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    Mela Restaurant:Street magicians, astrologers & an elaborate lunch.

Twelve types of kababs, eight gravy dishes, three types of dals, pulao, raitas and rotis, jalebis and rabdis, plus two soups (mutton shorba and veg), must not forget the soups, no limit to anything, eat till you are full, then eat some more.

The price: Rs.220 (Rs.200 to the restaurant, Rs.20 to the government as tax).

The restaurant: Mela at Worli, lunchtime buffet, introduced April 1. Bon appeit.

Dammi Sabharwal's Mela has for 10 years now been my favourite restaurant. More than that, if I have a foreign guest and he wants to be introduced to Indian food in an Indian ambience, I take him either to the Tanjore at the Taj or the Mela at Worli.

The Tanjore is a little overpowering with its stress on culture (bharat natyam), though who can deny the ecstacy of having a south Indian thali under temple bells; the Mela is more fun, with its astrologers and mehendiwalis and street magicians, and a larger than life snakes and ladders board.

However, this piece is not about introducing foreigners to Indian food, it is about recommending to officegoers in the Worli area, and points north and south of it, the newly-introduced buffet at Mela.

First, I sat at the carousel bar and had two gin and tonics for the price of one, Mr. Sabharwal having introduced that great American invention of the 'happy hour' (noon to 2.00 p.m., and 6.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.), then moved into the main restaurant with its cane chairs, tables with tall silver tumblers of water ceremoniously standing on them, and a BEST bus with celebrity passengers on the wall. There is an impressive clock tower in the centre of the room to let the diners know that they have to finish their lunch and go back to office.

The lunch, as mentioned earlier, is elaborate, though rather cleverly laid out, so as to not make it too complicated for the eater as buffet tables do normally make it. I skipped the soup and went to the food direct.

There was a good representation of salads, chick peas, black gram, sprouted beans, potatoes in a cheese sauce, a lot of greens. But the kababs are the restaurant's forte, I don't have to tell you that. The reputation of the management's kababs has been established from the time when it was running The Village, a short distance away from the present restaurant.

The finest meat goes in their making, most of them are marinated overnight and charcoal-grilled or tavaed on order. As you eat them you get the taste and aroma of smoked meat, which is the final test for the kabab. Bought a la carte, they cost Rs.130 to 140 per plate, but they are inclusive in the buffet price.

The afternoon I was there, they had three chicken and three mutton kababs. The reshmi seekh, which is barbecued minced chicken as smooth textured as silk, the murg kastoori, which is like the chicken tikka, but white, not brown, sparingly spiced with cummin seeds and cardamoms, and murge angar, the traditional tandoored vrsion.

I was fortunate that the mutton kababs included the galoti, a speciality of the house. The mutton had been minced and ground very fine and cooked in its own fat, on the griddle.

Then there were lamb chops (what the English call lamb cutlets), according to the chef, barbecued after marination in a yoghurt flavoured with red pepper, garlic and onions. And, to provide variety, there was rawas, nice thick chunks of it, boneless, done in a spicy gramflour batter and deep fried. I believe, in their a la carte menu they call it machi anarkali. Very nice, with all the juice sealed in the plump meat.

If you think that's all the kababs, you are forgetting the vegetarians. There was a gentle processed cheese, skewered and grilled; harra kabab, mainly spinach; paneer tikka; a mixed vegetable seekh; papad rolled and stuffed with vegetable, quick fried and still crisp; and, what I thought was a caju kabab. I did not try it, I was moving to the curry dishes.

There was chicken dum cooked in an almond cashewnut cream sauce, a little too rich after having done justice to all the kababs; a kofta lazeez, the meat in a rich gravy; and best of all, curried shrimps, extremely spicy, but going admirably with lemon rice.

And the vegetarians had nothing to complain about: baingan lajawab, stuffed brinjals in a tangy thick gravy; cottage cheese in pure unadulterated butter; potatoes in tomato-cummin seeds gravy; malai kofta; and, hear this-bhindi chamatkar.

The chamatkar was that they were crisp fried and retained their crispness in spite of the thick tomato gravy.

The two rice dishes included a pea pulao. I went for the jafrani and asked the waiter to put lots of yellow channa dal on it, plus a portion of kali dal on the side. The naans, parathas, rotis were on the buffet table, the roomali they made to order and brought to the table.

I was too exhausted to make a trip to the sweets counter, I asked the waiter to bring me his choice of a hot and cold sweets selection. He brought hot jalebi and gajjar halva with cold angoor rabdi and a rasmalai, and asked me if I would like to have anything more.

No, thank you, I said.

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