The Bhaji Shop & Thali Cafe

Kelham Island

2 Ball Street, S3 8DB
0114 258 4177

Open Tuesday 11am-5pm, Wednesday-Saturday 11am-late.

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There’s an elephant in the room, and I’m not talking about the colourful types depicted in murals in some Indian restaurants.

You see, this Indian-style restaurant doesn’t look much like your average Indian restaurant – there’s not a metal cloche in sight, the tables are made out of reclaimed parquet flooring and the walls are adorned with fairy lights. Rather than bhangra, the bluesy Rodriguez album plays in its entirety on the sound system.

You get the impression that those behind the The Bhaji Shop thali cafe are proud to be different. Since opening in the summer of 2014 its owners, siblings Matthew and Melissa Holdsworth, have introduced diners to a side of Indian cuisine they may not be used to: one which involves the usual heady mixture of spice and aromatics, but which is also light. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still have ample opportunity to waddle your way out of the cafe after a good stuffing, but you’re less likely to get that morning-after ghee-induced hangover that sometimes follows a few rounds at an Indian restaurant.

The simple menu here is centred on a thali: a plate of food made up of several small dishes. You pick a curry – there is usually a choice between meat, fish and vegetable – and the accompaniments arrive on the thali, dotted around the main attraction. You’ll get a mixture of hot and cold dishes, and while they vary from week to week, don’t be surprised to see rice, a wedge of naan, some homemade pickles and some form of dhal. A sharing platter of starters – including poppadoms, pickles, bhajis and samosas – is a good way to ensure you get that sought-after waddle upon leaving.

The cafe also offers plenty of lunchtime options, including onion bhaji flatbread wraps with delicious chutneys or salads with paneer or tandoori chicken. And there are always some scrumptious-looking cakes perched on the counter.

Drinks-wise, there is a great selection of freshly made juices, coffee and tea, and a bring-your-own policy on booze, for a small corkage fee.

UPDATE: in April 2016, The Bhaji Shop relocated to Kelham Island. We'll update our photos soon – the new place is much bigger, but just as pretty!

Written by Will Roberts; April 1, 2016
Photography by Nigel Barker.