27 Feb 2018
3 min read
Despite being only in its second month, the Durbar Pokhara Cafe Music Lounge has already managed to garner the attention of many food enthusiasts--for its eclectic range of delectable dishes, lively ambience and top-notch hospitality.
Before getting involved with the restaurant, Suraj Kumar Subedi, the franchise owner (the Pokhara establishment is a franchise of Durbar Lounge, Kathmandu) worked in the hospitality sector in Europe, while Rahul Giri, the restaurant’s manager and human resources head, ran an advertising company in Kathmandu. Subedi had always wanted to run a restaurant that served a fusion of European and Nepali cuisine, and it’s this vision that informs Durbar’s dishes and design.
Durbar is open seven days of the week, four of which are event-themed days: Magic Monday, Ladies Night Out on Wednesdays, Thirsty Thursday and Royal Friday.
Interiors and decor
Durbar caters to customers of all stripes and inclinations. That’s why the restaurant, which can accommodate up to 250 customers, is divided into several areas with various seating arrangements: from sections with comfy, plush sofas to a rooftop/terrace seating area, near a stage that overlooks the dance floor. “The lack of proper dance areas in restaurants is a problem in Pokhara,” says Subedi. “So we decided to create a spacious area in Durbar where customers can let loose and freely enjoy themselves.” The restaurant also features performances by bands and singers every day, in order to promote local music.
Subedi lived in Europe for quite a long time, and upon returning to Nepal, he noticed the lack of pubs here. So he opted to bring that “pub” vibe to Durbar by experimenting with the restaurant’s aesthetics. The restaurant is lit up by dim, colourful lights and yellow walls. The owners wanted to go with a ‘British Royalty’ theme, so large parts of the restaurant’s wallpaper feature British motifs, and mounted on the walls are decorative pieces of armour and guns.
Durbar offers a multi-cuisine menu with dishes that have been handpicked from an array of cuisines, including Continental, Mexican, Indian and Nepali.
For appetisers, we decided to munch on two customer favourites: the Chicken Chilli and the Fish Fingers. The Chicken Chilli makes use of a simple recipe: once the bite-size chicken pieces have undergone marination and a trip to the deep-fryer, they are tossed in a pan with pieces of capsicum, tomatoes, onions and a smattering of spicy hot garlic sauce. The meat is succulent, and the thick piquant sauce adds a flavourful punch. The slightly charred vegetables provide a lovely contrast to the meaty bites.
The Fish Fingers are all about simplicity: to create the dish, thin strips of fish fillet are coated in batter and deep-fried until the exterior turns golden brown. This dish comes with some thick tartar sauce. When you bite into the dish, you’ll first be met with the initial crunch of the batter, before encountering the juicy flakes of the fish. Since the fish fingers are only lightly garnished with a pinch of salt, the tartar sauce’s creamy and subtly tangy flavour provides most of the notes for the fish.
After we were done with the appetisers, we were recommended to try the signature dish of the restaurant: the Durbar Special Chicken. To prepare this extravagant dish, chicken breast is filled with a savoury cream, minced chicken and a pinch of rosemary and thyme. The chicken is then baked for 45 minutes. The tender chicken, enveloped in a creamy pepper sauce, is served with a hearty portion of sauteed baby potatoes. Every bite of the juicy chicken packs robust flavours of the herbs, and contrasts well with the simple salted potatoes. The only flavour missing from the combo is zestiness, but that’s where the sauce comes in.
Durbar also prides itself for its selection of Italian cuisine, which features a range of pizzas and pastas. We opted for a simple Mushroom Pizza to ease our palette because we’d just sampled the rich flavours of the appetisers and the Durbar Special Chicken. The thin-crust pizza comes smeared with homemade tomato sauce and topped with an even layer of mozzarella cheese and toppings of mushrooms.
The chef and the kitchen crew
Shailendra Khatri, the head chef at Durbar, entered the hospitality business 20 years ago. Before joining the industry, Khatri only had his love for cooking to count on, as he didn’t have any prior training, and knew next to nothing about the hospitality industry. His love for cooking fuelled his desire to increase his knowledge, and he thus actively sought out F&B training programmes. His expertise in this field can be attributed to his years of experience working at the Soaltee Hotel and Hotel Vaishali, as well as a decade-long stint at the Moore Cafe, in Dubai, before joining Durbar. Khatri says that going to Dubai proved to be a wise move. “In Dubai, I was working with chefs from all over the world, every single day. I was cooking dishes from cuisines that I didn’t even know the names of before going there. That environment really caused a huge shift in my perspective, and I looked at cooking with almost a newfound lens,” he says. “My interest and passion for cooking was definitely heightened after working with other chefs.”
At Durbar, Khatri manages a team of 12 staff members. Because the restaurant features a multi-cuisine menu, Khatri believes that it is crucial to be on the same page with his staff regarding their responsibilities. “There is no room for carelessness,” he says. “Which is why I personally train them every day.” The kitchen staff always receive half an hour of training before opening hours and one hour of training after closing hours. Furthermore, Khatri stresses the importance of hygiene and precise measurements as being the key to running a restaurant’s kitchen successfully.