Chef Liam Tomlin of the award-winning Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen certainly has been busy. Not only has he opened a second location at Beau Constantia, he’s also set his Midas touch on Indian-style tapas at the newly opened Thali.
Formerly the premises of Takumi, the Park Road restaurant has been transformed, its vibrant turquoise patina and jewelled colours balanced with exposed brick and restored wood to gleaming effect. As one can’t book, we took a gamble and arrived just after 6pm, where we were welcomed and seated in the ambient little courtyard, replete with Moroccan-inspired inlaid tables, lanterns and lush greenery.
Much like Chef’s Warehouse, there is an emphasis on great wine — their list extensive but beneficially broken up into wines that pair well with various levels of spice (mild, medium, hot). While there is a roped off section of Liam’s favourites, we rebelled and opted for a Viognier instead, a choice we felt shored up well against the spicy dishes that followed. There is also a full bar and selection of cocktails to tempt the more adventurous, or for those who need something to do whilst waiting for a table.
The menu is a set one at R650 per couple for eight dishes (vegan and veggie options on request) — a welcome relief for those who suffer from menu analysis paralysis or just simply can’t be bothered to choose.
Dishes are all beautifully presented and arrive in a relentless array of colour, texture and fragrances, each course more spectacular than the last and quite overwhelming on the senses.
One begins with a stack of perfectly snappy fennel papadums served with a copper cup of potato and chickpea chaat, an Indian street food-inspired dish. We were also given our own spice and chilli paste, allowing us to ramp up the heat on all our dishes as we dared.
Succulent chicken and lamb kebabs arrive next in a smoking tandoor pot served with pomegranate raita and tomato chilli jam for dipping. This is coupled with their rich black lentil dhal, a garlicky naan bread and a cauliflower dish that had us enraptured by the vegetable du jour. The cauliflower ‘steaks’ are roasted, tandoor-style, to perfection and offset by a combo of cauliflower puree with a sprinkling of crunchy coconut and cashews — the showstopper as voted by both of us.
Before we’d even had time to mourn its end, we were presented with a plate of steamed fish, served in a mild but tangy dressing that I found unexpectedly light and tasty, together with pork belly crackling spiced with ginger and tamarind.
With distended bellies, we reclined, sure that the show had come to a satisfying end. But before long our last (and unexpected dish) arrived — chicken and lamb curries served with a folded, buttery paratha for dipping. It was no effort at all to put them away, but we were left feeling rather starched out.
Should you opt out of the very tempting dessert menu, as we did, you are not left without something sweet to end your taste adventure, as each meal ends with gulab jamun (cardamom spiced doughnuts drenched in a moreish sticky syrup).
We found the service to be prompt but rather abrupt, the dishes brought in quick succession with little enquiry as to our readiness for each course. However, this did not detract much from the experience — a must-do for fans of Indian food and tapas, or for those looking for something a little escapist in the city.