Given I ate at The Mela early November, the weight of whether or not to write this has been a long internally debated question in my head. It took another Harbonite to recently mention to me just how bad their meal was to decide to do so, given that people are paying for this and that if this blog can help provide an informed choice, it should do. Now, if you are reading this thinking the set-up doesn’t sound great, you’d be correct. I’ll keep it short; my meal at The Mela was diabolical.

The staff are trying, I think, but their hearts not in it. Can’t be. Not when what is going out to the dining room is the worst kind of faux-Indian; the half-arsed attempt at anglicised curry served-up to the entirely white dining room that Goodness Gracious Me mocked so perfectly. From the poppadom’s shining with grease like every bump and crevice had been worked into place with wet-look gel, to the chilli sauce that shows up in the tray they come with, straight out of a kebab shop sauce bottle. The starter is a selection of more known bits; a greasy samosa, a bit of dried out chicken tikka, a half-decent onion bhaji and some mushroom shashlik, sludgy, bottle dyed and peppered with chilli powder. The chilli powder is a recurring issue; indeed, the mains are the same stock sauce and boiled chicken set apart by the clumps of barely cooked onions, some rogue red peppers, or heaps of chilli powder. It is lazy (if not also thrifty) and not remotely what this style of food should be. It also doesn’t taste very nice. The bill works out at about twenty quid a head but there are much better places to spend that money. Like over the road at Harborne Tandoori, for example.

I’ve been going Harborne Tandoori for years. Well, when I say ‘going’, I open up the Deliveroo app and get it sent 400m to my door. Occasionally, if I’m feeling proactive, I’ll phone them and collect it myself. But I have never eaten in. Never felt the need to when I have a dining table and a fully stocked bar at home. So I went, partly out of curiosity and partly because Barney is going through a cost-of-living rethink which will see a lot of the high-end restaurants dropping out to be replaced with cheaper, more affordable options. A pyramid of greatness in Birmingham if you like. The poppadom’s aren’t greasy and the chutney tray has both lime pickle and chilli pickle. It is a better start already.

It’s not all good. The chilli panner is clearly a dish from a chef who has been told to cook it and has no reference point. The paneer is massive, bobbing like rescue buoys in a gloop that is seemingly a mixture of the stuff that comes with the papad; some tamarind water, chilli sauce and a little onion. It is horrid, there is no getting around it. But the rest of the stuff is very good. We went with a couple of dishes that are classed as house specialities; a chicken curry cooked ‘home’ style is spiked with so much braised onion, garlic, and chilli that it sticks around for days, with chicken that falls away to reunite with the sauce. And a railway lamb curry – so called because it was cooked over lengthy train journeys in colonial times – that is robust and seriously spicy. A huge portion that leaves a full takeaway tray after we’ve eaten over half. The naan bread is fluffy and light. The bill works out a few quid more a head than the place over the road, but the gulf in quality is obvious. Harborne Tandoori is the kind of local Indian restaurant any area would love to have, even if they’d have to rethink their name.

The Mela 3/10

Harborne Tandoori 8/10