Thali Nepal is on Pope’s Quay, a charmingly random riverside thoroughfare.
I think Nepal may well be my most favourite ‘country-I’ve-never-been-to’ and with no prospect anytime soon of a gap year for some global trekking, it will remain thus, a class of amour de la patrie solely fuelled by wistful online browsing or nocturnal readathons.
Especially those harrowing tales of Himalayan high-altitude jinks on the perilous slopes of the world’s highest metaphor, Sagarmatha (Mount Everest), the latter best ‘survived’ while cocooned deep inside my tent of blankets.
Thali Nepal is on Pope’s Quay, a charmingly random riverside thoroughfare, slowly but surely accumulating a tidy portfolio of top-drawer hospitality ventures in an oft-forgotten part of town.
The chilled, continental-style Bierhaus is a terrific bar, one of the best craft beer emporiums in the country; acclaim for the superb South Indian Iyer’s Café is national, enthusiastic, and utterly deserved; Café Myo is another promising arrival.
If Thali’s interiors budget was shoestring, then those shoes were slip-on, for it consists of little else than a few heartwarmingly ‘homemade’ additions to Celtic Tiger-era dark wood and terracotta tones, the legacy of previous hospitality ventures.
A cheerful, handpainted mural of Nepalese life covers the back wall and a rope of lights carefully follows the lines of the faux-Romanesque arches of one window only to then abandon the route map on the second.
It opts instead for a hasty, haphazard dash across the face of a hanging picture, looping over a random fixture before making a final, desperate leap for the far wall, as if the hanger was interrupted mid-task and never returned.
Yet it has as much integrity as whatever industrial chic the design pros are touting this season, integrity cemented by an equally ‘homemade’ and heartfelt welcome from proprietors Mina and Busante Neupane.
First order of business is to weed the menu of a whole range of pan-Asian ‘ethnic’ dishes: Thai curry, chow mein, thukpa (a Tibetan dish), and even that British curry house contrivance, chicken tikka.
In defence of Nepalese cuisine, the country is a geographical crossroads, a buffer state between China and India, and culinary influences are accordingly diverse.
What’s more, many conservative Irish diners are wary of straying beyond their comfort zone, so deserve much of the adulterated offerings that too often pass for the real thing.
Tonight, though, Chairman M, No 2 Son, and I wish for nothing other than the same authentic fare we’d receive in a trekkers lodge high in the Himalayas, even if a taxi has delivered us to the door of this particular sanctuary.
It may not surprise that a people who host eight of ten of the world’s tallest mountains in their backyard and, what’s more, climb them like goats, might differ with a plump little Paddy who gets altitude sickness watching mountaineering documentaries over the definition of the word ‘tender’.
However, the tandoori-grilled chicken breast in Newari sadeko is on the chewy side. It is still tasty though, humming with high ‘lemony’ Sichuan pepper, alluding to the Chinese connection.
Sichuan is there again in iconic mo:mo, Nepalese steamed dumplings stuffed with minced chicken. It takes the hardest of hearts to refuse a dumpling and these are moreish, a spicy sesame dipping sauce adding backbone.
Lamb jir is a spicy grilled kebab of minced lamb but, as a starter portion, it arrives without sorely-needed sauce or dressing — flavours are fine but it is dry, crying out for succulence.
Jomsom vedo is a lamb curry with a welcome chilli kick sufficient to thaw out the most frostbitten snowbound traveller. I find myself most taken with the supporting players: A gloopy lentil dhal grounded by earthy turmeric and tarkari, a softly-spiced delicate curry of potatoes and spinach.
We finish with kheer, a sweet pudding of milk, coconut, and basmati rice I could eat forever.
This elemental, child-friendly dessert earns its adult rating through the addition of cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, and fenugreek, and swollen, plump rehydrated raisins and sultanas.
Thali Nepal is a delightful and welcoming haven but the food offering needs to be substantially tightened up. While it would take courage to reduce the menu, stripping it of all ‘foreign’ dishes, they could then concentrate on what they know best, their own Nepalese cuisine, a splendid USP round these parts.
What’s more, I wouldn’t have to wait for my gap year to sample more of that legendary Nepalese hospitality.
€76.71 (for three, including one beer, excluding tip)
Service: 7/10 (10/10 for friendliness and warmth of reception)
Tagline: “The legendary Nepalese welcome to strangers winds up on Leeside”
Thali Nepal Restaurant,
30 Pope’s Quay,
Tel. 021 4553380
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved