Freelance writer specialising in serendipity: the art of finding wonderful things by accident or sagacity. Comments and suggestions always welcome!
Published May 22nd 2013
Spicy and sweet with a Bollywood beat
Whenever I eat at Mela Indian Sweets and Eats I feel as though I've had a glimpse of what a visit to India might be like: crowded, bright, noisy and full of delicious things to eat. The Bollywood murals have faded a bit and the service can be hit-and-miss, but thanks to the low prices and authentic food, Mela remains a very popular choice for an informal night out.
image courtesy Mela website
Mela's extensive menu makes it a great place to visit with a group. On a recent Friday night there were several families and two large tables of students as well as couples of all ages. Platters of sizzling tandoori chicken filled the air with fragrant steam, silver trays of thali shone in the bright lights and wine flowed freely.
Service on my last visit was quick and efficient however at times in the past staff have been slow and forgotten parts of my order. I'd suggest keeping an eye on the time and politely speaking up if there seems to be an unusual delay.
The Eats Over the years I've enjoyed the spicy lamb biryani, savoured the rich butter chicken and many other dishes, but mainly I go to Mela for their South Indian specialty: dosas.
A dosa is a huge, thin, crispy pancake made of rice and lentil flour with a savoury filling. Mela offers plain, onion, masala (spiced potato), paneer (fresh ricotta), egg, chicken, kheema (lamb mince) and prawn fillings. Each filling I've tried has been folded or rolled in a different way but they all include side dishes of coconut and tomato chutney and a bowl of vegetable and lentil soup.
I've tried to eat a dosa with a knife and fork but really they're finger food. Tear off a bit (traditionally with the right hand) dip it in the chutney and enjoy. When you get to the filling use your bit of dosa as a scoop. Dosas can be shared as part of a larger meal or – my preferred way – be a meal on their own.
On my last visit I found the paneer filling a bit spicier than usual. I used this as an excuse to order a mango lassi. The smooth yogurt and fruit drink cooled things down nicely. Mela is BYO and I recommend this as they were out of our first two wine choices. Corkage is $6.50.
As at most Indian restaurants, there are plenty of vegetarian options, including a banquet menu. On weekends there's a special chaat menu of Indian street-style snack food which is always vegetarian. I haven't had this but have heard it's very good. Mela also has a function room.
Walk-ins are welcome but bookings are highly recommended on weekends and for large groups.
The Sweets Now to the other half of Mela: the sweets. I seldom have room for dessert but all the sweets are available as takeaways. As they're in a display case right by the cash register, they can be hard to resist.
image courtesy Mela website
I'm fond of barfi which is a fudge-like confection based on condensed milk with different nuts and flavours added. Mela offers many varieties, some garnished with edible silver paper. (Note that vegetarians usually avoid these as the silver is traditionally hammered thin on animal hide.)
Another favourite is gulab jaman which are deep-fried milk powder balls in sugar syrup. Jalebi is another popular sweet. These are coils of batter made from flour, saffron and yogurt, deep fried and then soaked in sugar syrup with rosewater.
As you can tell from the ingredients the sweets at Mela are very sweet indeed and a little goes a long way, but do try some for an authentic taste of India.