By David Derby
Thali, the Kensington restaurant formerly known as Bar Asian (RFKABA), celebrated its rebranding last week with a reception for the cream of London’s food journalists. Fluid was first in, securing privileged access to management and the representative samples on offer.
The chef, who trained with the Taj Group and previously worked at Bombay Brasserie, has been granted a glimpse of owner-operator Vikash Dhawan’s family recipe book and asked to stick closely to the script. The result is North Indian dishes with a depth of flavour and sophistication of spicing that announce serious intent. Vikash is clearly proud of the Palak Chaat, in which spinach is given a dry marinade, fried and then left to dry out. Somewhat eccentrically, what we were invited to try was, however, neither this nor much else on the opening menu. Instead, we had Achari Salmon, a Lamb Boti Kebab in a garum massala, Padron peppers stuffed with chicken, and sesame-encrusted prawns. Extrapolating from this limited selection, it seems likely that Thali will be considering the likes of Tamarind and Benares as its immediate competition. Naturally, the “signature” dish is the eponymous Thali, which comes in vegetarian and non-vegetarian formats. Otherwise, amongst more familiar dishes, there is a Venison Bhuna and Tandoori Rabbit – a welcome nod to fashion.
The décor at 166 Old Brompton Road was already fit for purpose – waxed blue and white walls, a few well-chosen Asian artifacts – and this remains unchanged. The lounge bar in the basement is attractive. In a neighbourly and generous way, Vikash displays sculpture by young artists in the space vacated by the coal cellar under the pavement. It’s a nice touch – stylish and differentiating.