... but what’s in a name, asks MICHELLE TOMPKINS, when it comes to fine food?

VNVIS? That’s a funny name for a restaurant, I thought to myself one night on my way home from work. Why would anyone call their business Vnvis? It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

This bafflement continued for at least a week as I watched the Victoria Road premises that was once Mela gradually transform into something new, with fresh décor, a change of colours and a classy new banner hanging from the wall outside. The piece de resistance was the arrival of the illuminated sign over the entrance, and that was when the penny finally dropped. Vnvis was actually called, errr, SIANA… and I’d been reading the banner upside down all along.

In my defence, I wasn’t the only one to have made the rather schoolgirl error (although possibly the only one passing herself off as an editor). A colleague came into work a few days later laughing about a friend who’d asked if she wanted to visit “that new Indian place, the one with the funny name…. what’s it called? Vn-something.” I laughed along for a whole minute or more before shamefacedly admitting I’d done the same thing.

I swear the banner is printed upside down or back to front or something. Either that, or the absence of any crossbars on the As throws the eye into a tizz. Have a look for yourself next time you are passing and let me know what you think — if only to reassure me I’m not stupid as I feel.

Embarrassment aside, we did eventually make to SIANA one evening, and I’m mighty glad we did because it’s GNIZAMA (think about it…).

My partner and I had been big fans of Mela, and had introduced all our friends to it in recent years, so when it shut down suddenly without warning in late September we were gutted. The building lay empty for a matter of days before work began to turn it into something new, hence my keen interest as the transformation took place.

With a friend visiting from out of town for a few days, we popped in on a Thursday night to find it virtually deserted – an ominous sign – but it meant we were lavished with attention from the three waiting staff, who were happy to make recommendations.

Our arrival seemed to start a trend though, and within 20 minutes of sitting down the place had miraculously filled up, and that familiar Indian restaurant vibe – the crack of the poppadoms, the chink of beer glasses, the scrape of metal spoon on metal serving dish – took over.

Mela fans might be disappointed to learn that the (free) fried potato appetisers are gone, as are the giant naan breads on a spike. But don’t be too disheartened, because what’s arrived in their place is a certain refinement; exciting and vibrant food, bursting with flavour and as beautiful to look at as it is to eat. A better class of curry house, if you like, and all the nicer for it.

We started with the obligatory poppadoms (80p each), and even the chutney tray (£2) seemed a cut above the norm, with all the usual sauces and accompaniments, plus the addition of an orange grainy substance – none of us really knew what it was, but it tasted aromatic and amazing.

I’d been recommended the chicken tikka Montana (£8.90), cooked with peppers, onions and tomatoes in a rich garlic, ginger and mustard seed sauce. My partner went with the chef’s chicken special (£9.90), another combo of chicken tikka and various vegetables, while our friend pushed the boat out with a king prawn jalfrezi (£13.90). Alongside that were the usual sides of pilau rice all round (£2.50 each), garlic naan (£2.90) and a keema naan (£2.90).

The three main courses arrived together, and we were taken aback by what was laid down in front of us; each dish a medley of bright, jewel colours but none of those garish, fluorescent sauces we’ve all seen time and again. In this case, the colours were created by the thick chunks of vegetable, the sauces studded with spices, and each bowl topped off with an exquisitely carved radish. Just beautiful.

And it tasted as good as it looked too. My Montana was packed with pieces of succulent chicken, the tiny specks of mustard seed bursting between my teeth for extra hits of flavour. The other two dishes were devoured just as enthusiastically, each of us nodding our approval as we tucked in.

The naan was cut into quarters and presented on a plate, rather than the caveman-style ripping from a spike of old, and the rice… well, it was just pilau rice really. Nothing too extraordinary, but the perfect quantity and piping hot, which is always a bonus.

Despite being busy by this time, the staff (some of whom might seem familiar from Mela days) were extremely attentive, and keen to find out if their recommendations had gone down well. They certainly had, and I’ve got a feeling those staff will be seeing plenty more of us in the weeks and months to come as we reintroduce our friends to something new.

Their banner might be back to front or upside down, but there’s no mistaking fantastic food when you eat it.


122 Victoria Road,

Swindon SN1 3BH

Tel: 01793 522558

Disabled access: Downstairs only

Parking: In the Prospect car park at the back

Adver ratings:

Food: 10/10

Choice: 10/10

Décor: 9/10

Customer service: 10/10

Main dish prices: from £7.90 to £13.90

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5