When the opportunity to visit Vancouver turned into an upcoming reality with the purchase of plane tickets, the first thought that crossed my mind: I have to have a meal at Vij’s. My love and I have a passion for seeking out and finding great food on our travels, and we knew Vancouver was going to be an exceptional food city. But a stop at Vij’s was tops for us. The “best of lists” for Vancouver and our love of Indian cuisine was only partially behind it. The main reason was the restauranteur himself, Vikram Vij. His inventiveness, commitment to local ingredients and to preparation techniques honed over time, and his personal dedication to this restaurant (he greets guests personally!) meant that we knew we would be in for a special evening.
The experience begins in line waiting for the doors to open at 5:30. There are no reservations, all guests are equal, much like you were visiting him at his home. Drinks and snacks are offered while you wait for the restaurant to open. Can you tell we’re a little excited?
Once inside, we’re offered a window seat and shortly after there are two cups of the most delicious chai set on the table. This is part of the ethic here – you’re made to feel like you’re visiting Vikram’s home. Menus are placed on the table and as we’re trying to make the difficult selection, there are servers circulating with more snacks to whet the appetite – pakoras, a puffed wheat cracker and cassava fries all made the rounds.
There’s only one other restaurant I have been to where the menu selection was so difficult. At Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo in Chicago, I really wanted to get one of everything. The same was true here. I could have closed my eyes and picked anything and have been happy. We both dithered a bit but eventually made our selections.
A side note – my love needs to eat gluten-free, and at Vij’s each and every server knew exactly what she could or couldn’t have and what substitutions could be made. The service the whole night was beyond exceptional.
My love chose the jackfruit in black cardamon and cumin curry (top of the picture below) and I went with the mutton kebobs with Bengali style curry. The first bite of mine, and I could “see” the layers of flavour in my mind. The Bengali style curry was outstanding to drizzle over the mutton and the cucumber salad was quickly devoured. The jackfruit was something neither of us had tried before. The meaty texture made that another great dish:
As we are enjoying our meal, a line started to form waiting for a table. Ever the gracious host, Vikram was outside speaking with a couple of people and spent the evening checking on everyone in the restaurant making sure each person was enjoying themselves.
On to our main course selections. My love ordered the chicken breast and thigh in clove, cardamom and yogurt curry with bell peppers and shallots (top right in the photo in the white dish and at the bottom right of my blue plate at the bottom of the photo). I ordered the Rajasthani style spicy goat with mildly spiced vegetables (in the red pot). A very nice touch were the corn parathas brought as a substitute to naan for my love (the naan was exceptional, I tried not to brag about this too much!) These dishes were all memorable. The best part – the portions were generous and we got to take home leftovers making for a second outstanding supper the next evening at our rental apartment.
As the meal wrapped up, Vikram was standing at the entrance and we had the chance to say hi. A huge thrill for me, here I am with the chef himself at the end of one of the best meals I have ever had.