I went to Nepal. For lunch.
While Sydney may be off many travellers’ itineraries due to its exiled location from the rest of the world, our cultural and culinary diversity allows us to travel the world through our stomachs and take a journey through multicultural cuisine.
We attended Mandala Nepalese Restaurant in Randwick for a private event. Over a long Sunday lunch, the local restaurant along Avoca Road was hosting the first performance of the season from local Coogee poet and writer, Tony Peacock. It was a first for me on both counts. I wasn’t familiar with Tony’s writing and knew even less about the cuisine of Nepal.
Mandala is the kind of suburban restaurant with an unassuming exterior that takes you by surprise. Inside the vibrant pink walls lies a hidden source of sensory delights.
The name Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning circle, these symbolic patterns reflect many layers of meaning and represent the cycle of life. The restaurant opened in 2004 with Chef/Owner Durjay Thapa bringing traditional culinary skills from his native Kathmandu.
Nepalese cuisine is often compared to Indian but it is based on more spice than heat, with more subtle flavours that give the food a distinctive taste. Today, we are eating banquet style, with a set course of dishes incorporating a mixture of spice and heat, including the more renowned curries.
We start with a basket of Papadums with Achar, two round pieces of toasted papadums with a spicy dipping sauce peppered with cumin. Achar is a popular type of relish or a pickle in Nepali food, designed to “brighten up the mouth” and add a dose of spice to a dish.
Next to arrive is a mixed entrée plate for two.
Chicken Momo (top left) is two steamed chicken dumplings with roasted tomato (golveda) achar. The dumplings are soft and moist, the chicken meat is tightly packed with a very mild spice. Overall, a nice starter to ease the way into more complex flavours.
Mass Ko Bara (bottom left) is an intriguing dish. It reminds me of a thin layer of Lebanese baked Kibbeh but tastes nothing like it. Made from black lentils with vegetables, this is a traditional recipe from the Newar tribe in Kathmandu Valley. I like this dish with its grainy and dry texture, almost like a biscuit or rye bread but quite flavoursome.
The Pakoda (right), a julienne of potatoes and onions fried into a mass packs a lovely crunch on the outside, with a smooth texture of the cooked onions and potatoes on the inside. I can taste a hint of hint of curry or cumin and can easily snack on a few more.
Chicken Sekwa with Daniya Ko Achar (top middle) gets many nods of appreciation. The chicken thigh fillets and incredibly tender that they melt in the mouth with the flavours of garlic and cumin. The green sauce on top is c, mild, spicy and flavoursome without too much heat. In other words, perfect for my taste.
The restaurant is BYO and we are settling in with a bottle of Essenze 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough in New Zealand.
The service here is very friendly and comes with a smile. Our waitress takes her time to explain each dish and points it out on the menu which I have kept beside me as a guide.
After a brief pause to digest, the main courses arrive. There is a fish dish with green vegetables, a selection of lamb, vegetable and chicken curries served in brass chalices accompanied with fluffy rice.
We start with Maccha Pucchare, thin fillets of grilled barramundi, lightly spiced and garnished with coriander. Served on wilted greens and spinach leaves, this dish is very mild with a light seasoning and almost no spice. If anyone cannot eat spicy food, this is the dish to order without compromising on taste.
I am intrigued by the presentation of the curries in brass chalices. They certainly make heads turn when main courses are served. The holy grail? I joke to Mr G. Perhaps I have seen too many Indiana Jones films.
Beda Ko Masu is the dish served alongside the rice. It is a spicy lamb curry with chunks of potatoes, cooked with ginger, garlic and a light seasoning of cumin.
Aloo Ra Bhanta (right), is a vegetarian dish made with eggplant and tomato curry. The Chicken KhuKura Ko Masu (left) has very tender pieces of succulent chicken in a tomato, garlic and ginger curry.
By the time the plates are cleared, Tony is gearing up to start his show. His performance is worthy of its own post.
During the break, we are served dessert.
Mango Kulfi is a deliciously sweet and fruity frozen dessert made with milk, fruit sugar and spice, served with stewed spicy berries. It tastes nothing like ice cream, gelato or sorbet and is incredibly light.
After Tony delivers the second part of his performance to a captive and now moved audience, we are treated to Chiya tea, a fragrant and spicy tea, not overly sweet tea that goes down very well on this wet and cold Sunday.
By the time the event comes to a close, we are well-fed, educated and entertained. Our palates have travelled to Nepal. Our minds have taken a journey back in time to Coogee, Maroubra and Sydney’s eastern suburbs long before they were consumed by greed.
Much like the interconnected shadows and circles from the coloured crayons of life, we have come full circle at Mandala.
Read the companion article to this review, An afternoon with the Coogee Poet: Tony Peacock
Mandala Nepalese Restaurant
117 Avoca St
Randwick NSW 2031
Cost: $55.00 (for banquet and Tony’s performance)
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