The other week we had to say farewell to Carla for she was leaving Bristol to return to London. So her final meal was booked and she had chosen the Thali Cafe, the Clifton branch. This would technically only be my second visit to a thali, I once went many moons ago to the first cafe in Montpelier and although it was around 6 -7 years ago I remember it being very tasty. So I was pretty excited about making a return visit. The Thali Cafe (well the Clifton one at least) offers five main thali choices and a couple of sides and starters. I was pretty keen to recreate my first experience so I had already decided to have the Northern thali. This is their signature dish a vegetarian curry assortment including a curry with fried paneer.
Sarah, Rob, Rich and I decided to share some poppadoms and chutneys for our starters and we all amazingly went for different thalis. Rich picked the lamb kofta thali which was the one that almost swayed me, with spiced meatballs, in a coconut, tomato and cinnamon sauce. Sarah and Rob chose the Mogul thali and the Southern thali. With all the aromatic smells wafting round the restaurant our stomachs were practically growling in protest luckily the arrival of poppadoms and chutneys saved us in time.
You kind of expect to have mango chutney as standard when you order poppadoms and to be honest that is what I generally stick to because I am not a fan of lime pickle and slightly unbothered by raita. However The Thali Cafe offers little twists on the classics which were a welcome change. There was a tomato and tamarind one that reminded me of lime pickle but actually nice, slightly tangy but totally moreish. Even the mango chutney had an added zing with some chilli in it for a kick. As you will probably be able to tell we made short work of our poppadoms and chutneys, we were still hungry but we were now able to wait for our mains without wondering whether to steal some of the food on the table next door to us.
Excuse the photo quality the light was not great but you get the general gist of what we ate. I sampled some of the sauce from Rich's lamb kofta thali and it was divine, so aromatic and the cinnamon really came through, this is definitely what I will be sampling next time I visit. Rob's Southern thali was a Goan fish curry but the fish had been coated in crispy crumb which made it a little bit different, it also looked really good. The paneer curry in my vegetarian thali was really light and the sauce was yummy I was impressed. However the winner I think for all of us, the one that stole the show, was the lentil dhal it was creamy and so well flavoured it made me want to make dhal at home and eat it more often. The only thing we all weren't keen on was the vegetable, mainly potato dish which I thought was a bit like a saag, it tasted a bit under seasoned.
I cannot wait to return to one of the thali cafes they are a bit different from what the normal curry house offers and perfect for Summer because the curry is lighter and does not make you feel like you need to snooze immediately afterwards, dare I say it it almost feels like a healthy curry. Also it is the perfect place to feed vegetarians, vegans and gluten free people all together as it offers options for all. It will definitely be one of the options I offer up to my sister's vegan boyfriend when they next visit Bristol for dinner. So if you haven't already visited one of the cafes of this Bristol institution get thee to a thali cafe now. To view menu options and find out more about their origin story visit their website.