Take the begrimed stairs by UCB in Durbar Marg and you reach Koto – one of Kathmandu’s oldest restaurants specializing in Japanese – on the first floor. Done in a typical Japanese décor with wooden-glass doors and an open kitchen, the place offers a brilliant variety of seating arrangements – an open space of wooden chairs overlooking the road with lanterns hanging above; a smoking zone with low tables on the farthest end and a small no-smoking setting with gray Noren curtains hanging (similar Noren curtains obstruct a full view of the kitchen) in between.

5 Ws

Where’s it located?
Durbar Marg, above the United
Colors of Benetton outlet
What to wear?
Depends on where you want to sit
Why drop in?
Anything Japanese
When to visit?
Late afternoon lunch is the time I
How much to carry?
Three thousand for three with
My Happiness Index

The last time we were there for a late afternoon meal, we occupied the farthest corner in the floor seating space. The service staff in traditional Japanese attire, who followed us from the door until we settled in, brought us the menu and another one brought us warm moist hand towels to wipe hands with. My favorite part is when the guy brings in the Waribashi – un-lacquered bamboo chopsticks jointed on the blunt end. The matte texture is great for beginners and largely preferred by seasoned users – for its never-been-used-before property.

We began with the ubiquitous Miso soup. Sparsely spiced with dices of tofu and minimal greens, it smells as uplifting as ever. The Japanese version is less pungent than its Korean counterpart and serves a great purpose when you’re really hungry and looking forward to some solid food. Unlike most other spots, the soup here comes only in bowls and you don’t get to ask for master servings and multiple empty bowls. The trick with a Japanese menu is in getting the order right. Soups are usually complimentary, so it makes sense to recheck the order for the number of soup bowls that turn up on the table once you’re done with ordering. I give my own example – we’d asked for a set menu which meant a bowl of soup less.

The Veggie tempura is an art with presentation. The crisp and light batter encloses all sorts of veggies – greens, onion slices, black mushrooms, carrots – all inclusive. The ginger soy dip is medium – not too strong – and provides for an excellent dip if the tempura alone tastes rather bland. Take caution with the wasabi though – you’ll otherwise be puffing hot steam from your nose and ears – it’s a culinary nuclear bomb straight from Japan.

I love the inverted sushi here – inverted in sense that the weed goes on the inside and the rice unguarded on the outside with a generous sprinkle of white sesame. If the idea of raw meat doesn’t sound palatable to you (as well), you could always go for the Prawn tempura sushi. The prawn is succulent, smells nothing like the usual prawn and the sushi itself is quite inflated. I doubt if kids are in for the sushi in a single bite. I love the Kikkoman that comes along but make it a point to make sure I don’t overuse it; else the sushi is in all tatters.

The Yakitori Don – barbeque chicken with rice is an equally alluring fare. Charcoal-grilled skewers of chicken and shallots in mild spices and herbs served atop a bowl of sticky rice makes for a stomach-full of delight alone. Save some Miso soup for a couple spoonfuls of rice with it – great. The tender chicken goes very well with the rice and complements the neutral flavor with a rich juicy experience. The Ginger pork, however, is not extraordinary. Done in a bed of onions and gingers, it looks rather uninviting, thanks to its humble appearance.       

My Verdict
Koto is included in the Lonely Planet’s list of things you might want to do while in Kathmandu; I too recommend Koto to anyone longing for authentic Japanese in the Nepali capital. An unfortunate moment though – my nose sniffs spills. Of course people love assistance but not everyone is a first-timer – advices are most welcome only when solicited. The check is quite formidable for those who know other Japanese eat-outs in Kathmandu but the standard of hygiene and the specialized taste more than makes up for the finances. !

Furnishings   Wooden chairs and floor seating – diverse
Ambiencee   Warm wood, mute colors – Japanese-ly welcoming
Cutlery   Llove the waribashi
Service   Brilliant at suggestions, can be over-imposing at times
Restroom   Can’t be unclean
My rating   Will be back for sure