The Couple Who Introduced Ireland to the Wonders of Nepal – Shiva & Lina Gautam of Monty’s of Kathmandu
Pushing aside a lush ruby velvet curtain I enter an Aladdin’s Cave. Chandeliers dripping with jewels hang from the ceiling, a diverse art collection spans every inch of the rich red walls, and wine bottles spill from every corner, lining the dark wooden rafters overhead.
I’m in Monty’s of Kathmandu, and coming in from a miserably damp day in Dublin city I’m glad to be enveloped by the sumptuous surroundings of Ireland’s original Nepalese restaurant.
Far from just a haven during a thunder storm though the restaurant itself is a gem, hidden in plain sight just off the people thronged Dame Street.
The warmth of space is echoed by the greeting from owners Shiva and Lina Gautam, who moved to Ireland in 1997 shortly after getting married with the vision of introducing Irish people to the food of their landlocked central Himalayan homeland.
Where did their love of food begin? “Her cooking!” Shiva says, hands up and in obvious adoration of his wife’s culinary instincts.
Lina explains, in her soothing melodic voice, that her own food story began back in Nepal where as a child she would pour over food magazines, testing recipes whenever she got a chance.
Not only addressing the deficit of “decent curry houses in Dublin,” as Shiva saw it, when Monty’s opened its doors twenty years ago it was an introduction to not only to an entirely new cuisine but to a new culture for many Irish people, Lina recalling that some confused the word ‘Nepalese’ over the door for Lebanese.
It took some time for that curiosity to convert to customers and on their opening night the dining room was full of ‘trekkers’ who were familiar with the food having previously visited Nepal.
Joining a Nepalese community of just four families in Dublin, like the fragrant fumes that rise from their charcoal oven word of the authenticity of Shiva and Lina’s cooking drifted across the city.
“Reviews too were great for us too,” says Shiva. “It was actually a blessing in disguise that we didn’t know one reviewer from another.”
They explain that while Nepalese and Indian cuisines overlap and the same spices are used, cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, and fenugreek, they are added less flamboyantly, creating subtle, delicate nuances.
Born on the streets of Katmandu, momos, steamed dumplings filled with meat or vegetables, along with various lentil dishes and gorkhali, a traditional Nepalese curry, are the most popular dishes at the restaurant.
“The problem that we have is that having set the standard for Nepalese food in Dublin a lot of people have opened restaurants since having worked in Monty’s kitchen and learnt our recipes and dishes,” says Shiva on the copycat Nepalese restaurants that have spawned in the wake of their success.
“We continually have to try and reinvent ourselves so that people can’t copy, and we’re now not too quick to share our recipes – we learned that the hard way.”
“We obviously can’t change our menu overnight,” explains Lina, “people expect to see their favourite dishes when they come back, the one’s we grew up eating, but we can always introduce a few new things.”
Integrating local Irish ingredients into classic Nepali recipes, particularly seafood like squid, monkfish and prawns, is one way they continue to innovate.
“People do go and try these new Nepalese restaurants but they always come back to taste the original again, for the quality and the flavour.”
Now regarded as one of the best wine experiences in the city, with the awards to prove it, the restaurants impressive wine list, dedicated wine cellar and tasting room further distinguishes them.
Rather than a traditional Nepali custom, where you’re more likely to see food served with beer, rum or whiskey, pairing wine with the cuisine is an addition to Monty’s arsenal is born out of Shiva’s own personal passion.
“Nepalese food and wine pairs very well. There is a misconception in my opinion that ethnic food and beer pairs are great partners, but for me I don’t think they are as good a match.”
Now twenty years in Dublin, Shiva and Lina have witnessed the Dublin dining scene evolve. Traditional Chinese restaurants being including, along with Nepalese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Thai.
Eating out in Ireland was once an occasion they say, now it’s a way of life and daily occurrence. To accommodate the change in dining habits they have introduced Nepas, Nepalese tapas, to their offering, for those who want to sample their dishes in smaller portions.
Already available in their wine cellar they will soon introduce the menu into the main restaurant too during off-peak hours.
With Shiva running the business on a day to day basis, including shifts on front of house and in the kitchen, Lina was free to develop her career as a demo chef and cookbook author.
Beginning with cookery classes in the restaurant in 2000, her very first to the members of the Irish Food Writers Guild including food veterans Myrtle Allen and Biddy White Lennon, she continues host classes on the last Monday of every month, popular events that are now supplemented by regular TV appearances.
“She’s a natural,” Shiva says, beaming with pride. Another thing they both have to be proud of is the recent launch of Lina’s retail product Pure & Simple, a range of ready to heat wholesome Nepalese meals now available in 12 SuperValus through the supermarket’s Food Academy.
Stepping back out onto the rain slicked cobblestones of Temple Bar, unfortunately there’s no sign of an Indian summer, not even Nepalese one, in Ireland this year.
But luckily, come rain or shine, food and wine lovers in Dublin can rest assured that Monty’s of Kathmandu is always there to retreat to.
For more information visit www.montys.ie.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.