What inspired the pop-up?
It was inspired by my time on MasterChef: The Professionals. I’m from Nepal but I’ve been cooking Indian food in restaurants for the past 20 years, so I decided I wanted to cook Nepalese food for the programme. It’s been a discovery for me. When I was 15 years old, I moved to India and every year I would return to Nepal on holiday, but I didn’t get the chance to even travel Nepal. I didn’t really know the food of Nepal so for the show I started to research it. It was a hit, so now I want to continue this with the pop-up.
How would you describe Nepalese food?
I’m still looking for a description of it. It is a cuisine that is inspired by its location – it is a very long country that borders India on three sides (the south, east and west) and China on one (Tibet, to the north). Momos are steamed dumplings that are found in Nepal, but they are made using a technique that came from Tibet, but in Nepal they are more famous now. We like using a lot of chillies as they do in Indian and China. We have one very hot red chilli called dalle khursani, we use it to make a pickle that is really hot and burns your mouth but is also full of flavour.
Tell us about the pop-up
It will be the first Nepalese food I’ve cooked since the show and will run for six weeks on Wednesday to Saturday evenings between 20September and 30 October. I went to Nepal for five months visiting restaurants and people’s homes to learn more about Nepalese food and I want to bring this undiscovered food to London - and to the rest of the world. I’m serving a 15-course menu and the food will be fine dining and modern Nepalese cuisine – modernisation has so far been missing in Nepalese cuisine served over here. I wanted to do a 25-course menu but it this first time I’m doing this, so I didn’t want to do too much. If it as success next time I will make it even more luxurious.
What’s on the menu?
Dishes such as egg and lamb mince bara (a lentil pancake with lamb mince and quail egg); lamb brain doughnuts; steamed chicken momo with cucumber pickle, caviar and gold leaf; mixed goat offal pie with dried fish chutney; and Nepali spiced chargrilled octopus with bhang ko chutney, taro leaf terrine, spice yoghurt and sisnu aloo. I’ve worked with Raymond Blanc, Atul Kochhar and Vivek Singh and they have given me the experience to design a tasting menu like this, with lighter dishes and different courses for fish, vegetables, chicken, and red meat. I’ve only written 13 courses, so I still have two yet to decide, but there are so many dishes to choose from. Maybe on the day I’ll serve 18 courses because I have so much food to give.
Is the UK ready for Nepalese food?
Yes. I came to the UK in 2010 when it was a really good time for fine dining Indian cuisine. A few years later came the growth in popularity of Thai cuisine with restaurants like Kiln, Smoking Goat and Rosa’s Thai, and now it’s the turn of Sri Lankan cuisine. But in a few years’ time it will be Nepal’s turn. Chefs have already been putting Nepalese and Himalayan cuisine on their menus, even in Michelin starred restaurants. Fatt Pundit (which has restaurants in Soho and Covent Garden), for example, has momos on its menus. We have an audience now which is why I’m looking for a place to open my fine dining restaurant, and this will be a boost for the cuisine. If you go into any Indian restaurant now across the country, I can guarantee there will be two or three Nepalese chefs working there but at the moment they don’t believe in the cuisine. However, things are changing.
Santosh Shah will be cooking at Cinnamon Kitchen City from 20 September to 30 October. Tickets can be booked here