Mountains of flavour
It's been a while since I ate in Bray. In truth, it still surprises me that Bray doesn't have a greater choice of restaurants; it is, after all, one of Ireland's larger conurbations.
This week, I went to visit a new venture called Mount Everest of Kathmandu. It's at the top of Bray's main street opposite the old Town Hall, which currently houses a McDonald's outlet.
The town hall is an iconic building in a neo-Tudor style, the facade heavily decorated in stonework showing the Brabazon arms.
You can guess from its name that this restaurant specialises in Himalayan cuisine, with dishes from India, Nepal and Tibet.
These Himalayan states border India on one side and China on the other, so there is some cross-fertilisation of culinary techniques. You'll find a definite Chinese influence in some of the dishes, such as sizzling platters.
I went with my son Rocco and his fiancée Ruby Slevin on a mid-week night and we found a long dining room with well-spaced tables. Towards the front, there's a little bit of theming – some carved woods on the walls and other ethnic wall hangings, but they're not in your face and you could easily miss them. It's the menu that tells you clearly what's in store.
The menu is long, so there's a huge choice of dishes. We decided that both Rocco and Ruby would eat à la carte and that I'd eat off the early-bird menu, which offered three courses for €15.95. Despite this very low price on the early bird, there were still dishes listed that looked interesting enough, so I was happy to try out the set menu.
A large basket of poppadoms arrived at the table and, between us, we made short work of them. What we finally ordered went like this: as starters, spicy potatoes for Ruby, barbecued lamb pieces for Rocco and minced lamb balls in a spicy tomato sauce for me.
For mains, Ruby picked the Kathmandu chicken chilli, Rocco chose the Himalayan gorkhali, and I went for a traditional Nepali lamb curry. We ordered both kinds of rice – pilau and steamed.
There's a short wine list that's very fairly priced, but after a little thought we all decided that beer would go best with our food. There were a few to choose from, and we chose the big bottles (66cl) of Cobra, eventually drinking three of them.
The starters arrived and, of the three, Ruby's looked the most interesting as the potato pieces were served in a pastry basket.
The potatoes turned out to be nicely spiced, with plenty of flavour and just a little heat, but Ruby decided that it was a little filling for a starter.
Rocco's dish was a typical Himalayan dish of chicken spiced with coriander, chilli, ginger and a touch of garlic. My lamb balls came in a spicy tomato sauce, and, after we'd all tasted each dish, we decided that whoever was in the kitchen was very deft with the spices.
It's true that much of the cuisine of the subcontinent is based on the use of spices. Knowing how to blend them, how to balance them, is a major skill. I asked the front-of-house manager about the chef and learned that he'd been head chef in the excellent Montys of Kathmandu for seven years, and, indeed, the front-of-house manager had spent three years there himself. With that for a CV, it was no wonder that these dishes were tasty.
Between our starters and our main courses, we looked out of the window at the old town hall. It's a very fine building built by the Brabazon family, and for a while we were stuck for the name of the winged heraldic beasts flanking the arms. Could they be griffins? No, with a serpent's tail they were wyverns, declared Rocco.
The more I looked at the building, the more I wondered how Bray council had let it become a fast-food outlet.
Our main courses arrived and, like the starters, they were carefully flavoured. If I have a reservation about our food, it's that I thought the presentation of the dishes could have been better. Very plain white plates need to be carefully dressed or the whole thing can look very plain. A little more work on the presentation would have a large effect on the overall dining experience.
Despite that reservation, I have to say that our main courses tasted very good. The flavours had been skilfully combined and the balance of the dishes was spot-on. They were generous portions, too. By the time we'd finished eating, there was still food on the table and the idea of desserts seemed like gluttony.
Still, we decided that we could all share a fruit cocktail. It came in a glass and we found lychees in a sweet sauce, a simple dish that finished the meal very well. I was the only one who wanted an espresso, so, after that, we took the bill – a very modest €83.22 for the three of us, €17.97 of which was the beer. With 10pc added for a tip, we paid €91.52; very good value, I thought, for three.