Before you ask, it’s pronounced “Monkey House”. (I don’t know why they removed the vowels.) MNKY HSE is a Latin American restaurant-cum-nightclub that opened in London’s Mayfair in October, a few doors up for Mahiki on Dover Street, and around the corner from the Ritz hotel.
There are stern heavy black doors adorned with a metal monkey face guarding the entrance, while gauzy black curtains cover the window so you can’t see inside. The ground floor is designed for drinking and dancing, with a bar at the back and decks set up for a DJ.
The lighting is soft, with tables arranged around the edges of the room to allow space for cavorting later in the evening. Waiters deliver drinks so you don’t have to queue at the counter. The mood is a little surreal and playful – on the walls are gilded framed paintings of tattooed women, leopards in red jackets and superheroes in blue nylon.
When I arrived at 6.30pm for a drink, there were a few business people chatting over pisco sours, but it was not too loud or raucous. There was red-leather book listing champagne (including Jay Z’s Ace of Spades Gold Brut at £1,300), spirits (lots of different mezcals, tequilas, cachacas, premium rums and whiskies) and cocktails stirred or shaken according to original MNKY HSE recipes.
Most of them sounded too sweet for me (additives include passion fruit foam, guanabana puree, rose dust, vanilla vodka and blackberry compote) so I went for a classic margarita on the rocks (£14). It was supposed to come with smoked salt but regular fine cooking salt dusted the rim of my glass, which was underwhelming.
There are also signatures such as the £55 Blue Monkey made with Johnnie Walker Blue Label, chocolate syrup, cloudberry liqueur, Peychaud’s and whiskey barrel aged bitters and cherry smoke – with an electric cigar on the side. Bizarre. But this is MNKY HSE.
Downstairs is a cavernous subterranean lair, spotlights picking out the amber of polished wooden tables, touches of brass and copper, ochre leather chairs and glinting glassware. It’s beautiful, dramatic and atmospheric – my eye alighting on the low arches at the far that allow for VIP groups to gather for dinner beneath them. Every place setting has a terracotta plate, linen napkin and toy monkey, to remind you of the theme.
We were sat by the DJ decks, which wasn’t a problem at the start of the evening, but it was definitely getting louder (and busier) by 9.30pm. The crowd was distinctly young, glam and moneyed – and I suspected the night was going to become much wilder after I left at 10pm. But that’s the idea of MNKY HSE – it’s a one-stop nightlife spot.
The venue even has its own music director that organizes DJs and live performers. Tracks that define the experience (according to the website) include Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give it Up, and Rayko’s All Around the Watchtower… “Businessmen they drink my wine, plowman dig my earth, none were level on the mind, nobody up at his word.”
Feeding time. The kitchen is headed up by chef Pablo Penalosa Najera, who was previously at the Four Seasons in Bogota, and the menu contemporary Latin American in style. There are echoes of other London restaurants Coya, Lima and Ceviche in the flavours, presentation and ingredients.
Yet again a sharing concept, we were, however, advised to have one small and one large dish each. Rather like a starter and a main in traditional restaurants, I thought. And as I don’t eat meat but my companion (BB) does, there was no sharing to be done in any case – except for the exceptional trio of guacamole (smoked, wasabi and chilli) with thick, crunchy tortilla chips (£12.50).
I moved on to a theatrical serving of heirloom tomatoes, radishes and morito oil (£11) that arrived at the table under a glass dome filled with smoke. The result was unusual but I enjoyed the camp fire flavours and soft texture of the ripe fruit. My companion ordered the popular “aguachiles” (a kind of ceviche) made with yellow tail marinated in orange, ginger, passion fruit and jicama (£17). Soft pork belly tacos and wagyu beef crispy tortillas were other options.
Large plates are split between meat and fish/seafood, with vegetables and rice ordered as separate sides. The waiter encouraged me to go for the MNKY black cod marinated in miso and chilli (£39.95) – he was right, the soft white flesh of the perfect fillet was immediately brought to life by the vibrant sticky glaze. A generous helping of spiced chicken and shishito peppers, charred in all the right places, (£23) was delivered to BB.
Other temptations included short rib with avocado hummus, lamb rack in spicy tomato and hazelnut sauce, Kamchata King crab leg and rock shrimp tempura in spicy mayo. We were curious to try the fried courgette flowers stuffed with goat cheese (£18 for three), which turned out to be alien to look at (strange bulbs covered in a crispy batter) but excellent to eat.
Dessert was some kind of zingy coconut and passion fruit panna cotta. Presentation across the board was artistic with an awareness of how to make colours pop, but it was not overly fussy, which got my vote.
I am sure the staff have a lot to contend with at this restaurant but the people I encountered were all fast, friendly and expert at their job.
Beware of coming to MNKY HSE if you want a nice quiet dinner with business associates, but if you are looking for a place that will impress, and you’re with people who are up for something more lively, this is a great recommendation. It’s ostentatious and expensive but the food is genuinely good and I enjoyed the sultry, sexy, upbeat vibe.
- OPENING HOURS Mon-Fri 12pm-3pm and 5.30pm until late; Saturday 5.30pm until late.
- PRICES Three-course business lunch £24.50. A la carte small plates £8.50-£22.50, mains £16-£55, house champagne (R de Ruinart) £75, wine from £6.50 a glass.
- CONTACT MNKY HSE, 10 Dover Street, Mayfair, London; tel +44 (0)20 3870 4880; mnky-hse.com