It’s all about the momo, baby.
Since I first came across them at Natraj on Bristol’s Gloucester Road in the early 1990s, these have always been something I look for on menus. Trouble is, as a mainstay of Nepalese cuisine, they’re not often found, or at least not in these parts, so the quest typically proves fruitless. They’re not particularly widely known, either: even Rick Stein, in his series on India, met these little beauties for the very first time, when he travelled to Nepal. Even the name shifts: momo, mo-mo, momo cha, momocha, … Ultimately though this is simplicity itself, really: steamed dumplings, with a range of fillings, served with a sauce on the side.
You can probably imagine my reaction a couple of years ago when, driving out of Wembley after the Cardiff City-Liverpool League Cup final, we drove past the beguilingly-named ‘Momo House’ on Ealing Road. I say ‘drove past’; our tyre marks are probably still scorched into the tarmac. You do not come between a momo-hungry man, and a house made of momo. A house. I have been known to suggest driving an hour just to get momo. Clearly, this is not rational behaviour. I even have a friend (hello, AD-W) whose Nepalese husband often makes them at home in Liverpool, and who likes to tell me so. This strikes me as unfair.
All of which goes to say- any Nepalese restaurant serves momo. And when there are two such restaurants within a couple of hundred yards of your Bristol hotel (Kathmandu faces The Colston Hall), you know at least one of them had better make sure the steamer is in good working order.
Of course, when you look forward to something as keenly as this, you run the risk of disappointment.
First things first: Namaste Nepal nestles off (and under) Park St, near the O2 Academy and Bristol’s oldest pub (c1500) The Hatchet. I’d been warned they had been closed for a while for refurbishments but luckily they had just reopened. No doubt due to this enforced hiatus, the restaurant was quiet when we visited early on the Sunday evening. The dining room is a restful, airy space, and Nepalese art and music contribute to a tranquil atmosphere.
My wife’s baara- a traditional Nepalese lentil cake- was crisp but instead of the poached egg described, came topped with a fried egg. The cake itself was mildly spiced and a nice contrast of textures, and the salad was tangily dressed, but overall the dish would have been improved by the yolk of the egg still being runny.
You get absolutely no prize- no, no cigar neither- for guessing what my starter was. Give me an ‘M’…
Two chutneys came with the momo (our waiter kindly arranged for me to have two of each, lamb and chicken- the buffalo and goat variants native to Nepal were not on tonight’s menu). One a spicy coriander, the other sweeter and tomato-based. The momo themselves were everything I wanted them to be and had been anticipating- the pastry steamed to perfect softness and the fillings mildly spiced but packed full of flavour.
It’s such a joy when something is as good as you want and need it to be, no?
On to the mains, and mutton choyala was the obvious choice. Mutton is always something I look for on an ‘Indian’ menu: that depth of flavour and tender texture that comes from long, slow cooking is always a winner.
This was a remarkably generously-sized portion; it arrived , still sizzling on a cast-iron skillet, dry and hot with ginger and garlic but with the sweetness of chargrilled onions and the freshness of raw tomatoes.
Although this was good, our other main was even better. Dhal Bhat Masu, a Nepalese thali, was another plentiful portion.
The usual thali suspects- a mildly spiced portion of cauliflower, a mound of steamed rice, a smoky dhal (a little thinned-down for my tastes- I like the bite of lentils) and a tomato chutney which was excellent, being both tart and sweet at the same time- came with a choice of meat curry. This was haas choyala, huge cubes of duck breast in a rich sauce.
The meat was cooked to the point of sweet surrender and spiced with a subtle warmth. It’s rare to find pieces of duck this sizeable, this tender, this well-flavoured. We ended up defeated by the size of the dishes and rest assured, they did not go to waste
This isn’t fine dining and doesn’t pretend to be: it is good hearty spicy fare, served in portions whcih are at the very least ‘generous’. But ultimately, it’s all about the momo, and they didn’t disappoint. It’s always about the momo.
Unit 2, Unite House
Tel: 0117 930 0779
Monday-Thursday: 12:00pm – 2:00pm 6:00pm – 11:00pm
Friday- Saturday: 12:00pm – 2:00pm 6:00pm – 11:30pm
Sunday: Lunch Closed 6:00pm – 11:00pm
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.