Thali Oxford has little in common with your local takeaway
by Emma Dance
13 November 2017
Emma Dance gets her teeth into the menu at this new Oxford curry house (with a difference)
Yes, Thali is an Indian restaurant, but let’s be very clear about this: it is not your run-of-the-mill curry house. In fact, there’s probably very little that the menu here has in common with your local Indian takeaway.
Thali’s offering is all based on street food, which makes perfect sense when you consider that that’s how the whole company started – in muddy festival fields. Now, though, it’s got a bunch of permanent sites – five in Bristol and the one we’re at, the newly opened sixth venue in Oxford.
While we peruse the menu we munch on some poppadoms and chutneys (some things never change!), which are much needed, as the delicious aromas emanating from the kitchen are making us very hungry indeed. The feasting starts in earnest, however, with a couple of starters – pea kachoris with pickled onions and chicken and coriander samosas.
Within the slightly flaky atta pastry of the kachori we discover sweet peas, delicately flavoured with cinnamon, black pepper and ginger. They might look simple, but the clever balance of flavours, with the warmth of the spices judged just right (so as to not overpower the sweetness of the peas) demonstrates a really sensitive touch. The samosas, meanwhile, are bulging – the crisp pastry barely containing the delicious spicy chicken that has been crammed inside. A few of these on their own would make a pretty ace lunch, but we’re not stopping here.
From the ‘Thali’ section of the menu we select Goan fish (pollack cooked with tomatoes and sour kokum fruit) which comes with a plethora of sides – dal, vegetable subji, yoghurt, salad and rice. The fish is cooked perfectly, its soft, succulent morsels smothered in a sauce which somehow simultaneously manages to be both rich and fresh. The sides are more than an afterthought too, and it feels as if as much care has been given to them as the main event. I’m especially enamoured with the dal, which is comforting and more-ish.
it’s easy to see why this small, local chain has proven so popular in Bristol
On the advice of our very helpful waitress, we’ve also ordered the Sticky Mango Paneer roadside grill. When it arrives it looks stunning, the vivid colours almost leaping off the plate, and it tastes as good as it looks. The sweet, slightly spicy mango coating is the perfect plate fellow for the creamy cheese, and – wrapped in a chapatti with a drizzle of tangy coriander chutney and some crunchy salad – it’s a heavenly medley of flavours and textures.
We conclude with a sweet, sticky gulab jamun (a warm doughnut steeped in cardamom syrup), the prettiest pistachio kulfi I’ve ever seen, and cups of chai. They’re pretty petite as puds go (they do only cost £2.50, though!), but are actually judged just right. Quite literally, they hit the sweet spot.
Although Thali is a new arrival in Oxford, it’s using a tried and tested formula – and it’s easy to see why this small, local chain has proven so popular in Bristol. The décor is quirky and fun, the service friendly and relaxed, and the food is inventive and, most importantly, delicious. And if that wasn’t enough, Thali is one of the first Indian restaurants in the UK to win the highest possible rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
Yep, it might be street food, but they’ve got this restaurant thing nailed.
Thali, 71 George Street, Oxford OX1 2BQ; thethalirestaurant.co.uk