Vij’s – “Best Indian Restaurant”

Restaurant: Vij’s
Cuisine: Indian/Fine Dining
Last visited: November 5, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Fairview)
Address: 1480 W 11th Ave
Bus: SB Granville St FS w 11 Av
Price Range: $30-50+ ($25-29 mains)

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!

Food: 5
Service: 4
Ambiance: 4
Value: 3
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Fine dining Indian
  • Chef Owner Vikram Vij
  • Award winning
  • “Best Indian Restaurant”
  • Authentic Indian food
  • Seasonal ingredients/menus
  • Some modern/fusion dishes
  • Good for sharing
  • Local/tourist favourite
  • Long lines/2 hour waits
  • Cocktail list/wine bar
  • Complimentary appies in waiting room
  • No reservations (first come, first serve)
  • Daily from 5:30pm
  • My post on Rangoli (Vij’s sister restaurant)
  • Vij’s Restaurant (Post/Visit 1)

**Recommendations: Mutton Kebabs, Garam Masala Sauteed Portobello Mushrooms, Beef Shortribs, Wine Marinated Lamb Popsicles

It’s critically acclaimed as one of the finest and best Indian restaurants in the world. That’s a bold statement and I would hesitate to say anything like that unless I’ve tried every single Indian restaurant in the world. On the other hand, narrowing it down in the context of Vancouver, I would say that it is one of the best there is and if you’re looking for a fine dining Indian restaurant then look no further.

There are a few predictable reactions when you hear the name “Vij’s” and I’m referring to the restaurant, not the owner. First is probably “how long did you wait?”, or at least some reference to waiting, followed by “it’s the best place for Indian food” or “it’s overrated and overpriced”. I can see why people think all of the above and here’s why.

The line up at Vij’s is one of the most notorious in Vancouver and it has maintained this line up for years, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait at least 2+ hours before being seated. It opens at 5:30pm, but people start lining up at 5pm or earlier. As a local I hate line ups, but as a tourist I am willing to wait. It’s a different mind set, but if I’m prepared and the wait is made enjoyable (which means I’m with good people and there are things to munch on), and the food is said incredible, then I am more inclined to be patient. If for some magical reason your wait is 45 minutes of less, then Vij’s is definitely worth it, and if you don’t think so I will gladly take your spot.

Complimentary Chaat (Savoury Snacks): papri chaat (fried dough with lentils, chickpeas and chutney), pakoras and other appies are passed around during your wait.

Complimentary Cassava Root tossed in Indian Spices

I didn’t expect them to give complimentary appetizers to those who arrived for the first seating, but they did.

I have to give credit that Vij’s does make the wait more enjoyable as customers are given complimentary Indian appetizers in the lounge at the back. On the other hand, a 2 hour wait is a really long time no matter how you look at it, and you end up ordering drinks and perhaps spending more than you intended. If you’re not the type that likes dinner to be a 4 hour occasion then most likely you’ll be pretty grumpy by the time you sit down, and you may have already filled up on the pre-appetizers.

I’m just telling you the system so you won’t be surprised or disappointed. You have to see the line up as part of the “experience” or you may think it’s overrated and overpriced. I think it’s worth it if you include all the generous appetizers, quality of food, ambiance and service, but whether it’s worth the 2 hour wait is the real question.

Vij’s offers authentic Indian cuisine made with traditional techniques, local, and at times organic ingredients. The menu doesn’t read traditional Indian at all and the clientele is predominantly non-Indian too, so the first things that come to mind are “non-authentic”even thought that’s not really the case. It’s Indian food presented in a modern light with a couple fusion dishes here and there, but for the most part, it’s true to authentic Indian flavours.

It is fine dining Indian cuisine and they use high quality ingredients so the prices are a bit expected. The spices, cheese, yogurt and ghee are home made on a daily basis so there’s a lot of time and energy going into the food. This goes for some other Indian restaurants in Metro Vancouver as well, but the use of local and organic ingredients is more rare to see at Indian establishments.

If you’re looking for good Indian food at an affordable price then you can certainly find it elsewhere, but the quality of ingredients might not be as high. On the other hand you may also want to consider visiting Rangoli, which is Vij’s more casual and affordable sister restaurant next door.

