They say the best Italian restaurant is no longer in Italy, it’s in New York. And there are critics who have called Vij’s one of the best Indian restaurants in the world even though it’s in Vancouver. Our experience with this creative chef’s food has been universally positive: delicious, beautifully prepared, and full of surprise and variety.
The original Vij’s on West 11th opened in 1994 and we’ve eaten there a dozen or more times, always having to arrive early and still wait outside in line because no reservations were taken. It was noisy but the cuisine made it worthwhile. When we moved away from the west side of town we didn’t visit for several years, and now (actually since three years ago) the restaurant has moved to a bigger space on Cambie near 16th , taking over a dreadful building that was a Cantonese restaurant for many years. True to form, Vij has converted it into a magnificently eclectic multispace that somehow mirrors the wonderful variety of his food.
Very bright colours, industrial steel, plastic tables, beautiful screens, and on the enclosed rooftop a soft high translucent ceiling, all in plenty of open space, gives the impression of eating in some exciting but unexplored universe. Service is attentive and polite, multiracial, and augmented by Vij himself coming around and chatting, in the manner of John Bishop (Vij used to work there), charmingly pretending that he remembers us even though we haven’t been there for many years.
We were four, and shared three starters and four mains. Two of us drank beer. Our starters were garam masala sautéed portobello mushrooms in porcini cream curry,
eggplant in thick yogurt and garlic curry, and a special: spot prawns in an Asian sauce with red peppers. I tend to search for the meat-protein dishes where there is a lot of vegetarian food, but the mushrooms and eggplant were just unbelievable, mushrooms melting in my mouth to mimic the body of the cream curry, and the eggplant sharply piquant with its garlic.
Our mains were marinated duck breast in savory mango-kalonji curry, braised beef short ribs in fennel and mustard seed curry, goat curry with spiced vegetables, and lamb popsicles with chutney. They make a half-version of every dish for $18 which is great because you get to taste more without getting stuffed. I found the lamb popsicles a bit overdone, and there was something a wee bit curry-similar across these main courses of the sauce flavours, but again the quality and variety were on a level way above all but the best high class restaurants. I think my favourite was the goat curry, the meat slow-cooked and tender and the sauce teasing with its heat and cumin flavour.
The other couple kindly picked up the tab but I estimate the dinner was around $200 for the four of us with tip, but no wine. The rooftop is a gorgeously slightly offbeat atmospheric place as it darkens on a summer evening. We will certainly go back. Food 9.3, service 9.0, ambience 9.4, value 8.7, peace and quiet 6.2.