Reviewed by TONY LOVE
A RESTAURANT specialising in Nepalese cuisine reaches heights of excellence.
Dinner: 5.30pm-late, Mon-Sat.
Seating: 100, plus 25 courtyard.
Wheelchair access and facilities: Yes.
Owner and chef: Kashi Ram Poudel, pictured with his wife, Kamala. (left)
IT’S trekking season in the Himalayas – and no doubt there’s plenty of action at the top of the world where personal achievement in extreme circumstances is the order of the day. You don’t have to go so far nor risk life so dramatically for other adventures from the same region. You can eat your way to the top, for instance, at several Nepalese restaurants scattered around our inner suburbs, Sagarmatha in Stepney and Parkside’s Namaste among them.
More prosaically named, Kensington’s Taste of Nepal, previously Namaste on the Parade, has a sense of formality about it which sub-continental cultures love to present to Western diners.
It’s hardly surprising, because if you were after an authentic Nepalese experience you would be eating, with your hands, a diet of fairly bland vegetable, lentil and rice plates – simple flavours, with, of course, quite a bit in common with a northern Indian diet, if somewhat muted in the spicing department. Westernised, we get cutlery, more abundant menu choices, richer ingredients and the pleasure of a wine and beer list beyond traditional fermented millet and rice drinks.
You also get a lovely, warm vibe in the room that comes from subtle colourings, plenty of richly toned artwork, posters, photos, textiles and handiworks, double linen table deckings, and the pleasant sounds of quite traditional music at a subtle volume.
So there’s a sense of respect for diners’ hearing as well as an encouragement to sink deeply into a Nepalese “zone” for a few hours.
Civilised subtlety is the mode also for the waiting staff, nicely attired in vests, well-mannered, timely, and also most helpful when it comes to the tricky questions about spice levels for a curry that proclaims it’s “hot”. Here, we get the cut-to-the-chase-answer for Nepalese cuisine; if you can handle hottish Indian dishes, then this should be a walk in the park.
You need to keep up your fluid levels in these heights, so a regional beer seems to be a fair request – Kingfisher is popular in Indian diners but here it’s a bottle of Taj Mahal, which has the aromatics of many common Chinese and Thai lagers. Rich reds can also handle this food, and there’s excellent value on the wine list with very fair mark-ups across the range. A single glass choice was displayed, opened and poured at the table, which is more than can be said for many establishments with lesser trained staff and far steeper prices. Well done.
The menu is set in classic entree, main, seafood and vegetarian sectors with a large list of accompaniments that are essentially mini-serves of curries or dhal through to rices and breads – a cheese and coriander stuffed roti comforting, and offsetting the more flavourful dishes around it.
It’s the kind of set-up where a few people around a big table should order banquet-style for a range of quite interesting, though subtly different, dishes.
Traditional dumplings, steamed, are called momo – here a touch heavy, though tasty with a good tomato inflected achar (dipping sauce) to help them down. Fish marinated in Nepalese herbs and coated with besan (chickpea) flour and ground mustard are fried and very moorish – the fish is big, flaky and somewhat strong, though it’s hard to imagine this dish working with white-fleshed gulf delicacies.
The hot curry is lamb based, rich, distinctive yet not overpowering – the meat a tad tough.
Far more exciting is a main course of marinated lamb cutlets cooked in a charcoal clay oven; the sauce based on the marinade is wonderful, light and tart, with yoghurt peppers, lemon juice and assorted spices – you can taste quite a few of those elements rather than just being swamped by heat. The meat is superbly charcoally, the ribs big, some double boned, and its foil of spinach and dhal well matched.
Dessert time in Indian eateries seems to be a love-it or leave-it exercise, with rich, dark spice flavours and condensed-milk sweetness splitting palates into two camps. Here, laal mohaan, made from milk powder, are like gulab jamun, drenched in very sweet syrup that is right at the outer limits for sugar addicts. A Himalayan ice cream with evident cardamom, pistachios and a very creamy, almost toffee-like texture, can only please the fans of such overt characters.
Lighter diets and palates will be comfortable with the house chai that’s milky, sweet-spiced and the perfect weight and taste to match all those aromas and flavours swimming around.
Unless you’ve eaten within sight of the Himalayas, it’s hard to know how authentic you could go with this cuisine in a Western setting. All you can go on is the flavour, produce, service and setting equation, all of which are most appealing.
And far more appetising than packets of freeze-dried mountaineer food.