Sunday, July 10, 2011

Making a Menu in Nepal

Doing business here can be challenging and so can cooking. If you combine them together you can get one really good sized headache, but as they say the harder the challenge the greater the reward. Putting a menu together here has lots of challenges ranging from seasonal or unreliable availability of many ingredients to strange pricing structures that make it hard to cost things effectively or even accurately due to variation. Despite this we set out to create a high end pub style set of food that we believe we can reliably make at a cost that people will find acceptable. Exciting for me as well is the fact that we were able to put together a full western style menu complete with graphics and proper descriptions, I think a first in Nepal. It's still not done, and I have no prices actually listed, just place holders but in this post I thought I'd talk about the menu's development to this point. For those that are curious I did the design work in a combination of MS Expression Design and Publisher.

Menu Cover 

The only thing to say about the cover is the logo. We've gone through roughly a dozen logo incarnations, and have almost settled on this one, any further changes should be rather minor. One of the challenges we faced in logo design is that the brand will not be just the restaurant, but a variety of packaged goods as well that we already will be selling at the farmer's market here and hopefully at some of the grocery outlets in the not too distant future after launch. Thus we needed a logo that could transform to fit other foods, but still be the same base logo. Other logos had fonts and flames that couldn't be transformed without removing all resemblance to the original and thus any connection to the brand. This logo on the other hand can keep the same geometry, the same font for "Brian's" and just change the colors, remove the flame and change the font in the center and have individual product packaging that resembles the original closely that people realize it's all related.

We fooled around with a tag line at the bottom as well, but after talking about and creating a version that listed the location at the bottom for tourists, we decided that we actually liked it for general use. It also works because part of us hopes that if this restaurant is successful that we can expand to other locations over time, and we could change the location  Hard Rock Cafe style. I wouldn't be looking for Brian's Grill House Bangkok or Delhi any time soon, or possibly ever, but we like incorporating easily expandable elements where we can.

All told I'm happy with how the logo turned out. I would have liked to have done something a little less serious and with a bit more cleverness to it, but with the name we decided on, that was less of an option. Kim points out, and I agree to some extent, that the Grill House font is too southern, too Texas inspired and that this isn't really what we are. I think that perception is true in the US, but I think in Nepal and outside the US the font is more about America and steak, and less invoking of negative stereotypes that some northern folk have with southerners. I originally wanted cursive for the script of "Brian's" and though it looked good, it was pointed out to me that cursive is a script that is increasingly hard to read by native English speakers as it becomes a dying art, and is almost completely foreign to non-native English speakers.

 Appetizers, Wings, Salads, Soups, Nachos

Again remember that prices are all place holders at this point, as are the use of specific brands such as Heineken in our beer batter. We will be talking to the various alcohol distributors in the valley to see if there is any interest in a partnership for product placement and sponsorship and will be using brands accordingly. The layout was inspired by many of the midrange restaurants that you eat at in the States, using color to highlight certain foods and information. As I've discussed before, because food is so much different here and the audience is expected to be diverse and possibly not had exposure to american food terms before I've added some orange boxes through the menu that clarify just what some items are. Pico de Galo? Buffalo Wings? Chipotle? American style chili? What the hell are all these different cheeses? I tried to make sure this all got explained, besides people like feeling smart and can go on to explain to their friends.

I spent lots of time on the appetizer list, first reducing it in size, but also making sure that out of what got left behind there was something for almost every type of person. Healthy options, vegetarian options, Mexican, meat, Asian, Southwestern, spicy, very mild, etc. Within these confines I had to identify common ingredients that I could use throughout the menu as well, some items were great, but they required unique ingredients and their own specific prep that made them too time consuming, and potentially costly as far as waste. One concern that remains, and will be the driving force of any further changes is that we feel there are too many options on the menu which will be difficult for staff to handle. One option on an item, such as beef or veg chili for instance is fine, but when you add different dipping sauces, or side orders on top of it there is a good chance that you are creating an opportunity for mistakes, especially when your staff is using English as a second language, as are many of your clientele. Another force of change will be what we end up doing for tortilla chips, taco bowls/shells as this is continuing to be the largest culinary thorn in our side. Imported chips are not cost effective, retailing for about $4.50 for 500 grams and would push the price of these items off people's budgets, but locally made chips and corn flour are unsatisfactory. We're working on our own mix of local ingredients, but haven't found the magic answer yet. 

