The Thali Cafe
1 Regent Street
Bristol BS8 4HW
Tel: 0117 974 3793
Type: Independent, small chain
Food: Fast, fresh
Ambience: Welcoming, pink
Service: Very fast, friendly
Ethics: Local, seasonal, some organic – solid ethics
Cost: £7.95 for most thalis
By Ava Peroni
It’s a food revolution!Â That is what it says on all the leaflets and on the website, and it is indeed a brilliant idea, all of it, from the tiffin boxes to the pink interiors, the funky publicity material to the fresh and tasty, bargain-priced food.
I went on a busy Friday evening.Â I had called to book a table at 7.30pm and was told I could have one at 6.30 or 8.30. I was about to go elsewhere when the lovely girl said hang on… and she had a word, did a shuffle and I got one at seven which was a fine compromise.
I arrived before my Supper Date and was very quickly offered a drink from their small but perfectly formed selection – a half of Tiger beer felt just right.Â They have positively rock-bottom-priced house wine, an incredibly reasonably priced organic selection, and some interesting soft drinks including lassis (Indian fruit smoothies) as well.
On arrival of Supper Date we started the inevitable squawking about how long it had been, and rushing through the niceties to get to the nitty gritty of it all.Â Supper Date ordered a glass of wine and declined poppadoms.Â We were busy talking when I realised there was a hovering about the elbow; a fixed grin and raised eyebrows over the order pad communicated that our waitress wanted to take our order.Â We were not ready but did start looking at the menu properly then.Â Its not a big menu – Southern Thali or Northern Thali, one with fish, one without.Â It didn’t take long to choose.
The thali meal is served on a metal tray, a bit like old-style school canteen food, or prison food, only it tastes really nice – like proper Indian street food.Â It arrived so fast I barely had time to unfold my napkin – a bit too fast really, and makes you realise that it’s all lined up in warming pans ready to go; all night.
Each little dent in my tray held something different – a little Goan fish curry, lentil dahl, vegetables in coconut and spices, yoghurt and ginger chutney, rice and a Keralan salad with little pomegranate seed jewels in it.Â Supper Date had the Northern one which was similar, but different in that it had no fish.Â That’s it.Â That is what all the fuss is about.Â You can have extras like chapattis or aloo paratha (flat bread stuffed with spicy potato) or some pickles, and some puds for afters, but really, its all about the thali.
It is good and really tasty, but without a huge amount of variety which begs the question how may times you might want to refill your tiffin should you decide to buy one (“its a kind of multilayered, insulated metal lunch box”).Â Its a great idea;Â you buy the tiffin box for £22.50 and they will fill it up for you for between £7 – 8.50.Â You keep it and use it for whatever you like, and fill it up with thali whenever you like.Â Eco take away – genius, even if you only use it once a month or so.
The Clifton site is on a corner that has housed a series of not very successful restaurants and turned it around.Â It dominates the corner with shocking pink paint and glitter sparkles around their trademark elephant, and inside it’s three levels are warm and colourful with mix and match tables and chairs, and squashy seats in the bottom level where live music is sometimes played.Â It is constantly full and its very young staff are rushed off their feet all the time.
We also felt slightly rushed, with our food arriving so fast, the bill arriving within seconds of us saying we didn’t want anything else, and the next people lined up for the table before we had paid it.Â But that’s the Thali, and it works.Â If you want to linger over your supper, go somewhere else, if you want a fast, good and cheap supper (or lunch these days) without feeling you are eating something dodgy then go to The Thali – its great and it’s here to stay – yay!