This completes the Vancouver Superfecta (of eponymous restaurants, famous for years, and open to anyone with a suitably-sized pocketbook). We’ve been to Cioppino’s. We’ve been to Toshi’s. And Bishop’s. And now, it was time to try the other famous Vancouver restaurant, known across Canada (and more widely) for its amazing Indian cuisine – Vij’s.
And what did we think? Definitely good – but I think a little perspective would be helpful to any reader here.
It was a rainy sunday night – almost 2 weeks of rain. Vij’s opens at 5:30 and doesn’t take reservations. We arrive at about 5:05pm, and there is already a lineup of umbrellas out front. I take my place in line, and by 5:30, there at least another 25 people in line behind me. Obviously, Mr. Vij does quite a lot of things right to be able to attract this kind of crowd.
We come in, are welcomed by the host, and shown to a very nice table of four. Inside, the restaurant is fairly dimly lit, no music playing, but the seats and tables are comfortable, if somewhat spartan inside. The plain grey walls and dim light remind me somewhat of Grant Achatz’s Alinea, although not as severe (at Alinea, you are there to focus on the food – seriously focus on the food).
We are brought menus and glasses of water immediately – we quickly make our choices – two appetizers and four mains (we’re a party of four) and P and I order a Storm Brewing beer each – P has the Scottish Ale and i try the nice, light Pilsner. Our beer arrives in less than 2 minutes and is perfectly chilled in nice tall glasses.
While we wait for our first courses, we are brought around a few complimentary tasty fried treats – mini potato puris, cassava fries, pakoras – all delicious and warm, fresh out of the fryer, and they went perfectly with the beer. And very nicely – they brought us complimentary chai – perfect for yet another cold, rainy Vancouver night.
For starters we ordered the samosas and the ‘Punjabi heart attack’ – little spoons with a mix of chopped cashews, raw sugar and paneer that have been doused in ghee – definitely delicious and definitely not helping my arteries. The heart attack came with a very tasty tiny bowl of lemon (?I thought it tasted more like lime) quinoa salad as a palate cleanser to have after the fatty flavours of the heart attack.
The samosas were absolutely perfect. Perfectly battered, fried, perfect temperature, great filling of beef and paneer – and served in a perfect chutney with a glob of cold coconut chutney on the side. The tomato chutney while a bit on the sweet side, didn’t have some of the pickle flavours that you usually find in South Asian chutneys that can be odd for the western palate – nothing not to like here. The cold of the coconut being a perfect compliment to the spice of the filling and the crispness of the batter.
For the mains, we ordered four to share – naan and rice are complimentary and often refilled. We went with the goat curry, lamb popsicles, grilled sablefish, and beef short ribs.
Everything was good, the portion sizes were generous, and nobody left feeling hungry. The very famous lamb popsicles – probably Vij’s signature dish, are delicious lamb chops that have been marinated in mustard, grilled, and are served in an amazingly tasty, brilliant-yellow sauce of cream flavoured with kasuri methi (fenugreek) leaves. This sauce is so good you’ll want a spoon to eat it with. We’ve made this dish at home 3 times, and every time it comes out perfectly – and perfectly delicious. The fenugreek leaves are hard to find, but they sell them at Rangoli (Vij’s take-out restaurant next door). Anyway, from having tried this at home and having had it at friend’s houses, it was nice to try the real thing. The only thing that I noticed different about Vij’s version is that the lamb didn’t have the grainy mustard on it that he recommends as the marinade, and the sauce had a deeper, smokier flavour than the sauce I’ve been able to make at home. Anyway – a dish for the uninitiated not to be missed, and if I came back, I’d order it again.
The goat curry was very tasty – goat isn’t for everyone due to its gaminess, but Vij’s goat was pretty mild, with big chunks of meat in a tomato-based sauce that was neither too sweet nor too savoury. The beef short ribs came also in a tomato-based sauce with white beans, and while I thought the beef was a bit on the fatty side, this was also very tasty, with big chunks of beef that you could break apart with a spoon.
The sablefish – probably the 2nd-best well-known dish of Vij’s also earned its reputation for being a dish not to be missed, with big chunks of this fatty, flavourful fish that just break up with a fork and a wonderful char/grill flavour to them. One piece of fish – someone in the kitchen had gone crazy with the salt on it – and I really, really love heavily salted food (think salt crust) but this was a bit overpowering. But another piece of fish was just perfect, so this is just a QA thing, not an indictment.
The only disappointment through the meal was that the naan was nothing special. When perfect, naan is a kind of bread that raises you up – it has a beautiful char on it with parts that are crispy and parts that are light and airy – perfect naan (from a place like Toronto’s Lahore Tikka House) makes you want to shout to the heavens, and can be a meal on its own. But the naan at Vij’s was merely pedestrian, regular naan, not dissimilar from the naan you can now buy in the grocery store. Not a giant complaint, but definitely something that could be done better.
And the final bill? $145 before tip – 2 appetizers, 4 mains, and 2 beer. Considering the quality and quantity of the food – this is worth it, and is less expensive than many restaurants in Vancouver that serve bad food for more money. From reading some message boards, people found this food expensive – but I think that perhaps they’re just not used to paying western prices for south asian food, which tends to usually be on the less expensive end of the dining spectrum (but usually well in the good end of the delicious spectrum).
The service was excellent, with the maitre d’ dropping by each course to ensure things were OK, and very pleasant young servers who did a great job. Our leftover mains were nicely packed up for us to take home, and we left the restaurant at 7:15, very full, and very happy. I’d definitely come here again any time – to celebrate, to entertain friends, or just to enjoy a delicious meal. I’ve had South Asian food just as good before for less money, and I’ve had South Asian food that hasn’t been nearly as good for the same money – so I think Vij’s is that perfect balance of decor, service, and quality of food that makes it worth the premium over other places. Executing perfectly like this, for as long as Mr. Vij and his staff has been doing is no mean feat – congratulations to them, and thank you for an excellent meal.
1480 11th Avenue West
Vancouver, BC V6H 1L1, Canada
Tel: (604) 736-6664
Opens at 5:30pm – get there early for the first seating.