A psychedelic Birendra. Angular lines that make climbing the stairs feel like something out of Magical Mystery Tour. A giant gorilla with distractingly rendered breasts and a facial expression somewhere between tripping and mania. Places – the few-month old enterprise jostling for a share of the vegetarian market – is not your mother’s restaurant.
The brash interior, resplendent with a large floor-seating area and just a couple of regular tables, feels very much as if it was designed to give OR2K a run for its money. It’s actually more reminiscent of that old-timer’s former ambience, back when you’d go and eat world-beating bruschetta, hummus or pizza, and then wonder why you were doing it in the dark, surrounded by ultra-violet graffiti and white people dressed as sadhus. Places has – thankfully – opted for the middle ground.
While efforts at wacky have been used to punctuate rather than define the Places look, these dubious principles haven’t been entirely annexed from the menu. We baulked at most of the fusion offerings available, while marvelling at the chef’s uncanny knack for using beetroot where beetroot does not especially belong – more on that later.
Instead, we browsed the tattered (I’m told temporary) printout menu, which organises its dishes into categories of small, medium, and large and settled on a couple of items from each. There were kati rolls stuffed with goat’s cheese and asparagus and drizzled with honey (Rs 160), which oozed indulgently and had us impressed from the outset.
Then there was the ‘taste platter’, which allowed us to sample two of the medium-sized dishes (plus steamed veggies and salad) without breaking the budget (Rs 275). Taking its design cue from the dreaded sizzler, this arrived as rectangular components lined up on a long plate: the excellent creamy potato tortilla beating the spinach pie, topped as it was with the same weird, glutinous mushroom gravy we had in Southern Comfort a couple of weeks back. Stop serving that gravy, Kathmandu!
Back to wacky: the pesto momos (Rs 220) were perfectly acceptable, but my companion and I disagreed over whether any hint of pesto’s basil, pine nuts or olive oil could actually be detected. This was served with a workaday momo achar (which, if there was pesto involved, would have well and truly silenced it) and slices of watermelon and papaya, for reasons that will likely remain a mystery.
Back to beets: the two-layered beetroot cake (Rs 175), was my personal highlight of the evening – moist, light, and as commendable as it was unusual. It beat the (also superb) chocolate soufflé (Rs 230) on price, presentation, and execution, but dessert is clearly something Places has figured out.
All the food was presented beautifully, save for the snack of green olives encased in cheddar cheese (Rs 220), which seemed a tad expensive, and were presented to us unceremoniously on a saucer, without a garnish, dip or neatly-carved carrot rose in sight. The restaurant’s service was as friendly as it comes and although the dishes were slow to arrive at first, the kitchen soon hit its stride and took care of us promptly.
Places is new, and is, I think, still finding its feet. But there’s plenty of promise here and if the menu stops trying to outdo the artwork in the ‘I’m a bit mad, me’ stakes, then Kathmandu’s vegetarians will have a great new hangout.
Also – whisper it – but Places is, for the time being at least, devoid of the usual billing plus-plus. Grab it while you can.
How to get there: Hotfoot it through the Thamel crowds to Seven Corners, taking the left-hand turn at Yangling Tibetan restaurant. Swerve right and you’ll see places straight ahead and upstairs.