Chapel Street is arguably one of Melbourne's most visited leisure hubs; housing a vibrant collection of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars running from South Yarra all the way to St Kilda East, the chances of you not stumbling into your next favourite haunt would be pretty slim. From classy to casual, modern to rustic or specialised to just down right quirky - there is literally something for just about everyone.
We’ve missed our tram on more occasions than we care to admit, having to walk down the entire length of the street as a consequence. So trust us when we say, there's definitely something for everyone.
Discovering Three Monkeys amongst Prahran's myriad of eateries was not an easy task. What attracted us the most during our research, was it's offering of Creole, Cajun and Caribbean food in a fun and casual setting.
We can safely say that we hadn't encountered any of these cuisines before and could probably count on the fact that this would be a pretty exciting dining experience.
And so, without further ado, here is our Three Monkeys venture.
When locating this place - not that it's hidden in some laneway, off the beaten track - you do need to keep your eyes peeled.
LiLi had no luck finding any signage with the words "Three Monkeys" even though we were sure we were on the right end of Chapel. It wasn't until after JoJo directed her to a sign with an actual picture of three monkeys, did we stumble into it! This is what you're after:
You just can't miss it.
When we walked in, we were greeted with an arty forefront that accommodated the bar, the house DJ and a distressed but relaxed couch setting. As quirky as this was, we were however more interested in the al fresco area out the back. It was beautiful out there with the sun draped over the tattered wooden furnishings and wall murals.
The outdoor area was accented with thoughtful touches - fresh flower arrangements in repurposed alcohol bottles for example - a really enticingly chill spot.
It was fairly quiet, but then again, we'd thankfully missed the lunch time rush, so pretty much had the run of the back yard. We chose one of the few two seater tables based on its close, intimate, deep-eye-gazing qualities. Just kidding.
Or are we.
Whatevs, It had the best spot for lighting.
After being seated, we were presented with water and some menus - but it did take some time. It was pretty difficult to settle a main with so many enticing dishes. We weren't going to pull a Ding Tai Fung this time, exercising a reasonable degree of restraint (after we asked about the baked brie which, fortunately for our waistbands, wasn't available).
Anyway, here's what we ended up with:
Chicken and Beef skewers with salad and jalapeño sauce
A rich blend of vegetables and chorizo sausage finished with local organic mussels and prawns, served over rice
Caribbean Jerk Chicken ($20)
Day long marinated wings and drumettes in a traditional jerk seasoning and oven roasted. Served on coconut and pea rice
Fresh Coconut Juice ($7.50 each)
Served in a coconut
Other than the fact that our coconuts were served with their own tiny umbrellas - the other cool thing about this place is that for an extra $7.50, you could fill it with rum!
Not a hell of a lot we can say other than the fact that this hit the spot - it was pretty hot and humid. One does not simply not coconut in times of hot humidity.
Our share platter was out reasonably quickly, but we have to say that we expected a little more. It featured char-grilled meat skewers, a small bowl of dressed salad and a small vessel of jalapeño dipping sauce. It looked and smelled pretty good.
The meat was nicely marinated - slightly sweet but deliciously tangy at the same time. The sauce was excellent with the chicken; it's zesty and vibrant characteristics paired well with the sweetness of that bird. We were however, a little more attracted to the other hot sauce offerings on the table.
The Habanero & Mango sauce complemented the chicken insanely well and was probably our favourite sauce on that table; we both considered picking up a bottle locally. The Chipotle BBQ sauce complemented the beef skewers with it's robust smokiness. Pretty pleased with the Melbourne Hot sauce Company - good work guys!
And yes, if you're wondering, we did try the Bhut Jolokia sauce. Jo reckons she's pretty good with spicy food, but this little guy numbed her senses almost immediately.
This might not be one for the faint-hearted; a smidgen on the end of a fork prong would floor most people. You can try to look brave, but in the end, there is only one winner and it is these ghost peppers.
It took a lot of expletives and sipping on our coconuts to restore some of the taste receptors in our mouths - about fifteen minutes, which thankfully was the length of time it took for our mains to come out. Maybe save your courage showboating for your last couple of spoonfuls of food!
Upon first impressions, the Jerk Chicken looked like a hearty meal you'd really enjoy on a cold winter's night: chicken, coconut and pea rice in a soothing broth. Look at that photo. It belongs on the front of Country Chicken Winter Weekly or something. Jo is an awesome photographer. Love her.
I mean, what?
