In a city known for its diverse culinary offerings, the vibrant and authentic flavors of Nepal have been fairly absent in London’s food scene.
That is, until The Gurkhas showed up.
Founded by esteemed restaurateur Shrabaneswor Rai (whose successes include Hot Stone Steak and Sushi Bar in Islington) this Spring, The Gurkhas now stands as one of just a few restaurants showcasing the rich culinary heritage of Nepal in the city—and the only one to do it quite so stylishly.
With a deep personal connection to his Gurkha family roots,Rai had long harbored a vision of introducing high-end Nepalese cuisine to the capital, but couldn’t find the right chef to partner with until he crossed paths with now-head chef Joe Allen.
Allen had spent a long career trying to promote Nepalese cuisine to the capital, too, even doing a stint as a chef for Coutts Bank’s bankers and their affluent clients.
Following an appearance on BBC’s My Million Pound Menu, renowned chefs Jamie Barber and Atul Kochhar helped Allen and his partner establish highly-acclaimed pop-up at Hush Mayfair, Kitycow.
“Recognising the significance of connections and the influence of critics, we would eagerly monitor the daily bookings, hoping to spot familiar names among the guests,” says Allen. “It was during this time that I noticed Shrabaneswor’s reservation, and what caught my attention was that he shared the same last name as my wife, Rai.
“In Nepal, the caste system still holds sway, and one’s last name often reflects their social standing. The fact that a fellow Rai was dining with us filled me with excitement, and we made sure to provide him with exceptional hospitality.”
Although Allen’s offering at that time included both Indian and Nepalese cuisines, it was evident that Rai was heavily intrigued by his venture into Nepali cuisine.
“Over the years, Shrabaneswor and I maintained contact, and there were several instances when he offered me the opportunity to come on board,” he says. “However, it felt like the right time had finally arrived, and I embraced the role with enthusiasm.”
Still, the road to opening The Gurkhas hasn’t been easy.
“It has been extremely difficult, challenging and getting investment is never easy,” admits Rai, “but if you deeply believe in an idea and refuse to give up then you will be able to overcome any major challenges and succeed—if not right away, then eventually.”
After they signed onto the property on Great Portland Street, Rai was forced to spend upwards £300,000 ($383,103) to fix a major electrical issue, followed by major leakage issues towards the final stages.
383,103 Jan 2023.“This also delayed our opening by almost two months, which was also very costly as the whole team was already in payroll and some of them from
Yet, after its opening was delayed by almost two months, with staff already on payroll, The Gurkhas opened to rave reviews.
And they’re all about the food.
The thoughtfully curated menu features three sections: snacks, sharing dishes, and large plates, with highlights including Aloo Nimki (a spiced potato curry served in a pastry parcel), a flavorful Spicy Lamb Kachila (accompanied by crispy bitter gourd), the chargrilled Monkfish Choila, and Allen’s signature creation, Makai ko Risotto (a unique corn-based risotto dish with butternut squash and churpi—a cheese derived from the milk of a yak, known for its natural sweetness and distinction as one of the world’s hardest cheeses).
You could order the snacks alone and feel you’d had the best Nepalese meal of your life.
“The collaboration between Shrabaneswor and myself in creating The Gurkhas’ menu has been dynamic,” says Allen. “While I possess a solid understanding of Nepalese cuisine, there is always so much more to explore. Each caste has its own unique cuisine, and within those castes, there are further variations and twists on the traditional dishes. The experiences I’ve had during my personal journey in Nepal greatly influenced my approach.”
“In creating the menu for The Gurkhas, I strive to evoke a sense of nostalgia and capture the essence of these cherished experiences,” he says. “Shrabaneswor has mentioned on a few occasions how my food transports him back to those special moments. It brings me immense joy to offer a culinary journey that not only satisfies the palate but also invokes feelings of familiarity and connection.
The wider team at The Gurkhas plays a crucial role in upholding the authenticity of its dishes, too. The majority come from Nepal, and share an expertise and passion for their cuisine unparalleled by most restaurants in London.
“It is incredibly humbling to witness their enthusiasm when I introduce them to new combinations that incorporate traditional flavours,” says Allen. “Together, we work in harmony, constantly developing and refining our culinary skills as a cohesive unit.”
The team is also dedicated to supporting Gurkha veterans through the restaurant—a cause close to everyone’s hearts.
For every pickle dish sold, The Gurkhas donates 50p (60 cents) to The Gurkha Welfare Trust, an organization that provides vital support to veterans, their families, and communities.
“As we have recently opened, our hopes for the restaurant moving forward are filled with excitement and ambition,” adds Allen.
“We aim to become a renowned destination for Nepalese cuisine in London, where people can gather, indulge in delightful food, and immerse themselves in the vibrant culture of Nepal.
“While recognition is welcomed, our true satisfaction lies in the joy and satisfaction of our guests.”