Thali Cafe – a Bristolian institution

27 May 2012

One of the things that I love most about Bristol is its fine tradition of independent shops, restaurants and retailers. In fact the people of this fab city can get quite militant about maintaining independence on their local streets, which I think is pretty great.

Along with Pieminister, which I have visited in the past, I think that the Thali Cafe chain is one of the jewels in the Bristolian Crown of FOOD. There are four branches of the Thali Cafe in Bristol but their reach is actually much wider as, like Pieminister, they are staples on the British festival scene too so people from all over the country have sampled their thalis and aromatic sweet chai tea while sitting in a field at some point. Here in Bristol we’re lucky enough to be able to either visit one of their gorgeously bright and colourful restaurants or get a takeaway in one of their iconic tiffins.

For the uninitiated, a tiffin is an exciting metal Indian packed lunch container that the spouses of Indian workers pack with fabulous curries and rice – the metal keeping the meal warm for several hours. Customers of the Thali Cafe can buy a tiffin from them and then for about £8 get it refilled with three curries and enough rice for two. I send my husband out about once a week to the Totterdown branch with ours (which you can see at the top of this post!) to get our curry and I absolutely love it because a. it’s kind of fun, b. it’s cheaporama and c. it always makes me feel pretty healthy. Oh and d. it’s delicious.

The Thali Cafe team were kind enough last week to offer me a chance to try out their new lunchtime menu and so I very gladly trotted off on a gorgeous sunny day to their Easton branch to give it a whirl. I hadn’t been to Easton very often before but fell a bit in love as it is such a vibrant and diverse area, reminiscent of my beloved Spitalfields. It was the perfect day to laze in a beautiful hot pink Bollywood inspired restaurant and watch the world go by outside the wide windows.

To start we had poppadoms and a selection of interesting chutneys – tomato and tamarind (my favourite and seriously yummy, like a pungently spicy jam); yoghurt and ginger; mango, chilli and lime and mint raita. There was also salad and a selection of samosa, bonda and pakoras, all of which were fantastically tasty. To drink we had their own homemade lime drink (delicious!) and ginger beer (also delicious!).

After this our main courses arrived – as usual I picked a muttar paneer, which arrived with pilau rice and a large helping of salad while my husband had a Mogul chicken curry and the Three Year Old had a special fish and chips, which is described as ‘Masala fried fish with Bombay potato chips’.

My curry was delectable – creamy and not too spicy with plenty of paneer. I really love how at the Thali Cafe, salad is never just a mere garnish but an integral, delicious and important part of every meal.

We were intrigued by the Three Year Old’s Indian fish and chips, which is one of two child options on the menu, the other being a scaled down version of the usual adult thali with rice, lentil dhal and a choice of either fish, chicken or pakora. The fish and chips arrived on a traditional sectioned thali plate and comprised salad, sliced banana (which was eaten first as he is a FIEND for bananas), gorgeously spicy potato slices and what I am told was a perfect crispy but not too oily spicy battered fish.

I felt absolutely STUFFED after all this – it’s described as a ‘light lunch’ but thanks to a combination of scrumptuous, fresh tasting Indian food and all the sunshine I was starting to think longingly about going home for a really refreshing snooze on the sofa. However, we rallied a bit and ordered a kulfi to share between us. George, who looked after us, recommended the ‘choc-praline cluster’ and so we duly ordered one.

Oh my. Words cannot describe the heavenly deliciousness of this chocolate and praline kulfi, which becomingly arrived, bedecked with toasted coconut, in a glass jar. My husband, the lucky sod, doesn’t really have much of a sweet tooth but there was definite spoon clashing going on as we worked our way through the ice cream. The biggest fan of all though was, not entirely unexpectedly, the Three Year Old who sat like a plump little bird with his mouth wide open waiting to receive the sweet coconut riddled goodness and even, on occasion, swooped in to try and steal my portions. All in vain!

Anyway, we had the most superb time and will definitely be making a regular habit of visiting for lunch from now on as it was just the most lovely way to spend an afternoon. Thank you so much to George and all at the Thali Cafe for letting me come along! It was superb.

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