WE all know that what passes for Indian food in UK restaurants is usually anything but authentic. So it’s always a source of joy to come across genuine south Asian food. And they don’t come much more authentic than Thali.

To the uninitiated, a thali is a platter ubiquitous everywhere from Kathmandu to Kerala, served on a shiny metal plate, divided into sections for rice, pickles, dhal and other staples of life on the Subcontinent, and accompanied by a curry. They are a feature of daily life across India, enjoyed by everyone from ministers to manual labourers.

While found as a footnote on some restaurant menus over here, we now have our own dedicated temple to thali – and guess what it’s called?

Occupying the space left by the departure of Giraffe, in George Street, Thali is large but, due to some clever interior design, feels cosy and intimate.

It is an offshoot of a small chain of eateries, not in London, but that easy-going capital of cool: Bristol – which explains a lot. There’s a definite alternative, festival vibe to it. Staff are chatty, fun and welcoming but also enthusiastic in an endearing non-corporate way. Yet it’s also slick and efficient – and a peek over the serving counter into the kitchen (always a satisfying experience), revealed a battalion of Asian chefs working wonders in a buzz of banter and clatter of kitchenware.

The menu is refreshingly small and revolves around the central theme of the thali: dhal, veg subji (varying greens of the day), yoghurt, a fresh salad and basmati rice. The only real choice is what to have with it.

There is a choice of five curries to accompany (ranging from a very reasonable £9.50 to £11.50, including your thali) and our party of four choose all five (we were hungry).

The stand-out for the two meat eaters among us was a Lucknowi lamb – tender chunks of meat in a rich warming tomato and garam masala gravy. It was divine. Creamier and lighter was a Keralan Nandan chicken, which was served in a creamy coconut-based sauce. It was also very good indeed.

A Goan fish curry consisted of a meaty piece of pollack in a spiced tomato gravy. It was delicious but a little mildly flavoured for my tastes and could have benefitted from more heat – which arrived in the shape of a bowl of fresh chilli.

On the vegetarian front there was a pumpkin and coconut Olan, which was sweet and chunky and peppered with black-eyed beans. It was also a little sweet, though the coconut was offset by powerfully fragrant curry leaf. Most popular of all, though, was Punjabi paneer – cubes of Indian cheese in a creamy spinach and fenugreek sauce.

The veggies reported it very good indeed. So good, in fact, that my spoon was blocked every time I went in for a taste.

Chapattis are ordered separately but cost only a quid and are excellent. You can also supplement your thali with a ‘roadside grill’ – marinated chicken tikka or sticky mango paneer cooked on hot coals (at about £11 each). I would strongly advise that you do. The paneer, in particular is ridiculously moreish with a lovely firm bite and subtle creamy textures, yet smothered in sweet, sticky naughtiness.

We devoured it all with bottles of Desi Biyar beer, carrying the face of Kali and coming all the way from... well, Wiltshire. Brewed for Thali, its crisp tang complements the feisty fare.

Our waiter, Adam Kelly, looked like he knew his way around Goa and Kathmandu. He was tremendous fun and clearly loved Thali’s wholesome approach. “I’ve worked in a lot of places that have an ‘a la carte’ approach to ethics,” he grins.

“So many places pick and choose their principles, but here even the drinking straws are sustainable!”

Curry with conscience? I’ll raise a glass of Desi Biyar to that!

Thali, 71 George Street, Oxford 01865 249263 thethali restaurant.co.uk