Rajasthan: the land of desert princes, marble palaces, resplendent turbans and eye-popping moustaches, has brought the big flavours of its rustic food to London, courtesy of Mela.
Located yards from the hurly burly of Cambridge Circus Mela, which means festival, it lives up to its name. It has the near raucous bustle of a West End restaurant, complete with bright tapestries, tightly-packed tables and an open kitchen, where you can watch the chefs – drafted in from the region – preparing naans, curries and expertly levering skewers of meat into
The effect is bold, loud and fun; much like India. Owner Kuldip Singh has designed a special Rajasthani menu for
November, which will fend off the winter chills and keep the Christmas party-goers well stocked before they venture out to the nearby bars and theatres.
Although the region is home to some of India’s finest vegetarian food, I ploughed into the non-veg menu, a meat-eaters paradise. Starters including Bater – tandooried quail, marinated in dried mango yoghurt – are well spiced and flavoursome.
But the deal clincher is the Jhinga Jaipuri, a clutch of giant prawns, lightly roasted with chilli, coriander, saffron and fennel seeds. With a squeeze of lime they are a light, spicy and delicious way to start the meal.
Mela truly earns its crust with its curry menu, knocking out a full range from the explosively-hot Lal Mass, a tender lamb curry, to thicker, milder yoghurt-based plates such as the Hara Murgh – chicken with cardamom, cinnamon and mace or the Lamb Korma.
These are clean tasting, hot and filling dishes, and quite possibly the best Indian food on offer in the West End – within the price bracket (£11-15 mains).
In an area where high footfall often translates into impersonal, unremarkable restaurants, Mela noses ahead of its rivals with a good value and a well-crafted, fresh menu, all backed by a hearty welcome from the staff. Top stuff!