Thali Cafe started off its life as a van at music festivals, serving its fresh Indian street food to revellers. The popularity of their healthy dishes took off and they opened their first cafe in Montpelier in Bristol. It was this restaurant I visited and was really impressed. The decor is fantastic; old school Bollywood portraits and posters hanging from gilded frames on the wall as you sip from silver cups and eat from stripped wood tables. This vintage styled trendy Indian restaurant is not like the flock wallpapered joints us Brits have become accustomed to. Not only does the restaurant look great, but their food is also wonderful. Their curries are light and refreshing and the vegetable dishes are delicately cooked, often with clean citrus flavours running through.
The word ‘Thali’ refers to the way meals are eaten in India, where dished are served together on one plate, much like school dinner trays. Although, unlike school dinners, Thali Cafe’s food comes on metallic trays of joy that are filled with dishes that are simultaneously nutritious and delicious.
To start, I had shared the Mumbai City Snacks which included a selection of classic Indian street food of red pepper pakora, bonda and Punjabi samosa served with a sticky mango chutney. This was followed by the show-stopping ‘Northern’ thali which is the restaurants signature dish and includes delicious golden-fried paneer which was served with summer subji, tarka dahl, crunchy keralan salad, basmati rice and raita. I also ordered an aloo paratha which is a Punjabi style flatbread stuffed with spicy potato and served with a raita and lime pickle. Although the paratha was beautiful, it was probably a dish too far as the thali itself was a very generous portion size and I struggled to finish the lot. The thali was, therefore, fantastic value for money costing just £8.50.
What I really loved about the food was the fresh herbs and spices were not overly cooked to the point in which they lose their taste, nor were they swimming in oil or over powered with curry leaf. Every dish, while tasting different from the next, had its own carefully balanced and unique flavour. The paneer was fresh and rich, the dahl was beautifully creamy with mild cumin tones, the summer subji was tangy with tarmid, tomato and ginger and the paratha was fiery with fresh chilli.
Since the opening of their restaurant in Montpellier, their reputation has grown and grown which has led to the expansion of the business with restaurants now open in Southville, Easton, Totterdown and Clifton. It is easy to understand why this brightly coloured informal joint has gone from strength to strength thanks to it reinventing Indian food as fresh, colourful, healthy and inexpensive. Thali Cafe is well worth a visit.