Tomatoes opened a few months back in the PVS Mall, one of Meerut’s more prominent landmarks. It’s not a very swish mall, and Tomatoes isn’t a sleek restaurant. It looks like a fast food joint: the décor’s all plastic and metal and laminated surfaces, all durable stuff that doesn’t require much maintenance and isn’t expensive. One side of the large hall is a counter where the wait staff pick up orders (unlike most fast food outlets in India, this isn’t a self-service place).
We got to Tomatoes around 1 PM, and found that quite a few of the tables were already occupied by families. Having sat down at a table under one of the fans (Tomatoes isn’t air-conditioned; there are ceiling fans, though, so it’s quite bearable), we had a look at the menu. Tomatoes offers a little bit of everything: there’s ‘continental’ (fries, an ambiguous ‘sandwich’, burgers and pizzas), Chinese (if you like ‘Indian’ Chinese, which can be pretty awful), South Indian, and North Indian. And yes, all of it is strictly vegetarian. No meat here, not even egg.
We’d never even considered trying the Chinese or the ‘continental’ food, and my parents told us that even the South Indian food was nothing to write home about. So we let them—seasoned diners at Tomatoes—order for us. Like most Indian eateries, this is a place where you order a meal for a family: dishes come in large portions that are then shared out. My parents ordered four dishes: a daal makhani (lentils cooked with onions, tomatoes, butter and cream), zeera aaloo (literally, potatoes with cumin seeds), paneer lababdar (Indian cottage cheese in a tomato gravy with strips of green bell pepper) and methi malai paneer (Indian cottage cheese cooked with dried fenugreek leaves, in a creamy sauce with cashewnuts). With that, we chose to order plain naans, and glasses of fresh lemonade.
Within about five minutes, our waiter had brought our lemonades, and placed condiments on our table: a bowlful of small, crunchy onions, and four sachets of the spicy mixed pickle that’s de rigueur at most Indian meals. A couple of minutes more, and he brought us the food as well.
I must confess: I’d not really had high hopes of Tomatoes. My parents are much more easily pleased than I am. But yes, I’ll also confess that Tomatoes proved to be excellent value for money. This is fairly typical North Indian vegetarian food—you’ll see these names over and over again on menus across the region—but what I liked about Tomatoes was that the food was neither too spicy nor too greasy, and it actually tasted very much like home-cooked food. Plus, despite the fact that it seemed to be a fast food operation, the food tasted good and fresh (and the naans were hot out of the tandoor).
For dessert, we wanted to order a kulfi each, but were told that was unavailable. So was the rasmalai. We ended up ordering the day’s special, something called rasmadhuri: small walnut-sized dumplings of paneer, soaked in a sweet, thickened milk and flavoured with an assortment of ingredients, including raisins, chironji (almondette), and kewra (a fragrant extract of screwpine). Not awesome—I found it too sweet, and the milk not thick enough—but passable.
I’ve no idea how much my father paid for our meal, but looking at the menu, I’d think the bill would’ve amounted to about Rs 800 or so for the four of us. Certainly worth coming back to.
Incidentally, Tomatoes also offer home delivery, so my parents have patronised this service a couple of times, and have never had reason to complain.
New Delhi, India
May 21, 2012
From journal The Town of The First War of Independence