Soho’s Staunton Street is now bookended by Nepalese restaurants. At one end, close to the escalator, Nepal Restaurant & Bar serves up much-heralded cuisine that has kept customers coming back for years. At the other end of the street, Annapurna has quietly opened its double doors, revealing a low-lit and casual dining environment with an emphasis on homey Nepalese food.
The owners of Soho Corner and the newish Soho Junction bar have furthered their Staunton Street takeover ambitions by converting a narrow storage area into a sleek yet laidback space with cushioned bench seating running against the brick walls, leading up to a small bar and kitchen area at the back of the restaurant.
In its early days at least, the emphasis is clearly on friendly and familiar service. We visited on a quiet night when the waiting staff had little to do, which perhaps excuses their sometimes over-eager service, but the friendly chats with the co-owner and manager, Meenu, were welcome and non-intrusive.
Annapurna’s unique selling point is an authentic Nepalese experience, so the art and friendliness complements the traditional flute-led folk music playing gently over the sound system. The food, too, is more down-at-home than the fare on offer at the restaurant at the opposite end of the street. The prices are pretty wallet friendly – mains range from $60 to about $100, with only the grilled prawns topping the $200 mark – and the fare tends towards the basics, with fewer curries on the menu than you might expect: dumplings with chilli chutney, split black lentils with roti, potatoes, dried fish, and beef feature prominently, all whipped up by a chef who has recently relocated from a small (now closed) Nepalese eatery in Jordan. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll find plenty here to keep you satisfied.
Not being hewn to such dietary restrictions, we opted for the chicken mo mo cha dumplings and yak cheese salad for starters. The dumplings ($50, about six to a plate) had a soft, ravioli-like texture, and were moist without being wet. The light chicken flavour made them fine to eat on their own, but with the zingy chilli chutney they were delectable and incredibly moreish. The salad was light on yak cheese, but the few hunks served atop a bed of simple greens with a light lemon dressing were enough to tempt a second helping: a slightly smoky taste and just-the-right-side-of-mature aroma do the yaks credit.
Two dhal dishes (mismas dhal and mas ko dhal, each $80) did little to inspire the senses, advancing the art of making lentils interesting by not a great deal but at least serving as a useful vehicle for dressing up roti and rice, but the goru-ko-choyala (grilled beef with tomato, onion and coriander marinated in mustard oil, $120) was tender and juicy, with the aromatic spices lending the meat a light touch of flavoursome fire.This is a street-food favourite for vendors in Nepal.
If you’re that way inclined you can finish your evening with a shisha pipe, set at a very reasonable price of $100 – most likely to compete with Sahara, just round the corner on Elgin Street.
G/F, 59 Staunton St, Soho, 2857 2966. Daily 6pm-midnight. Meal for two: about $500.