An odd spot in Thamel

Getaway Issue 142 Sep, 2013
Text by Kritish Rajbhandari / Photo: ECS Media

A traditional home turned restaurant has helped preserve and promote Kathmandu’s architectual and gastronomical heritage.

Don’t be misled by the name! Although located in a tourist hub awash with chic eateries serving foreign cuisines, Thamel House stands miles apart from its neighboring restaurants in terms of food as well as ambience. The facade showcasing traditional Newari architecture and woodwork is in itself an oasis amongst rows of concrete houses cluttered with cliched banners and signboards. Add an austere menu featuring only Nepali and Newari dishes, and an atmosphere reminiscent of ancient Newari homes and you will hit the bull’s eye if you are thinking of a real Newari dining experience.

The house itself has stood there for more than a century and is probably one of the oldest buildings in Thamel to escape significant architectural changes. The owner Nripesh Shrestha, and his family, had been living in the house for generations until 1993, when the family decided to turn it into a restaurant. Over the last 20 years, it has undergone a series of renovations that has kept the old architecture, appearance and atmosphere intact.

Ambience: The entrance leads to a dimly lit passage with the reception. You will then be led out through a door to a courtyard with a bar and seating area. Its an ideal place to sit if you want to enjoy a bit of nature with a bit of culture. On one side is a neat garden with lush green trees, shrubs and flowers, while on the other, the back side of the building flaunts intricate woodcarvings on windows, doors and beams supporting the roof. Overhead hang traditional oil lamps commonly found in old temples and Newari homes.

Alternatively indoor seating is available on the third floor and the attic. One needs to mind their head while walking through a door or climbing the stairs, as low ceilings and door frames are yet other characteristic that make this restaurant look closer to a traditional Newari home. The indoor seating areas with low tables and floor seating are again minimally lit with some natural light flowing in through the windows.

Food: The menu might come as a disappointment for those who look for wider options and variety. There are only two set menus in total. The two course Newari meal consists of 12 different Newari snack items followed by yogurt for dessert. The four course Nepali set meal begins with fried potatoes, momos and soups as starters followed by traditional Nepali daal- bhaat- tarkari with vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. The meal ends with a dessert of Sikarni and a cup of tea or coffee. Both set meals are accompanied by aila offered as a complimentary drink. Unlike in most Nepali and Newari restaurants in town, here these meals aren’t served in ‘thali’ style with all items pre-served in a plate, but the items are brought serially one after another exactly the way it is served at a Newari bhoj. Besides the set meals, you may also order some select newari specials, soups, rice and yogurt items from the a la carte menu .

Verdict: Mainly targeted at tourists, Thamel House restaurant pieces together several bits of traditional Nepal and turns them into a fine dining venue. The food is as close to Nepali homes as it can get, and the service staff are friendly and attentive. If you are planning a welcome or farewell dinner for foreign guests, Thamel house is a great place to gather for a truly Nepali evening.