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Friday, 19 February 2016
Where: 166 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5 0BA, http://www.thali.uk.com/html/home.html
Cost: Thali's a la carte menu offers small plates priced at £3.50 to £11.95 and main courses ranging from £10.95 to £14.95. The eponymous thalis are steel food plates with various small bowls containing a variety of different hot and cold dishes costing from £12 to £19. There is also a seasonal tasting menu priced at £45 per person.
The wine list is extensive including some greats like the Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape 2009 (£109), and Penfold Grange Hermitage 1999 (£385) perhaps reflecting the restaurant’s Brompton Road location. Entry level wines include a Chilean Chardonnay from Concha y Toro and a Cuvee du Roy Merlot 2014 from France at £18 each.
About: Opened in 2008, Thali is a charming neighbourhood restaurant in Earls Court serving North Indian cooking created by Head Chef Dila Ram, formerly of Bombay Brasserie.
We were surprised to find it heaving on a rainy Tuesday evening when we visited with a seemingly local crowd. With white plaster and bare brick walls decorated with vintage Bollywood movie posters, and a bicycle rickshaw hanging on the wall, Thali has an elegantly casual but inviting feel.
What We Ate: We opted for the tasting menu. This featured 8 different options starting with a delicious dish called palak chaat made of marinated baby spinach, shallow fried in chickpea flower. The spinach was served very crispy topped with lightly sweetened yoghurt, coriander and tamarind sauce, onions and tomatoes. Sweet and crunchy, with refreshing tartness from the tamarind and yoghurt, this was a really lovely start to our meal.
The Archari chicken tikka followed. Marinated for 10 hours with some delicately aromatic spices, these chunky, succulent pieces of chicken breast were then grilled and served with a tangy mustard sauce.
The next dish was another highlight of our meal, not only for the delicious combination of flavours, but also for its presentation - grilled, lightly spiced scallops and cherry tomato halves were served in a creamy, delicate sun-dried tomato and basil sauce. I loved this dish – delicate yet packed with flavour.
We also had lamb chops braised in yoghurt laced with garam masala spices (green cardamom, cloves, black peppercorns, mace, cinnamon and nutmeg). Accompanied by a mint and coriander sauce, the lamb was super tender, served still slightly pink, and with a delicious savour from the tandoor oven.
And then onto the mains, there were three. One of these was Thali’s venison Bhuna, spiced with garam masala, okra, onion, cumin and tomatoes cooked in a tandoor oven. Bhuna is a traditional Indian style of cooking in which spices are fried in oil to extract their flavours, meat is then added and left to marinate for 24 hours before being cooked in its own juices. This process made for a intensely flavourful dish, rich in aromatic cardamom and other spices and with tender and succulent venison (a meat that can sometimes be rather dry if not properly cooked).
The prawn paithya featured Bengal king prawns in a tomato and onion sauce. Paithya (or pathia) dishes are cooked in a hot, sweet and sour sauce, based on tamarind pulp with garam masala spices, garlic, onion, jaggery sugar and tomato. I loved this but felt that the accompanying sauce tasted similar to the earlier scallop and tomato dish.
The final main was a well made chicken biryani, served with a refreshing cucumber raita.
To accompany, there was an odd dish of spinach with garlic, cumin and cottage cheese, which I thought had a slightly odd, muddy texture (the spinach had been creamed with the cheese) - for me, the only weak dish on the menu.
The other accompaniments were a deliciously buttery naan, made on the premises, and a side dish of lovely okra fried with onions, tomatoes and fresh coriander.
The dessert of the day was milk dumplings – these were served hot with a warm cardamom syrup topped with chopped pistachio nuts. Though a delicately flavoured dessert, we felt it was not at par with some of the other dishes on the menu. Also a tiny dumpling per person does not quality as a proper dessert course in my opinion.
What We Drank: We shared a bottle of Duas Quintas Tinto 2012, from Ramos Pinto, Portugal (£26) - a fruit-driven, very drinkable red with soft tannins.
Likes: We loved the crispy spinach starter, the grilled scallops and tomatoes as well as the venison main. Great service.
Dislikes: The dessert was uninspiring and a tad ungenerous, the spinach and cottage cheese accompaniment had a challenging texture though flavours were pleasant.
Verdict: There is some very good cooking at Thali. Dishes are delicately flavoured and expertly executed. I would love to return one day. Recommended.