Thali Ho...A Bristol blend of spice and success
With an ever expanding empire across Bristol, could the coolest Indian restaurant on the block, The Thali Café, have lost it's bohemian edge and embraced cold, hard capitalism?
I visited the Easton branch, which was the second restaurant in the chain, and on a wet, cold night in April the sparkly facade still hinted at the hippy trail. Inside it was packed with a raucous party (ours) and the usual mix of couples and families.
So far so good – then the first blow. No longer BYO the Thali is now serving organic wine – with Rioja at £14.95 a bottle I'm willing to believe my head the next morning will be all the better because of the lack of nasty chemicals, even though my purse will be considerably lighter.
After a few diasters cooking my own fish curry I ordered the Southern Thali – described as an authentic Goan fish curry inspired by the cuisine of the South Indian coast.
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The secret to success I discovered, was lightly frying the fish and placing it in the sauce just before service. Presented on a traditional moulded Thali metal plate it arrived surrounded by seasoned basmati rice, split lentil tarka dahl and vegetable subji.
Having never been to Goa I can't comment on the authenticity of the dish, but I found it a perfectly judged blend of spices and chillies - just hot enough to linger without overpowering the delicate fish.
At just £9.50 I don't think I'll try to replicate this at home, and why would I when I can join the renowned Thali Tiffin takeaway club? Annoyingly everyone in my party seems to know about this except me. They've been enjoying the Thali experience at home while I've been slaving over a hot oven.
For the vegetarians in our group, the success of the Northern Thali golden fried panneer (£7.95) and dairy free Thali (£7.95) could be judged by the scraped clean trays.
Meat eaters are equally well catered for with a lamb kofta cooked in coconut, tomato and cinnamon sauce (£10.50) and Mogul Chicken Thali - free-range chicken in a tomato and coconut curry (£9.95).
Our large group tried pretty much everything on the menu, and even those who have been coming here for years agreed, the Thali has lost none of it's distinctive blend of bohemian rhapsody and delicious food.
The marketing may be slicker, and the Thali may be spreading it's wings wider with branches in Totterdown, Montpelier and Clifton, but it's roots are still firmly in the festival culture where it all began.