What stood out for LiLi was the lovely hit of cinnamon peppered onto that tender chicken and of course, the fragrant rice - it appeared to be infused with thyme and cloves, as well as shavings of coconut. The skin on these chicken pieces was soft and juicy, revealing the tender, moist meat inside.
It was a bit of a messy task but thankfully, the wait staff supply you with lemon water for sticky fingers.
Overall, a well balanced serving of sweet and savoury. Give. Us. More.
Next, we had JoJo's gumbo. Doesn't it look terrific?
Other than being the prettiest thing that you ever did see, this Gumbo also happens to deliver in flavour. Bonus!
JoJo has wanted to try Gumbo for the longest time; thankfully, she wasn't let down. This bowl contained (almost) all of her favourite things: celery, prawns, mussels, chili and rice!
One of the things we enjoyed about this was the fact that you could taste the layers in this dish. The base was a made up of a very simple combination of celery, onions and capsicum - the foundation to most creole and cajun cooking; from there it only got better with the addition of a savoury, tangy broth - maybe a hint of lemon in there? We don't know, but the whole thing was insanely comforting. Comforting in a way that it was complex without being pompous about it.
For those with texture issues, the addition of okra made this a memorable dish to us but may not do it for you. Okra has a bit of a slimy and sticky texture - it's just one of it's attributes which happens to work quite well in this stew. If it's not for you, thats cool: push it to the side but be warned, we're totally going to judge you.
The prawns were cooked to perfection, as were the mussels. No real complaints about this dish other than the fact that the dish was deceptively bigger than previously thought. There's a whole island of rice under that broth and seafood.
Quite the struggle to get through
There was a food item I was set on from the start. This was the Caribbean Jerk Chicken because, well, I'm a jerk! Probably one of the most reliable ways to choose food :)
I especially enjoyed guessing what spices were rubbed into this chicken which seeped into the skin. I imagine traditional creole food encompasses these same spices and it was certainly an interesting time for me. This isn't food I usually eat and was pleasantly surprised throughout the whole meal.
The main standout flavours were cinnamon, thyme and nutmeg and they all worked well baked into the chicken pieces. The coconut and pea rice was a yummy touch and so dissimilar to what you'd find in traditional Asian cuisine. It's just another way to enjoy coconut rice really. If you can't tell, I love coconut rice and anything coconut flavoured.
I liked having fresh coconut juice. Only downside was that they didn't cut a big enough hole to allow you to scrape the inside meat. I would have enjoyed it more if we had this opportunity. We tried ruthlessly using our straws to try grab what we could but it was just disappointment over and over.
It took a while to be served and I didn't think it was that busy considering there was only two other groups around us. The decor was very artsy and I did admire some of the artwork on the walls. I loved the DJ rocking beats even to a small crowd. I think this place would be best to come by for a drink with mates. The food was decent enough and I thought it was good to try something different but I'm not rushing to get back there at the same time.
Not a terrible first experience with Southern style dishes - I would have enjoyed it a little more had service been a little more attentive that day, but I'll get to that in a bit.
Focusing on the positives - beautiful outdoor area! A nice quiet spot, away from the hustle and bustle of Chapel Street; you would think you were transported miles and miles away from Melbourne. If you get the chance to during summer, enjoy your meal out there. The soft glow from the painted walls, fresh flowers was such a treat and made the dining experience quite pleasant.
My gumbo was pretty good, although I'd like to have another crack at it, sans bhut jolokia burn. I messed up there for sure and I didn't learn from my mistake after that. The chilis must have addled my brain a little, because I also ended up splashing a bit more of the habanero sauce over my gumbo. That aside, I enjoyed this stew immensely, but I don't see how I couldn't - most of my favourite things were in that bowl!
I tried to finish my meal with an iced latte (to curdle and die in my stomach after all those chilis) and gave the waiter a good twenty minutes before I decided to call it quits and just pay for my meal and leave - it was then that he realised that he had forgotten about me, apologised and left the latte off my bill. Pretty kind of him - it was a great iced latte to his credit, but a bit of a bummer to end the meal like that.
Overall: service was friendly once you got it, food was good and an amazing hidden al fresco area that I will be adding to my Chill Al Fresco Places list.
Food and Drink: ★★★☆☆
Customer Service: ★★★☆☆
General Atmosphere: ★★★☆☆
Value for Money: ★★★☆☆
Food and Drink: ★★★☆☆
Customer Service: ★★☆☆☆
General Atmosphere: ★★★☆☆
Value for Money: ★★★★☆
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