Bryan Gysin said in the late 50s that writing was 50 years behind painting, and posited to diversify the way we use words to free language. Admittedly, he was speaking more about the way poetry and prose of the era had become entrenched in formalistic restrictions, and yet as I sit to write my weekly food review, I cannot help thinking that I need to shake things up too…
I’m not about to write a review, cut it up, rearrange it and hope that by some miracle, what’s produced is an enlightening piece on West Didsbury’s The Great Kathmandu. No, that just wouldn’t happen, he says, looking round for a pair of scissors just to double check.
This is not to say, however, that I do feel in need of food-writing inspiration, and I’m not quite sure what it is that I should do. I read Marina O’Laughlin’s back catalogue of curry reviews, having been turned onto her by living compatriot Felix Sanders, trying to discern what it is that made her so favoured in the food-critic world.
I move on to Rhik Samadder’s review of Temper City, and continue to comb, spurred on by creative jealousy, before realising that this is probably unhealthy and that I just needed to get on with it.
It seems that to be an interesting food writer, one has to first be a tremendous observer, someone who notices minute details in decor, the ticks of a restaurant, what makes it “IT”. Coupled with this, interesting writers are able to include wholly unrelated ideas, places, people, things, and weave them nonchalantly into the article as if it were a smooth, almost inevitable stepping stone to talking about food.
Anyhow. *weeps at transition*
Established in 1986, The Great Kathmandu has served up Nepalese curries in Manchester for over 30 years, and generally had a fair reputation for doing so. Myself and my dining companion, Mr. Smith (not a pseudonym), enter and are greeted by the age-old signifiers of a British curry house: worn patterned carpets that can’t have been changed since the opening, give way to a curious mixture of dim lamps and ceiling lights, immaculately laid tables, and a choice of Indian beers.
Where the restaurant parts from your typical tandoori restaurant, however, is in its service, where the commonly friendly, welcoming demeanour of staff are replaced by stony, uncommunicative waiters.
We started with poppadoms and accoutrements: raita mixed with fresh chopped mint, mango chutney, sliced onions and a lime pickle that stimulated a newfound appreciation for Patak’s lumpy, zesty equivalent. The carnist opposite had a Chicken Dopiaza, which was warm and perfectly reduced, and with which he was mighty pleased.
I tried one of the only “Nepalese” dishes listed on the menu, Paneer Masala, as I was keen to see how it differed from the Indian version. It was tasty, and the cubes of Indian cheese were properly covered with a dark, cumin, coriander and garam masala based sauce that had heat and flavour in equal measure.
Nothing about it, however, was discernibly Nepalese, or, given that I know little about Nepalese food (oh gosh, food-writing cliché, what would Brian think?), differed from the Indian versions I had enjoyed in the past. We also ordered a Saag Daal to share, which pleasantly surprised us with its texture, for I find Daals often to be too processed and baby food-like for my taste, and enjoy them with a bit of bite.
Photo: Joe Taylor
We paid our fairly pricey bill, checked out their livestock in the entrance, and left feeling content. It was neither fish nor fowl, with the bill not extortionate but not cheap either, the decor a mixture of glossy and drab, the food good and the service bad. Having spent a while paining over what makes an interesting food review, I think that I’d probably add one more aspect to the reviewer checklist: choose interesting places to eat.