Streeterville is a peculiar part of Chicago and so are its dining options. Many locals who don’t live in the area prefer to avoid it; it’s touristy with lots of traffic and Navy Pier nearby. But there’s also a huge residential portion in those high rises who don’t want to live on third-party delivery alone.
Rina and Manish Mallick know this. They brought Rooh to Chicago in 2019 with a successful West Loop location, unveiling a swanky Indian restaurant by presenting butter chicken and other classics along Randolph Restaurant Row, showing South Asian food had a place on the trendy boulevard. They then went independent and formed a new company Soiree Hospitality and followed with Bar Goa, a restaurant with the occasional stand-up comic or DJ that serves bar bites in River North. This was lighter fair with tropical drinks inspired by India’s oceans. They spun Bar Goa into a second location in Time Out Market food hall.
For the Mallicks’s third restaurant idea, they traveled to London where immigrants made chicken tikka masala the national dish. Manish Mallick knows the colonial history between England and India is ugly. South Asians living in England and elsewhere have plenty of reasons not to cheer the coronation. Still, British-Indian food, like curry and chips, is now as English as bangers and mash. It’s yet another diversion away from authenticity as if that word means anything anymore.
This summer, Monarch & Lion will debut inside the former Bellwether, a large space at the corner of Illinois and… Columbus. Rina Mallick is reimagining the idea of a British pub, saying that she thinks of it as a royal ballroom with ornate features like grand chandeliers, wood paneling, and high ceilings. Jazz musicians and other performers will add to the ambiance: “It’s going to be very chill,” she says.
An electric fireplace placed in the middle splits the space. There are bars on each floor. Rina Mallick calls the second floor “the Derby Room” with three TVs and derby-green wallpaper covering the walls. It’s a regal space for special affairs. Monarch & Lion is the Mallicks’ first restaurant with televisions. They hope to attract fans of international sports from cricket to soccer to F1 racing.
The Mallicks have a new chef at Rooh, Boo Kim. He’s worked around Chicago and also lived in India so he’s familiar with cuisine. For the pub, the Mallicks brought in a consultant to work with Kim. Jitin Joshi has worked at one of the best Indian restaurants in the world, Gymkhana (the aromatic biryani with puff pastry is a bucket list item). The restaurant held a one-star Michelin rating since 2014, coinciding with Joshi’s stint as executive chef from 2018 to 2020. Joshi also worked as a pastry chef under Gordon Ramsay. The famous chef recently canceled plans to open a Hell’s Kitchen restaurant in Chicago (the space is once again available for rent). Joshi says Ramsay’s high-intensity approach isn’t one he’d copy. He saw workers quit in the middle of the shifts in tears while working at Maze in London from 2004 to 2005.
At Monarch & Lion, Joshi wants to keep things simple. Fish and chips will use classic recipes using good ingredients. There’s a venison scotch egg on the menu that shows Joshi’s philosophy: “I’m not here to reinvent anything, that’s for sure,” Joshi says.
But along with those items, Joshi has added food with South Asian flair. There’s an artichoke bhaji, an item that follows in the long line of deep-fried Indian fritters. Lamb shank rogan josh and chicken tikka masala (and paneer tikka masala) are other examples. The Sunday Roast is a British tradition and that’s something Monarch & Lion will emulate with classic sides.
Delightfully, there’s also a section devoted to savory pies. For now, the menu plays it safe. There’s no steak and kidney version, but there’s Shepherd’s Pie (made with lamb from Slagel Family Farms), steak & ale, and chicken & leek varieties.
The drink program is headed by Alex Lorenzen. Manish Mallick says they’ll pour a proper Guinness, mix plenty of gin and tonics, and have a big scotch and whisky program. They brewed a beer for Bar Goa and are looking to have a branded beer for Monarch & Lion.
There have been attempts at British Indian food in Chicago. Pub Royale’s cod samosas were fun, but overshadowed by its Pulp Fiction-inspired Royale with cheese. Armitage Ale House, from Hogsalt, has a menu that’s a bit all over the place, but customers have made it one of the toughest tables in town. The Mallicks want to give the pub experience justice, even if they’ve tweaked the formula.
Joshi runs a pub inside the Taj Dubai Hotel. It’s called Eloquent Elephant. Manish Mallick connected with the chef in 2022 via LinkedIn. He sees Monarch & Lion as being a comfortable gathering place for folks living around Streeterville and any interlopers who want to visit.
“Who doesn’t like to go to a pub in London?” says Manish Mallick.
Monarch & Lion, 302 E. Illinois Street, planned for a summer opening.