I could smell coffee while I was walking up to the cafe. This is a good thing, and generally speaks of good things to come.
One North is a hive of activity during the week, a hub of biomedical and scientific research in the West of Singapore. In a quiet corner of One North Residences, research of a different kind is taking place. Interesting blends of beans are being paired together, in a little corner of Melbourne which has been transported to Singapore - Jimmy Monkey cafe and bar.
I've mentioned Jimmy Monkey in previous posts - their Piccolo latte stands out in particular - and it's a haven for coffee lovers in the West of the island. Jimmy Monkey is also a full service bar and restaurant, and provides a number of good reasons to catch a circle line to One North station.
Anyone who has read the blog before will have a good idea of how this works. Over the course of a series of visits, I order drinks (usually an espresso and cappuccino) that tell me a lot about a cafe, and the quality of coffee. So how did Jimmy measure up?
Fly, my pretty, fly!
Espresso - this was a potent, robust and strong shot with a lingering aftertaste, but also a good balance of taste and flavours. This is not surprising - Jimmy Monkey's Ironbark blend is a combination of beans from Brazil (Cerrado), Papua New Guinea (Sigri), Columbia (Kachru), Guatamala (La Laguna) and Peru (Amazonas). There is also a Columbian single origin blend available, which works well in pourover coffee. Each bean variety contributes something unique to the shot - hints of citrus, and even some chocolate notes. Ironbark is a blend that is still evolving, and is now on it's third iteration (version 3.142, according to the note on the grinder - a nice in joke, along with some pop culture references hidden on the menu! It doesn't take a lot to make my day). The experimentation has paid off, leaving a full bodied shot with a lingering aftertaste. The home made biscotti is a nice touch, with hints of orange complementing the citrus notes in the shot.
The cappuccino below was notable for the initial strong hit of coffee flavour, complemented by smooth, light foam and finished with well executed latte art. The microbubbles in the foam add the smooth, silky mouthfeel that I look for, and is seen in quality cafes. This is where Ironbark is used to good effect - the lingering aftertaste is a strong base for a milk based drink, ensuring that the fundamental coffee character is retained.
I had a Piccolo also, which is characterised by a more robust coffee taste, with the aftertaste lasting through the milk and foam. The milk complements the robust coffee flavour, smoothing it but not smothering it, creating a hybrid which retains the best characteristics of each - its just right and well executed. Their original place in the piccolo latte hall of fame post is deserved, and retained. There are also pourover, syphon and chemex coffees available.
The effort that has gone into setting up Jimmy Monkey is evident in a number of ways. The interior is almost industrial, with high ceilings, a smooth cement barista counter and some quirky touches hidden in plain sight (hint - look up at the ceiling when you are inside. You'll know it when you see it). A Giesen roaster sits across from a Slayer machine, one of only two in Singapore at present. Slayer machines are expensive - really expensive - and for good reason. They offer significant levels of control over a number of variables (pressure, temperature etc), and have some clever design features - notably, the double ristretto that makes up every shot. A ristretto differs from a conventional espresso shot, in that it is comprised of the first ten seconds of extraction from a shot. As a result, ristrettos are punches of flavour, which are never watered down. Ristrettos are a good choice for milk drinks, as the underlying characteristics of the shot are not lost in a sea of milk. From speaking to the staff, and from the quality of coffee served, I doubt that this would happen here.
A quality machine is a good start, but the quality of the staff is an even more important factor. This is where Jimmy Monkey shines. The staff are attentive without being intrusive, picking up small details that might go unnoticed - for example, spotting that it was my wife's birthday and getting a cake ready without being asked. Small things like this result in customers becoming regulars.
Cafes which celebrate coffee geekery (Papa Palheta, you are sorely missed) are to be treasured, and the owner, Michael, was considerate enough enough to talk in detail about the Slayer machine. The level of detail was telling - down to the description of modifications to group heads to prevent heat loss, and of modifications to compensate for the loss in pressure and heat when multiple shots are pulled in quick succession. Coffee conversations like this result in me attaining a state of coffee nirvana, or in my case, nerdvana.
I don't normally comment on food, but this is a good place to see a busy kitchen in action, with a kitchen crew that turn orders around quickly, but who still take the time to check and plate carefully. The end results work, with some impressive creations crosing the counter. They don't skimp on portions either. It can fill up quickly though, so it's advisable to stop by earlier in the morning - there are no reservations on weekends, but the staff are flexible and helpful.
Since opening, Jimmy Monkey has been a regular part of my coffee treks around the island. Based on todays (and previous) visits, I'd recommend that anyone who likes quality coffee do the same.