Squiggles on everything and squidgy, scrambly food - getting away from the Curry & Cobra image was a good idea, but this is not the way forward

The only people legally entitled to squiggle should be Jackson Pollock, little boys in the snow and doctors when writing prescriptions. Under no circumstances should chefs be allowed to do squiggles of sauces on their plates without retribution, no matter how modern, cutting edge or futuristic they believe it to be.

Rest assured, culinary doodling is none of these things. When John Sedlar started the squeeze-bottle trend in his LA restaurant Bikini in 1991, it didn't take long for every second-rate hotel chef in the world to pick up on the idea and, suddenly, any sort of self-respecting gravy, jus, emulsion or purée was squirted, swirled, striped, crissed and crossed, dotted and dashed in various shades of canary yellow, vermilion and sienna.

These lurid roadmaps taste of little but their own colour. One inadvertent move with a fork and you have a crime scene in front of you. I thought we were finally free of them, until the Indian revolution of recent years, when Indian restaurateurs - tired of being the butt of Curry and Cobra nights - decided to haul their cooking into a higher caste.

You'd have to say that this has been a success, with increasingly glamorous Indian restaurants now winning friends and influencing Michelin stars all over the place. But at what cost? The squiggles are back.

By adopting a more Western presentation and dining experience, most of our high-caste Indian joints have fallen for a gimmick of untouchable status, going mad with the squeeze bottles in a very old-fashioned attempt to be modern.

All of which leads me to Mehek, a new light split-level City restaurant. Mehek's aspirations show in the clothed tables, terracotta-coloured columns and the odd Jaipuresque wall panel, but it remains unconvincing. Instead, it feels like a smart pizza/pasta diner with its granite floors, fancy chairs and stool-lined bar. There is decent glassware, tea-light candles and quite a few staff, but they just don't seem to be able to get it together.

Chef Ashok Kuma cooked with the very talented Atul Kochhar at Oberoi Hotels in India, as well as at Tamarind and Benares in Mayfair. So I was expecting better than squidgy, pasty lamb in the badami shammi kebab (ground spicy lamb cakes, £3.95) and flabbily battered scallop pakoras (£4.50), served on big main-course plates and seriously squiggled with sauces.

Thankfully, the main courses arrive in cute little coppery Indian pots, and huddle together in the middle of the table begging to be shared. Pulao rice (£3) is well-cooked, and a dish of soupy, gloopy yellow tarka dal (£3.95) is comforting.

Light puffy naan and roti breads (£2.50 each) look the part but taste bland. I adore Indian vegetable and paneer dishes, but karahi gobhi gulistan (£3.95) throttles broccoli and cauliflower with a throat-grabbing sauce of garlic, coriander and tomato, and paneer kurchan (£3.95) is a mess, a scrambly fry-up of Indian cottage-cheese and sweet red and yellow peppers that tastes messy and Mediterranean.

Only a homestyle Punjabi chicken curry (rasedaar murgh, £9.95), has a balanced flavour and warmth. A satiny, tan-coloured curry of deboned - thigh and leg, the flavours are melded, mellow and mellifluous. It even chummies up to an uncomplicated but nicely supple Mommesin Fleurie (£29).

The tandoori rabbit kebab (khargosh ka kalmi kebab, £13.95) is exceptionally awful, a nightmare of squiggles surrounding a line-up of roadkill rabbit pieces that are so tender and mulchy as to be rabbit extender. This is eerily reminiscent of the products of the biotechnology compounds in Margaret Atwood's hideously readable Oryx and Crake, in which a species of chicken is designed to produce breasts without those annoying chicken heads. I know I'm stretching things here, but it is spookily tender.

This is flat, posthumous food - there was life there once, but it has gone, cooked out of it instead of cooked into it.

Puds (£4.50) are not worth spending much time on, with their berry clock faces and aerosol-like cream, but a little tray of nut-based petits fours is delicious - simple and singular, like a huge road sign pointing the way for the rest of the food.

I don't believe that we, the dining public, have ever tired of good Indian food. We are ready to move upwards and pay more for a good space, a great wine list, sympathetic service, higher-quality ingredients, more adventurous and more rigorous cooking. But things have gone awry. Food that should be shared is served on individual main-course plates, contributing to a gradual decline of the intrinsic, authentic, traditional qualities of the great dishes of the sub-continent and its dining experience. Western presentation and squiggles do nothing to make the food more authentic or attractive.

The emphasis is moving away from education and authenticity and towards fashionability, a trend to which Mehek has fallen victim. Even superior Indians such as Zaika, Tamarind, Benares, Cinnamon Club, Chutney Mary are all squigglers, by the way. Named and shamed. Now let's see them wriggle out of that one. As soon as possible, please. *

11 Mehek 45 London Wall, London EC2, tel: 020 7588 5043. Open for lunch Monday to Friday and for dinner Monday to Saturday. Dinner £110 for two with wine and service

Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

Second helpings...

Squiggle-free Indians

Mobeen 222 Green Street, London E7, tel: 020 8470 2419 There are no saucy squiggles at this 23-year-old Pakistani favourite. Nor are there any bookings, or alcohol. You just grab a tray, order from the counter and watch as your order is zapped in the microwave. But still they pack in the crowds for Mobeen's kebabs, chicken tikka, masala fish and chicken curry.

Adil's Balti 148 Stoney Lane, Sparkbrook, Birmingham, tel: 0121 449 0335 Generally regarded as the city's first balti house, Adil's was first opened by Mahmood Arif in 1976. Little has changed in the meantime. There's not much in the ways of frills or fuss, but the prices are fair, the waiters are friendly and the basic balti fare - lamb rogan josh, green chilli bhajis and chicken balti jaffrez - is honest and plentiful.

Kastoori 188 Upper Tooting Road, London SW17, tel: 020 8767 7027 A vegetarian restaurant that meat-eaters rave about is a rare thing indeed. For 25 years now, the Thanki family has been serving delightful Gujarati cooking with the odd East-African influence thrown in. Go for samosas, onion bhajis, mushroom and spinach curry, and whatever the daily special happens to be.

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