Thali & Pickles, Balham

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We really wanted to like Thali & Pickles. The brainchild of Indian Room down the road in Balham, and Indian Moments on Northcote Road, this is a more modern offering serving street food. Plus filling where Trinity Cafe used to be with something other than an estate agent is always a bonus.

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While the aforementioned excel in your traditional curry house fare, housed with cloth decked tables and piping music in the background (and we love it – some things should never change), the decor here is more up-to-date and reflective of the food trends we’ve seen in the past couple of years.

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The menu is smaller than a typical Indian restaurant but that’s never a bad thing, of course. We opted to share the Pav Bhaji starter and each went for the thali, choosing the chicken and seafood variants.

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The starter at first glance just looked odd. Upon further scrutiny we realised that a ‘pav bun’ is an Indian bread roll. A quick Google gave us the conclusion that not all pav buns are the same – some are sweet, some are quite dense and chewy in texture. Ours was slightly buttered with a sesame seed topping and to be honest, could have been plucked out of packet from Sainsbury’s. Unlike naans or chapatis, there was no real distinction.

The Pav Bhaji starter at Thali & Pickles

The Pav Bhaji starter at Thali & Pickles

The vegetable bhaji mixture it came with hit the right notes with its earthy, spicy taste. Perhaps we’re too westernised when it comes to our penchant for Indian food but we weren’t keen.

Onto the thalis. When ordering the chicken we hadn’t banked on getting a korma. Big mistake. The other additions to the dish were dips, chickpeas, a traditional bhaji and a pudding (the dark coloured ball) which we didn’t try so can’t offer an opinion. The other flavours were very sweet with minimal spice so combined with a main that lacked power, the whole dish was a let down.

The Maharja Murgh thali (aka chicken korma. sad times)

The Maharja Murgh thali (aka chicken korma. sad times)

The seafood one, however, was a lot tastier – plenty of depth and gave the whole dish the kick it needed.

The seafood thali was more impressive

The seafood thali was more impressive

The other downer was the overall price. One starter, two thalis, one alcoholic drink and one soft drink came to around £45. Quite the dent in the pocket when it’s not an extravagant spending spree. If we’d gone all-out with three courses, booze, coffees after dinner then sure, we’d expect to a sizeable sum. This felt like a hit to our budget without the post dinner satisfaction.

We’re not saying don’t go to Thali & Pickles. The rest of their menu looks great and if Indian Room is anything to go by, their traditional curries are probably spot on. For us though that isn’t street food. We could go down the road to their sister restaurant and get the same but at a cheaper price. Sadly an underwhelming experience.

Thali & Pickles, 5-6 Balham Station Road, SW12 9SG.

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Reviewed: Eastern Empire

Whether you’re new to Balham or not, you’ll know the small strip towards the bottom of Bedford Hill is a small hub of Indian restaurants and takeaways. Hop & Spice, Indian Room and Eastern Empire all reside there and out of the three, the latter always appears to be the quietest. In fact, more often than not, the only people in there are the waiters, loitering around waiting for custom. It’s a vicious circle of course, because no-one wants to be the only customers in a restaurant (too awkward, no atmosphere, no explanation needed really) but they’ll remain empty until someone starts eating in.

The biggest reason would appear to be that Eastern Empire isn’t licensed to supply alcohol on site so for convenience they just go next door. A friend of SwishJunction had recommended their takeaway option, arguing that their curry is just as good, if not a greater variety, so next time we met up with this friend we took the option, ordering the takeaway around an hour before Strictly was due to begin. Our friend had warned us that they’re a little slower than the average takeaway, but we figured we’d allowed enough time and that taking a little time over several curry dishes wasn’t as alarming as it turning up within around 10 minutes, which screams ‘microwave’ to us.

So we ordered. And waited. And waited.

100 minutes later… it turns up. 70 minutes in, we call. “He’s just left, he’s just gone out the door” referring to our delivery man. We live a 5 minute drive from Eastern Empire. Sure, we could have picked up the food ourselves but we shouldn’t have to; that’s the luxury of a takeaway. Besides, if we’d turned up after the advised hour we’d still have been waiting a good half an hour for our order.

The food? It was ok. It was hot, granted, fresh from the kitchen, with plenty of seasoning and flavour, but arguably not really worth the wait. Considering their competitors appear to be much more popular we suggest they need to review their system; no-one wants to wait that long for a takeaway (and contemplate eating their friend out of desperation). The issue of waiting time is tricky; no one wants a rushed dinner but long delays kill the mood, plus dishonesty – waiting an extra 40 minutes than promised – is unacceptable.

If we hear the waiting time is a little shorter we may well give Eastern Empire another go, but for the time being, their takeaway menu has been chucked in the recycling bin.