There are five cafés in total in Bristol and each is unique with quirky, colourful and kitschy décor, they are festooned in fairy lights, cushions and throws and have a cosy, ‘Indian’ feel. Although they do serve individual dishes, the Thali itself is their speciality and is authentic, healthy street food made up of a selection of various dishes placed on a round tray with multiple compartments.
Although the choices are excellent, the menu is short and sweet – just what I like. Although it sounds great having a large choice in a restaurant, in reality I like having my options limited. I reason that they are probably all delicious so there’s really little point in spending hours deciding!
The restaurant has a strong focus on vegetarian and dairy-free food. Being a committed carnivore it’s usually difficult for me to get excited about most vegetarian food but this is different and though there are plenty of meat and fish options I chose the vegetarian Northern Thali. This consisted of paneer - cubes of Indian cheese fried until golden and served with peas in a creamy and subtly spiced sauce, a wonderful, dark and spicy dahl, a vegetable curry, a rice and a crunchy, fresh Keralan salad. I enjoyed the dahl the most - spicy, simple but delicious. Knowing how or where to start was tricky…but as the meal was huge and the paneer and the dahl were my favourites, those were what I concentrated on - I didn’t want to get too full on salad or rice!
I drunk a delicious mango lassi, a traditional, yogurt-based drink. It tasted sweet but not unhealthily so. I wasn’t feeling too well at the time, I’d just started a nasty cold but the whole meal made me feel as if I was doing my body some good and it was nothing like usual Indian food I’ve eaten in England. My friends had a mixture of dishes including the Southern Thali – a Goan fish curry with similar accompaniments to mine.
Almost everyone liked their food, including my 11 year old who chose the Mogul Thali –a sumptuous chicken Thali, slow-cooked with curry leaves, tomato & coconut. I say almost everyone - my friend’s child had the child’s fish and chips (described as ‘Masala fried fish with Bombay potato chips’). Unfortunately, being a conventional boy, he wasn’t impressed - a shame but not hugely surprising.
There was however a slightly off putting life sized mannequin that stood behind our table - at one point I nearly asked it a question thinking it was the waitress but I think that was because my cold was starting to make me feel slightly delirious.
At the end of the meal I would have loved a desert. I had been fantasising about the kulfi throughout the meal but no one else in our large party ordered one and I simply felt too greedy to be the only one to do so. I came away feeling deliciously full but not stuffed and just ever so slightly virtuous.