Monday, February 05, 2018

Lunch at Thali

Tandoori and Tarka Dhal Tapas, and so much more
Once in a while, you must treat yourself to a top restaurant to see what the food trends are and what the top chefs are doing. This week we joined friends for lunch to try out our Eat Out Top Chef of the Year, Liam Tomlin's take on an Indian restaurant, Thali in Park Road, just off Kloof Street in Cape Town. It was quite an experience; expensive, yes, but a great exploration and certainly lots of food. A thali is a collection of small dishes served on a tray for one to combine with rice and flat breads, a complete meal in one. Now being referred to as Indian Tapas (but unlike tapas, you don't choose your individual dishes, unless you order off the a la carte menu). It's seasonal and what the chef makes that day or week or month is waht is served. Often it is mainly vegetarian with some meat added and, usually, a textural and flavourful experience. Here you get a tray for two to share, which come as courses. It costs R700 for two
The restaurant is quite dark during the day, but cool. You cannot book, so we arrived at 12 remembering the queues at Chefs Warehouse, his other restaurant in town. There were none and we could choose where we wanted to sit. Not a swatch of flocked wallpaper anywhere; it’s rustic and has almost a pared back warehouse (with a touch of Indian steam punk!) feel. Some tall tables which we didn’t choose, a nightmare for us aged. Parking in that area is always a nightmare, just park in the underground parking at the Lifestyle Centre next door
Chef doing his ordering at the bar. Liam was abroad and supervises in all his restaurants but does not often cook
They have an upstairs venue and an open kitchen
The patio at the back
We were given a table for six at the door to the patio, where it was bright and still cool. Four of us chose to drink beer (Devil's Peak Alpha Lager), one had a glass of white wine and another the ginger cider. And flies on a hot day were a bit of a problem, we did eventually get the waiter to half close the folding doors. They need some burners on the tables
The menu for that day; it does change
The first course, a Potato and Sweetcorn Chaat. A popular Indian street food, served in a poppadum moulded into a dish, it was a great success. Dotted with a tamarind paste, fresh pomegranate aruls, rice puffs and fresh coriander, it comes with a hot chilli sauce (rather like a an Indonesian sambal oelek) and a dish of Garam Masala dry spice blend for you to add at your own discretion. These two supporting dishes are then kept on the table for you to add to any of the following food. Some tried to pick up and eat, others politely used knife and fork. The spiced potatoes were very good with the crisp poppadum texture and the sweet sour of the tamarind
The next course completely vegetarian and a good dish to order on the main menu if you don’t want to eat the full Thali or meal. It was a smoked red lentil Tarka Dhal served with one paratha to share between two, a Tandoori baked cauliflower covered with a cumin cauliflower puree and a cashew and coconut 'salad' . The smoked lentils were a great new twist on a good dish, the cauliflower was so enhanced by a the rich puree and the sprinkling of cashew and coconut. To be honest, we usually find cauliflower better raw than cooked (school day memories of overcooked smells) but done this way, it was good. The course comes with sliced raw onion and a lime cheek, a yoghurt raita and a sweet tomato and chilli chutney
And at the same time they serve a meat dish to share, presented in a smoking pot for theatrical effect, a lamb kofta and some tender mint and coriander chicken kebab, both from the tandoor oven, half of each per person
The next course was fun, a fish taco, (Indian going TexMex!) with fresh fish slivers in a crisp batter nestled on a 'Cape Malay' mayonnaise (some contention there amongst our diners, but it was flavourful). This was covered in raw onion and coriander and sun dried baby tomatoes. Also on the tray was a dish of carrot puree and pickled baby carrots
Each dish is carefully explained to us by the very friendly waiting staff. Each couple shares one large tray
The final course and we were all beginning to feel satiated by this time. You cannot say there is not enough food
Two 'curries', an interesting smoky lamb curry, tender, rich and delicious, with very well cooked moist meat, perhaps lamb neck off the bone? And chicken cooked in lots and lots of pureed and fresh green coriander. A herbed rice pilaf and a fresh tomato chutney accompanied them. Served with a large coriander nan. Not a criticism but a comment from Lynne who does not enjoy fresh green coriander at all. There is a lot of it in this meal. She tried the chicken and the Nan but they were heady with this herb and not for her. The others loved it, so it's a case of personal preference
At the end of the meal we were given a dish of 6 coconut encrusted cream ball sweetmeats, with a rich thick cardamom and nut custard inside. Our bill for six with drinks, a coffee and service came to R466 per person. We recommend you try it for yourself. Thank you to our waiter Kevin. Service is a bit slow, but they leave you alone to enjoy your meal at your own pace

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