An enthusiastic and adventurous eater digs in deep at two of the valley’s new fusion restaurants.
If you are passing in a vehicle you might well miss it, despite it being in a great location at the edge of Lazimpat. But once found, you aren’t going to miss it again! Repeat visits are pretty much guaranteed.
Noir Fennel is the brainchild of Resh Maskey, who is also the driving force behind Le Mirch in Patan. Having only opened in July 2019, Noir Fennel has already got a reputation for good food and relaxed yet contemporary décor. Covering both Indian and French cuisine, it is a great place to come with friends, family or partners who insist on a curry dish while you might fancy something a bit different. And actually, the curry dishes are a bit different too, so just maybe it will encourage your dining partner to be a bit more adventurous!
If you have entered on foot, don’t let the banner describing the lunch menu put you off, with its advertised burgers, pizza and rice sets. While probably good, they are, to my mind, not a great advert for what the full menu contains. And don’t be intimidated by the beautiful cream seating and gleaming wooden tables. By that I mean that although the restaurant looks very upscale and expensive, the prices probably average around the Rs 700 per plate mark: chic setting, contemporary plating, and creative and subtle blending of flavours which are not too heavy on the pocket. Tables are set a discreet distance apart, and if you are a larger group or want complete privacy, there is a private dining room available, and the addition of a smokers room will be appreciated by those who smoke, and those of us who don’t. Walls are lined with display cabinets of wines and artwork in keeping with the freshness of the overall appearance of the restaurant.
Since the owner lives in the USA I had arranged to meet with Chef Dil Maharjan. Unfortunately he was unavailable so I talked with Chef Bibesh Maharjan. Like his senior, he has experience working in good kitchens overseas, including the Hyatt in Doha. He made a few suggestions for a tasting menu, some of which I switched up with things more to my personal taste. For example, not being a seafood fan I leave you to try out the array of fish and shrimp dishes for yourself!
I was accompanied on this occasion by the editor of this magazine, so that I could sample more of the dishes on offer. We started with the recommended Les Epinards (crispy spinach chat). This came in the form of small potato crispy shells like bhuja with sour cream and spices. It lived up to expectations and tasted exactly like a chat should. Previously I had sampled the French Fry Chat which did not live up to its chat name and disappointed me somewhat. Also on the starter section of the menu is Grilled Cheese. Intrigued as to what this could be we waited excitedly for its arrival. Turns out it is paneer with truffle oil, mint, cilantro and fenugreek; I discovered at that point that I do not like truffle oil. But that is a personal thing, as my dining companion found it tasty.
On an earlier visit I had been intrigued by the Vin d’Aloo which was described as bacon, curry leaves, and coconut. I was most interested in how bacon is made into a curry. The Chef explained that the bacon was for flavour only whereas the meat used could be either pork, mutton or wild boar. We chose pork, and while the small oblongs were a little, not tough exactly, but hard, the coconut gave the sauce such a wonderful flavour we thought there was raisins and other fruit in the dish. We were assured there was not, the taste was purely from the slivers of coconut. If I could I would just sup on that sauce or soak it up with nan or rice. If I was an amateur chef (which I am not) I would ask for the recipe, as it is so yummy!
The photographer’s favourite was Le Cordon Bleu Biryani which is chicken and bacon rolled round a stuffing of biryani and cheese. We would have liked a little more of the mushroom sauce that accompanied it as the chicken roll was a little on the dry side without it. But if you like chicken and rice, you cannot go wrong with this modern take on a classic dish.
Finally I wanted to introduce my companion to the Cheese Casserole which I had enjoyed when visiting here before. This is a vegetarian delight! A good amount of cheese, almonds, walnuts, corn and mushrooms provide a very filling and exquisitely tasty dish, and a vegetarian friend assures me that this is one of the best veggie dishes she has had in Kathmandu due to its nuttiness.
Desert is limited. We were offered (both times I have been there) Deep Fried Ice Cream and Carrot Cake. Which is not in fact carrot cake but carrot halwa which I find a bit too sweet. Definitely some other deserts on the menu would be appreciated! The usual drinks menu is available.
As mentioned, the plating is contemporary and fresh. When I contacted the owner earlier I found out why. Resh Maskey had been in hospitality for some time (but not as a chef) when he decided to take his love of good, tasty and fresh food up a notch. This involved heading off to culinary school in France to learn about flavour, techniques and presentation. With that under his belt he decided to open a restaurant back in Washington, DC where he was based. With his love of comfortable, relaxed yet contemporary dining atmospheres and now his skills in presentation he knew exactly the kind of restaurant he wanted to open, and Le Mirch was born in 2012. It was not exactly an easy road in the beginning: in his publicity material, Maskey describes opening his restaurant next door to another French restaurant which turned out to be his (The) Hundred Foot Journey. Although I have seen this 2014 Hollywood movie, I wanted to know more. And yes, there was great rivalry at the beginning as the other restaurant’s owner was certainly not happy to have a French Indian restaurant next to his own French restaurant. But they became friends in the end.
Inspired by the success of the Washington Le Mirch, Maskey opened a branch in Labin Mall in Patan. And now Noir Fennel on the north side of Kathmandu. “I call it semi-fine dining because I feel we are just a small step down from fine-dining. And I don’t want to scare any potential diners off by thinking we are too upmarket,” he explained.
So there you have it. Semi-fine Indian and French cuisine in the heart of Kathmandu. The ideal place for both adventurous eaters and those who are a bit more conservative in their tastes. Particularly if you are looking for a restaurant to satisfy you both at the same time!
For reservations call 01-4410463.
Edamame at the Kathmandu Marriott Hotel
While those of us who are from the UK grew up with Asian food, it was mainly Indian and Chinese that formed the cornerstone of our Asian experience. Today of course, restaurants focussing on Pan Asian food are giving these more traditional pillars of British cuisine a run for their money.
