Thali started as a Glastonbury Festival thing back in 1999, when I came back from six months in India. The food that I’d eaten didn’t bear much resemblance to the high street curry houses in the UK and I tried to recreate the healthier, fresher, home cooked Indian food that I’d discovered on my travels.
In the beginning things were very basic, the festival Thali consisted of one veggie curry and an old banger called ‘Noddy’ but the response from hungry festival-goers was so positive that I set up my first restaurant in Bristol’s Montpelier where I was living at the time.
Thali opened, effectively as one of the first ever pop-ups in a shop that functioned as a gift store by day, and has grown organically staying true to a strict ethical code inspired by ‘jugaard’ the Indian philosophy of ‘do more with less’. Today there are five Thali restaurants in Bristol.
Since the very beginning I’ve tried to present Indian food in a new and exciting way. For some reason Indian food has been left to rot somewhere in the 1980s (meat of uncertain origin, gassy lager) and I’m on a mission to make Indian food cool again.
I’ve been searching for a restaurant outside of Bristol for the last year and a half. It has been tough as competitors are often backed by huge corporations which has forced Thali – a die hard independent – to think creatively and sell the dream of a fresh take on Indian food to landlords. Finding the site on Oxford’s George Street was a lucky break. Oxford is an incredibly rich cultural centre and I’m confident that Thali will bring something completely new to Oxford’s food and drink scene – a cool Indian restaurant for the 21st century.
During this vaguely frustrating time something incredible happened. I met author of best-selling cookbooks Made in India and Fresh India Meera Sodha (you might have read Meera’s column The New Vegan in The Guardian). Meera shares a passion for all things Indian and joined the Thali team as a cook. Together we showcase the hero dishes of the subcontinent, as well as recipes from Meera’s cookbooks. I believe that we have created a simple and tasty menu that is accessible without scrimping on quality (meat is free range, dairy is organic).
The Thali menu looks to India for inspiration; from the back streets of Chandni Chowk to the beach shacks of Goa. Meera’s creations utilise traditional Indian techniques with a large dose of British cool featuring dishes from her latest vegetarian cookbook Fresh India including: pea kachoris with pickled onions, mushroom and walnut samosas and pumpkin coconut olan. The menu features a range of thalis (from Keralan nandan chicken to Punjabi paneer) and roadside grills cooked on a tava or hot coals – just like they do in the back streets of Bombay.
The restaurant interior presents a raw vision of India that is true to my experiences of travelling around the country. The colour palette originates from the dust and haze of the city streets. The Indian tradition of hand-washing has been incorporated into the space with a communal sink and I hope to encourage diners to eat with their hands. In fact, I’m considering getting rid of cutlery altogether.
Jim Pizer, Founder, Thali
Take a trip with the travelling Thali > visit & book.
26 July 2017