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Wednesday 30 January 2013

Hey, Hey, It's the Monkeys...

In his usual hilariously non-PC manner, Prince Philip once observed, "if it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and flies but is not an aeroplane and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it."

During my four years in Asia, I've eaten chicken's feet, jellyfish and abalone. I've gawped at deep fried scorpions and sniffed a black thousand year old egg (but politely declined to actually eat it). I've seen menus including various unappealing sounding offal dishes and even meats like sparrow and turtle. Although I've never come across a meal including the much fabled monkey's brain, frankly I really wouldn't be surprised if this delicacy was more than just a myth.

Feeling suitably sick now? 

In that case, let me introduce the newest Hong Kong dining spot, Three Monkeys...

No need to go ape though, this isn't a specialist monkey joint, in fact, the primate name has nothing to do with the cuisine served up there, but instead takes its name from the Japanese proverb of the Three Wise Monkeys. Following hot on the heels of the success stories of other new Izakaya-style HK hot spots, Three Monkeys is a Japanese gastropub specialising in yakitori.

Officially throwing open its doors to the public on 15th January, I decided to head down and check it out last Thursday while it was still fresh out of the box. 

The restaurant is a two-storey space perched at the Sheung Wan end of Hollywood Road right opposite the Blue Butcher and the Press Rooms. Bright and airy with big windows and high ceilings, Three Monkeys has a slightly gritty, industrial feel with its exposed light bulbs and metal beams. Happily bucking the growing trend for no-reservations restaurants, Three Monkeys takes bookings but make sure you get in there well in advance, the restaurant was packed to the rafters when we settled down to eat at around 8pm.

To kick things off we ordered a round of cocktails and some edamame to keep us going while we decided what to order. Ten minutes later the edamame had been decimated but we were still waiting for those cocktails... A quick word with the manager and we were told our drinks would be another five to seven minutes but if we wanted 'a simpler cocktail like a vodka and soda', that would be ready faster... Tempting as quick liquor sounded (even if it was just a vodka & soda) we decided to stick to our original drinks, but decided to order a second round which we correctly guessed would be served right around the time that we'd thirstily downed our first round...

We then got down to the important business of picking our food. Wanting to make sure that we got through as much of the menu as possible, we ordered up a great feast of numerous dishes to be shared between us.

We started with Kani Croquette - croquettes of crab, Hokkaido cream, soft onions and asparagus. I loved these miniature crabcake bites with their crispy coating and creamy middle packed with crab. The boys were less enamoured finding them a bit too rich and creamy.

Starter gobbled, the parade of skewers began... 

Early favourites were a couple of beef dishes - the Angus rib which was served topped with a finger-licking good spring onion daikon ponzu dressing and the Kalbi - beef rib grilled with spring onion, garlic and chili.

While the boys liked the GYU-Tongue - thick-cut ox tongue served with a dollop of wholegrain mustard (a Three Monkeys speciality), I can never quite get over the wellington boot texture and the fact that it's a tongue... (I'm a baby!)

The Pork skewers arrived next and received mixed reviews. We all loved the Tomato Bacon skewers - three cherry tomatoes wrapped in bacon - what's not to love? The only slight warning, eat these quickly at your peril, the middles of the tomatoes are molten hot...

The Kurobuta Belly skewer which came topped with shiso leaves and sea salt was also delicious, buttery soft and full of flavour.

Pork Loin deviled with basil & corn was unanimously declared too sickly sweet and a little disappointing.

While the pork belly wraps which came with romaine lettuce leaf wrappers and a scrummy sesame sauce were messily devoured in seconds.

Next up, another Three Monkeys speciality, Tsukune -
a skewered minced chicken meatball served with an egg yolk. This is my top dish at Yardbird, so I'd been looking forward to sampling the Three Monkeys version.Immediate minus point for presentation as the egg yolk was broken when served. But more disappointing still, the meatball was a really unpleasant texture, so full of gristle that we only ate a tiny nibble each before sending the rest back untouched. 

Our second chicken skewer pulled it back again though - the Negima - chicken thigh skewered with picant scallions. We fought over the last couple of cubes of tender meat to mop up the puddle of tangy sauce.

We finished off with the lamb chop (rather confusingly listed under the beef section of the menu...). Which while perfectly tasty, was nothing particularly special and seemed a little bit out of place alongside its skewery menu mates.

Last but not least a closing Korean kick from the Kimchi Kurobuta - thinly sliced stir fried pork topped with a generous heap of garlicky kimchi.

The bill for three of us came in at HK$1,739 (food and three round of drinks) which seemed a little bit punchy.  

Definitely still in its early infancy, Three Monkeys has a few teething issues to sort out. It calls itself a pub, and it definitely delivers on the buzzy, pubby atmosphere. Cocktails are unusual and generally delicious but a fifteen minute wait is pretty poor. Pick carefully and the food's scrumptious, great for sharing and the perfect accompaniment to a couple of post-work drinks. I'll definitely be heading back again in a few weeks to give the monkeys another go. 

And when all's said and done, yakitori are infinitely more appealing to my unadventurous, Western palette than jellyfish and chicken's feet...

Three Monkeys
G/F, 151 - 155 Hollywood Road,
Sheung Wan
+852 3151 7771

1 comment

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