Don’t get me wrong, we have our share of excellent Indian restaurants up here in North Yorkshire but there’s something about getting back to London where my culinary journey and slight obsession with Indian food all began. Things have changed a lot though.
Gone are the days when I could simply go to any curry house and be satisfied. Nowadays, I want to try something different. I want a memorable dining experience with interesting flavours and perhaps even feel a bit challenged by one or more of the dishes. If I leave a restaurant over the moon with the food that is served and also feel a bit bewildered about how they created this or that dish, I’m happy. Thali did this for me.
I’d heard many good things about Thali’s Head Chef Dila Ram and was looking forward to trying some of his dishes. Ram, originally from Delhi, India worked for the Raj Group before making his way to the UK. He is just one of a handful of top chefs who have made their way to Britain, making the Indian food we can now get here more exciting and authentic while being contemporary in their food styling.
You won’t find chicken tikka masala and chicken korma on Thali’s menu. Instead you get spoiled with a menu of authentic chaats, curries, tandoori and side dishes that have been in Ram’s family for four generations and then further developed by him.
My wife Caroline and I arrived to an empty restaurant around 7pm and were shown to our table. Within about twenty minutes, the place was booming. At every table around us there seemed to be at least one person showing off their find to friends. Everyone seemed to want to show their friends just how good this place was!
Thali offers a comfortable setting. Simplistic in design, the walls are decorated with prints of famous Bollywood films. Indian music plays softly in the background which helps create the lovely atmosphere.
Thali’s owner Vikash Dhawan came to our table to introduce himself. Vik is a great guy. He seemed passionate about Thali and we were about to find out why.
Moments later a plate of papadams with a homemade mango chutney were delivered to our table. I’m not going to go on about papadams so don’t worry. They’re papadams, same you get anywhere. But then came the first course.
I should add here that we didn’t order. We were sent the dishes that Dila and Vik wanted us to try and we were so glad they took the time to create this meal for us.
Probably the most memorable dish of the evening was the palak chaat (a fried spinach starter) that was impressive to say the least. Crispy fried spinach, some of which I believe was fried in a chickpea flour batter was presented at the table. The palak chaat was topped with a sweet and mildly spiced yogurt dressing and dotted with a smooth, savoury and tangy tamarind chutney. Scattered over the top were finely chopped tomatoes, chopped fresh coriander and onions. I’m telling you, this is a salad like no other and one I want to have again really soon.
Next out was a dish of tandoori chicken. I cook a lot of tandoori dishes in my own home tandoor and I promise you, you won’t be disappointed if you order this dish. Marinated in yogurt with just the right amount of spice and coriander, it was so tender and succulent. This texture and flavour can only be accomplished when the chef takes the time to marinate the meat for at least 24 if not 48 hours. The chicken was served with a blended pepper sauce.
I would like to take a moment here to mention Amit, our waiter of the evening. When you have someone like him as part of your team, you know that front of house won’t let down those in the kitchen. He was knowledgable, witty and really took care of us.
After the starter course was cleared, out came the most impressive of mains. Let’s see, there was a venison curry that was right up there with the best. The meat was so tender and it had a lovely flavour. Caroline and I love game so this was our kind of curry. Then there were the grilled scallops that were so beautifully presented in a mildly spiced, tomato cream sauce. I could eat that one again right now. It’s difficult to get seafood right in a curry, especially when cooking for a busy restaurant. Chef Ram got this one spot on.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any better, out came a platter of masala spiced lamb chops. I couldn’t get enough of these tender chops dipped in the fantastic mint raita that accompanied them. Then there was the lamb biryani that was served with a delicious raita and two small vegetable side dishes of spinach and okra. Spinach seems to be a specialty of Chef Ram. That spinach side was so creamy and tasty. Add to this the tandoori naans and it was a feast I will remember fondly for a long time.
But wait! That’s not all. After successfully eating every last bite of this gorgeous meal, we were presented with not one but two different desserts. They were both fantastic and different.
We had the gulab jamun – milk dough dumpling served in a hot, sweet syrup. Very nice. We both loved the gajar ka halwa with ice cream. I’m sure I mentioned that I like to try new and unique things. This certainly was. The gajar ka halwa part of the dessert was grated carrots with almonds, a few other nuts, milk and sugar. I’d never tried anything like it but it was great mixed in with the vanilla ice cream. Carrots with ice cream? Go figure! It may be well known and loved in India but for us it was that little bit of different we were looking for.
I would like to thank everyone at Thali for making this such a special meal for us. We can hardly wait to visit again.
166 Old Brompton Road, London SW5 0BA
Phone: 020 7373 2626
Mon – Sat: 12 Noon – 3pm, 6.30pm – 11.30pm
Sun: 12 Noon – 3pm, 6 – 10pm
Disclaimer: Caroline and I were guests of Thali. All views are my own. If you are looking for an excellent Indian restaurant in London, put Thali on your list.