WINNING AND DINNING AT ITS BEST AT PINK SALT BY VESPER WITH ALEX LAL MUKTAN
Italians are passionate people; they’re passionate about cars, women, love, hate, and ofcourse food. This is part of the reason why there are so many restaurants whose claim to Italian Cuisine and experience fall painfully short of expectation. It is important to remember that this passion in cooking often plays a pivotal role in Italian culture. It’s the glue of the family, the center of socializing, and often times the backbone of being Italian. And that’s true about almost any culture, including our own. However, replicating the Italian passion in food and experience is not easy, and there are very few places that seem to have done this successfully in Nepal.
In fact, there might only be a handful of names that really come to mind. Now, amongst these names, The Vesper Café and Restaurant has always contended for podium position. Known for their good food and splendid wine collection it’s always a joy to visit.
Unfortunately, they suffered a major setback when their infrastructure crumbled during the earthquake. However, this failed to douse their passion and efforts and they have started with another establishment that is situated in Bhaisepati. Christened ‘Pink Salt by Vesper’, the new restaurant is located in the quickly growing area in the outskirts of the Capital. Reflecting the aforementioned passion in its ambience and food, Pink Salt is a promising new eatery for anyone who loves Italian food. As luck would have it, sometime last month, we found ourselves chatting with Alex Muktan, Co-Owner of the business and we got to know more about the new place.
TNM: HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS? DID YOU HAVE ANY PLANS AS SUCH OR DID SOMETHING ELSE INSPIRE ITS INITIATION?
AM: We started Vesper back in 2009, and we did it purely because of our love for good food and wine. I’d like to think that hospitality is in our bloodline and we are inclined to do so professionally as well. I’m not saying it’s an easy job that anyone can do, but I was lucky enough to collect valuable experience and knowledge about how the industry works during our stay abroad. Furthermore, I personally think that the Nepali market had this gap in terms of a place that that provides premium quality service and exceptionally good taste.
This was also important in our decision to initiate Vesper back in 2009. The earthquake was a difficult time for the entire country, and we were amongst the many that suffered the brunt of the blow. We were operating Vesper Café and Restaurant in a beautiful Rana styled building in Jhamsikhel. It was an architectural splendor but it was also a very old building, and the earthquake brought it down. We quickly shifted to a nearby property where we continued our business.
TNM: YOU HAVE A STUNNING ARRAY OF CHOICES FOR WINE. HOW DID THIS COME ALONG?
AM: We’ve always had a love for wine and there came a point in time when we realized that there was a dearth of high quality wines in Nepal. One thing led to another and we ended up starting a wine trading business to ensure that there was a place for people go to for good wine.
TNM: Now, back to Pink Salt: how did you end up choosing this location?
AM: To be honest, the beauty of the location at Bhaisepati really took us aback. Apart from the visually appealing landscape, this location ticked all the right boxes: it is a fast-developing residential area that is quiet and well managed, it’s away from the bustle of the city but not too far away, there aren’t many restaurants that focus on Italian cuisine and a large array of wines, and it is convenient because we live nearby. Long story short, it is a great place to open a restaurant.
TNM: HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME PINK SALT?
AM: The Himalayan Pink Salt as an ingredient always fascinated us. Also, during our travels, we learned that many people consider pink salt as a healthy ingredient. Moreover, it was an interesting name and seemed to match our dining ambience so we referenced it in our restaurant’s name.
TNM: TELL US ABOUT THE WINES AVAILABLE HERE?
AM: A good wine compliments the meal, and we select our wines with this in mind. Luckily, we import all our wine directly from the producers so we get the liberty to choose the wines we want. Currently we have over 100 different labels of wines from the best wineries in the world. We make our selection based on what goes best with the meals favored here in Nepal. It’s like they say, when you combine good food, wine, ambience and music it elevates the whole dining experience and that is what we are shooting for at Pink Salt by Vesper.
TNM: THERE ARE LOTS OF RESTAURANTS POPPING UP IN THE VALLEY, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY SETS PINK SALT BY VESPER APART FROM THEM?
AM: First of all, there aren’t many restaurants that cater to authentic Italian cuisine. And I say this in the most polite way because we ourselves are not perfect and we are working consistently to get to that level. What would really set us apart is the entire experience that we provide to our customers. We have amazing chefs that have been trained by the best from around the world, a soothing environment, vibrant ambience, and qualified staff all at a reasonable price. As, I have already mentioned, the top quality we maintain and the range of wine selection also works into our appeal.
TNM: HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN THE STANDARD THAT YOU HAVE ALREADY SET IN THE MARKET?
AM: We’ve been in the business for more than 8 years and we have been doing our best not just to maintain the brand name Vesper but also the overall experience for our customers. Consistency is what we aim for. We keep revising and updating our menus so that we ensure the quality is top notch. It is not easy in terms of manpower to get things done in a fixed time but we do keep adding a few different things every three months, and this effort really seems to be appreciated by our visitors.
TNM: HOW HAS THE RESPONSE FOR PINK SALT BEEN?
AM: We have made sure that we maintain our quality in food and service by utilizing the same management team that made The Vesper Café and Restaurant a success. So far, we have had very positive response and we look forward to continuing this and possibly improving further.
GAMBERI ALLA GRIGLIA CON PEPERONIE AGLIO ORIGANO SALSA
A mouthful, I know, but it’s actually Italian for “good lord this is good!” When the waitress brought this to our table, we were taken aback by the display. Now, often, the display tends not to come to par with the taste, but with this, everything matched up. The prawns were succulent and the mix of bell peppers, black olives, mushroom, garlic, and oregano was a party any pallet would be more than happy to host.
GRILLED HERB CHICKEN
Chicken is a universal favorite. When you pair that with a creamy sauce and lay it on a special bed of veggies, the best gets better. The chicken was tender and as always, one of the best displays we’ve seen so far.
As meat loving omnivores, veggies don’t come to our mind. But, as we have come to learn, these non-meat dishes are as good. So we had high expectations about this pizza, which were not let down. An arrangement of stewed aubergines, peppers, mushrooms, spinach sat proudly with shredded mozzarella, and ever so gently on our mouths.
WORDS:SHREYA SANGROULA AND NIRVEEK PPJ SHAH | PHOTO:PRITAM CHHETRI