A friend and I caught up at Monster Kitchen & Bar one weekend for brunch. I hadn’t been to Monster since mid last year. It’s changed a little bit with the addition of a new ‘wing’ on the left hand side at the top of the stairs. There seems to be a few sitting areas – one half of the new wing is filled with banquettes, a glittery wall and funky mirrors surrounded by lights, another area is filled with a range of chaise sofas in flower print and comfy chairs with low tables – great for a drink and a few nibblies.
We sat at one of the banquettes for breakfast. I must admit that nothing on the breakfast menu really jumped out at me. And I was surprised that there was no pancake/hotcake option. I decided on the grilled sobrassada, pickled green tomato, fried egg, manchego in a ciabatta roll ($13). The sobrassada tastes similar to a chorizo with lots of cured meat saltiness but with a more refined texture. Basically it tasted leaner than chorizo with finely ground pork mince and no gristly fatty bits. The pickled tomato added the necessary acidity to cut through the rich meatiness. The ciabatta roll is crunchy and one whole side is covered in melted manchego cheese. I love the distinct flavour of manchego – bitey, nutty, sharp. A cheese you pay attention to. I never used to eat cheese until I moved to Canberra. Now it has become an essential part of morning teas/party snacks/picnics. This was another twist to the bacon and egg roll which isn’t too filling.
Perusing the bar menu, we realised the really good stuff on the menu was served after 12pm, so we headed back to Monster during another weekend for lunch. Prices are expensive so I decided to try a few of the smaller bar snacks to fill me up. The buttermilk fried quail with sriracha sauce ($8 for half) was served in a small hot iron skillet with the sriracha on the side. The half quail is tiny but I liked the fried well-seasoned skin and the heat that the sriracha provides.
My friend loves the 38 hour pork neck bao with cucumber kimchi ($9 each) and ordered two for herself. I tried this during my previous visit to Monster and remember it was tender and tasty. I’m sure it’s also got something to do with the fact that Head Chef Sean McConnell is Andrew McConnell’s brother, of Melbourne’s Supernormal pork bao fame.
The Hiramsa kingfish crudo with burnt ruby grapefruit, pickled fennel, Ortiz anchovy and radish ($19) came served on a large plate drizzled in olive oil. The kingfish was sliced thickly but I didn’t find it as tender as I expected. There was crunchy cabbage and radish on the plate to provide some contrast to the soft kingfish. I thought the grapefruit was too sour and completely overpowered the kingfish. There was also quite a lot of sour grapefruit juice squeezed over everything so I found it overwhelmed everything else on the plate. If only it wasn’t too sour.
I was still ravenous after eating the small bar snacks so I ordered the Dutton Park duck breast, spiced quince, smoked walnuts and fennel soubise ($29). The duck breast was cooked to perfection with tender plump pink meat and deliciously sweet duck skin with the tiniest layer of fat that just made it more juicy. The spiced quince wasn’t spicy in terms of heat, but I thought it was wonderfully partnered with the duck by adding a delicate sweetness to the dish. A well executed dish.
For dessert, I ordered the rhubarb, strawberry and pink peppercorn crumble with chamomile ice cream ($17). Served in another iron skillet, the dessert was still very hot. There was plenty of crumble on top with a thick layer of baked strawberry and rhubarb underneath. This concoction was rich and tasted like it had been cooked for a long time to get that level of thickness. I’ve never had the strawberry and rhubarb combination before and am happy to report that they co-exist peacefully with both ingredients being tart but sweet, no doubt with the help of sugar added to the dish. I loved the large chunks of buttery crumble. The chamomile ice cream seems like a calming element to offset the ‘busy-ness’ of the crumble. The ratio of ice cream to crumble leans heavily towards the crumble side, with the ice cream melting instantly. As expected, I was soon left with no ice cream and a lot of strawberry and rhubarb to finish which got richer and richer. More ice cream please! Too shy to ask, I left some of the strawberry and rhubarb behind.
On another visit to Monster, I was only there for dessert. There are always 4 dessert options but sometimes I have trouble visualising what something would be like from the description. That was the case at Monster so I asked a waiter what was good for dessert. He asked whether I liked chocolate (yes!) and he suggested the ‘Turkish delight’ dessert ($18) with soft chocolate mousse, rosewater foam, raspberry ice cream, pistachio sponge, berry gel, and dried red currants. I agreed and it was brought out about 15 minutes later. This was a pretty dish and I couldn’t help but stare at it for a while looking at the soft glistening coat on the chocolate mousse, the sheen on the perfect quenelle of ice cream and the dried flower petals adding a soft feminine touch. Oh yes, food porn. This dessert really did taste like a Turkish Delight. All elements played an important role in bringing it together. I especially liked the ice cream and rosewater foam. The chocolate mousse was a harder texture than expected and a bit too gelatinous for my liking.
Overall, Monster Kitchen & Bar provides an interesting selection of dining options. The breakfast menu doesn’t really tempt me but I would go back to try more bar snacks, mains and desserts. This is not a place most people would dine at regularly, especially if you were starving, as prices are expensive and portion sizes are small. Worth a try if you’re just wanting something to graze on. As mentioned above, there’s an assortment of seating to choose from – whether you just want a drink and some light snacks, or share a few plates with friends. After your meal, you should relax by the fireplace for a few minutes or 20. That’s what I did! It feels like a place I could take my lap top to and keep ordering bar snacks and drinks (they do some nice non-alcoholic drinks like an elderflower and cucumber soda). There’s a mix of families, friends, couples and suits at Monster – an enjoyable experience for all.
Service could be improved. On the multiple occasions I was there, it was difficult to get the attention of staff to order our food / order more drinks. I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do when I get there – I usually stand around hoping for a staff member to show me to a table (happened once), but end up walking over to find my own table when there’s no staff around (happened twice). There’s no sign stating diners must wait to be seated, so maybe that’s my bad. Service is pleasant when received and at least the food doesn’t take long to come out.
Value for money 6.5/10