Fri. May 24th, 2024

The Thali Cafe, North Street: Review

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I think it’s fair to say that The Thali Cafe is a bit of a Bristol institution. With five restaurants spanning Easton, Montpelier, Clifton, Totterdown and Southville, the mini-chain offers food to both eat in and take away in tiffins. They’ve certainly come a long way since they started as a street food business 15 years ago, serving only one dish (their Northern Thali) at festivals before opening their first restaurant in Montpelier.

We’ve dined at the Southville branch, located within the Tobacco Factory, a few times – it’s close to our flat and the quality’s consistent. The last time we visited was a little different, though: we were there to test out The Thali Cafe’s brand new grill menu, along with their recently launched craft lager, Desi Biyar.

In recent months, the place has changed: the interior design has been revamped, and to accommodate the new grill menu, there’s now a brand new grill station to the left hand side of the bar which, apparently, is “inspired by the legendary late night charcoal grill Bademiya in Mumbai”. Diners are able to watch the grill chef at work while they dine, turning out Lamb Shish, Chicken Tikka and Paneer Shish as part of their new grill offering.


Thali Cafe Southville - Grill


These grilled dishes are available either as a starter (£5 for chicken or paneer, £5.50 for lamb) or as a main course (£10.50 for paneer, £11 for chicken and £12.50 for lamb), with the main courses served with a variety of sides, as I’ll describe later…

Also new to the menu are the Pani Puri on the snacks menu, a new Mooli Tindoori Salad side, a baby thali (dahl and rice with fruit and yoghurt) which is free for children aged under 2, and the Desi Biyar.

Desi Biyar is a collaboration between The Thali Cafe and Arkell’s Brewery in Swindon: a malty yet sweet lager that was incredibly refreshing, and which paired well with the charcoal flavours of the grilled dishes that we tried.

While deciding on our mains, we went for the obligatory poppadums (£1 each) and chutney tray (£3) – the poppadums crisp and not at all greasy, the chutney tray consisting of four amazing varieties: coriander coconut, tomato tamarind, a mango and chilli chutney and a yoghurt-based coconut and ginger dip with mustard seeds.


Thali Cafe Southville - Poppadums


We then moved straight on to our mains, ordering from the new grill menu: Chicken Tikka for me, Lamb Shish for Chris. We could see the grill perfectly from our table, and were a little concerned at first – we’d noticed that pieces of cooked chicken and lamb had been sitting on there for a while, and were a little worried that they wouldn’t be as tender as we’d like…

Our concerns were unfounded, though – while both the lamb and the chicken had a few over-grilled burnt edges, the meat itself was still lovely and juicy. We preferred the chicken, with a decent level of heat and citrus and ginger flavours coming through strongly, but the lamb, with more of a fruity flavour along with a nice chilli kick, was still good.

The new grill dishes, when ordered as a main, are served with a wide range of different sides, just like The Thali Cafe’s regular thali dishes. The meat itself was served on a bed of mixed local salad leaves and a naan bread, which was perfect for mopping up the sweet pomegranate raita and more of that coriander coconut chutney with a hint of green chilli. The salad that you see at the top of the picture below proved to be a great palate cleanser between mouthfuls: slices of mooli, tindoori (a bit like a small cucumber) and mango, dressed with plenty of red chilli.

I also really enjoyed the Keralan Thoran that made up the final side dish: a dry, sweet and delicately spiced combination of squash, mustard seeds and both fresh and desiccated coconut. Amazing.


Thali Cafe Southville - Chicken Tikka Grill
Chicken Tikka


Thali Cafe Southville - Lamb Shish Kebab Grill
Lamb Shish


Chris also ordered a portion of Govindram’s Potato Fries (£3) as a side: thin slices of potato cooked in a coating of chickpea flour and lightly spiced with fenugreek and turmeric, served with the tomato and tamarind chutney – they were pretty moreish…


Thali Cafe Southville - Govindram's Potato Fries


All in all, we were impressed – the new dishes are well executed with some interesting side dishes, and the Desi Biyar paired really well with the food too. From a customer point of view, the fact that the meat was left sitting for so long on the grill was a little offputting from a visual point of view, but luckily had no effect on flavour or texture. Recommended.


Please note: Our food and drinks were complimentary, but this in no way impacted on our opinion. We were not obliged to write a positive review, and the venue did not see this review before it was put up on the site.


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