10 August 2023

Local history and cultural identity make a delicious combination at Smokey Horse

| Lucy Ridge
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Karuna Ratna Bajracharya behind the Smokey Horse Bar.

Karuna Ratna Bajracharya runs Smokey Horse with wife Karuna Gurung. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Looking at Smokey Horse in Braidwood you might think it’s a bit odd to have a Nepali restaurant in a small country town. But, as owner Karuna Ratna Bajracharya explains, his family has a long history in the town.

“We moved here in 1984 or five, and it was a bit of a culture shock at the time for a half Nepali, half Aussie family! But we grew up here, I was school captain at the local school and even ran for local government,” Karuna told Region.

“Back in the day my mum ran a food caravan. We used to do a lot of the local regional festivals all over the place so I guess this community has been eating our curry and momos (handmade Nepali dumplings) for nearly 40 years.”

And the locals were happy when Karuna decided to open up a Nepali restaurant with his wife Karuna Gurung (yes, both named Karuna).

Smokey Horse Braidwood exterior

Smokey Horse is located in an old stone building on the main road. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Karuna B and Karuna G have built a thriving restaurant that also doubles as a vibrant live music venue that attracts big names to perform. Karuna B had experience as a sound engineer and DJ so they’re able to provide a much higher quality of technical support than musicians might typically expect in a regional pub.

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The food at Smokey Horse is sublime. Karuna B says after spending three years in the kitchen replicating his mum’s recipes, he was able to step out and hire another Nepali chef.

“He has taken everything we’ve given him, and combined that with all his commercial experience working fine dining in Sydney and he’s just lifted our food to the next level.”

The menu features traditional Nepali foods like the handmade dumplings and curries as well as modern Nepali street food like their very popular chicken chilli which Karuna jokingly calls KFC: Kathmandu Fried Chicken.

Crispy Nepalese-style chicken wings

Crispy Nepalese-style chicken wings. Photo: Kazuri Photography.

They have also included some dishes from the Indigenous people of the Kathmandu valley, known as Newari. The vegan kwati bean soup and pulled-beef choila are Newari dishes that would be unusual even in Nepali restaurants, but they’ve become popular menu items at Smokey Horse.

Karuna B’s mum’s famous ‘C5’ curry powder is still a staple of the menu and gets dusted over moreish chicken wings and aloo fries. Karuna B says that he can’t divulge the exact ingredients to this special family spice, but all the ingredients start with the letter ‘C’.

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The interior of Smokey Horse is quirky and colourful, with gig posters, cultural iconography and retro knickknacks adorning the walls. Karuna G’s aunt runs a popular yoga studio upstairs, and now there’s exciting plans for a microbrewery out the back.

“Me and my best mate Charlot Bernadoff grew up next door to each other. About 15 years ago we started making beer together as a hobby and at some point we got serious about it,” Karuna B explained.

The pair developed recipes and have had ambitions for a microbrewery from the start. Over the past five years Karuna B says they’ve been steadily seeing a change in how the locals view craft beer, so he’s optimistic about the future of the brewery.

“We were the only venue selling craft beer on tap in Braidwood. We were a bit worried because if people can get a XXXX for $5 at the club, will they pay $9 for something from Capital Brewing or Bentspoke? But we’ve turned it around and there’s a huge craft brewing following in Braidwood now.”

Smokey Horse Interior

The interior of Smokey Horse is quirky and colourful. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Karuna B even has some family history in beer: his great-great-grandfather Peter Grant Hay owned Richmond NS Brewing in the 1930s and 40s. Situated on the banks of the Yarra River, it shared a logo with the Richmond Tigers Football Club and at its peak was a direct competitor of Carlton United Breweries.

Karuna B says they’re hoping to be serving Smokey Horse beers sometime in 2024, as he gives new life to another family tradition.

Smokey Horse is located at 183 Wallace St, Braidwood NSW.
They are open from 5 pm to 11.30 pm Monday, 5 pm to midnight Thursday, 3 pm to midnight on Friday and Saturday, and 3 pm to 10 pm on Sunday. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Follow Smokey Horse on Facebook or Instagram to learn more about their live music events.

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