Monday, July 22, 2013

Restaurant review: MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms), Singapore

This is one restaurant that I have been eagerly waiting to review. Hearing about the opening of this restaurant in Singapore was music to my ears! 

Before I proceed with my review, here is some history about MTR.  

In 1920, three brothers - Parameshwara Maiya, Ganappayya Maiya and Yagnanarayana Maiya left a small, sleepy hamlet near Udupi in Dakshina Kannada (a region in the state of Karnataka, India) in search of greener pastures and found their way to Bengaluru. Being proficient in cooking, they found employment as cooks in the homes of some prominent people of those times.

Four years later, Parameshwara Maiya, started a small restaurant on Lalbagh Fort Road in Bengaluru, along with Ganappayya Maiya, serving coffee and idlis. Five years down the line, upon the death of Parameshwara Maiya, Yagnanarayana Maiya joined his brother in running the restaurant. For the next three decades. Yagnanarayana Maiya, or Yagnappa as he was called affectionately, with his enterprising ways, managed the restaurant effortlessly and brought the restaurant accolades and fame

In 1951, Yagnanarayana Maiya undertook a tour of Europe to study how restaurants in those parts functioned. He returned full of new-found knowledge on standards of cleanliness, hygiene, sanitation and restaurant practices.  He incorporated those practices to his restaurant and also introduced strict measures to ascertain the quality of ingredients that were used to prepare the food. In addition, he opened up the kitchen to the scrutiny of customers. He renamed the restaurant 'Mavalli Tiffin Rooms', in short for MTR, after the locality where it was situated.  

In 1960, the restaurant shifted to its present location on Lalbagh Road, Bengaluru and grew in stature and name. MTR went on to become a landmark. 

MTR Singapore is an F&B venture between Samanvay Singapore Pte Ltd and heritage restaurant brand, MTR from Bengaluru, India. Samanvay has taken pride in establishing the first overseas branch of this heritage restaurant in Singapore. The motto of this restaurant is to serve authentic South-Indian vegetarian food in Singapore, with the same taste that is available in Bengaluru since 1924. 

Don't you love food establishments which have such a long and rich culinary history? I most certainly do! The founders of MTR have their roots in Udupi (just like yours truly) so understandably, I have a soft spot for anything associated with the brand. And the husband reminiscing about how much he had enjoyed the food in MTR in his hometown of Bengaluru further piqued my interest. For us, MTR is a brand that is synonymous with good quality food and culinary products. Our pantry is filled with their range of spice powders, instant mixes and snacks. It is something our kitchen just can't do without. 

I should tell you the events surrounding my first visit to MTR in Singapore. I was beginning to think that I was going to be the last among the Kannadigas in Singapore to check out this restaurant since I had been frequently seeing MTR-related Facebook updates from family and friends living here. Naturally, I had been going on like a broken record about the same for a while. 

It so happened that a few weeks ago, my hubby had a charity marathon at the lovely Gardens by the Bay on a Saturday morning at 7:30 am and he had been nudging me to tag along for company. Not being one to be deprived of my beauty sleep over the weekend, I of course said a firm NO at first. But then he said the one thing to completely change my mind - a promise of breakfast at MTR after the marathon (a little bit of bribery goes a long way now doesn't it?!). I wanted to review the restaurant as well so I was looking forward to going there very much. One of my husband's friends was also running the marathon so we asked him to join us.

Now for the review....

The menu at the MTR restaurant in the Singapore outlet is not very extensive but the good thing is that they do offer specials during different days of the week. It seems like a good business strategy to get patrons to go back because I for one will definitely be going back to try some of the items that were not available during this visit! A special shout out to fellow akki rotti lovers....go on a Tuesday or Friday!

The restaurant is small, modest with a minimalistic decor (update: the restaurant has been expanded to meet with a surge in demand). The placards on the wall with images and tidbits from their culinary history and the color monitors with a slideshow of photographs and detailed descriptions of each item on their menu is inspiring and brings in a sense of nostalgia.

Before you conclude that I have a bottomless pit for a stomach, let me tell you that this review is an extensive compilation of the dishes I sampled not only on the first visit but umpteen visits thereafter! 

Kindly note that the prices of the items have been updated. 

