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 restaurants from Liam Tomlin (of Chefs Warehouse fame), 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; yet, as plate after plate and platter after platter arrives at the table, bearing 8 dishes in total, you’ll be amazed at the generosity of the whole. It’s a glorious feast of tastes and textures, and evidence of a chef supremely confident in the unique building blocks and the careful layering of flavours that comprise Indian cuisine. At work in the kitchen is head chef JP van der Haar and clearly he knows his way around the spice rack.
The humble mung bean is lifted to dhal 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 aïoli. The only complaint would be that the serving seduces the palate then leaves you yearning for more – I would happily dine on a plate of these. But then there’s still a wonderful seafood curry to enjoy, with sea bass, confit prawn and mussels, not to mention tender duck served in a flavourful sauce of coconut milk, cardamom 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 and pistachio) and confess to be very enamoured by 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 sizeable drinks list with a wide range of spirits and a very tempting selection of cocktails redolent of exotic Asian flavours. Wines are arranged in categories of 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 meal 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 sizeable 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?
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