Cheap & Good

A satisfying all-in-one meal at Madras New Woodlands Restaurant

The VIP Thali set has vegetable dishes that change according to what is available from the market that day.
The VIP Thali set has vegetable dishes that change according to what is available from the market that day.ST PHOTO: NATASHA ANN ZACHARIAH

A friend likes to joke that a meal without meat is just a snack.

But she has never had the VIP Thali meal at Madras New Woodlands Restaurant in Upper Dickson Road, an Indian vegetarian meal so filling you might even skip dinner.

A thali is a selection of dishes, usually served on a metal platter.

At Madras New Woodlands, katoris, or mini metal pots, are placed on a tray lined with a banana leaf. It is a packed tray as the small pots are placed rim-to-rim. Each is filled almost to the brim with a variety of vegetables and curries.

Little India is full of vegetarian restaurants, but this one, which opened in 1983, is my go-to spot because it serves good food and offers decent service.

The VIP Thali set has vegetable dishes that change according to what is available from the market that day. ST PHOTO: NATASHA ANN ZACHARIAH

I have eaten the VIP Thali ($9.50) countless times, but what keeps the meal fresh is that I never know what will be served. The chefs decide what vegetable dishes to prepare each day, depending on what they get from the market.

On a recent visit, the selection includes lightly sauteed okra and a mildly spicy snake gourd fry.

There are also regular dishes that make it to the tray, including dhal made from split pulses and sambhar, a lentil-based vegetable stew.

Raita, a soup-like yogurt dish filled with thick slices of cucumber, is a perfect cooling aid for the heat from some of the curries.

Carbohydrate lovers will appreciate having both white rice and biryani rice served in individual katoris.

Just when you think all these elements complete the meal, the waiter will ask you to pick from a few Indian roti options or a plain thosai to finish off the set. I always pick chapati, an unleavened flatbread. I find it a lighter option than a bhatura, a deep-fried, ball-shaped bread; or a thosai, presented in a roll that is longer than the tray it is served on.

The chapati also goes well with the saucy channa or chickpea curry dish - though it is not always available in the thali set.

Once you are done with the savoury dishes, a yellow payasam, filled with vermicelli cooked in milk and with sugar, provides a sweet ending.


  • 14 Upper Dickson Road, tel: 6297-1594, open: 7.30am to 10.30pm daily

    Rating: 4/5 stars

The VIP Thali is an all-in-one meal. It is a lot to eat in one sitting, but the meal would not live up to its name if the restaurant did not pull out all the stops.

I have tried the Madras Thali ($7.50), but it does not feel like a fulfilling meal when you get only white rice, some of the curries and vegetables, and no bread or thosai.

Before leaving, I always wash the meal down with a milky masala tea ($3.20).

Just make sure you have not much planned for the afternoon. A food coma is bound to come on.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 30, 2016, with the headline 'A satisfying all-in-one meal'. Print Edition | Subscribe