Watching the spectacle of a kitchen performing under the baton of Liam Tomlin, and delivering fine platters of food like clockwork, was an unexpected treat!
We had been told that Thali – like it’s older sister Chef’s Warehouse and Canteen in Bree Street – takes no reservations. No worries – we arrive at around 6.30 and find a number of tables still open – but not for long. We choose a “tall” table with high chairs overlooking “the pass”. Best table in the house if you are intrigued and amazed watching the well oiled machine of a kitchen working in top gear!
Following chef Liam’s tried and tested formula of exquisite tapas being served in a few courses and over around 2 hours – no choice in what you get – just trust the kitchen. Not being much of a spice eater (OK so what exactly were we doing at an Indian restaurant) I mentioned my concern to our waiter – turns out I had no need for concern. The food was delicious and wonderfully flavored and fragrant. You control the heat!
The first course is a pile of different poppadoms – perfect to dip into a spicy potato and chickpea pot – sprinkled with “slangetjies” (Cape Town’s favourite spicy crispy noodle snack). 2 little bowls complete the platter – these you get to keep for the whole meal in case you need more of a kick – the one was a delicious salty spice, the other a hotter tomatoe/chilli/chutney type paste.
The food is all brought to the tables on glorious copper platters and you mop up the many flavors and tastes using the roti as a base. this makes for a great evening of sharing and going back for your favorite morsel.
The rooms were filling up and the kitchen kicked up a notch. Every table was watched carefully, attentive waiters seeing that we were all different stages of the feast. This is not one of those shouting “Yes Chef” kitchens, but everyone knew their role and it came together spectacularly.
We noticed smoke in the air and thought – “Ha, even the best kitchen in the world maybe burns things from time to time!” Wrong – the smoke was from copper tandoori ovens that were brought to your table – 2 skewers – 1 lamb and one chicken were smouldering over hot coals – the smoke carried the aroma and flavors straight from the wonderful baby ovens right to your mouth! The tandoori’s also had a cooling raita and other sauces to help carry the flavor – and cleverly for a mild eater like me – helps adjust the “heat”.
After the drama of the tandoori, the pace changed with 2 delightful fish dishes. The first a refreshing swordfish ceviche, cured in a marsala emulsion with what we thought was maybe saffron aioli, crispy deep fried curry leaves and semi dried tomatoes – outstanding! The second a kingklip taco with fresh red onion and coriander leaves – perfect! Maybe the only criticism was that the taco was difficult to share – maybe 2 small ones would have worked easier?
Final round of the evening – a tender, succulent lamb curry and a creamy seafood curry, with a line fish, prawn and mussel – again mild but spicy such intriguing flavors! And I thought curries only came in various shades of “burny” – rookie error!
While watching in awe at the kitchen in full flight, Chef Liam had nothing but praise for the team who he says are the heroes! We were amazed to watch the kitchen not only focus on tonights guests, but also braising the lamb for tomorrow night!
Whilst focussed on guiding the ship, he was not too busy to answer foodie questions from his fans. The swordfish had us guessing at ingredients and where he sources them – next thing he joins our table with a packet of fresh curry leaves for us to try at home – what a legend! I nearly asked for a tiny bank bag to take home the leftover savory curry salt!
A final gift from the kitchen was a sweet coconut like mini doughnut with a vermicelli type sprinkle – tasted like those sen sen sweets – good way to leave your mouth feeling complete.
R650 for 2 for an evening of tapas and food theatre – not free but actually, what a bargain! Desserts were on offer as an extra, as were oysters to start – we said no to both, happy with the “main act – Tapas for 2”.
They have a good wine list on offer with plenty of wines by the glass. or bottle. Paul Cluver Gewurtztraminer and Hartenberg Riesling both perfect matches with spicey food!
Where to find Thali? 3 Park Rd, Gardens, Cape Town or call 021 286 2110 – remember, no reservations and if you’re like us… look for the table near the kitchen.