November 13 2019
Heartwarming bliss at Yak Yeti Yak
The chill in the air is swiftly giving way to icy rain, the traffic on Manvers Street is at a fume-chugging standstill, and I’m becoming envious of the sane souls who have decided to stay put indoors by the fire instead of venturing out into what momentarily feels like a distinctly inhospitable world. But on I plod, because I know that there’s a light at the end of the (wind) tunnel – and that light has been burning brightly for a very long time.
The beacon of congeniality that I know will make me feel very sane indeed is Bath’s only authentic Nepalese restaurant Yak Yeti Yak: a family-run venture established by Sarah and Sera Gurung 15 years ago, today still doing very good things in both the kitchen and for whole communities of folk 4,500 miles away (click here to read all about the amazing work of the YYY Foundation, established by Sarah and Sera following the earthquake that devastated Nepal in April 2015.)
Yak Yeti Yak originally opened on Argyle Street in 2004. Three years later, the people of Bath, visitors to the city, national critics and The Good Food Guide alike were so seduced by the momos, tamars and jhols (let alone the Freak Street Apples) that dominate the authentic Nepalese menu that the restaurant relocated to larger premises in the basement of three former 18th century town houses in Pierrepont Street in 2007.
From the moment you start making your way through the gate and down the stairs, character goes large here: there’s something almost other-worldly magical about even the lead-in to the twinkly bar at the epicentre of the dining rooms (including a low table/cushion-strewn area for those with less rickety knees than I’ve got) and the vibe offers a super-cheerful welcome from the get-go. The décor (lots of rich, sensual red and gold paint, fixtures and fittings; colourful Nepalese flags; quirky little Nepalese knick-knackery everywhere) adds further fairyland-style atmospherics, and even the serving plates are made from heavy golden brass… overall, we’re in an Aladdin’s Cave for foodies in search of a side dish of effortlessly charming fascination at every turn.
But if YYY is – as a friend of mine recently suggested – one of Bath’s best-kept secrets, that secret is very badly kept; as we take to our table, it’s clear that many of our fellow diners are long-term regulars doing their regular Friday evening thing, while the out-of-towners in our midst have clearly been pointed in the right direction by guides and advisors who know the city inside out.
You know how I just made that apparently throwaway comment about momos, tamars and jhols? Well prepare to get up-close-and-personal with all three here, alongside all manner of similarly exotically-named dishes that are distinctly lesser-spotted in Bath. Nothing is so unfamiliar that we’re anything close to discomfort zone territory, though; dish descriptions are refreshingly clear and accessible, and you can choose which heat-direction to take your tastebuds on. Your olfactory senses are alerted to the fact that all the spices are freshly ground on the premises before you’ve even found the back page of the menu, and the vegetarian options are easily as alluring as carnivorous selection (after all, you won’t find loads of people regularly bingeing on meat in Nepal.)
We started our trek around the menu with pork momos (a YYY speciality: soft, fat, steamy little dumplings bursting with soft, moist pork) and Malekhu Macha – marinated salmon pieces, deep-fried but distinctly non-greasy. Both starters were served with a little pot of achar, a fresh tomato chutney that I’ve since decided I can’t live without.
On from that, we took the advice on the menu and ordered three main course dishes plus one rice and one dal. Are you ready for this? We were! Tender, velvety lamb stir-fried with peppers, cumin and YYY’s fresh, fragrant masala blend; moist chunks of high-grade chicken enlivened by the complex, sweet/bitter tang of fenugreek (if it’s true that you’ve got to be a clever chef to use fenugreek properly, the chefs behind this dish are clearly very clever indeed) jazzed up with fresh peppers and gently kissed with more of that masala blend; Hario Cauli ra Kurilo (that’ll be delicately spiced, stir-fried very fresh broccoli, asparagus and peppers, then) – and Maasko Dal: black lentils simmered until they turn into a smooth paste-like consistency, then refried to bring the bite back and enrichened with herb-infused vegan ghee. Rice? A big fluffy, steaming pile of the stuff, ready to absorb all the luscious sauces. Dessert… well Freak Street Apples aren’t going to try themselves, are they? So we went forth and discovered why everyone raves about this softly-spiced apple tart.
Okay, so we’re now raving about Yak Yeti Yak as though we’re brave explorers who have discovered a far-flung land of plenty. But while this gorgeous little exotic bistro is indeed a land of plenty, it’s right on our doorstep in Bath… and, in so many ways other than the literal sense, a million miles away from the bleak, bland landscape of bleak, bland chain restaurants that increasingly dominate the city centre.
It may be winter outside, but this enduringly appealing comfort zone offers the kind of soul-soothing warmth and sustenance that wraps you up in a big cosy blanket of heartwarming bliss; I think it’s safe to say we love it, then…
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