Overview and a bit about Thali
Is Thali the best Indian restaurant in Oxford? Thali (@thalioxford) is an Indian restaurant on George Street, Oxford which opened on 27th July this year so they have been with us for approximately five months.
They showcase the hero dishes of the subcontinent from the back streets of Bombay to the beach shacks of Goa, as well as recipes from Meera Sodha’s (@meerasodha) cookbooks. We popped by a couple of weeks ago to try out their food and was pleasantly surprised and thought this was a bit of a hidden gem after we left.
It seems that there is a trend for people travelling to India and falling in love with the food so much they want to bring the same experience they had, back to the UK. For example Thali started as a street food truck at Glastonbury Festival after founder Jim Pizer travelled to India and fell in love with the food.
Our waitress, Hema, was attentive to what we were looking for and we were really impressed with her knowledge of anything we questioned on the menu which is not something we have seen in other Indian restaurants in Oxford. She made personal recommendations to guide us through the ordering process which we appreciated.
The decor is pretty and includes fairy lights in the front windows, a dim lit interior with a chilled atmosphere, making Thali a great choice for a date-night meal.
The food and drink
The only drink we tried (because we loved it so much, we had two) was the Raspberry and Ginger Cooler which includes Ginger beer, raspberry and cardamom and can be seen below. This has a lovely sweet taste of raspberry with a decent spicy kick from the ginger beer and fresh cardamom. In general the drinks menu provided a nice variety of favours and spices for compared to other Indian restaurants in Oxford.
We found the menu was simplistic and did not have a huge variety of choice compared to other Indian restaurants in Oxford we have visited.
To start we had Pani Puri (one of Thali’s signature small dishes) which includes crispy puris filled with spicy chickpea and potato where you pour in pani sauce and pop into your mouth (quickly!) for a taste explosion.
We also tried their Mushroom and Walnut Samosas. Both were very tasty, the Pani Puri’s were like nothing we have ever tried at an Indian restaurant in Oxford before but this made them quirky and are a nice addition to another starter, but definitely not filling enough as a standalone starter.
For the mains we had two dishes. First which you can see below is the Chicken Tikka from their ‘Roadside Grills’ which included; Tender chicken thigh pieces marinated in ginger, lemon and garam masala.
The second dish you can see is the Keralan Nandan Chicken from their ‘Thalis’ which included Tender chicken thighs simmered in a creamy coconut, cumin and green cardamom sauce.
A slightly chicken-heavy selection, but no regrets there. In both dishes, they had to be some of the most tender chicken we have tasted from an Indian restaurant in Oxford, which is exactly what you want to compliment all the spices and flavours going on.
The chicken in both dishes fell apart in your mouth and we couldn’t fault the way they were cooked. The chapattis accompanying the Chicken Tikka were served warm and we created a lovely chicken kebab type wrap which was amazing with the red cabbage, onions and yoghurt.
When eating the Keralan Nandan Chicken we found it closely resembled what you might know as a chicken korma, with very similar flavours. The rice was cooked beautifully and mixed well with the chicken in the quirky tin style dish it was served in.
For our dessert we picked two items off the menu. The first was a Pistachio Kulfi, which is elegant pistachio flavoured caramelised ice cream served with paan masala and pistachio.
The second was Gulab Jamun which is a freshly baked warm doughnut, steeped in saffron cardamom syrup served with masala chai.
The ice cream was really thick and solid, similar to the style of ice cream found in some Asian countries, which we really loved and the presentation was amazing as you can see below.
If you are a sweet tooth then you will love the Gulab Jamun. It is only a small single ball but the flavour is strong and again, very sweet. The masala chai is a really nice way to compliment this and also tasted sweet and full of spices.
The variety of desserts at Thali were certainly different to offerings of other Indian restaurants in Oxford that we have tried.
Thali is a great addition to George Street. There are a few large-chain restaurants along the same street such as Nandos, Zizzi’s and Jamie’s Italian to name a few. I love it when a new independently owned restaurant or very small chain (no more than three restaurants), muscles it’s way into such a competitive space.
When I first saw seven items on their menu in terms of main courses, I thought this was slightly controversial. If you are offering such a small variety of dishes, as an Indian restaurant, or any restaurant for that matter, you really have to back yourself in terms of delivering quality food.
They certainly delivered and I was pleasantly surprised. If I were to go back again I would look at trying some of their fish dishes because based on my experience with their chicken alone, I’m sure it would be good.
Our whole meal including drinks, starters, mains and deserts came to approximately £45 which is really not bad for the quality of food we had and if you would like to see their menu you can check it out here.
Overall I would give Thali an 8.5/10 and recommend a visit to this restaurant if you have not been already. As mentioned before I felt they were well suited for a place to take your other half, or perhaps a small group of friends.
If you are looking for somewhere that offers more casual Indian food, check out our review of Rola Wala here.