27 February 2014

Thali Café

Thali Cafe Bristol by Avon Gorged
My family love Indian food. We cook it, we order it in and we frequently get together to eat at our favourite restaurants. My sister loves it so much she held her 6th birthday party at our much-loved local curry-house. So bearing that in mind, I could think of no better choice of restaurant for their most recent visit than long-standing Bristol institution, Thali Café.

Thali Café has been serving happy customers with Tiffin take-aways and glorious Thalis for fifteen years. They can now be found in four venues across the city demonstrating the enduring Bristolian love for all things Thali. On this occasion however, the original restaurant in Montpelier was the venue of choice.
Now, on a dark and rainy February evening in Montpelier, you could be forgiven for waltzing past a restaurant without even knowing it. Thali Café however, is not somewhere designed to be missed. All of their restaurants stand out like beacons of colour and warmth. Inside you are greeted by heavy patterns, vintage lampshades and glorious old Bollywood photographs, giving the whole place a comfortable yet sumptuous feeling. Having only frequented the branch in Clifton, I was pleased to see that the original was no exception.

Thali Cafe Bristol by Avon Gorged
The menu at Thali Café is split into smaller dishes (‘Dhaba’), lighter dishes and Thalis. The menu used to be somewhat smaller but I think it has definitely benefitted from the addition of the smaller dishes. With a family of healthy appetites, it gave us a chance to get stuck in and try as much as possible.

I started with the Sticky Paneer Skewers, a dish which made me want to cry by how eager I was to try it. And thankfully it delivered. As a huge fan of paneer I was pleased to see they hadn’t messed around with it too much, and the accompanying tamarind chutney was a perfect match. I’m also a bit of a chutney devotee so I’m always happy when somewhere offers more than just the usual mango. I continued to stick my skewers in all of them.

Around the table the Kashmiri Potato Bondas also went down a storm…although if you give my family fried mashed potato you’re likely to always get a good response. The only thing I would note is that by small plates they do mean small, so I wouldn’t go thinking you can share a starter. The Mumbai city snacks could probably be split between two however…if you’re up for fighting over who gets the third one.

Moving on, the main event is obviously the Thalis themselves. They are offered in five varieties, including a dairy-free and vegetarian version. Each comes with a pumpkin curry, tarka dahl, Keralan salad, rice and raita. All of this adds up to a pretty generous affair, especially considering the price tag - a meat Thali will set you back around £10, the vegetarian just £8.95.

Thali Cafe Bristol by Avon Gorged
I ordered the Mogul chicken Thali which was rich without being heavy, and delicately spiced. The pumpkin curry was sour and spicy which provided a good antidote to the chicken. The Goan fish curry was lighter still, although the fish was curiously served battered which didn’t seem to add much to the dish. However, on the whole the Thalis lived up to their reputation. There was even unanimous praise for the salad which must be a first in my family.

All of this was washed down with plenty of bottles of Bristol Beer Factory ‘Southville Hop’ and even a rose-based cocktail special for Valentine’s Day which they’d imaginatively named Rosehypnol.

All in all it was a pleasure to take my family to Thali Café. To go there is to experience a true Bristol favourite. I’m pretty sure the hordes of people queuing to refill their Tiffins are testament to that.

Now I just have to see if they do 6th birthday parties.

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