Uddina Vada ($3)
The uddina vada was everything you could want for in a vada - hot and crispy served with coconut chutney and a moreish distinctly Karnataka-style sambar. This is a novelty for me because most restaurants in Singapore serving South Indian food and breakfast in particular, have a pronounced Tamil influence. Not to ignite any regional food wars, but every once in a while, I find this a welcome change. 

Highly recommended!

Masala Dosa ($7)
The masala dosa was excellent. Clearly, one of the best masala dosas I have had anywhere in Singapore hands down! Move over KFC....this is finger licking, desi style! 

It is rare that you get a nicely brown dosa in Singapore and this one was brown, crispy and had the unmistakable aroma of ghee. It seemed to me like the batter itself was brown in color which is not the case when I make dosas at home. Got me wondering how they make their dosa batter. Well, I guess that would be a closely guarded secret that no one will be finding that out anytime soon. 

Highly recommended!

Pudi Dosa ($6.50)
This dosa is one of their specialities. You can get it plain or topped with spiced potatoes (Pudi Masala Dosa). 

You have a thick yet crispy dosa sprinkled with spice-infused chutney powder served with a mint chutney and lentil sambhar. The chutney pudi is a fiery red made with authentic Kashmiri chillies, white pepper, asafoetida (hing) and a medley of other Indian spices. As soon as the plate is set in front of you, you will be hit with the enticing aroma of the spices and ghee which I guarantee will want to make you tuck in immediately! The delectable combination of the pudi dosa, chutney and sambhar is a delight for the senses. If you appreciate Indian spices, you must try this dosa. 

Highly recommended!

Kesari Bhath ($4)
In general, I'm not a huge fan of kesari bhath but I did like this one. It didn't look very appetizing despite the eye-popping color, but it was sweet, had good texture and you could smell and taste the ghee in it. 

You should know that everything at MTR has generous amounts of ghee in it so if you are a vegan or not a fan of ghee or on a strict diet of some sort, you could find yourself in a dilemma. But I overheard (on more than one occasion) for customers requesting for certain items to be prepared without ghee and the management was very obliging. 

Khara Bhath ($4)
The khara bhath was really good. I couldn't stop digging my spoon into it. It wasn't saturated with vegetables (which I liked), it was subtly spiced, had great creamy texture as with the kesari bhath and you could tell that it had a copious amount of ghee in it. Ghee makes everything taste 10 times more awesome....that is the ultimate truth! The tomato served on top was a great addition both visually and gastronomically. I'm going out on a limb to say that the khara bhath is one among the many best dishes here.

If you want to sample both the kesari bhath and the khara bhath, I would recommend ordering the Chow Chow Bhath which consists of small portions of the two served side by side. There are certain days of the week where you get Avarekai Khara Bhath as a special item so check the menu before going.

Highly recommended!

Bisibele Bhath ($6)
The second the bisibele bhath hit our table, we could see the steam arising from it and smell the spices and ghee which combined to form an tantalizing aroma for the taste buds. The ghee is served in a small steel bowl so adding it into the bisibele bhath is optional (no prizes for guessing what we did!). 

As we expected, the bisibele bhath was delicious with the perfect blend of spices, the right balance of sweet and sour and mixed vegetables that were soft and tender (I loved the pearl onions in particular). For me personally, the raita served on the side was unnecessary. I enjoyed the bisibele bhath just as it was. Some khara boondi (small savoury deep-fried balls made from chickpea flour) would have been perfect for that added crunch but that's just me being greedy 😛

Highly recommended!

Filter Coffee ($3)
I'm surprised that I'm saying this but I wasn't as impressed with the coffee as I thought I would be. I was expecting to be blown away by it and I wasn't. I love the filter coffee at Anjappar and I would definitely rank it better. 

At MTR the coffee is strong but not as aromatic. They serve the coffee without sugar so you need to add sugar according to suit your taste. I think a large part of my disappointment with this coffee had something to do with the way it was served. I like filter coffee served the traditional way in the Madras-style steel tumbler and dabarah because it reminds me of the frothy filter coffee that my mum and grandmothers serve back home. 

Oh well, you can't win 'em all!

