685 Sandringham Rd, Mt Roskill
Tel 09 620 0117
IT’S EASY TO spot Mithai, perched as it is on the corner of two very busy byways, Sandringham St and Mt Albert Rd. For some reason, however, I’ve never felt compelled to stop off and eat there. Maybe it’s because I was once a very happy regular at Xotic right next door, and maybe it’s because parking (and safe exiting from parking) on this precarious corner can be a life-risking escapade.
But there comes a time, as that grizzled old sage Neil Young once whined, when you’ve got to force yourself into a new experience. Thusly, on Saturday evening on the way to a friend’s barbecue, we did the sensible thing in the face of imminent meat exposure, and stopped off to fill our tummies full of guaranteed vegetarian fare.
In retrospect, I’m either mad or stupid for never having tried this place before.
To the bog-standard Kiwi, the name Mithai might sound like a Thai restaurant, but it is in fact an Indian sweet shop with a menu of savoury dishes attached. In fact, the word ‘mithai’ is a Hindustani term referring to Indian confectionary (ain’t Wikipedia great?)
Both Mithai and Xotic right next door are based around Indian confectionary, and (get in quick!) they’ve both currently got a 50 percent off sale on sweets. But where Xotic is a cavernous and fairly comfortable place to sit and eat, Mithai is more geared towards takeaways. Yes, it has a few tables, but the lighting is at least as bright as the average Chinese noodle house, and the ambience, shall we say, isn’t appropriate for a first date or a romantic dinner.
On the other hand, it’s perfectly great for the kind of meal we were seeking – a quick and tasty feed born out of necessity.
What surprised most about Mithai was that the food was delicious. I’m talking mouth-wateringly yummy (in fact, the glands in my mouth are working overtime just remembering the spice-tastic experience).
We ordered a Mithai Thali banquet for $15, and the nice chap at the counter said there would be plenty for two. He wasn’t wrong. The thali included a couple of poppadum, a profusion of buttery and perfectly textured naan breads, a generous dollop of rice, some hot mango chutney, and three curries. On top of that, there was a glass of something resembling mango lassi. Oh, and a delicious rosewater-infused sweet that literally melted in the mouth.
Each cheap vegetarian Indian eating house seems to have its slightly unique spin on things, and Mithai is no exception. While the food was pre-prepared and out of display ovens, there was no hint of the dreaded murky gravy overload that its next door neighbour, Xotic, is sometimes guilty of. I asked for the best three curries, and was supplied with a very nice, but not very special dhal, a very nice and quite special paneer dish, and an exceptionally nice and very special un-named dish (I did ask the nice chap, but I just couldn’t understand his answer, unfortunately) that consisted largely of bell peppers, some kind of thick sauce, and cubes of paneer that had been fried to crispy perfection. Yes, it was quite rich, and probably laden with salt and other bad things; but it was also a genuine ‘wow’ moment. I should add that it was hot enough to blow a gasket, so the lassi came in very handy.
I should also add that Mithai’s menu extends to various types of hot snacks (chaat) and other dishes that I’m determined to try.
While I would rate the likes of Jai Jalaram Khamen and Sasuma more highly as places to plonk yourself down and savour the delights, despite the lack of atmosphere, the quality of food at Mithai is really quite outstanding. GARY STEEL