Thali gets its name from a traditional way of serving food in India – a complete meal in several little dishes all together on a thali (which is a platter, to the non-Hindi speakers amongst us).
At Thali you feel you are getting authentic – but lavish – North Indian cuisine. As well you should. Dila Ram, the head chef, was trained at Taj, the leading luxury hotel group in India.
Complete meal or not, we went for starters after the obligatory poppadoms and chutneys. The tandoori-baked cauliflower kept its crunch, the green lentil patties were perfectly spiced and the pakora were crispy and flavourful. But the real highlight was the palak chaat. Now I like cooked spinach, but it is an innately soggy thing. Not here. I don’t know how they work their magic, but the result is light as air, and crisp as, well, a crisp. You could eat it all day, smothered in yogurt and tamarind. But we didn’t. We had the thali main event to attend to.
A silver platter arrived with six little bowls encircling a perfectly-formed mound of rice. The okra was tender and tangy, the aloo gobi full of ginger and garlic, the raita refreshing and mild. I was disappointed by the saag paneer which for some reason was sweet as toffee. But my favourite was the daal makhani – hot velvety heaven. It was perfect mopped up with light, chewy-but-crispy naans. All was fresh and flavourful, with none of the greasy, overcooked sogginess that is the bane of inferior Indian establishments. Thali got the chillies just right too – heat you can feel, but never overpowering the subtle concoction of spices.
Now, there was a gulab jamun dessert included on the thali – a soft dough ball swimming in pool of honey that was sweet deliciousness. But we had mango ice cream too and it was a treat. It was rich like clotted cream, as though created by a Cornish cow that sailed to India and fell in love with a mango tree.
Despite the name, thalis are just a small part of what’s on offer at Thali. There’s everything you’d expect from a traditional, high-end Indian restaurant on the menu, from Bombay fish rolls to baigani chicken curries. And, of course, the irresistible temptation of ‘Lobster Fridays.’
You can add Thali to one of the many reasons I’d love to live in Kensington. It has the friendly feel of a neighbourhood Indian –but in a very nice neighbourhood where your fellow diners could well be celebrities. Incense, exposed brick, Asian statues and candlelight all contribute to the atmosphere. Whether you take a date, a group of friends or your mum, you’ll feel extremely welcome. Prices are reasonable, the wine list is good and service is excellent. Expect to be greeted by Vik, the owner, and made to feel at home immediately.
Indian, in case you can’t tell, is absolutely my favourite food. Thali delivered throughout the meal. But to be honest, they had me at the poppadoms.
Written by Liz Mundy