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Going underground: The Mint

Allan Reid’s monthly column, Voracious explores restaurants throughout Victoria

I was trying to determine how to categorize The Mint. It feels a lot like a pub sans almost anything vaguely British. Rough brick, concrete, rugged wood and timbers. The concrete bar looks like someone took a sledgehammer to it, though the live-edge wooden top gleams. On the walls is a collection of hefty metal art and Indigenous masks from Asia, India, Africa, and even Mexico, I think. And the decor in the washrooms, at least in the men’s room, is graffiti. It’s even scratched into the mirror.

The Mint is also a nightclub, with shows that take place in the other room. On the night I visited, comedians Alex Foreman and Nash Park were performing, but that was behind closed doors, and I didn’t have a ticket. Instead, I am treated to Tracey Chapman, Bruce Springsteen, CCR, The Rolling Stones and The Cars. The music is loud until Alex and Nash start their show, whereat the music falls to a near inaudible level. Can’t hear the comedy either. A set of turntables hints at entertainment, in the pub, on another night.

It is certainly underground. A sliver of an entrance is guarded with tall wrought iron gates that open to seventeen stairs, broken by two landings, that descend below street level. As far as I can tell, there is no other way down. General manager Logan Hayden thinks of the place as a dive bar, that serves Himalayan cuisine. That’s the claim, though there are plenty of decidedly European, and even North American, influences here: “Greek-style” dry ribs, marinated olives, deep-fried pickles, French fries, chicken wings, and pasta dishes. Even a Mediterranean-style charcuterie board.

Actually, Himalayan cuisine works as pub food. Deep-fried Pakoras—Onion, Chicken or Fish—served with a dish of mint yoghurt for dipping are great pub fare. As are the Tibetan Momos ($13), which are similar to Chinese potstickers. The Mint offers Momos stuffed with chicken, pork or potato-spinach, or order a mix of all three, as Dennis and I did, receiving three of each kind along with a small vessel of tomato-cilantro achar for dipping. Unlike potstickers, Momos are deep-fried (without batter), so that the dumpling crisps all around the flavourful fillings.

While Dennis opted for dry ribs and the goat cheese salad as mains, I chose to follow through on the Himalayan theme, ordering the “Nepalese” Lamb Curry ($27). This is served on a Thali, a large, round pressed-metal plate containing four compartments. Three forward compartments hold sweet mango chutney on the left, a well-seasoned red lentil daal on the right, and the boneless lamb in a red curry sauce in the middle. The back compartment has a crisp papadam covering a moulded mound of sticky jasmine rice aside cucumber slices and small vessels of pineapple dahi (yoghurt), and more of that tomato-cilantro achar (essentially, pickled tomato). There is certainly no shortage of lamb, which has been simmered slowly in its curry of charred fenugreek, roasted coriander, tomato, apricot and pineapple. The lamb is soft enough to shred merely by crushing it with a fork.

Despite being labelled “spicy” there is no spice whatsoever on this plate, nor was I offered an option to spice it up. Generally, or so I’ve been informed, Nepalese curries tend to be spicier than Indian curries, in part because they lack cream which has a moderating effect on spicy ingredients. In place of spice, I added the pineapple dahi to the curry, which brightened it, and the sweet pineapple flavour complemented the lamb remarkably.

The Mint | 1414 Douglas St., Victoria

250 386 6468 | |

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The entrance to The Mint. (Allan Reid)