My husband's friend ordered a dosa to take home to his wife and it came packed so nicely that I was compelled to take a picture! It reinforces the impression that MTR adheres to high standards to hygiene and cleanliness. 

Rava Idli ($4)
A large rava idli served with potato sagu, coconut chutney and a small steel bowl of ghee on the side. 

The main reason to try rava idli here is because MTR is said to be the inventors of this humble dish, the origins of which can be traced back to World War II. 

The rava idli was soft and quite flavorful on its own with the mixture of herbs and seasonings. I had a few bites of it without either of the accompaniments and I really enjoyed it.

Rava Dosa ($6)

I can be highly critical of rava dosas in general because I happen to be good at making them myself! (yes, modesty is my middle name *guffaws*). 

The rava dosa at MTR is super thin and crispy and served alongside a delicious vegetable stew and coconut chutney. This rava dosa wholeheartedly gets my stamp of approval!

Poori Sagu ($6)
This came with 2 pcs of poori served with potato saagu (stew) and coconut chutney. In keeping with the overall quality of dishes at MTR, this was again a good dish. The pooris were fluffy, flaky and had not soaked up excess oil (which otherwise would be ugh!). My husband loves the poori and chutney combination but me not so much. I actually liked the pooris with the spiced potato stew better. 

This combination was a winner.

Onion Uthapam ($5)
This item is available on all weekdays. I would go back again and again for this one. I'd rank it right among my top dishes at MTR along with the Masala Dosa. 

The onion uthapam had great flavour and texture, the roasted red onions being the pièce de résistance! It was served with green chutney and a mixed vegetable sagu. The combination of the onion dosa and the green chutney did it for me. It was lip-smacking good and I could have readily eaten more.

Highly recommended!

Neer Dosa ($5)
There is just something so wonderful about the simplicity of neer dosa. This white handkerchief like looking dosa  has its origins from Tulu nadu region of Karnataka. 

The neer dosa at MRT which is a weekend special, reminds me of the neer dosa that I have back home. Served with a sweet mixture of jaggery and coconut as well as savoury chutney, this is a good dish. The chutney was different from the one that was served with dosa. It seemed to have the flavour of raw mango but I could be mistaken on this one. Anyway, thumbs up to the neer dosa!

Shavige Bhath ($5)

This is a Thursday special. I enjoy shavige bhath for breakfast. This South-Indian style of noodles is mildly spiced, light and yummy. I had an idea of how the shavige bhath would be and once I sampled the dish, it tasted exactly like how I imagined. The homely taste is what makes this dish appealing.

Curd Vada ($4)
Dahi vada or curd vada isn't one of my favourite tiffin dishes (it is vada-sambhar for me any day) but I order it sometimes because it reminds me of my Dad who absolutely loves dahi vada. 

I found the yoghurt in the curd/dahi vada a little too sweet for my liking but it still was good curd vada. The boondi provides a savoury crunchiness against the creamy sweet yoghurt and soft vada.

Tomato Uthapam ($5)
This is a weekday (Tue-Fri) special. It consists of a thick savoury pancake topped with chopped and sauteed tomatoes served with chutney and sambhar.

I was asked if I'd like onions on the uthapam as well (they have that option too) but I decided to go with just the tomatoes. I was surprised by the intense yellow color because I'm used to seeing tomato uthapams white but in terms of taste, it predictably delivered. The uttapam had a lovely fragrance to it that made it appetizing. 

Akki Rotti ($5)
The akki rotti comes with 2 small rottis served with chutney. 

The rottis were soft and smooth and frankly not what I was expecting. I'm used to akki rottis being a little more crispy and layered. I also love akki rottis because of the sabsige soppu (dill) and avarekai (hyacinth beans) that are popular components in masala rotti. The akki rotti here was slightly more plain as you can see from the pic but I still relished it because it had good flavour and the red chutney was amazing.

Bonda Soup ($4)
The bonda soup consists of three small round vadas dipped in a lentil based soup. I sampled this dish on a Thursday. The vadas were good as expected and so was the soup although it was slightly on the zingy side. That being said, this dish is warm and comforting so a big thumbs up!

Tea ($2)
The tea was your typical no-frills home style tea. Like with the coffee, the tea is served sugarless so you can add sugar to suit your taste.

