Thali Café, the independent Indian restaurant group, is preparing to launch its first site outside its home city of Bristol, and has investment in place for three more sites, MCA has learnt.

The five-strong group is opening a 2,000 sq ft site in George Street, Oxford, and is also targeting three more openings outside Bristol in towns or cities with central, high footfall areas.

Thali Café has raised £800,000 in private investment which it has matched with borrowing, and plans to self-fund two openings a year after the next four.

Founder Jim Pizer said the concept had evolved from a festival van, to a neighbourhood restaurant group, and was now entering its next phase and transitioning into a casual dining brand.

He said he was looking at places such as Cheltenham, Bath, Reading, Cambridge and Exeter for potential sites, and wanted to be near new-wave casual dining brands such as Pizza Pilgrims, Pho and Comptoir Libanais.

The group has strengthened its senior team, with Nadine Taverez, formerly of Ping Pong Dim Sum, joining as operations manager, while Made in India author Meera Sodha is working on food development.

Pizer said he was also looking for an experienced industry figure to come in as a possible chairman and offer strategic guidance and gravitas when bidding for property.

The new generation sites will have a more refined, stripped back menu, branded identity and interior design, though the Bristol restaurants will keep their original neighbourhood character and popular menu options.

Pizer said: “We’re making the transition from neighbourhood restaurant to a casual dining offering, and though we’ve had a few false starts, we feel we’ve now got to the bottom of who we are.

“Indian food was really come back into vogue and there’s a huge market for it, it’s come full circle.

“There’s still a real gap in the market for casual dining Indian food, and not many competitors.”