Posted 1st December 2009
Updated October 2013: It’s fair to say that since writing this review the Thali Cafe has become a very firm favourite in both our households. A reliable source of tasty, quick, affordable food when you need it most. This review is on Thali Cafe Clifton however I also recommend checking out the newest addition to the Thali family in Southville. A beautiful restaurant, larger than their other venues but with all of the atmosphere and flavour that we’ve come to expect from this Bristol institution.
My first experience of a Thali Café was in a muddy field where I discovered a winning combination of chai tea with brandy, funky music and somewhere dry to chill with lots of comfy cushions and friendly faces.
My second experience of a Thali Café was last week, after the latest edition to their brood opened in Clifton. After watching those prats on The Restaurant ruin what had previously been the Walrus and the Carpenter on Regent Street in Clifton, it was a pleasure to discover that the lovely Thali people had taken over.
Having heard so much about the other cafes (all a tad too far away for comfort) I could not wait to try the food. The décor is what it should be – rustic and relaxed with an Indian twist – as old leather sofas and raw wooden tables are joined by brightly coloured lamps and lanterns.
Our enthusiastic while laid-back waitress showed us to our table and brought us our menus, which made life so much easier than a usual Indian restaurant’s menu. There are two choices, Southern Thali – incorporating a Goan fish curry, dahl, vegetable dish, chutney, rice and salad, or a Northern Thali – incorporating a tarka dahl, saag or mutter paneer, chutney, rice and salad. As much as we all love vegetable curries, we all went for the fish option along with a few poppadoms, chutneys and a bottle of red.
The poppadoms arrived with a range of homemade chutneys that were so far removed from the usual lime pickle and mango chutney that we had to order more poppadoms to soak them up with. The mango chutney was sweet and warming with chunky mango bits, while the unusual chilli chutney was just the right mix of heat and spice and the yogurt, ginger and mustard seed cooled everything down.
Despite being buzzingly busy, including a large party next to us, our food arrived promptly as we each looked in awe at the Thalis (metal trays) placed before us. Each was packed with little dishes of delicious smelling curry with rice, salad and raita, along with the extra chapatis we had chosen.
Knowing how or where to start was tricky, but after choosing to dump everything out of the small dishes into the big dish there was no looking back. Perfectly cooked fish, which had been battered then cooked in an awesome coconuty curry, tangy tomatoey dahl, coconut vegetables and a fresh crisp salad made this curry probably one of the healthiest, fresh tasting curries I have ever had.
And I am not alone in this, the Thali café has recently been awarded the ‘Best Takeaway’ award in the Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards. When it comes to takeaway the Thali cafe operates a Tiffin system (a stack of stainless steel food containers) – You buy the Tiffin for £20 (the first takeaway is half price), you then keep taking it back whenever you fancy a Thali saving on waste.
Wherever possible the Thali café chefs use organic, seasonal and local produce, which really comes through in the taste. In fact, the specials menu changes regularly to accommodate new flavours coming in with the seasons.
Verdict: a breath of fresh air in a world where takeaways and typical Indian restaurant food has become a bit of a bore.
Thali Café, Clifton
1 Regent Street, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4HW
(Other locations in Southville, Montpelier, Easton and Totterdown)
0117 974 3793
Follow on twitter @thethalicafe and on Facebook