Thali Cafe is the kind of place I want to be my local. My Indian restaurant for any occasion – a quick masala chai before work, a spicy lunch to jumpstart your afternoon or a fine evening out with great company.
Until they come to Cambridge (they’re based in Bristol) we’ll just have to keep finding excuses to visit the South West, which is no bad thing! We were on our way to Bath last week so decided to stop for lunch at the Clifton cafe. Our visit was especially timely as one of my favourite Indian food writers Meera Sodha has recently collaborated with Thali Cafe on some mouthwatering summer specials.
Thali Cafes are always brightly decorated, gaudy but in the kind of way that only Indians can get away with. A huge mural dominates one wall, and the others are brightly painted with vintage photographs and 1960s Bollywood posters popping up on every other wall. Whoever gets to fit these restaurants out must have a fantastic time doing all the shopping!
We started by sharing a plate of pani puri, most welcome as a refresher after a long journey from Cambridge. Half the fun of a pani puri is in the preparation – poking holes in the puri to open them and then carefully filling with potato, chickpea and onion, a little yogurt and the ice-cold tamarind water. Then you pop the whole thing in your mouth and CRUNCH! They’re the very best on a baking hot day in Mumbai, or a slightly warm day in Bristol – wherever you happen to be.
Next up were Meera’s specials – buttermilk sigri chicken for me and malai paneer tikka for the Mr. The chicken was tender, spicy and so fragrant, and reminded me very much of something my Mum cooks on the barbecue. The dish is a simple preparation, but the attention to detail on the spicing means it is anything but ordinary.
I did of course steal a bite of the paneer tikka, melt in the mouth (as the menu promised) with a gentle heat and complexity of spicing from the nutmeg, pepper, cardamom and cloves. The paneer is both crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside, no mean feat which ensures it will disappear in minutes. Both thalis were served with a cauliflower chaat salad, a freshly made naan and an addictive coriander chutney. We chose the smaller lunch thalis, the larger thalis also come with a slow-cooked dal makhani.
Dessert is compulsory (in my opinion) and I finished my meal with a traditional pistachio kulfi, and the Mr with a Mumbai Mess. Both excellent, and even better washed down with a masala coffee.
Our meal really showcased the variety Indian food offers, fresh, colourful and so cheerful! I love their style and I hope to see more Indian food like this all over the country. We’ll definitely be back next time we’re in Bristol and for many more years to come.
Meera’s specials will be served all summer at all the Thali Cafes in Bristol, find the menus on their website. Meera’s new vegetarian cookbook, Fresh India, is out in a matter of weeks, pre-order it on Amazon.
We dined as guests of the Thali Cafe – thank you for having us!