Graphically I like this page because it sets the tone of the whole menu.I really wanted to do something fun, that didn't take itself too seriously, and I think the use of flying buffalo and random paraphernalia like New Hampshire licence plates do the trick. I also tried to use imagery that brought out the roots of the food, and the feel of the place, and while the American flag might be a bit of a hammer over the head instead of a subtle hint, I really think it blended well into the page and into the American Nacho section. Other elements are far more subtle, the map in the background is the American north Atlantic coast, under Blue Buffalo salad is Cape Cod. In the circle cut outs behind the words are transparent images that I mostly used to add texture, but I didn't pick them at random. Behind Bikini Atoll Shrimp is a picture of a pacific nuclear test at Bikini Atoll, behind the Imperial Caesar Salad is a bust of the man himself, the Acropolis is behind the Greek Acropolis Salad, etc.  

 Sandwiches, Wraps, & Burgers

This was possibly the most challenging page to put together, and has seen the most transformation. Deciding exactly which sandwiches would get made was tricky, and although we will have the ingredients on hand to do double this amount, we thought this was a good starting point. We had to decide exactly how many types of rolls or bread we wanted to make, did we want all bulkie rolls, or did we need to use sub rolls? Should we use focaccia or make paninis? In the end we wanted to reduce our prep workload to something reasonable, and we ended up eliminating sub rolls, as we only had four sandwiches using them and two of those doubled as wraps. The only compromise is that the Philly Steak & Cheese will be on a bulkie, which to an american is sacrilege, but I couldn't bear to cut it from the menu after making one the other night, as it came out so much better than I expected here. I think anyone who has the chance to actually get a steak bomb in Kathmandu will be able to overlook the small problem of the bread's shape.

I've made no secret that one of the things I'm most excited about is doing a really great list of burgers. After starting with an initial list of roughly 22, I settled on these 14. These give a good mix of flavors and styles, varied use of cheeses and other toppings. Some are rubbed with spices, some rely on sauces, and some are just a large pile of tasty food (I'm looking at you Country Burger). Doing such a large selection of burgers is possibly a little daring in a Hindu country, so to compensate we also added a section of chicken burgers, something I had no intention of doing originally. Being able to name something the Mother Clucker made this all OK for me.

Graphically this carries forward the same style as the first page. The map in use is a late 19th century map of India and it's surrounding territories. Above western Nepal I've dropped some old climbing gear, the elephant is from the 1000 rupee note (the largest note in the country), and the background images continue to support the food items above them, such as the Empire State building behind the New York Burger. The chipotle peppers pictured next to their orange box were actually photographed in my kitchen by myself and plopped down on the menu. The ostrich heads may be the most random thing on the menu, but they made me smile so I was happy with them.

 Entrees, Desserts, & Drinks

This page isn't quite done, but it's getting there. The beverage section is still in a bit of flux while we decide what drink items we will carry and what kind of equipment we will pick up. Personally I find espresso machines to be expensive, prone to needing repairs and not all that appropriate for a bar and grill, but lots of people really like them and may not come if they can't get their caffeine fix with dessert. Personally I'd prefer to leave them off, and save the money for now, possibly expanding into it later as the place grows, but this is a battle I don't care to fight too hard, and may well lose to people who want to see them on our menu. I'm also not a fan of virgin mixed drinks, better known as mocktails around these parts, but again we can mix them and some people do like them, so why the hell not.

The entrees are somewhat simple, and despite being quite tasty in my opinion, aren't the focus of the menu. The general section gives a nice mix of vegetarian, non-veg and seafood options, and then we added a BBQ section and a Mexican section two of the larger draws I get from the food I already sell, and something nobody else, or very few, do well at all in this city. Some cuts of meet I still have to confirm I can get here and thus may alter the menu slightly. I also may adjust the bourbon sauce due to pricing concerns, as the sauce is half bourbon, and Maker's Mark or even Jim Beam isn't even a little cheap here. One of my favorite dishes in the world are tequila-lime fajitas, and after making them the other night I'm excited to have them on the menu here.

