Thali, the Indian establishment in award-winning chef Liam Tomlin’s restaurant stable, offers diners a veritable feast of spectacular, modern Indian cuisine.
The food served at Thali is, quite simply, breathtaking.
Like all of Liam Tomlin (of Chefs Warehouse fame) restaurants, the tapas plate for two is the star of the show. Here it is, apart from some oysters to start, the only item on the menu. You might wonder at such a ‘limited’ offering. And yet as plate after plate, platter after platter, arrives at the table, bearing 8 dishes in total, you’ll be amazed at the generosity of the whole. It is a glorious feast of tastes and textures, and evidence of a chef supremely confident in the unique building blocks, the careful layering of flavours, that comprise Indian cuisine. At work in the kitchen is head chef (? ), and clearly, he knows his way around the spice rack.
The humble mung bean is lifted to dal greatness thanks to the presence of a beautifully tangy braised tomato sauce. Crispy, deep-fried spinach bhaji are adorned with a fresh mint and coriander dressing and then, to add some earthy balance, a deeply smoky, sweet date and tamarind sauce. A dish showcasing three ways with cauliflower is a marvel of spicy and piquant tastes and cleverly contrasting textures. Tandoori chicken skewers arrive in a small, gleaming tandoor oven at the table, leaving a mouth-watering, smoky trail in its wake. Served with a cooling cucumber raita and a robust tomato chilli jam, the flavours explode in the mouth.
Then come the fish courses, of which the fish tacos are the crowning glory. The light gold casing holds marinated and deep-fried kingklip, sprinkled with finely sliced green and red onions, and a curried aioli. The only complaint would be that the serving seduces the palate and then leaves you yearning for more – I would happily dine on a plate of these. But then there is still a wonderful seafood curry to enjoy, with sea bass, confit prawn and mussels, not to mention tender duck served in flavourful sauce of coconut milk, cardemom and cloves. Savoury rice on the side, and the fluffiest, most fragrant garlic naan in local history, completes the offering.
There is dessert as well, to be ordered separate from the tapas for two. I’ve heard good things about the kulfi ice cream (in flavours like rose & pistachio) and confess to be very enamoured of the idea of the chai custard with almond praline and spiced banana bread. But that will have to wait for a next visit – to which I look forward with great anticipation.
A sizable drinks list with a wide range of spirits and a very tempting selection of cocktails redolent with exotic Asian flavours. Wines are arranged in categories mild, medium and hot – as in the types of wines that would work well with these categories of spice. There’s more than enough variety, and plenty of by-the-glass options.
You would be forgiven for forgetting, perhaps one starry summer’s night, seated at one of the courtyard tables under the twinkling lights, that you are in fact in Cape Town, and not India. The décor here is just exactly right. The feeling is exotic without veering into kitsch, with a colour scheme of browns, moody blues and bright copper accents. The music – relaxed electro-pop with a modern Indian slant – also helps to set the vibe. We visited on a quiet Friday afternoon but come sundown I’d imagine this spot would be hopping.
Perfectly on point – staff are well-versed in the intricacies of the various dishes. They seem keen to be there, and genuinely delighted at the dazzled expressions on diners’ faces.
A spur of the moment TGIF or payday type celebratory dinner – but you’d need to be canny to get a table, as the restaurant does not accept bookings. That said, it’s a sizable space with lots of seating, and the set menu should mean a quick turnover, so even if you get there and don’t immediately find a table, you could always wait in style at the bar, drink in hand, no?
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.
This is a stellar culinary experience inspired by the tastes, sights and scents of India. Opened by Liam Tomlin (of Chefs Warehouse fame) and with head chef John van Zyl in the kitchen, Thali presents diners with an eastern voyage through a set tapas menu ranging from sambals, poppadoms and tandoor, and leading through to the curries, which are the jewel in the culinary crown of the experience.
The meal is presented in stages, each course perfectly designed to lead to the next and whet the palate in anticipation of what’s to come. The cauliflower done three ways – puréed, grilled and raw – is an elegant twist on this humble vegetable and is a firm favourite on the menu. The tandoor oven churns out the most succulent and deeply smoky meats, including chicken and lamb cooked to tender, aromatic perfection.
The fish course, which changes according to seasonal availability, continues to shine new light on combining strong spice combinations with seafood. Sometimes subtle, often robust, the spice profile changes depending on the type of fish. Most of the dishes err on the side of subtlety to maintain a lighter and more modern style of cooking, but the parting shot of the meal, the traditional curry presentation, is a veritable smorgasbord of authentic-tasting curries, all of which pack a resounding punch. The unctuous lamb curry, with hints of turmeric and saffron, and the chicken curry served in a fragrant green coriander sauce, are both elevated classics typical of chef John's inimitable style.
Much like Chefs Warehouse, the tapas for two takes one on a beautifully curated eating journey but, in place of fusion cooking tactics, a light is shone on the depth of Indian flavours.
Expect a fine selection of wines, all of which have been chosen to complement the aromatic profile of the dishes on offer. Chenin, pinot noir and shiraz complement the menu rather well. You will also find lassis and an array of cocktails, some of which include one of the Indian mother spices shaken or stirred into the mix, for something truly different.
The staff are impeccably trained and have a comprehensive knowledge of myriad dishes and techniques employed throughout the service – a commendable feat, given the complexity of the preparation process. Remaining true to a high-end dining experience, the wait staff all juggle levity with professionalism and provide an effortless background to the pure enjoyment of dining at Thali.
Thali is broken up into three distinct sections – the main front-of-house dining area, the middle section overlooking the drama of the kitchen, and the outside courtyard. The three spaces are all designed with a unique décor emphasis, but all offer the diner a dimly lit and deeply romantic inner city escape wherein the food, as always, takes pride of place. With coppers, ambers, reds, lacquered blacks and browns – the setting is moody yet warm and inviting. The tables are small and close to one another, lending an air of intimacy to the collective experience. As ever, being close to the action and grabbing a seat in the kitchen display area is always entertaining. The outside area, festooned with twinkling lights, lanterns and blossoming bougainvillea, is the prized location.
Chilli phobes, fear not: Thali draws the very fine distinction of aromatic versus spicy and all the chilli comes on the side. The whole experience can be made purely vegetarian, which is a fabulous alternative. Also be warned, Thali does not take bookings, so be sure to arrive in time and get your name on the list. It is indeed well worth the wait!
Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.