The recent monsoon weather left me wondering ‘Where the monsoon is a fact of life; does it have an influence on what you eat?’
An expedition was called for; actually a short drive for Susan and myself to Ripley and an evening at the Kathmandu Gurkha Restaurant on Church Street.
The exterior of the restaurant is smart and tidy; a welcome addition to this busy market town and the interior is not disappointing. The décor is easy on the eye, the lighting is just right and the seating is comfortable and not crowded. The Nepalese have a culture of friendliness and this was extended by our warm welcome from Ishawer Bhattrai, the manager. Ishawer has worked in London in various establishments including time spent at a Michelin-starred restaurant. He introduced us to award winning head chef and owner Bishnu Chand.
Bishnu was keen to tell us about his 16 years in the catering industry and how he has, in that time, amassed a wealth of ideas and dishes from across the sub-continent to create an eclectic array of tempting fare bursting with flavour. He is passionate about fresh ingredients, the use of green not red chillies and the fact that his lamb is lamb not mutton. Also that there’s a healthy aspect to the menu at the Kathmandu with the use of cholesterol free oil.
While we waited for our starters to arrive we nibbled on the warm poppadums and enjoyed the assorted pickle tray. This was a taster of what was to come. Nothing was over spiced. Instead the 3 pickles ranged from a well seasoned mixed vegetable, through a refreshing mint and yoghurt to a slightly sweet, smooth mango.
To get the complete experience I ordered a bottle of Gurkha beer. This is a lager style beer with a rich malt flavour and a lot more taste than most European brews. There’s also a short wine list with something for most tastes.
From the extensive range of reasonably priced starters Susan had the lamb momo – a popular Nepalese dish of minced lamb and herb dumplings. They were served along with a half of tomato, seeds removed and re-filled with a sesame and tomato chutney.
My starter was the chicken sekuwa. This is tender pieces of chicken marinated in yoghurt, turmeric, garlic and Nepalese spices; then baked in a hot clay oven similar to a tandoor. The marinade had flavoured the chicken and kept it moist. Both starters came with a finely sliced salad, dressed with orange, which again was a pleasant balance of spiced meat and refreshing vegetables.
Susan’s main course was khukura masala chicken. This is a roasted chicken tikka cooked in tomato, onion, green pepper, ginger, garlic and Nepalese herbs served in a mildly spiced, tikka style sauce.
I had the recommended sagarmatha special mix malai which was pieces of tandoori chicken, chicken tikka, lamb tikka, seekh kebab, garlic tikka and king prawn sitting on a bed of mild Gurkhali sauce. The sauce has many variations and Bishnu prides himself on the fact that he reinvents and puts his own stamp on all the freshly made sauces. This one was fragrant with a hint of spices and a creamy texture.
All the main dishes at the restaurant are served with a light, freshly baked naan and a pale yellow mound of steaming pillau rice.
The Ripley restaurant is the second of their local venues. The first was opened in Clay Cross several years ago and is a popular destination for diners looking for authentic Nepalese cuisine. The Sunday set meal is especially so; For £10.95 there is an appetizer, choice of starter and main course with rice and naan followed by a dessert.
Bishnu has created and refined many of the dishes on the combined contemporary Nepalese, Indian menu and his unique approach to cooking, along with the presentation and service combined to make our evening memorable and relaxed.
All too soon it was time to leave and although the monsoon had returned it was only a short walk across Church Street to the handy car park.
Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal; a country sandwiched between China and India, and lies in the fertile Kathmandu Valley. It’s somewhere I will probably never visit but if I do I will look forward to the food if it’s as flavourful and enjoyable has we had on that damp June evening.