Most of the deserts take a drink theme, though they are somewhat in flux due to pending decisions about equipment, staff, and the amount of alcohol we want on the menu. For instance I'd love to do fired ice cream here since we have such a strong Mexican sub theme running though the menu, but the reality of refrigeration in Kathmandu may just make this not an option we're comfortable with depending on what we decide to do for a generator. Remember in the winter we go for up to 18 hours with no electricity here. Another thing to consider is that while the deserts would be unique and novel here the use of alcohol does scare a number of people off. Despite the fact that all of it is cooked off in most of these dishes or that it is minute amounts being used for flavoring, people that are anti-alcohol just won't order items with it in the name. They still order things like tirammisu, which has brandy, but since it isn't in the name it doesn't bother them...but I digress. We currently have two items with no alcohol at all, but I might try to make it more clear that some of these have virtually no booze in them or offer "virgin" versions of them, which will hardly be any different aside from easing the concerns of the overly cautious.  

Graphically I continued down the same path. For those curious the bust is of Marcus Aurelius, a stoic philosopher whose meditations I highly recommend and who is considered the last of the five good emperors of Rome. The fiesta goat with the sombrero was a needed addition, as some of us had pushed to have the name of the restaurant be " The Goat & Carrot". In the west we find goats to generally be a source of humor, in the east they are more often just a source of food, and thus the humor doesn't translate well. That said, it's hard not to find a goat in a hat with the words "fiesta" next to him at least a little funny. All that and I just like goats. The one thing that stands out in my mind on my trip to London, aside from what a great cosmopolitan city it is with great inexpensive theater, is the voice reminding me to "please mind the gap", and so I thought I'd throw the Brits a bone and put the underground slogan on there. 

The back page is where we decided to put the cocktails and alcoholic drinks, along with a brief blurb about the restaurant and myself (so people knew who the hell this Brian guy is). I went in a slightly different direction with the drink section, giving it a blue tone and a kind of sea side pirate-ish theme. The map in the background is an old one of the Caribean, the bottle of rum has a skull and bones on it, there's a message in a bottle, and there is a palm tree that was a pain in the ass to cut and blend into this. Although I barely drink, I was a bartender for a couple years and am quite excited about some of the drinks we can do here. As Nepal has no history of cocktails, and because ice and refrigeration are harder to come by than they should be, there is very little in the way of properly mixed drinks here. Things like bitters are unknown as are many liqueurs and flavorings such as sour mix. So I'm hoping to add a really nice selection of good looking drinks to the city. Another thing you just don't see here are drinks by the pitcher, which are great for social get togehters.  I'm hoping to pick up a Margarittaville frozen concoction maker while I'm in the US and make proper frozen drinks with shaved ice, not the crap that you end up chewing on if you use a blender. Although also unknown at this time we will also have a group of drinks that each of our owners creates. Mine is listed, but I'm waiting for the rest from the others.

Although the menu still needs to get priced out, and some decisions still need to be made about exactly what we will serve it's getting much closer to being what we all want it to be. Hopefully for those of you in Kathmandu you'll be able to order off of it by the end of the Fall.


  1. I'll forgive you for only having one vegetarian burger in light of how amazing the Mexican options look. I'm planning a return trip to KTM in Jan or Feb next year - but I'm having to try and convince my boyfriend that it actually is for work and not for the promise of chipotle, pesto and edible cheesecake...

  2. Thanks Lauren! In my defense of the veggie burger you'll notice that it has the option of three different marinades as well as three different cheeses, giving you a number of combination. Making it just a single entry was more a problem of space than options. Besides if you really just want it served like one of the other burgers subbing a veggie patty, just ask. Be sure to stop by if you make it over here!

  3. Wow, I'm excited to see your menu, and can't wait to stop in next time I'm in Nepal! Don't know when that will be, but hopefully sooner than later! Good luck!


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