THE Gurkhas have a reputation as the toughest soldiers in the British army. Loved by their allies and feared by their foes, the flash of the cold steel of their fearsome Kukri knives is enough to send the enemy scarpering.

But what makes these warriors among the most respected on earth? What fuels these resilient men from the foothills of the Himalayas? The answer, of course, is Nepalese food.

Okay, training, discipline, natural strength, camaraderie, loyalty and a capacity for enduring discomfort also factor, but, food must have something to do with it. Or so my friends Ed and Holly and I thought, as we set out to an outpost of Nepal in the least likely of places.

Tucked away in the backwater of Horspath, just a stone’s throw from Cowley but still clothed in its own isolated rural charm, The Gurkha Kitchen proudly trumpets its Nepalese connections, with cooking from the Himalayan nation alongside more familiar Indian fare.

Like so many rural and suburban curry establishments these days, it operates from within a pub: The Chequers.

While still a bit odd, I like this repurposing of sleepy boozers – far preferring an authentic curry with a pint than something cooked from a bag.

And with National Curry Week here, what better way to celebrate our love of the hot stuff than at a traditional English pub-turned Nepalese restaurant.

Entering The Chequers we are still in rural Oxfordshire, but stepping into the dining room we are closer to Kathmandu, with Himalayan peaks painted on the walls alongside ornaments of the old country.

We start, as one should, with poppadoms and a starter of Nepal’s finest contribution to world cuisine – momos.

The poppadoms, it has to be said, were very average with an unimaginative selection of dips, but the momos (£4.25) were divine – so good in fact, that I missed out altogether on the first round, they being scoffed while I still exchanged pleasantries with our host. I ordered more – ringfencing my portion from the forks of my greedy fellow diners.

It was easy to see why they had evaporated. Delicate steamed dumplings stuffed with spiced minced chicken, they were perfectly textured and delicious when dipped into the accompanying hot chutney.

We also shared starters of chilli chicken, salmon tikka and – because remember, Nepal and Tibet share traits with neighbouring Chinese cookery – chicken Szechuan (all about £4.50). The chilli chicken was as spicy as its name suggested, bursting with the fresh flavours of pepper, onion and coriander. The salmon was interesting – richly flavoured but mild and tenderly flaky, while the Szechuan chicken (spelled here as Schezwain) was rich and quite delicious with a hint of heat.

We had perhaps overdone it with the starters but ploughed on, relying on our chef to recommend our main courses. He insisted on his speciality, the signature Gurkhali Special (£8.45) – hot and spicy chicken (lamb is also available) cooked ‘village-style’ in a rich sauce topped with with green chilli and coriander. It was rustic and magnificent. It went well with the chef’s special chicken (£8.75) – a fiery tomato-based dish enlivened by chilli, garlic and ginger.

A soothing mixed dal (£6.95) with appealing notes of cumin tempered the waves of heat, as did rice, nan and oodles of cold Cobra beer.

We left satisfied and remained tingling for quite some time. If this is what Gurkhas eat, no wonder they can fight. Wonderful stuff!

  • Gurkha Kitchen
  • The Chequers34 The Green, HorspathOxford
  • 01865 604646