Date of review: January 23, 2013 | Reviewed by: Charmaine Mok
There’s no doubt that Three Monkeys is easy on the eye. Split over two levels on an attractive position on Hollywood Road (across from Blue Butcher and Classified), it’s the kind of place that turns casual passers-by into rubberneckers – large windows open out onto the street, allowing those on idling on the sidewalk a good glance into the ground floor dining room, dominated by a well-stocked bar and an eye-rolling amount of hipster design clichés. The menu design is pretty impressive, we’ll admit – a kind of Sin City-meets-Japanese woodblock printing aesthetic – and makes a nice change from the status quo. Other than that, there’s nothing much you haven’t seen before: there’s the rough concrete flooring, painted brick walls and exposed lightbulbs; warm wooden tabletops and a marble bar are juxtaposed with steel chairs that just err on the side of uncomfortable. We like the little half-oval “bar” tables set along the wall for dining duos or trios and, upstairs, there’s seating at the robatayaki grill (the extractor fans, thankfully, do a flawless job of sucking up the smoke). As expected, there’s already a healthy buzz about the place.
Flanked by starters and larger “kitchen” items, Three Monkeys’ main draw is their selection of grilled skewers, cooked on a special forged grill from Tokyo’s Kama-Asa iron and knife specialist. There’s a lot of promise, and skewers are priced just below that of its closest rival, Yardbird. The selection isn’t only focused on chicken, with pork, beef, seafood and vegetables playing equal roles to varying levels of success. The foie gras tofu toast, a fancier name given to agedashi-doufu topped with the seared liver and a tangle of daikon and red pepper threads, is tasty but tiny. The surprise standout was okra wrapped in bacon, simply grilled and seasoned with sea salt and black pepper – the meat was grilled to the right amount of crisp, enveloping firm but still slightly gelatinous pieces of okra. Smoky conger eel, also ascetically adorned with flakes of sea salt, comes with a beautifully crisp skin, lightly singed from the grill around the edges. The “riosotto-nigiri” (sic) – mini rice balls stuffed with cheddar is a bit lukewarm and dry, as is the combination of pale pork loin with a creamy devilled mixture of sweetcorn and basil. Tsukune (chicken meatball) is among the lows, mainly down to the amount of unpleasant gristle dotted throughout the meat and the amount of raw egg white sliding about the accompanying yolk. From the “kitchen” section of cooked items (also listed in the “top orders” box on the menu), Obaasan’s wagyu stew (“slow-cooked wagyu brisket topped with foie gras”) is the most cynical dish on our bill. A small bowl consisting of five rubbery beef tendons, two small sliced lobes of liver and no sign of promised brisket left us feeling short-changed. Later, we were told that there was a typo on the menu and that the dish is, in fact, all beef tendon – check beforehand if you intend to order this. But wagyu or not, a better bowlful can be had at Kau Kee a short walk away, for a fraction of the price.
We like the beer and cocktail menu a lot, as we’re big fans of Yona Yona Ale from Nagano-based Yo-Ho Brewing Company, and the drinks mixes lean heavily on aromatic Japanese ingredients, from yuzu to shiso, and premium liquors. It’s well worth starting with the ale as a light palate fresher before moving onto more potent libations.
Absent-minded at best and haphazard at worst, we found the service prior to and during our meal unacceptably amateur. Failure to pass on our booking (made in advance) meant we had to change our plans to make our dining slot on the day to accommodate the restaurant. While staff were apologetic, and the meal started on a good note, multiple reminders to vacate our table on time throughout the meal left a sour taste in our mouths, not helped by the slow service and mistaken or forgotten orders. Our neighbours, too, were at the receiving end of this rushed form of service and left disgruntled. Perhaps this is because the restaurant was fresh out of its soft opening phase (it has been since early December, and recently held its grand opening), and we can only hope the service will improve with time.
Some dishes represent better value than others, but a meal for two with a healthy amount of skewers supplemented by starters and one or two more substantial cooked items will cost upwards of HK$500 per person. While in line with restaurants serving similar food, at this moment we feel there’s a little way to go before it is up to the standard that will justify its prices.