It is said there are two kinds of people: those who live to eat and those who eat to live.
In the first category are those for whom partaking of food is not just the physical act of chewing and swallowing but a ritual of companionship and camaraderie. So it is not just what you eat, but where and who you eat it with.
Ever since the hippie era, Kathmandu has evolved a cosmopolitan range of eateries. With boutique restaurants the Valley's cuisine is now entering a new era. As the world grows smaller and horizons expand, Kathmanduites are exposed to various new genres of music, art and culture. With this expansion, their culinary tastes have also diversified. Nepalis are exploring beyond dal bhat and alu tama into salmon, pasta and steak.
It has become important for good food to be served in an ambience that gets the diners into the right mood. Boutique restaurants are not just about being expensive or exclusive but about maintaining the quality and dignity in food and d?cor. The size of the restaurant is another factor: most occupy a cosy and homely space.
Price is not the issue here. Most managers of boutique restaurants in Kathmandu say their clients are looking for the ambience and company and are willing to pay more for the right mix. Kunal Lama of caf? Mitra says, "When people walk into my caf? they know they will be treated well and the d?cor itself tells them that it will be a little more expensive than regular restaurants. But we guarantee satisfaction and a great experience overall."
The market has expanded to include restaurants that not only provide great service but also specialise in exclusive Italian, Malaysian, Chinese and even Nepali tastes.
Chandan Kayastha of La Dolce Vita says, "It's better to specialise in one thing and be very good at it than put everything from Mexican to Indian on the menu till it ends up being a hotchpotch." He maintains that it is possible to run a restaurant based on one cuisine especially if the quality of food products is good.
In this exclusive arena of great food and good service, restaurant owners all over Kathmandu are learning the art of fine culinary tastes matched with an aesthetically appealing environment with which to please their clients. It is an upcoming business which will add sophistication to the tastes of the Nepali palate as well as provide cosmopolitan food for tourists should they want a taste of home. Or other people's homes.
La Dolce Vita
Probably the best ristorante Italiano in Thamel, it was established in 1986 by an Italian but is now run by the Roadhouse group and redecorated. Comprising of three floors with a restaurant, an espresso bar and a terrace, the food here is pi? romantico in una citt? romantica. The pasta is homemade or imported and the spices used are from Nepal. Though the cooks are Nepalis, they get on-the-job refresher courses regularly from Italian professionals. The prices are reasonable and worth it. Guests are mostly regulars who have grown used to the excellent service and delicious food. La Dolce Vita is featured in Lonely Planet and has a quick turnaround budget lunch involving a 10" pizza and Coke for only Rs 125.
The Zen caf? is appropriately located next to the Buddha Art Gallery and used to be known as one of the more expensive eating places when established with a limited menu and specialised teas. Now the management has decided to revamp the place with a menu that is more extensive than expensive. Continental food with free Internet, the Zen promotes good food and art. Besides the Buddha Art Gallery, it hosts classical performances every Saturday from 5PM and plans to have Irish and other traditional bands performing soon. With a lounge environment and a big screen tv, seating is limited. Plans include addition of a cocktail bar. A delightful feature of the Zen caf? are free refills of tea or coffee. They are also open to the idea of
Jalan Jalan is the new Malaysian restaurant that recently opened next to Bluebird Department Store at Lajimpat. Catering to people who want exclusively Malaysian food, the proprietor, Shailesh Bhatta says, "There are many restaurants in Nepal but none that caters exclusively to Malaysian food." Those familiar with Malay cuisine will find all the familiar aroma and tastes of the peninsula, with a choice of degree of spiciness in the food from mild, middle to spicy. Bhatta's mother, Ganga, who worked as a chef in Malaysia for 12 years manages the kitchen. The prices are promotional and the restaurant hopes to attract middle class Nepalis. Real coconut and authentic spices especially flown in are used here.
Krishnarpan Restaurant at Dwarika's has become a must-see for expats and tourists. Even locals who can eat dal bhat at home find its spread and service exquisite. The menu is fixed and has set new standards for dining in style. Once you make a reservation and it is preferred that you do, customers get personalised menus with their names on it. The menu is fixed and ranges from a six-course dinner to a whopping 22-course one depending on the client's appetite. The experience is thoroughly Newari and the restaurant's d?cor and floor seating reflect this. The menu is designed to include food items from all Nepali cultures, from Newari to Tibetan food. There is a special price for Nepalis at Rs 999 for the six-course meal.
The Chimney at Hotel Yak and Yeti was first conceived by the legendary Russian resident of Kathmandu, Boris Lissanovitch. In fact, even the name 'Yak & Yeti' was his invention and he started a bar by that name at what used to be the Royal Hotel in 1969. The original copper chimney from that bar was brought over to the new Yak & Yeti Hotel when it opened in the early 1980s and that is where the restaurant derives its name. The menu tries to keep the original Boris touch with his signature specialities including the borscht which hits the spot on cold winter nights. Boris was a famous ballet dancer, big game hunter, master chef entrepreneur and entertainer of royalty. Legend has it that mountaineers on their way back from expeditions even used the chimney as a climbing wall. The Chimney's warm fireplace and sumptuous food recreates a bygone era. Sorry, climbing the chimney is not allowed anymore
Established in September 2002, Caf? Mitra launched its bar lounge a year later. The caf? retains the integrity of the 75-year-old Newari building it occupies while creating a colourful retro ambience inside. Though many customers call the cuisine a 'fusion', Kunal Lama, the proprietor maintains that this is not so. Coming from an hotelier background, when he studied hotel management from Switzerland, it was only normal for Lama to open a restaurant after he returned to Kathmandu. Customers at Caf? Mitra are a pleasant mix of tourists, residential expats and Nepalis. Lama says that customers are usually friends and if they aren't, they become friends through repeated visits to the restaurant hence the name, Caf? Mitra. The menu here is limited but everything on it has been approved by the management and is changed according to the preference of the customers. Caf? Mitra insists on consistency and is proud of the fact that everything on the menu is always available.