"We were like the The Haçienda of the curry restaurants," Buda Dangol laughs, as we sit down at a table in The Great Kathmandu, his traditional Nepalese curry house in Manchester's West Didsbury. This year, the restaurant celebrates its 30th anniversary—no mean feat when considering how the city's culinary scene has evolved.
"Back in the day, all the pubs used to close at 11," Dangol continues. "There were no late licenses for anything, so after the pub, you basically had to go for a curry. Now, the whole culture of the curry house is different. Ten or 15 years ago, we'd get customers hunched over the table with a napkin over their head but that's all gone because bars open late, but we still close at 12."
It's not just changes in drinking culture that The Great Kathmandu is fighting, there are also the improvements to Manchester's public transport system. While West Didsbury locals would have previously been willing to wait for a table at Dangol's restaurant, many now opt to take the tram into the city centre for an evening meal.
The restaurant has competition closer to home now, too. Since opening on Burton Road, it now shares its strip with Simon Rimmer's vegetarian restaurant Greens and popular neighbourhood eatery Albert's Restaurant & Bar. On top of all that, there's the issue of chef shortage.
"Our last tandoori chef came over from Nepal on a work permit but with Brexit, who knows what will happen in the future?" Dangol tells me. "That's why the restaurant has started to incorporate a training policy, where we promote the development of our staff from kitchen porters right up to curry chef."
The Great Kathmandu was founded by Dangol's grandfather, Gopal, who's been in the restaurant business for over 50 years. Before moving to the UK, he worked in Delhi, which is why the restaurant has always offered Indian dishes as well as those from Nepal. And although Gopal has now largely turned over the day-to-day running of the restaurant to his children and grandchildren, he still goes vegetable shopping at 7 AM every morning and it's his recipes that remain as the favourites on the impressively long menu.
"Dad never lets us take anything off," Dangol explains. "He believes the customer is king and should have as much choice as possible."
As well as making busy periods like Christmas a logistical nightmare, this no-curry-left-behind approach means Dangol also gets hit with a £200 each time he wants to get menus reprinted.
As a vegetarian, I can be limited in choice when going out for a curry, but I'm overwhelmed by the endless dishes on offer at The Great Kathmandu. I ask Dangol to pick for me.
"Do you like paneer?" he asks.
"It's my favourite," I tell him.
"Good, we make our own," he says, and orders a selection of dishes, from the Asian-influenced "aloo chillie" starter to the makhan aloo curry made with potatoes and butter, the flavour of which some customers liken to tomato soup.
"I can taste the connection," I say, although it's the comforting aspect of the rich, creamy sauce that I see similarity in. The depth in flavour and freshness to the dish is something you'd never find in a tin of Heinz.
The star of the dish for me, though, is the paneer. It's light, fluffy, and with none of the dense rubbery texture it's often accused of.
Despite studying business information technology, Dangol is evidently as passionate about food as his dad. As I get stuck into the vegetable rice, he excitedly explains that the dish is flavoured with star anise, fenugreek seeds, and black peppercorns, dextrously moving his fork around to point them all out.
"We bake and grind all our own spices on site too," he says. "We're determined never to scrimp on anything. Whereas other places will give you six pieces of meat, we'll give you eight. The only thing we don't do any more is tenderise the lamb strips with a mallet. It just took too long. But we make up for it by using high quality New Zealand meat."
Dangol has ideas for improvements to The Great Kathmandu menu, too. He will soon return to his father's home country in search of new recipe ideas.
"I want to try out Nepalese tapas," he admits mischievously, while also telling me he'd like a local graffiti artist to redecorate the interior, which still boasts the original gold statues brought over by from Nepal by Gopal. The interior design also adheres to the Indian restaurant stereotypes of brightly hued carpets and token fish tank.
Perhaps then, The Great Kathmandu will eventually bow down to changing trends. For now though, it stands triumphant as West Didsbury's most traditional curry house.
All photos by Akash Khadka.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2016.