I’m actually quite satisfied with our Indian cuisine in Metro Vancouver, specifically in Surrey, but the problem I have is that most of the time it all tastes the same and it shouldn’t. In addition, it is also bothersome to see it either swimming in cream, overcooked or watered down, which is unrepresentable of home cooked Indian food.

At Vij’s it actually doesn’t all taste the same and it is closer to home cooked Indian flavours. The method of preparation is traditional, but the style is more gourmet than what most Indian people would be making at home everyday, so in a way it’s not exactly “authentic”, but at times even better. The flavours aren’t sacrificed but almost re-introduced with a couple modern twists, or just better ingredients. The presentation caters to a Western clientele and Vij’s does Indian food justice while giving it a broader appeal.

On the table:

The water is complimentary and served in copper water jugs just as they would present it in India. If the water is left long enough it gets magnetized by the copper and it’s supposed to have health benefits like regulating digestion.

Complimentary Chai

**Mutton Kebabs - 5/6 (Excellent)

  • With Bengali style curry $13.50
  • Mutton is just an older sheep and it has a gamier, stronger and more robust flavour than lamb.
  • I’m not a fan of super gamey flavours, but this was fine for me and I’m growing more accustomed to it.
  • The game flavour was apparent in the aftertaste, but there were so many spices and flavours that the gaminess was a bit masked and not overpowering.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if the kebab meat was mixed with some lamb because it’s hard to get them this tender with mutton alone.
  • The kebabs were authentic Indian in flavour and style.
  • They were perfectly grilled with nice charred marks and the inside was tender and super moist with a heat that wasn’t hot, but spicy.
  • I could taste the fresh spices and whole chili flakes and even when they cooled down completely, they were still juicy (not oily) which is likely due to the higher fat content. Mutton has more fat and is a richer type of meat.
  • The tandoori like spices were well balanced with cumin, coriander, ginger and cayenne pepper and it was served with a curry sauce which I didn’t even need.
  • The curry sauce tasted like a spicy butter chicken sauce with a tomato base, but with little to no cream.
  • The kebabs almost tasted sweet when eaten with the curry sauce, but it was still very good.
  • Personally I would have preferred it with a raita or mint chutney to contrast the heat though.
  • It was served with a rather neutral side of lentil, chickpea, shallot and mung bean salad.

**Garam Masala Sauteed Portobello Mushrooms in Porcini Cream Curry – 5/6 (Excellent)

  • $13.50 (With unlimited naan and rice)
  • Portobello mushrooms are not traditional Indian ingredients, but regardless the dish was excellent.
  • It’s ideal for mushroom lovers and the curry sauce was on the sweeter side rather than being spicy, but it was authentic in style and well spiced.
  • It was a creamy, velvety and rich appetizer with what seemed like pommes puree underneath the mushrooms.
  • The mushrooms were meaty, plump, juicy and sweet and the sauce was like a curried mushroom cream sauce that I could have drank as soup.
  • As enjoyable as the dish was, I did find it on the pricey side.
Jackfruit in Black Cardamom and Cumin Curry3/6 (Good)
  • $13 (With unlimited naan and rice)
  • This dish has been on their menu for a long time and it’s one of their more “exotic” appetizers thanks to the jackfruit.
  • It is recommended because it’s different, but it wasn’t my favourite appetizer or one I would likely order again.
  • They serve a Goat and Jackfruit in Creamy Curry dish ($15.50) at sister restaurant Rangoli next door and this was pretty much the vegetarian version of it.
  • They often use young jackfruit to replace meats in Southern India.
  • I was expecting a creamy coconut curry similar to a korma, but instead it was a tomato marsala based curry.
  • The sauce was made with garlic, onions, cumin and black cardamom and it was tangy, smoky, spicy and slightly oily.
  • Black cardamom is very different than green cardamom so don’t expect this to taste like green cardamom.
  • Black cardamom is part of the ginger family and it’s very smoky and warm in flavour like cumin meets cloves.
  • It works well with acids and together with the cumin the sauce was quite strong and very acidic.
  • The curry sauce ended up overpowering the jackfruit so I couldn’t taste it.
  • They use young (under ripe) roasted jackfruit for this which is quite fiberous, starchy and not sweet.
  • They were in big chunks and they tasted like tangy artichokes.
  • It was topped with pickled ginger which played a role as the achar (Indian pickles) that are often served with meals.
  • The pickled ginger was supposed to balance out the spicy curry or enhance the flavours, but it was really sour and the whole dish just tasted sour to me.
  • It was a well made tomato based masala sauce with freshly ground spices, but I found the dish quite one dimensional with too few ingredients and components.

