A Thali is an Indian meal made up of at least six dishes. The idea is that sweet, salt, bitter, sour, astringent and spicy flavours should be in perfect balance during the meal. The name derives from the tray which the dishes are served on. Many restaurants will offer a choice of vegetarian or meat-based thalis, but for me personally they are one of the few meals where I don’t miss having meat. Often they are ‘unlimited’ and the waiters will constantly replenish your bowls, which is a very fine concept indeed…
Here are my favourites from 2012/2013 and I’ve checked to see that they’re all still open in 2020.
They’re all on my map here. In order of preference…
Hotel Saravana Bhavan (Elementary A+), 46 Janpath. LP Top Pick, TO Recommended.
My favourite eatery in Delhi and indeed one of my all time world favourites! And this despite the fact it has no liquor license and all the food is vegetarian! It helped that it was only ten minutes’ walk from my flat which meant I had breakfast (dosas) or lunch (thalis) here nearly every day for six months. Needless to say I’ve been through their menu several times!
You should get a seat without any difficulty in the mornings, but in the pm it’s best to avoid the peak hours when most Indians have their meals or else you could be waiting in a queue for twenty minutes. My solution was to go late, about 3 or 5pm in order to eat without having to share a booth with anyone.
For lunch you want the Fixed Thali (A+) for only 165 Rs. That’s just £2 people.
The dosas are great too. My favourites are the Dried Fruit Masala Dosa (A+), as well as the Coconut Masala Dosa (A+). With all of them you get three chutneys (coconut, coriander and tomato) and a great tasting sambar (all A) which are all refilled when you come near to finishing them. So as to not get bored I’d alternate them with Iddlys and the occasional Uttapam (a thick dosa with toppings).
They also do excellent vadas and mini-iddlys, a dozen at a time, served again with Coconut Chutney. The juices are great too. Pineapple with Sweet Lime (A), Pomegranate (B+), Apple (B), Carrot (B), Apple (B), were all favourites. Really, just about anything you order will be good.
Saravana Bhavan is now an international chain with branches all over the world, including a few in London. However don’t take it as given that they’re all equally good, even the nearest branch in Delhi, a few streets away in Connaught Place, wasn’t as good as this flagship branch.
Rajdhani (Intermediate B+), N-18, Connaught Cir, Atul Grove Road, Janpath
A branch of another national chain of Thali restaurants. The quality of the food isn’t quite as good as the Saravana Bhavan above but there’s more of it and it’s more varied. Make sure you go with an appetite because the food won’t stop coming.
Andhra Pradesh Bhawan (Elementary A), 1 Ashoka Rd, near India Gate, Pataudi House, www.apbhavan.in
One of the great things about where I lived (a stonesthrow from the Indian parliament) was that I was near all the regional government offices for India’s different states. Each office has a staff canteen which showcases their local cuisine and is open to the public. Andhra Pradesh Bhawan is the most famous one. Their all-you-can-eat thali is very popular so if you go for lunch, I recommend arriving early, before it gets too crowded. No pics sorry.
Sagar Ratna (Elementary B+) K – 15, Connaught Circus, Block K, www.sagarratna.in
This is a Southern Indian fast food joint, one of a chain of about ten. Their fixed thali is great value and pretty good but again not as good as Saravana Bhavan. The sambar and curries aren’t as tasty but the rice is better (all B) and you get an extra puri for a slightly lower price, still only around £2! The service is faster and a bit friendlier too.
Kerala House (Elementary C), 3 Jantar Mantar Road
Another regional government office canteen, immediately opposite where I lived, so it was handy for my co-worker Shamsher and I to have lunch. The canteen is located in the underground car park, which isn’t the most salubrious of locations but it’s still packed out. You may need to wait a short while but none of the people who come here has much time to stay, so you will be seated quickly after you buy your token from the guy on the door. Service is indifferent, but once you get their attention a tray of food will be dumped in front of you and refills regularly slopped into your bowls.
The food is nowhere near as good as Andhra Pradesh Bhawan but it’s very, very cheap. Only 45Rs for an unlimited veg thali, that’s about 60p!! Obviously for that money you’re not going to get the best tackle (I scored Bs for the coconut based curries, Cs for the rest) but if you’re on a tight budget then this is a good place.
There are of course lots of other good restaurants…