Claims that Headington's high street has a 'UK-first ' serving thali to order' is a spurious one. Firstly there are Thali restaurants all over the UK, a favourite of mine being the legendary Thali Café in in Bristol where you can even bring your own tiffin and take home what you want from the day’s menu.
Oxford also has its own amazing thalis, my personal recommendation being Dosa Park opposite Oxford’s train station where their are three thalis, all served with boiled rice, sambar, dhal curry, veg curry, channa masala, rasam,yogurt and papadam, priced between £6.99 and £9.99 and mind-blowingly good.
But being a lover of thali, I shot down to the new Desi Lounge Restaurant at 146 London Road faster than you can say 'chicken tikka masala'.
Thalis for those of you still in the dark, are an Indian style platter, made up of a selection of various dishes, served on a steel tray with multiple compartments.
Popular in Nepal and Bangladesh, although Desi Lounge is apparently Pakistani based, the idea behind a Thali is to offer all six different flavours of sweet, salt, bitter, sour, astringent and spicy on one single plate, offering a perfect balance.
Dishes served vary from region to region but typically dishes include rice, dal, vegetables, roti flatbreads, papad, curd (yoghurt), small amounts of chutney or pickle, and a sweet dish to top it off. Rice or roti usually occupies the central section, while the side dishes like vegetable curries are lined circularly around it.
Which is why Desi Lounge is not serving thali, whatever it boasts because shish kebab, piri piri chicken and babaghanoush are not Indian, they are turkish.
Secondly our meal wasn't served in a thali dish, instead ramekins of the individual dishes being put down at our table randomly.
Thirdly rice was extra.
The place itself however was even more bizarre. What was Bar Mezze is still basically the same. We found a lone man cleaning the bar, still dirty from the night before, when we arrived. He looked surprised to see us and we even had to ask if the restaurant was open at noon on a Friday. It smelt strongly of bleach so at least it was clean.
Giving us the menus I stared uncomprehendingly at the offerings, utterly confused, the choices including turkish salads, chicken wings, feta salad, meatball curry (don't even go there) and even a mini shish kebab!!!!!!My heart sank like the Mary Rose.
As if things couldn't get any worse, it then took half an hour to order and get our drinks, even though we were the only people in the restaurant, and 45 minutes until our thali platter was served, presumably cooked by the same man because he disappeared into the back as soon as we ordered.
The large thali - nine dishes in all- cost £25.99 which I thought was steep at best. The accompanying two rice dishes came to an extra £7.
If the meal had dazzled me I'd have coped. It didn't sadly. Guzzling it down as our parking meter had nearly run out by then, the offerings left me cold. We also had to find and then call back the waiter to supply some plates.
Neither did our thali come with the usual obligatory yoghurt, pickles or roti, pitta bread being the only offering.
Resigned we ate quickly and were done within 15 minutes, the food being so genetic, it left me feeling robbed. The veg in the sabzu curry for example being suspiciously well diced, as well as fairly tasteless and watery.
The bill, including one small drink each, came to £41.39, which made me choke on my sparkling water. The only highlight of the meal was a delicious sarson ka saag, a dip of greens and mustard seeds that I set on gratefully, although it was little consolation.
We all had a sandwich when we got home, out appetites hardly touched, still hungry.
I was crushed, not only because it wasn't the sumptuous Indian feast Id been hoping for, but because the thinly veiled imitation had cost me dearly. Never again.
Desi Lounge is at 145 London Rd, Headington.
Desi Lounge, 145 London Road, Headington, Oxford