Kathmandu :

With prizes and medals and work on three continents, Chef Ajay Pathak’s greatest accolade is running the Annapurna Coffee shop and Ghar-e-Kebab in temporary spaces within The Annapurna and still filling both to capacity.

Says Pathak, “I’ve got a great Indian restaurant so I am concentrating on Continental food.”

His efforts are amply rewarded in coffee shop dishes such as The Annapurna Salad. In the 14th century, European salad chefs combined 35 ingredients to make a salad including flo-wers. Pathak uses feta cheese, virgin olive oil, Dijon mu-stard, mayonnaise and balsamic vinegar on fresh vegetables to make an innovative, velvety but crunchy salad the tongue remembers and asks for more.

In UK, Pathak studied the art of sandwich making and says, “I know 2,000 sandwiches”, which would put to shame the 18th century Earl of Sandwich John Montagu, who invented them. His club sandwich is made of two individually baked pieces of pao roti and doesn’t have a middle piece so you have lots of room for grilled chicken, bacon, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and that famous of all cheeses, the highish Gruyere, created in 900 AD in a small town in the Swiss Alps — it was initially used as payment to buy firewood. The club sandwich gives you different tastes with each bite and a special moistness comes with a hint of mayonnaise and the ingredients themselves. Your mouth drowns in it.

Chef Pathak, who has been known to cook ostrich and crocodile, turns his mind to stuffed chicken which is called Savvy Oven-Roasted Chicken Supreme. Pathak’s combining of spinach, Danish feta cheese, homemade pesto, sun-dried tomatoes is unusual, in that it is breadless unlike most stuffing. The taste is rich — the pesto alone requires pine nuts, cheese and basil mixed painstakingly and the rest of the fillings are mixed in just the right quantities. For me, stuffed chicken is comfort food and I couldn’t have been more comforted than by the marvellous combination.

“I use local fish wherever I can. In UK I used cod, in Dubai hammour, in India bekti and sole. Here I use bachua, which is a Nepali fish that is wonderful.”

The Chargrilled Bachua Fillet has a lightly flavoured crust with a piquantly sharp white wine and caper sauce. In early 18th century, Benjamin Fran-klin said, “Fish and visitors smell in three days.” Not so Chef Pathak’s delectable chargrilled bit of cheer. It goes from good to great in two bites. Franklin, who converted to eating fish voraciously, would have cancelled his historic remarks.

Heera, who was anticipating our orders with helpful efficiency, brought on the kheer. A cool and cold South Asian specialty of which writer Jiggs Kalra (who was around the Maurya Sheraton at the same time as Chef Pathak) says, “This traditional rice pudding is served by rich and poor alike. The garnish reflecting the wealth of the host.”

Pathak’s kheer had a super taste of saffron and nutty under layer. Strangely Shakespeare in The Winter’s Tale has a clown planning a rice pudding with exactly the same ingredients including saffron.

With over 60 items to choose from, Chef Pathak has got his work cut out for him. But with two decades of experience, there’s only one way the food at The Annapurna will go — to mountainous new heights. Call 4221711.