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Good food comes from the heart

Last update - Thursday, August 13, 2009, 01:54 By Charlie Johnson

Shiva Gautum, proprietor of Nepalese restaurant Monty’s of Kathmandu, tells Charlie Johnson how he intends to survive the squeeze on Dublin’s dining scene

When I meet Shiva Gautum he is sitting in a relaxed but focused position. Born in Kathmandu, Nepal, he later lived in London for 17 years, but made frequent visits to friends in Ireland – most of whom were busy convincing him that spicy food was being done a disservice in Dublin.
“People then thought that spicy meant hot, but it doesn’t mean that,” he says. “Chilli is hot – spicy means flavour.”
Aware of a niche in Dublin’s thriving dining scene, and determined to redeem the name of spicy Newari cuisine, Gautum was prompted to open Ireland’s first Nepalese restaurant in 1997.
Stepping into Monty’s of Kathmandu is like leaping across the world in a single bound. The walls are draped with paintings of breathtaking Himalayan vistas, but the centrepiece is an exquisite window frame that serves as a symbol of the Nepalese capital, its name meaning ‘city of wood’.
The hand-carved ornate work shows a meticulous Nepalese attention to fine detail that Gautum strives for in every aspect right of the restaurant, even down to the menus. Covered in traditional cloth, they show the kingdom of mountains and valleys hovering by the peaceful eyes of Buddha.
The Newari cuisine that Monty’s is best known for comes from a caste famous for their gastronomic arts. Only Nepalese chefs work in the kitchens here, because they understand the food and that “good cooking has to come from the heart”. Their simple creed is to ‘do the food as it should be done’.
Everything at Monty’s is made to order, but the menu reflects what the Nepalese people eat themselves, not what Irish tastes dictates. Diners can expect delicious blends of rice, lentils and cumin known as Dhal and takari – with no burgers and chips in sight.
Like all sectors in the economy, Ireland’s restaurants are being squeezed by the drop-off in consumer spending. But Gautum clearly recognises the challenges that lie ahead.
“Currently wage costs, rent and insurance account for 33 per cent of turnover. On top of this spiralling rates, bottle collection and sewer connection are all extra costs that weren’t there when we first opened in ’97,” he explains. “Most restaurants are doing enough to stay open but business is tough.”
Gautum, who is also a politics enthusiast, is quick to blast the Irish Government’s take on consumer spending.
“Government taxation policies are not good for business, everything is anti-employer, anti-entrepreneurial; there are no incentives to start new business at the moment. Every other economy in the world is enticing people to spend money, while Ireland seems to be doing the opposite.”
But he is confident the economy can be saved by hard work. Like the Nepalese gurkhas, known for their loyalty to their comrades, he believes in supporting local suppliers and ploughing money back into the economy to ensure business flourishes again.
His determined business plan is based on a slow and gradual growth. And customer satisfaction is paramount, which is why Monty’s of Kathmandu has done so well even on word of mouth alone.
It seems that Gautum has carved out as good a reputation for fine dining in Dublin as Kathmandu has for fine woodwork. “With a good name and a good reputation, a restaurant can survive in lean times,” he says, “as if they eat once, they’ll always want to return for more.”

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