New Indian restaurant Thali opened on George Street at the end of last month and is a welcome bright addition amongst the row of mostly large-scale chain restaurants. What started out as a street food stall at Glastonbury Festival in 1999, has just opened its seventh restaurant in Oxford, it’s first permanent location outside of Bristol. I was very happy to receive an invitation from the lovely people at Thali to try their food – and it didn’t disappoint.
To start with I ordered the pineapple and passionfruit cooler to drink, which was deliciously refreshing and zesty. I usually order tap water with meals out as I prefer to eat rather than drink my calories – but this was totally worth it. Passionfruit is one of my favourites and I definitely don’t have it enough. The person serving us highly recommended trying the raspberry and ginger cooler at some point too. We had some poppadoms and dips to nibble on while we pored over the menu and things were already off to a good start, with the homemade poppadoms being a hundred times better than the ones you get out a supermarket packet. Three of the four chutneys were vegan friendly: the mango and pineapple, tomato and tamarind, and coconut dip. We were told the chutneys are made there fresh and today the coriander one had a particular kick (incidentally the one that is non-vegan, though it’s nice to hear that you can expect food made with care and something a little bit different each time). The tomato was sweet and spicy, the coconut dip creamy and a little salty, and the mango chutney was taken to another level, and probably the best we’ve ever had, with a cinnamon-y twist. We scraped the little pots clean.
We had asked for the starter and side we ordered to come altogether with our mains as we were quite peckish when we ordered, but I think wires got crossed somewhere and the starter came out first on it’s own. Not a problem, as in the end we had to wait a fair amount of time for our mains so in hindsight we would’ve been glad we were able to tuck into the pea kachoris that we’d ordered at that point. After trying a small bite, I foolishly badly burnt my tongue on my second much bigger mouthful because it had tasted great and I was too impatient to let it cool. The balls of spiced peas had layers of flavour and were coated in a crispy chickpea batter. It made a nice change to try something different from the same old starters we’d usually order at an Indian restaurant. The dish comes with three kachoris on a bed of ‘pickled onion’, but not as we might know it, and a side of the same coconut dip that came with the poppadoms. We left most of the onion which felt like a shame but it was a bit too raw for us (I only had one bite but I’m still tasting it this morning haha)…
The staff seemed pretty knowledgeable about which dishes on the menu are vegan, but were also happy to provide a full ingredients list and an allergen menu for me to confirm for myself. I ordered the fully vegan pumpkin and coconut olan thali, which arrived beautifully plated, and there was so much going on that I almost didn’t know where to start. The curry comes served with basmati rice, dal, vegetable subji, tomato chutney, and a crunchy salad. The small salty potatoes in the subji tasted almost like roasties, yet were perfectly soft, and came along with a little well-seasoned spinach. The lentil dal was flavoured strongly with cumin and was lovely and creamy. The rice melted in your mouth when paired with the curry, which had a sweet and rich sauce and gave a bit of heat at the back of the throat. Depending on how spicy you like your food, you can ask the server if the chef can turn up the spice – though for me, this was perfect as it was. The pumpkin had absorbed a lot of the spice and packed a punch. The whole thing was a dish of glorious indulgence and comfort, down to even the crispy onion garnish on the rice adding a bit of extra texture and flavour.
The only part of the main I couldn’t quite get on board with was the crunchy salad. It was similar to vegan ‘slaws I’ve had in the past, and the texture was a nice addition to the meal, but the flavour was just too floral for me, reminding both of us a bit of shower gel. I think it’s going to come down to personal preference whether you like it or not, but it was only a small part of the meal so not a big deal for me. In addition to our main meals, Jamie and I shared a side of the masala-fried potatoes, fluffy spiced potato wedges fried in a crispy chickpea batter. What a revelation! We definitely didn’t need the additional food due to the size of our mains but these tasted amazing. Usually at restaurants I’d easily manage half a side with my main meal, but I ended up asking for a takeaway box to go which had about enough food in for a small lunch the next day.
On the menu for dessert is a vegan chocolate cake, a portion of which Jamie and I shared as we were outrageously full from everything else that we’d eaten. The puddings are half the price you would usually find on a restaurant menu (only £2?!) but every bit as satisfying. I would love to get my hands on the recipe for this egg and dairy-free cake. Even the staff outside of the kitchen aren’t allowed to know the secrets to the soft sponge and deep chocolatey flavour, balanced perfectly with the sweeter sauce drizzled on top. What a lovely way to round off the meal.
Jamie and I were both in agreement that this was some of the best food we’ve ever eaten out. The service was a little slow as the restaurant opened so recently and the staff are still getting up to speed with everything, but everyone was very attentive and clearly engaged with and cared about the food that was served. We were there for around an hour and a half and weren’t in a rush at all, so actually it was quite nice to take our time together over the food. This was a complimentary meal provided for the purposes of a review, but the menu is very reasonably priced and the food so delicious that Jamie and I have already said we will go back to Thali very soon.