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…
Address: 1, Regent Street, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4HW
Telephone: 0117 974 3793