FOO CHEE CHANG
For as long as anyone can remember, Thamel has been the go-to place for wining and dining and a little light music. For the bulk of tourists, this cluster of streets packed with cheap accommodation and souvenir shops has served as a portal into the exotic new world of Nepal. Food, drinks and music are all universal languages, and the jetlagged, disoriented backpacker as much as the seasoned trekker can sit in any number of restobars and satisfy cravings for local dishes or creatively imagined dishes from home.
But over the past few years, Thamel's monopoly is being steadily challenged by another rather more urbane, upmarket area across the river. Jhamel is in town.
From Jhamsikhel and Jawalakhel, a new wave of restobars are proving themselves an increasingly popular alternative to Thamel. The core of what we call 'Jhamel' is an unassuming street leading up past St. Mary's, to the right just before you crest the hill to Jawalakhel. "Some people call this road Restaurant Lane," says Tara Sthapit, who has been managing Chapter 9 Restro Bar since it opened May last year. The road on which it is situated is also home to at least 10 other establishments, including bars, pizza joints, and live venues.
The cuisines and cocktails to be found here are as varied as that in Thamel, but the clientele they receive is different. Jhamsikhel and Sanepa have many expatriates and they form the bulk of their clientele.
"Here, you cater more to the residents and expatriates. In Thamel, it depends more on the number of tourists around, which can be seasonal," says Sudesh Shrestha, owner of New Orleans Coffee Shop. In short, the residential environment creates a stable business model, a sentiment that Roadhouse Cafe owner Chandan Kayestha shares. Both these restobars also have a branch in Thamel.
Some restaurants are also witnessing an increase in the proportion of locals among their clientele. Sing-ma Food Court, the longest running restaurant in the area, has seen many more Nepalis recently. "It initially started with the adventurous ones, but soon more locals started trying the food, and liked it," says owner Erick Tan.
The owner of Red Dingo Restaurant (off Jawalakhel), Jonathan Mendies, attributes this shift to the increasing willingness of locals to spend. "Nepalis now have the disposable income, and are ready to pay for good food and ambience," he affirms.
Those who fancy a tipple on Restaurant Lane will first come across Buzz Bar, and may well find themselves jiving at the reincarnation of Moksh at the end of the street by the end of the night. Beyond Hermann Helmers on the parallel street down the road, is Cafe Bliss, run by three partners, Yunus Shrestha, Ravin Bajracharya and Tilli Raj Ghale. A foreigner is bait for other foreigners.
With the area still growing and loaded with potential, Jhamsikhel is fast replacing Thamel.