Upstairs restaurants (i.e. those without any significant street level presence) can be notoriously challenging. In a business where ‘location, location, location’ is everything, you can count one hand those in downtown Vancouver that are successful—starting with CinCin as arguably the most enduring. In fact, part of CinCin’s very success—beyond impeccably executed wood fired dishes and a superb wine program—may actually be found in its separateness. That notion of escaping to a different world from Robson below certainly carries some cachet. Nearby Market in the elegant Shangri La enjoys considerable similar cachet and acclaim, buoyed rightly by Jean-Georges, while even Earls (Robson) is another example of an upstairs destination, though with an entirely different personality.
An upstairs adventure of note, is Gurkha Kitchen, in one of the few remaining, almost intact older houses on Davie Street, near Thurlow. (1141 Davie St., 604-565-7965)
We dropped by with a couple of close friends and were immediately impressed, not only by the freshness of the ingredients and by the affordable menu (excellent daily specials $10-$12) but also by that same sense of escape, enhanced by the gently tweaked heritage surroundings. Not to mention friendly and well informed service.
When went back to interview and photograph Chef Shiva Marahatta and his business partner, manager Raju Bhattarai (who spent not a few dollars and several months greatly upgrading the kitchen and overall space), we received a crash course in Nepali cuisine, accompanied by more good plates to taste. But we were also reminded that passion both in the kitchen and tableside, with a healthy dose of dedication, are key ingredients to the success of any restaurant.
The most important thing to understand about Nepali food, explained Shiva, is that it’s quite different from Indian cuisines, set apart by subtler spicing and milder curries. Our hunch is that people would beat a path to this warm and friendly salute to things Himalayan, wherever it might be—upstairs or down.
See you there!
Here’s our Courier review:
There is something infinitely right about the arrival of Gurkha Himalayan Cuisine (1141 Davie St., 604-565-7965) in the West End upstairs space that used to be home to Mis Trucos. On a damp Monday night, even though the newcomer has been open for only a couple of weeks, it’s already busy. Most tables are filled and there’s a humm of quiet conversation mingled with the unmistakeable, intangible atmosphere that accompanies satisfied diners.
We too are soon rewarded as we nibble on our first tastes of aalu kaauli (cauliflower, potatoes, green peas and tomatoes with herbs and spices), and lekaali taama (bamboo shoots with black eyed peas); and spoon richly flavoured, cooked in broth Sherpa chicken over perfectly textured basmati rice.
Add in the living room feel of the (TV-free) setting, not far removed from its original incarnation as a cozy West End home, combined with genuinely friendly service—that includes a visit from the chef to every table, and it’s easy to see why Gurkha is already a hit with the locals.
“A lot of people think Nepalese is like Indian food but it’s not,” explains co-owner and chef Shiva Marahatta, when we return to explore further.
“We have our own spices and we use less of them,” he suggests, “And we always use fresh ingredients, with almost everything made on the spot”—which is precisely the way everything tastes.
While the plates are very fresh the spicing truly is quite subdued. It truly is not about heat at all but more about subtlety of flavours, emphasized mainly by szechuan paper, fenugreek and cumin, often with garnishes of cilantro and parsley.
Hallmark dishes range from Thukpa, a much celebrated Tibetan styled soup, with spinach, ginger and lemon grass and herbs, to tender gorkhali khasi, tender morsels of goat in a Nepalese spiced (but still mild) curry sauce; and momos, Nepal’s version of the steamed dumpling: perfectly shaped toonie sized treats packed with chicken or vegetable variations, served with chutney on the side.
Prices are moderate (nothing over $15), with plenty of appetizers and smaller plates, as well as no shortage of good vegetarian options. Utterly unpretentious, with a wealth of dishes to explore (next week sees an expanded menu as well as lunch service). this is casual dining at its best.
Also coming soon will be wine on tap, and a revamped wine list with more emphasis on aromatics, as well as draught beer—although there are currently a few brews by the bottle, as well as lassi (mango yoghurt).
With its unassuming airs, clean flavours and thoughtfully conceived plates, Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen is not only a welcome new arrival but a serious contender to elevate the overall tone of dining choice in Davie Village.