Mela (London, UK)

(Update: Mela closed in 2016. Consider The Punjab around the corner, where I’ve had many fine meals)

Our next evening in London was a bit of an exploration. We started off by heading to Seven Dials for drinks at Detroit. Despite a name that makes most Americans snicker, it’s actually a rather good cocktail bar, and for bonus points, we got to meet up with Richard Barnett, the author of the most excellent Book of Gin. After Detroit, we decided to do dinner in the area. The immediate Soho/Covent Garden area has rather a few decent Indian places nestled in amongst the more common Chinese places. In particular, we’ve previously enjoyed The Punjab, London’s oldest Indian restaurant, but it was booked solid this time. We ended up at Mela, an Indian place on Shaftesbury that has a rather good reputation as well.

One of the things that London has no shortage of is Indian restaurants, although if one is being particular for a particular style, it can be rather hard to find one of the better authentic places instead one of the Bangladeshi-run places serving highly Anglicized dishes such as balti or chicken tikka masala (don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy a good balti or a chicken tikka masala, but not when I’m in the mood for authentic Indian food). Mela is definitely a pan-Indian place, but it does have a rather impressive selection of good, authentic-tasting Indian dishes.

In our case, we wanted to get a good array of standard Indian dishes to share at the table, including paneer tikka, rogan josh, murg jalfrezi (one of my favorites), and some paratha bread. I’ll have to say, we were pretty pleased with the assortment.

The paratha was both chewy and nicely toasted, for the overall toasty note that I look for in a nice Indian bread.

The paneer tikka was flavorful chunks of paneer marinated in spices and grilled in the tandoor just to the point of crispiness, served up with a nice salad.

The rogan josh was also a rich and flavorful lamb dish with a rather aromatic sauce rich in onions, ginger, garlic, and yogurt, with tender chunks of lamb.

But I was most pleased by the murg jalfrezi. Done well, a murg jalfrezi should be a thick and relatively dry sauce heavy in the onion, chile pepper, coriander, cumin, and ginger, and this was a rather good rendition of it, with a bold spicy note (although, like usual, I did proclaim that it could have used a bit more ginger). Chased down with a little of the excellent paratha bread, and this was a solid main dish.

Overall, I was pleased with Mela. The flavors were rich, bold, and authentic, the restaurant pleasant, and the staff friendly and efficient (they did originally deliver a wrong order, but promptly fixed it without fuss). I’ll keep them on my list for a revisit at some point.

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