Restaurant - the word first appeared in France in the early 19th century and derives from the word restaurer which literally translates as ‘restore to a former state’ according to my Oxford Dictionary.
That’s what a restaurant does, it restores us, it salves us, it comforts us - sating hunger and thirst is the easiest part of its job. A good restaurant is so, so much more, it’s like a joyous version of that bell that tolled Keats back to his sole self.
And that’s what I missed over recent months, I can cook most anything and so can her good self, but I missed the bustle and the scents of a restaurant, I missed the intoxicating indecision caused by a menu where everything sounds delicious, and I missed being minded.
So where to venture first? It had to be Monty’s of Kathmandu where I’ve eaten more often than anywhere else - a restaurant that suffered from its ultra central location during lockdown when raucous Temple Bar became an eerie ghost town.
Full disclosure - I know Monty’s owners Shiva and Lina Gautam for years and helped Lina edit her cookbook (copies available from Montys). The main reason I am in Monty’s so often is because it has one of the longest and best wine lists in Ireland so is regularly utilised by visiting winemakers to showcase their wines.
The list has everything from Clare Valley Riesling to Ch. Lafite Rothschild and most are available by the glass (via Coravin). For the rock bottom price of €50 we ordered a bottle of Château Lanessan 1996 Médoc from the bin-end list - yes this old lady was fading a little but retained beautiful gravelly, dusky black fruits and subtle spice notes, it was a real treat.
Monty’s opened long ago in 1997 when Temple Bar was more rag-trade hub than restaurants and (excluding chain restaurants) is I think the second oldest restaurant in Temple Bar after Gallagher’s Boxty House.
Shiva and Lina were born in Nepal but found themselves newly married and living in London where Shiva trained as an engineer. Before their first wedding anniversary an Irish friend convinced them that what Dublin really needed was a Nepalese Restaurant so over they came, and boy is this city grateful.
In adapting to the new conditions Monty’s tables are 1m apart with sanitisers on each, masked chefs and face-shielded waiters, and the menu is available digitally via a QR code. The door handles have an automatic sanitiser that sprays when the door opens and closes, and they have even stumped up for a Novaerus Clean Air System developed in UCD as used in hospital operating theatres which filters the air by breaking up microorganisms using low energy plasma ion gas - hey, it all helps.
Nepal is a Democratic Republic (pop. 28m) nestled between China and India. The cooking is closer to Northern India but contains lots of Chinese influences and you will find steamed dumplings, soy sauce and Sichuan Pepper.
Strong emphasis is placed on vegetables, pulses and breads and dishes tend to be lighter with a more tomato focus than the dairy enriched dishes of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar over the border - it is to Monty’s I send vegetarian friends.
We piled poppadoms high with chutney (diced spiced vegetables) and ordered more, we gobbled the Tareko Jhinga Macha prawns and relished the contrast between the crispy prawns and the earthy savoury sauce. We attacked the barbecued spicy baby squid tentacles and best of all popped their sizzling ‘Poleko’ Squid bodies whole into our mouths, marvelling at the squeaky spicy fresh flavours. Poleko Squid can’t be made at home unless you have a charcoal fired Tandoor - they cook in 45 seconds and are simply joyous.
Next up Momos, the classic Nepali dumplings - delicate round steamed dumplings filled with minced spiced chicken or vegetables with noticeable garlic, ginger and mild chilli flavours. The Himalayas in Nepal were once thought to be as close to the Gods as we could get, well Momos are the food to serve them if they make it down the mountain.
Pickle flavoured Achari Curry kept our tastebuds lively being both mildly bracing as well as comforting - spicy deep-fried Chilli Nanglo Chicken in light batter warmed our heart while the chilli warmed our mouths but everything was tempered by the creamy Jhaneko Chickpea Lentil Dal and probably the best Garlic Coriander Naan in the country - I do not make that last statement lightly. For dessert the Gulab Jamun puddings made from honeyed sweetened milk solids were a fine finish.
In all we spent €156 for three people - starters cost €6.50-9.50, mains €15-€20, dals €5-7 and breads were a couple of euro each. We added amazing wine and a Barefoot Pilsner and the three of us left sated and fully restored for the meagre price of €52 per head.