It was the chilli mango paneer skewers that finished me off, silencing me uncharacteristically as it’s exterior stuck to my teeth with the same sugary crispness that you get after roasting marshmallows on a fire, then the sweet zing of the tropical fruit followed by the chew of the Indian cheese and the kick of the coriander dip. I was in heaven.

Simple but complex, Thali displayed that innate understanding about marrying textures, tastes and spices in a way that transports you right away from George Street, to somewhere far more exotic.

Thali (originally named) just opened in central Oxford, uncannily fast after Giraffe closed its doors for the last time. And what perfect timing – just when curry houses went out of fashion and the award-winning Aziz left the Cowley Road.

The message was loud and clear because while our palates have moved on to more adventurous food such as Thai, pizza, Mexican, or Lebanese, thali still manages to sneak under that mantel. It’s something different. It moves away from the large plate of heavy curry and rice mentality by offering us a something lighter, more appealing, fun and communal.

Because not only is thali south Indian but it’s presented in a much more 2017-friendly way, to suit out tapas style/sharing plate mentality. The Indian feast is made up of lots of different dishes served on a metal plate: from dal and vegetable subji to yoghurt, fresh crunchy salad and basmati rice, plus a central dish of your choice.

But that’s exactly why Jim Pizer launched the first Thali in Bristol. Having returned from India he couldn’t find any British Indian restaurants serving the food he’d just experienced, so decided to make it himself. Starting off with a van at Glastonbury, his food was so popular that he opened up in Bristol and the thali concept flew. He now runs eight Thali’s in Bristol, and Oxford is his first foray outside the West country.

The restaurant itself has a very laid back vibe – lots of wood, bench tables, all very casual and comfortable, lulling you into a false sense of security. Add in too many Thali gin & tonics and some Psychadelic Cooler and that’s another story. The starters changed all that. The poppadums and house chutneys of coconut, tomato & tamarind, mango & pineapple and coriander.(£3) .

All bright, colourful, intense, original and moreish, no mango chutney and raw onions here. And then a round of puri puri (£4), hollow deep fried puffs filled with spicy chickpea and potato served with a tiny jug of pani which you pour in and then pop in your mouth, like a mini Indian tea party.

More wonderfully novel starters included walnut/smoky mushroom or chicken/coriander samosas, pea kachoris with pickled onions spiced with cinnamon, black pepper and ginger wrapped in atta pastry, and my favourite the aloo bondas –spiced mashed potato balls in chickpea batter which were all soft and squidgy inside with a lovely chilli kick.

The thalis themselves ranged from keralan nandan chicken (£11.50) to Lucknowi lamb (£13), Goan fish (£11), pumpkin and coconut olan (£9.50) and punjabi paneer (£10.50). Great value despite the standard and quality that goes into each dish. Impressive on arrival, the platters could easily be shared.

But not us. Oh no. We wanted one each and ended up stuffed like a Christmas stocking The pumpkin and paneer were delicious, the lamb tender, the fish beautifully cooked and the chicken wonderfully creamy. But it’s the variety that really creates the interest. Because while every element is right, it’s fun to be dipping a bit of this and that, adding some crunchy pickle or chutney, a dab of dal, a scoop of curry.

And then the roadside grill additions of chicken tikka skewers (marinated in ginger, lemon and garam masala) and the sticky mango paneer. By which time I just gave myself over to utter gluttony, made a promise to jog more, go out in trousers with an elasticated waist band from now on and dived in regardless.

It was worth it my friends. But next time I might abstain and maybe share a few dishes. On the other hand I may not.


71 George Street, Oxford OX1 2BQ