Here in Kathmandu there has been a tradition of Indian eateries for longer than I can remember. Whether it was samosas in corner places like Ram Bhandar sweetshop on Thapathali, or an extensive dinner at Moti Mahal on Durbar Marg, we all remember tucking into Indian food. Today local tastes have become more sophisticated as travel comes within the reach of more people than before. Tourists visiting Nepal also have more refined tastes. The hippy backpackers of old are being replaced by sophisticated millennials, older travellers who seek a certain level of comfort, and business travellers. At the same time, the food available in Kathmandu (and some of the larger cities) has become more adventurous and tasty. Staying true to their roots and area of expertise, Pan Asian restaurants are on the rise as well.
Edamame by the Kathmandu Marriott Hotel opened recently—autumn 2019. Focusing on Thai and Japanese food, it has brought Pan Asian cuisine in Kathmandu to another level. As soon as you enter the world of Edamame your culinary experience begins. Staff greet you at the door with smiles, and seat you at your comfortable table. There are several different seating areas and all give a level of privacy while keeping you very much in the heart of the action. And if action is what you want, take a seat at the sushi bar, where you can watch some of the dishes being prepared in front of you.
Executive Chef Sanjeev Ranjan is in over-all charge of all the eating spots in the Kathmandu Marriott and his attention to detail is unmatched. In Edamame, to ensure authenticity, Chef Somryethai Syksamai, from Thailand, makes sure the true taste of Thailand comes through. Also known as Chef Ninja, she is an expert in the art of Thai cuisine. I was also introduced to Chef Krishna Dhungana who oversees all things sushi. Having worked in Japan as a sushi chef for over 19 years, his experienced eye is vital when working with the fresh ingredients needed for sushi.
Now to the food itself! The menu is extensive: dim sum, yakatori, sushi, soups, salads and a variety of main courses and desserts. The menu is marked with the chefs’ recommendations so if you are like me and don’t really know where to start, start there! Actually you get to start even before ordering, as a little amuse bouche is given to each diner along with green or jasmine tea.
Not being a fish eater at all, I was unsure when a dish called Flaming Salmon came out of the kitchen. Flamed at the table, I grow a little more apprehensive. But the salmon was cut beautifully thin like smoked salmon (which I can eat – who says I have expensive tastes?). The salmon was folded around sticky rice in a quenelle and topped with a creamy sauce. Then it was theatrically flamed. This was truly a great start to the meal! I also tried the California Rolls, as I had noticed them on several Pan Asian menus but was a bit vague as to what they were. Turns out they are sushi in the form of cubes of rice and tiny slivers of vegetables. Small enough to pop whole.
Staying on the light side – and actually Pan Asian cuisine is lighter in terms of oil and spices than traditional cuisine from many individual Asian countries would be – I was intrigued by the brightly coloured dim sum. But not to worry, although they were exceedingly bright in red, green and black, no artificial food colouring is used in Edamame: only the colour from natural ingredients. Edamame (the soyabean) for green; beetroot for red, and mushroom and/ or activated charcoal for black, to name just a few. The dim sum was so light, not the stodgy variety I have had in Hong Kong in the past, and so modern in appearance. Times have definitely changed!
Chef Ninja introduced me to Bangkok Street Flair. Skewers of chicken, prawns, tenderloin and pork (two skewers of each to one ‘plate’), nestled on a bed of spices, ginger, herbs, chillies and mushrooms; the skewers each had their own separate sauces and spices cooked through them. This is a dish to share with your loved ones – or maybe just keep it all to yourself, so good it is! Chef Ninja then produced Tamarind Sesame Duck Breast served with a duck mince meat filled bao. She poured a plum glaze over the duck, onto the plate which was decorated with sweet sesame seed snaps. I love duck but had never had it quite like this. I will definitely be back for this dish! The duck was tender and for someone who loves bread more than rice, the bao (you have seen this in Tibetan restaurants) set the dish off perfectly for me.
From her home country, Thailand, Chef Ninja then produced a refreshing Som Tam or green papaya salad before introducing her Gang Khew Whan or homemade green curry. My only comment was that the curry was not spicy enough for my taste. I was told the reason for this is that many of the resident hotel guests cannot eat such spicy food as those of us who have lived in Asia for decades. Fair enough!
Sometimes the desserts are disappointing in Pan Asian restaurants, but I tried the Sangkaya Ob (baked coconut caramel custard), very similar to a crème caramel but with the added flavour of coconut milk. The presentation was stunning, with little brandy snaps and pieces of fresh fruit, and the taste was heavenly.
I have been reliably told by a vegetarian, almost vegan, friend that Edamame has plenty of delicious food for vegetarians also. Which is great to hear as I was a little worried as she went there for her birthday dinner based on my recommendation!
And for those of you, vegetarian or not, who are looking for a new Saturday experience, Edamame is open now for Saturday lunch time (on other days it opens only at 6.30 pm for dinner) for their Wok and Bowl five course Chinese lunch from 12 till 3 pm. This includes assorted rolls, soup, dim sum and a main course (in a bowl) which comes with either bao or rice—and of course a dessert to round it off.
Cost for dinner? Surprisingly not too bad considering the quality and ambiance, though of course this is a high-end place so plan accordingly; you could probably budget Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500 for a main course if you are a meat or seafood eater, the exceptions being the lobster and Wagyu beef; wonderful imported products with wonderfully expensive prices to match. Drinks are also pretty hefty price wise, but if you love sake and Japanese whisky, here is where you will find them!
I’m not a vegetarian but I love vegetables. And whenever I get to the southern plains of Nepal, I try...