Before we get started, insert all the Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka jokes here. Done? Right.
Boasting chilled beats, dark wood, and Japanese food, this new addition has tongues wagging. Some people are calling it the Japanese Longrain (nice all-wood fit out including a strange mini-forest at the entrance downstairs, an open kitchen, big tables, a separate cocktail bar and lots of friendly waitstaff) but really, it’s more like another Toko (Japanese fusion with cocktails).
Monkey Magic offers a tasting menu for $55pp which makes it easier (and cheaper) if you’re not blessed with the power to choose from the a la carte menu. The kitchen has made some interesting choices. The ‘crispy pork cup’ isn’t quite what we’re expecting – we’re thinking a lettuce leaf filled with tasty crisp little pork bits. Rather, it’s a lettuce cup filled with slightly bitter powdery pork. There’s some sort of sweet tomato sauce under each pile of pork that doesn’t quite work, either. We leave it to move on to the salt and pepper cuttlefish, which fares a little better – nicely presented and lightly fried. There’s also grilled tuna on spaetzle (a type of eastern European noodle dumpling). The tuna is cooked all the way through – a shame really, because it’s perfectly seasoned. Pork belly with pumpkin puree manages to be underseasoned and sweet at the same time. The nigiri plate turns up all the regulars (kingfish, tuna, salmon) but the sushi rice (gasp!) falls apart when my dining companion picks it up. Not good.
The bar is doing some innovative cocktails. There’s a drink named for the awesome Japanese actor Ken Watanabe (you might know him from such films as cult food classic ‘Tampopo’, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, ‘The Last Samurai’ and ‘Batman Begins’) or you could try the Dr Suess – a bit like a psychedelic Absinthe Sour. For all of that though, we’d rather settle for a beer. Happily, they serve those giant cans of Sapporo – you can easily share one between two if you’re on the austerity drive.
People are watching their hip pockets so you really need to be able to offer them something for their dollars. Monkey Magic just doesn’t bring it on the level Sydney expects. Sadly, this isn’t “the punkiest monkey that ever popped”.
Monkey Magic madness
Long a favourite of cocktail connoisseurs and Japanese food fans, Surry Hills restaurant-bar Monkey Magic has hit 2012 in style with the appointment of chef Hideaki Matsumoto to spearhead its kitchen team.
Hailing from restaurant Galileo at the Observatory Hotel, chef Matsumoto has worked closely with hatted chef Haru Inukai and Michelin-starred maestro Masahiko Yomota. During his five years at Galileo, he learned the delicate art of balancing Japanese and French flavours - experience he now brings to his new role as head chef at Monkey Magic.
The relaxed yet buzzing atmosphere of Monkey Magic is perfectly suited to chef Matsumoto’s new menu, a collaboration with general manager Hidetoshi Tsuboi that has resulted in a menu flush with uncomplicated Japanese fusion fare. The focus is on fresh local produce and clean flavours that, says Chef Matsumoto, “create Japanese dishes from a modern perspective, utilising my Western culinary influence.”
Have you heard about Monkey Magic’s mid-week special? Dine and drink Monday to Thursday and get 20 percent off your bill.