The Thali Café, Clifton Village: Review

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I’m ashamed to admit that, despite having been in Bristol for almost two years, I’ve only recently paid my first visit to the Bristol institution that is The Thali Café. Winner of the Best Cheap Eats award in the Observer Food Monthly Awards last year, it’s a mini-chain of Indian restaurants with branches in Montpelier, Easton, Totterdown and Clifton – a friend and I headed to the Clifton Village restaurant for a review for the new food page in 247 Magazine

The word “Thali” simply refers to the stainless steel dish on which the meal is served, but the concept of the meal is described on the restaurant’s website as follows:

“The meal consists of a three different complimentary dishes served with rice, salad and chutneys. The individual recipes vary from region to region and according to the season reflecting the ingredients that are available and the spices are chosen for their health giving properties as much as for taste.”

Serving authentic, healthy street food to eat in or take away, the Thali Café has a strong focus on vegetarian and dairy-free options – although meat-lovers will be happy to know that their needs can also be met! The restaurants have a strong ethical stance which is demonstrated in a variety of ways: many ingredients are locally-sourced, they have strong relationships with local people and businesses, and they play their part in terms of donating to charity.

As a venue, it’s quirky and charming. The restaurant is split over three floors at the bottom of Regent Street, and adorned with plants, big gold frames on the brightly coloured walls and various ornaments. Blues-y music gently playing in the background was somewhat at odds with the concept of the restaurant but being a blues fan I wasn’t complaining. 🙂

While perusing the menu, we each started our meal with a glass of nimbu-pani (£1.75) – a homemade sweet lime soda that was lovely and refreshing after the trek up Constitution Hill to get there! We  each accompanied this with a poppadum (80p each) and the chutney tray (£3.50), of which the yoghurt and ginger based was my favourite by far.

The menu is short and sweet: just one starter (aside from the poppadums) and four different thalis on the standard menu, ranging from £7.95 to £8.95. There’s also a regularly changing specials board which, on the evening of our visit, featured aloo palak (spring spinach and new potato curry, £8.95), and lamb kofta (£9.95). Each thali is served with vegetable subji, basmati rice, tarka dahl, Keralan salad and homemade chutney. Children’s portions are available for £3.95, and you can order flatbreads to accompany your meal – click here for the menu.

While the menu may be small, I can confirm that the portions are huge and a bargain at the prices at which they are charged! My Northern Thali (£7.95) had a paneer-based option occupying one section of the thali: cubes of the Indian cheese fried until golden and served with peas in a creamy and subtly spiced sauce. The accompanying dishes were also delicious, in particular the crunchy vegetable salad, but I found the dahl a little too watery for my tastes.

My friend opted for the Dairy-Free Thali (£7.95), consisting of a seasonal vegetable curry which she enjoyed but felt was possibly a little bland. The spice levels could have been upped for both dishes, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.

I do also want to try out their Tiffin Club, which seems very reasonably priced. A tiffin is a multi-layered metal lunchbox, in effect, which you can buy from them priced at £22.50, which includes the thali of your choice. Every time you want it refilled after that, it’ll cost you the same price as the standard menu…

The verdict? Cheap and cheerful, lovely atmosphere and I’d definitely go back. As I say, the spice levels could have done with being increased somewhat, but I’ll try something different from the menu next time and see if we have the same issue…

Thali Cafe

Website: http://www.thethalicafe.co.uk

Address: 1, Regent Street, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4HW

Telephone: 0117 974 3793


Find The Thali Cafe, Clifton on the Bristol Bites Directory…

5 Responses to The Thali Café, Clifton Village: Review

  1. I was pretty disappointed when I went there last November. The service was so terrible, it completely ruined the experience for me. Food was good, but not great (I agree with your 'bland' comments, I was expecting more spices and more heat).

    Thought the laminated menus were a little tacky too, like something you might find in a McDonald's, but that's just a superficial observation, not my main issue! All in all, I don't plan on going back to the Clifton one.

    I would like to try the other Thali Cafes, I've heard they're far better.

    • Sorry to hear about your experience with the service – it was fine on the night for us, but this could have been because we went on a quiet Wednesday night when they weren't over-run with customers…

      I've also heard similar about the other restaurants, and I'd be keen to try one of these on a night that they host one of their events: it seems, from their website, that story telling evenings and live music aren't uncommon, but I guess they don't have the space for this in the Clifton restaurant…

      • We went on an average Saturday night. It was busy, but manageable. They were all over the place, unprofessional, sloppy and rude.

        A shame, because I was really looking forward to it. I'm glad your experience was more positive. I hope that mine was the anomaly!

        The prices are extremely good, but for the same price, I could go to the Souk Kitchen, have fantastic food, and receive brilliant customer service! I'd pick Souk every time..

  2. Oh dear, not good 🙁 I wonder if the others are better…

    Souk is indeed fantastic, I went for the "Culinary Tour Of Iran" evening and have been back for lunch since then, definitely worth the trek down to North Street!

  3. Hiya – I wouldn't be ashamed. Have lived in Bristol most of my life and have yet take full advantage of this city's treasures. 🙂 Sounds great and it seems the Tiffin Box idea is catching on as more places seem to have adopted this. As always, a great review.

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