Mela, 152-156 Shaftesbury Avenue,WC2H 8HL; Tel. 020 7836 8635 ; Tube: Leicester Sq; www.melarestaurant.co.uk
Thursday, April 26, 2007
The West End is full of very mediocre, tourist-trap eateries -- but scattered among them is a surprising number of real gems. Mela is a breath of fresh air after the curry houses on Brick Lane: there is not a whiff of chicken tikka masala or vindaloo. Instead, from an extensive and unusual menu we chose a dish of soft-shell crab from Hyderabad (£14.95) and a whole sea bream steamed in a banana leaf with a delicate paste of spices (£11.95). The crab was very tender, and I lapped up all of the only very moderately spicy sauce, revelling in the flavours of coconut, coriander, garlic and tamarind. The sea bream was a pain to bone (I'm not a fan of working hard for my food!), but the delicate taste of the fish -- and the accompanying green paste of mint and coconut -- made the hassle worthwhile. The cumin rice was a bit strong on the cumin for an accompaniment (serves us right for ordering it!), but the 'pudina paratha', a crispy wheat bread flavoured with a generous sprinkling of fresh mint (£2.50) was a much nicer alternative to a greasy naan. The 'arhar dal kairi ki' (£4.95) was a delicious bowl of buttery lentils, although I could not taste the raw mango promised on the menu. The drinks menu has a decent selection of wines and cocktails, but we stuck to Indian beers. The service was friendly and attentive. The decor was quite simple, but with nice touches -- the plates feature a motif of a big fair ground wheel, and there is a meccano model of one balanced above the staircase. We're definitely coming back, to try more of their interesting dishes.