($18++), the eponymous bar’s signature cocktail. In it are Monkey Shoulder whisky (hah), King’s Ginger, jaggery syrup and a good drop of bitters. The Old Fashioned twist has a decidedly spicy profile- but more of a pleasant fragrance than gastronomic inferno. It actually has inflections of Turkish delight- the rounded sweet flavours of caramelised confectionery. A satisfyingly syrupy drink that does not cloy.
The Yo Yo Mani ($18++) is a deeply personal creation of Pillai’s. His grandmother used a rice and spice mixture as a cure-all medicine when he was a child, and he drew upon those healing experiences in creating the cocktail. Plantation 3 Stars White & Overproof Rum, Koko Kanu Coconut Rum, coconut water, cream and five-spice Kerala rice syrup are shaken and served in an earthen jar.
The cocktail tastes, as you might expect, like a fusion of rice wine, rum and a spiced Indian dessert. That is to say, it combines notes savoury, sweet, sour and spicy into a well integrated, multifaceted, drink. Full, flavoursome and fantastic.
The Beard also lets us try his Mind It ($18++). Monkey 47 Gin (again, hah) infused with jasmine, maple syrup, mint and lemon. Its metal-clad presentation was inspired by the metal containers used in Indian temples- though the passing resemblance to a Julep is certainly intentional. Also traditional in the temples is the use of jasmine as adornments and garlands- and the flower is the centrepiece on this variant of the Gin Sour.
The cocktail is feather-light and smells heavenly- the perfume of the gods. Yet, despite the allure of the waxy floral fragrance, we found that the drink itself had a smidgen too much tartness. The result is a drink that seems to battle with itself- incongruous, not harmonious. We’d suggest a little more sweetness and a lighter hand with the the citric elements.
The Goa Mamma Lassi ($18++) had a beautiful presentation, but was middling in flavour. Mango, passionfruit, Aylesbury Vodka, Plantation Dark Rum, milk, yogurt. It tastes pretty much like how you’d expect lassi to taste, with a pleasing tart flavour from the passionfruit.
Yet, we were left hanging till the end of each sip for the flavour of the rum to emerge. Doubtlessly, it was overpowered by the yogurt and tropical fruit. It functions well if it was simply a take on the lassi, but as a cocktail, we hoped for a stronger spirit influence.
We were also unimpressed with Monkey on Fire ($20++). Monkey Shoulder Whiskey, Grand Marnier, Maraschino, honey, three-spice and coconut water are used in a take on the Blue Blazer. It is made in much the same way as the classic, with flaming alcohol being “pulled” from mug to mug Teh-Tarik style.
Sadly, with the coconut water added after the rest of the drink was made, the final product feels weak and tepid. The flavours are muted and there isn’t much punch. While it gains points for style and novelty, we can’t recommend it.
As Flying Monkey calls itself a tapas bar, you might be expecting some delectable bites as well. Fortunately, there was a good range of Indian food on offer. The Tulsi Cod ($16++) was flavourful but not overpowering. The dish itself is succulent. A springy to the fish brings the food to life.
We also liked the Truffle Naan ($14++). The char of the Tandoor and the earthy flavours of truffle go so well together we’re almost surprised we have not tried it before. The texture is fluffy, crisp, and not at all doughy. So good it can be eaten on its own- and rest assured we did.
Summing it All Up
We like the ideas that went into Flying Monkey. It’s not often that one sees Indian ingredients used in cocktails, and we applaud the efforts made to use them.
The cocktail menu is a little uneven, and there are both hits and misses. We don’t see that as an Achilles’ Heel. It’s a challenging process to blend cocktails and the Indian ingredients, and there will be some adjustments made along the way, we’re sure. The Flying Monkey and Yo Yo Mani stand out as the best of the crowd.
The food, however, is excellent and we will be sure to partake often of the South Asian tapas. You could do far worse than have a casual outing here.
All this is delivered at a very reasonable price. With the average price around $18++, the drinks are a fair bit cheaper than your typical cocktail bar, and the portions are generous, too. You’re definitely not getting shortchanged.
67 Bussorah Street,
Open daily 11.30am-11pm.