Nepali Times
A gourmet's guide to kathmandu

Two weeks after the Dasain feasting, Nepalis (at least those who can afford it) will be gorging themselves once again. After all it is Tihar, certainly a much more colourful and brighter festival than Dasain. And there is no better place for these Epicurean delights than Kathmandu.

The capital offer s a varied choice for those who want to break the greasy sel-roti routine. We present a selected survey of eateries that is intended to serve as a guide to both tourists and Nepalis who want to make the best of the holiday by going on a gastronomical tour.

Wunjala Moskva is one restaurant that serves the best of Kathmandu's Newari cuisine combined with what once adorned the tables of Russian aristocrats. Moskva (Tel: 415236, 241811) serves exotic preparations that you may not find in restaurants anywhere in the world, not even in esoteric cookbooks. Where else can you find dishes with names which would make any Nepali's mouth water spontaneously like Pavlov's effect: chhwela, chatamari and woh.

Dinner at Moskva's spacious traditional setting comes packaged with glimpses of Newar culture. Moskva takes into account the festivities and the Newari New Year and may have something special this Tihar. There are the Newari specialties like me mana (boiled water buffalo tongue) for example, that comes with enough ayla (home-made rice liquor) to wash it down. The main Newari dinner will set you back Rs 1000-there's a trimmer menu for those not confident of tackling the set menu, which can be had for Rs 700.

That's just the Newar bit, the Russian concoctions are equally tempting. You can go Russian by starting with zakuski-a platter of assorted salads. Then sample from an assortment of soups until you settle for the kill-stew of wild boar or chicken with mushroom, carrots and seasonal vegetables, stewed and baked in a clay pot, or shashlik or blinchiki with red caviar. The Russian meal costs Rs 975.

From Russia to America. If you want to go all-American, there's Mike's Breakfast (Tel: 424303) down the road from Wunjala, offering lunch and breakfast, and everything in between. The choice here includes a set country breakfast and breakfast burrito (scrambled egg, potatoes, beans and cheese in a tortilla served with salsa and sour cream), among others.

Mike's also makes the best pancakes in town and serves sandwiches custom made to suit your choice of bread and fill-ins. Contrary to its name, Mike's also serves lunch. Mike's has chicken stew, enchiladas, stuffed baked potato or home made pasta. Average spending per person at Mike's would be in the range of Rs 195-260. There is also the Indigo Gallery on the floor above the restaurant for those with an eye for art, and time to while away.

Closer to the tourist centre of Thamel is another pit stop worth considering for a quick sandwich or a sampling of its desserts. The menu at Kilroy's of Kathmandu (Tel: 250440) is not as elaborate, it does not serve any speciality but has a mix as diverse as Thamel's tourists-from french onion soup and gundruk (fermented vegetable soup) and tandoori rotis and thalis to tenderloin steak for the main course. Kilroy's "Welcome to Nepal" costs about Rs 630.

Dessert at Kilroy's is something to sample especially because the group claims to have stuffed the rich and powerful-from Bill Clinton to Cindy Crawford and Mick Jagger, and our own former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Pineapple with cracked black pepper, and vanilla ice cream with hot citrus sauce are worth trying out if your taste buds don't go totally beserk.

Bhancha Ghar (Tel: 419798, 423128), which stands for the Nepali word for kitchen, began a grand and much-imitated ethnic cooking revival 12 years ago. Its fare consists of sada bhuja (a rather snobbish name for good old Nepali-style boiled rice), kalo dal (lentils garnished with Tibetan herbs), meat dishes, vegetables and pickles prepared traditionally. The desert is kheer (rice pudding). The entire 10-course set menu, including a cultural show on the side, comes at Rs 900 per stomach. The restaurant, within walking distance of Thamel, is a worthwhile stop.

Another well-known destination for Nepali food is Bhojan Griha (Tel: 411603), in a typical Nepali setting with elaborate Nepali dances and comic performances performed around your table. Bhojan Griha's bar is decorated with erotic carvings and goes by the name of Kamasutra. Strictly adults only.

Then there's the mother of all restaurants serving ethnic food-Krishnarpan at Dwarika's Hotel at Battisputali (Tel: 473724, 472328). Dinner comes in five variants-4-, 6-, 9-, 12- and 16-course meals-and reservations are a must if you want to get a table. The prices also climb with the size of the course ranging from Rs 950 to over Rs 2,000. The only piece of advice for those seeking to sample the whopping 16-course dinner at Krishnarpan is to fast on the day you go there.

What makes Krishnarpan dinners special is the ambience of this classically designed hotel where there's a story about every brick and every bit of antique woodwork. Krishnarpan's ceremonial feasts are served on tables designed with centuries-old latticed woodwork, in traditional plates, bowls and glasses by hostesses dressed in traditional outfits.

Away from the din and bustle of the city centre and ensconced on a quiet residential hillock south east of Kathmandu is the Hotel Kido, whose Tamura restaurant (Ph: 240303) offers what patrons say is the most genuine Japanese cuisine in Nepal. Tamura's secret is its Japanese chef, whose culinary skills have made it a haunt for most Japanese residing in Nepal.

What can be said with a great deal of certainty about Tamura's prices is that, at Rs 500-800 per head you pay less than what you would for the same food in Tokyo. One of its dinner specials, the mixed nigiri (raw fish and rice) costs Rs 800 and another speciality, ika sashimi, comes at Rs 600 per plate. For lunch, try the succulent sushis and nori maki.

No attempt to list all the eateries in Kathmandu can do justice to the creativity and class that all classy hotels offers at their restaurants. Still some stand out.

One of them is Ying Yang Thai restaurant in Thamel, probaby one of the most genuine Thai tastes this side of Kanchanaburi.

Two other must-do places are housed within five-star establishments-the Alfresco (Tel: 273999, 272999) at Soaltee Crown Plaza and the Far Pavilion (Tel: 488122, 488123) at the Everest Hotel. Alfresco specialises in Italian cooking and is one for fine dining at surprisingly affordable prices (even for the rich variety of wines) which belies the up-market setting and clientele.

Alfresco also has fare for those with deep pockets-try the gamberoni al cognac (pan-seared large prawns flamb?ed in Cognac) at Rs 700 a plate or the filetti di salmone "Alfresco" (poached fillet of salmon on spinach with cream topped with onion confetti) for Rs 900.

It's India at its best at the Far Pavilion, where meals are accompanied by gazals. The menu sports an exciting list of names that sound truly royal and what's more, the taste is rich and flavoured by different eastern spices. Take the keshari murg mangaar for instance. This king of kababs is a whole chicken marinated traditionally in saffron-flavoured yoghurt, lemon and cream and cooked in a tandoor. If you are decidedly green then you might like to try the khumb korma ghazni, fresh mushrooms and garden green peas in a rich tomato and onion gravy with cashew nuts.

The Gurkha Grill at Soaltee Crowne Plaza is perfectly suited for a fun-filled evening. With a Filipino band thrown in, GG's offers contemporary global cuisine at its best. There's the GG's Jumbo MoMo served with cilantro sauce for starters. Lobster Thermidore served in a creamy sauce flavoured with mustard and mushroom and served with saffron rice may be just the thing for you and your companion. Or you could go a little classical and do the Smoked Salmon on lettuce with spring onion, green peppercorns, fennel leaf, capsicum and olive Oil. A range of chocolate fudges, rolls and mousses make the desserts simply irresistible.

Kathmandu is a suprisingly cosmopolitan gourmet's paradise. It's all here, and all you need to do is explore. There are a lot of other restaurants, especially in Thamel, just waiting to be discovered.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)