This should, in all honesty, be the shortest restaurant review you will ever read. Unbeatable for its genre. Go before the tables need to be booked months in advance. I’ll be returning. It’s well up to the standard of the competition. Yes, all true, but I guess my dear reader will want some padding on those erudite observations.
A week or so ago, I enjoyed my second visit to Thali on the Old Brompton Road. This isn’t a huge rambling restaurant but more the style of a bijou treasure, with a blue reflection from a plastered wall, ornate gold-framed mirrors and discreet oriental carvings. I was impressed by the skill of the chef at my first visit but that could just have been a flash in the Kadhai. My second visit assured me that those marvellously executed dishes were far from a figment of my imagination.
Thali is the reworked, revamped, tasteful re-incarnation of Bar Asia. One would think another Indian restaurant in this classy neck of London might be a chancy proposition.
A cold Wednesday evening found my guest and me welcomed into a warm and subtly accented restaurant, and it was already half-full of diners, many of whom were regulars. These included both Europeans and Asians, and contentment was reigning. Owner Vikash Dhawan comes from a family of restaurateurs and is both charming and quietly professional, with a knack of anticipating his customers’ slightest needs, although there was not a single needy customer at those coordinates.
Vikash ably represents front of house but the Baron of the Burner is Head Chef Dila Ram. He is another of the culinary big-hitters trained by the highly respected Taj Group, who have blessed London with some of its finest Indian chefs. He has turned his skill to the preparation of traditional dishes as well as those innovative gems that will doubtless become Thali signature dishes and much imitated elsewhere.
Thali has a well-stocked bar and I can recommend the Mojito, but the food and the ambiance are the draw here. Our starters included Palak Chaat which is memorable. Spinach might be good for us but it’s not always appealing, but Chef Ram presents a confection which is reminiscent of those moreish garnishes of deep-fried seaweed in Chinese restaurants. Murg and Mirch ka Guchi – baby peppers stuffed with ground chicken and chestnuts – is worth crossing several streets to sample. Padron peppers are mostly docile but, in true culinary Russian-roulette fashion, there is the occasional one… Delicious and unique. The Soft Shell Crabs here are outstanding but don’t even think of offering to share. You will begrudge your guest’s every bite so order two portions to avoid unpleasantness.
The tandoor worked its magic on some of the most generously proportioned lamb chops I have ever come across. These chubby delights were marinated in spices, cardamom, cloves and yoghurt. Each mouthful was a succulent vehicle for smoky flavour. An example of how a light hand at the tandoor station can add taste without a hint of either desiccation or incineration. Fish lovers can enjoy a piscatorial equivalent with the Tandoori Salmon. A delicate hint of singeing with a just-cooked interior to each coral-coloured cube.
Dahl Makhani is a standard side order in many Indian restaurants. It’s a favourite dish of mine and I could eat this with just some rice and feel I have had the most comforting of comfort meals. I have recently been confronted by a nasty example which tasted of commercial tomato soup. Thankfully Thali sticks to a traditional recipe, and it’s rich and creamy and everything that I would hope for.
Seafood seekers are well served by the bill of fare. Plenty of choice, but the Prawn Paithya is striking. Royal Bengal prawns are cooked with tomato, onion and tamarind. Carnivores with traditional tastes will likely be tempted by Lamb Rogan Josh and they will not be disappointed by this spicy-aromatic example. Chicken Hara Curry will, however, will be one of the many dishes on this menu that will guarantee my return.
I have a confession. I eat in restaurants several times each week and I am seldom driven to ask for the leftovers to be packed into boxes to be taken away. Thali presented me with a dilemma: I could pretend I was a sophisticated diner and allow the remaining food to be spirited away, or I could throw my dignity to the wind and ask if they had some plastic boxes and a brown paper carrier bag. I now have a larger collection of storage containers and very pleasant memories.
Mon – Sat: 12 Noon – 3pm, 6.30pm – 11.30pm
Sun: 12 Noon – 3pm, 6 – 10pm
166 Old Brompton Road, London SW5 0BA
Phone: 020 7373 2626
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018