The Yak and Yeti may look a little rough and ready, but, says Elaine Lemm, the Nepalese delicacies are infinitely more refined.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. If you like your restaurants gussied up and neatly dressed, then read no further. The Yak and Yeti in York is no such place. The unassuming entrance to the restaurant on Goodramgate is in one of those horrendous concrete infill buildings that once upon a time, someone in the planning department thought a good idea. So easy to walk by and I certainly have for the longest time.
So, ignore both the entrance and slightly grubby dark staircase up to the dining room because they are soon forgotten when the convivial atmosphere and warm welcome from the staff take over. The Yak and Yeti is a busy place and even early doors on a mid-week night there are few remaining tables without either people or a reserved sign, so you may want to book.
I didn’t even know there was a Nepalese restaurant in York until recently – imagine my surprise when I found out there are two. The Yak was the first and proud of the fact. In fact, Nepalese is popular in Yorkshire but then the Gurkha Company is based at Catterick Garrison.
So what makes the food here so different and pulling diners up those stairs?
Nepal is tucked between the Tibetan plateau and those two giants of the subcontinent, India and China, and their food reflects these influences but is not dominated by either. The spices used are not unlike those found across Northern India (cumin, ginger, turmeric et al) but used sparingly, and less hot. There is no cream, so the food is thinner in texture and few of the breads like naan and chapati we are used, so instead, rice and daal dictate. Neither will you find many of the pastes that underpin familiar Indian dishes. Prevalent, though, is the Chinese influence of stir-frying vegetables.
It is exciting to be trying a distinctively different food, so we pored over the menu for quite some time. Unsurprisingly, the wine list requires far less effort, with a bare bones offering of four whites, reds, rose and one Champagne. There is one real ale, a Khukuri Nepali larger and Stella plus a few other bits and bobs. But we are far more interested in the food.
There is some pandering to British tastes on the menu but for the most part we knew nothing on there. However, given the simple, clear descriptions and more colours than a Tibetan prayer flag denoting dietary considerations, it was not hard to decipher.
Starters are light and simple with soup, spiced potates, Kukhura ko Sapeta (marinated chicken drumsticks roasted then deep-fried) and Nepalese Style pork ribs (chosen across the table and enjoyed immensely). Momo is what grabbed my attention, and these are, apparently, very popular. These steamed, fragrantly spiced dumplings are one of the best things I have eaten in the longest time.
Alongside these was a fresh chutney which was hot but not burning and added even more flavour to what was already an exceptional morsel. I was so happy with my choice I did not want to eat anything else in case it did not live up to these.
I am glad I did though with an Aloo Tama (fermented bean shoots, stir fried with new potatoes and black eyed peas) and a dish of Maasko Dal (split black lentils sauce cooked with traditional spices, finished with fried ginger). The Maasko was a no, no for me. Unlike the black Daal I am used to and really love, this was thin and watery. The Aloo, though, was another triumph of simplicity and freshness over substance and frills. And the spicing was so precise it was a joy to eat.
No veggie food across the table as he tucked into Everest lamb. It was a dark, brooding dish of slow cooked, local lamb with onions, ginger, garlic, fresh Nepali masala, chilli and coriander and filling enough to possibly get you to base camp when teamed with Bhuteko Bhat (rice fried in Ghee with spice and mixed, almost raw, vegetables).
Forget puddings. There are only two, chocolate fudge cake and ice cream. The staff here are mainly family members it seems and as sweet as anything. It is not a slick operation but is friendly and efficient. You come here for the food and for the atmosphere and they deliver both superbly well.
Dinner for two with wine and a large Nepali beer, £42.00.
• The Yak and Yeti 63A Goodramgate, York, North Yorkshire YO1 7LS. 01904 624677. Open: Monday to Satursday, 5pm-10pm.