Badam Halva ($4)
On our first visit, we wanted to sample at least one of the sweets so we ordered the badam halva. As you can see from the picture, the serving is rather minuscule! 

The halva was warm, sweet and gooey and had the rich aroma of ghee along with a subtle essence of almonds. I would have liked the consistency of the halva to have been a little thicker since I found it a bit too syrupy. At a price of $4, I did feel that this dish was a relatively overpriced. Not worth it in my opinion.

Gulab Jamoon ($3)

My hubby loves jamoon so we happened to order during one of our habitual visits. The jamoon turned out to be a great end to our meal. It was sweet and the pillowy soft interior had a delightful melt-in-your-mouth quality to it. The sugar syrup did have the predominant flavour of cardamom but we didn't mind it that much.

Authentic Karnataka Cuisine in the Heart of Little India
MTR Singapore has created its own niche space for South-Indian vegetarian cuisine, in the vibrant milieu of Singapore. The restaurant has won many awards and accolades since its establishment and deservedly so. Serving authentic and hygienically prepared Karnataka-style food, the restaurant has grown in popularity among not only the Indian community in Singapore but multicultural locals and expats alike. Note that the restaurant can get crowded especially on weekends. It makes me happy seeing non-Indians eating with their hands and relishing the authentic vegetarian food from my culture that means so much to me. We love going here because not only because of the food but because we get to converse with the manager and waiters in kandanda and most often than not, bump into our kannadiga friends! 

The menu options aren't dizzyingly extensive but whatever they have to offer is of exceptional taste. My favourite dishes at MTR are undoubtedly the Uddina Vada, Masala Dosa, Pudi Dosa, Onion Dosa, Bisibele Bhath and the Khara Bhath. I would recommend these six as the must-try dishes. Coming to the negative, the only issue I had was with the service during our first visit. We had to serve ourselves with water, had to wait a long time for our orders and had to repeatedly remind the waiter for our coffee but considering that it was a weekend and the restaurant bursting at its seams, that may be overlooked. In all fairness to MTR, the subsequent times that we were there for dinner on weekdays, the service was satisfactory. The prices are reasonable with a price range of $15-20 per person. 

I can't speak for anyone else but I most certainly will be going back again and again and again! I would strongly recommend this restaurant to anyone who has a love and appreciation of traditional Indian food. 

My overall rating for this restaurant is

If I was rating only the food, I would give it

MTR 1924 Vegetarian Restaurant
#438, Serangoon road
Opp Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple
Singapore 218133

Phone : +65 62965800
Website: Click here


Tuesday , Wednesday & Thursday
8:30 am – 15:00 pm
17:30 pm – 21:30 pm

Friday,  Saturday & Sunday
8:30 am – 15:30 pm
17:30 pm – 22:00 pm

​​Closed on Mondays

Further information:
Payment modes : Cash Only
Private party area : No


Note: This is not a sponsored review or invited review. The comments and opinions in this post are solely my own.


  1. Good to see MTR going places!
    Well reviewed

  2. Hi Megha, I am one of the owners of the MTR chain of restaurants. Thanks for a splendid review.

    Your criticisms have been noted and we are working towards ironing out all issues at the earliest.

    I'd like to make one small correction - although the Shivalli restaurant sells MTR packaged food products, they are in no way associated with MTR. All our restaurants are mentioned on the website. We'd appreciate it if you could correct that information as we don't want more people to have that misconception.

    Thanks once again for the great review and hope to read some more follow up reviews about our restaurant :)

  3. Thank you Magiceye :)

    Thank you Mr Arvind for stopping by my blog. I have made the change that you mentioned. I wasn't aware that the Shivalli restaurant wasn't part of your establishment so I appreciate the correction :) You can be sure to see me again at your wonderful restaurant!

  4. Thanks for the brilliant review! Only discovered MTR a few years ago even though I live nearby and still trying to make my way through the menu. Favourites are all variants of the rawa dosa (I like 'the works' which is the podi onion rawa masala dosa), rawa idli and bisibele bhath.

  5. Well nearly 7 years later and it is still going strong. Like you, I too grew up in Karnataka. I keep going there whenever I need to satisfy my cravings for home food


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