Saag-Paneer with Punjabi Daal and Chapati2.5/6 (Okay-Good)

  • $24 (With unlimited naan and rice)
  • This was another vegetarian dish, but I found it overpriced without delivering to the “Vij’s” standard.
  • I wouldn’t say vegetarian is the strength based on this dish, but it was still good although not something you couldn’t find elsewhere for cheaper and better.
  • Punjabi Daal (Left) - 2/6 (Okay)
    • Daal (lentils) is one of my favourite Indian dishes and it’s a very homestyle dish.
    • This one was actually quite bland and it was almost more like a lentil soup.
    • I prefer mine richer and creamier, but without using cream which is how it’s made at home.
    • The texture was just a bit thin for me and it almost made the flavour taste thinner.
    • The spices were mild and it wasn’t spicy, but it was also lacking salt.
  • Saag-Paneer (Right) – 3/6 (Good)
    • Saag panner (spinach and cheese) is another one of my favourite vegetarian Indian dishes and it’s another homestyle dish.
    • The spices were mild again and it wasn’t spicy, but unlike the daal it was actually salted so it wasn’t bland. For an Indian palate, it would likely be bland though.
    • I actually really enjoyed this and the spinach was thick, creamy and full of spinach flavour, without having cream, which is how it’s authentically made.
    • The Paneer cheese is made in house and there could have been more pieces for the price.
    • Paneer pretty much tastes like a hybrid of cottage cheese and tofu.
    • The paneer almost melted into the spinach so the spinach had good flavour, but still no spice.

Roasted, Mashed Eggplant and Butternut Squash with Black Chickpeas4/6 (Very good)

  • $25 (With unlimited naan and rice)
  • This was another vegetarian main and it had good flavour, but I couldn’t really taste the eggplant and butternut squash.
  • The butternut squash was a modern twist, but the dish had authentic Indian flavours and qualities.
  • It almost came across as a lentil version of a vegetarian chili meets a cooked chunky salsa with lentils, onions, chickpeas and tomatoes.
  • It was quite hearty and starchy, but I tasted more lentils and tomatoes than eggplant and butternut squash. It wasn’t as sweet or creamy as I expected.
  • There was a smokiness from the eggplant but it was basically pureed into the sauce with the butternut squash because there were no actual pieces of either.
  • There was lots of mustard seed and a spicy kick that lingered, but it didn’t necessarily match the description and I was expecting something different.

Rajasthani Style Spicy Goat Meat with Mildly Spiced Vegetables4/6 (Very good)

  • $28 (With unlimited naan and rice)
  • This was basically a goat stew. It came across as a tomato based stew with cabbage, onions, green peppers and green chili peppers with a few red cayenne peppers.
  • Traditionally there should be no tomato used, but I feel like there was some tomato paste in it because it tasted like tomato and it had some acidity. I don’t think there were actual tomatoes in it though.
  • The red colour is supposed to come from cayenne peppers, but this probably used half of the amount it would usually require because it was spicy, but not hot.
  • It was medium spicy and the sauce was thin like a broth and intense with smoky flavours of cumin and I think some whole all spice.
  • There were lots of whole green chili peppers, but they brought a smoky and bitter flavour rather than a hot one and I could eat them whole no problem. I like spicy, but can’t really do “Indian people spicy”, which I find more hot than spicy.
  • There was a good amount of goat which is slightly firmer and drier due to its lower fat content. It wasn’t necessarily dry, but on the drier side.
  • It was very good, but it almost didn’t taste very Indian and more Eastern European. It was partially due to the choice of vegetables which is also a modern addition to the dish.
  • I would have loved this to be served with some dahi (home made yogurt), which traditionally it would be.
**Braised Beef Shortribs with Roasted Okra and Walnuts, and Jelly Beans - 5.5/6 (Excellent!)
  • $29.75
  • There is always some version of beef shortribs which they change up with seasonal ingredients.
  • I already have a very soft spot for braised beef short ribs and I order it pretty much every time it’s on the menu. This is also a popular favourite.
  • It’s not a traditional Indian dish, but it doesn’t matter to me because it tasted amazing and I would order it again.
  • It was smoky, nutty charred beef shortribs that were literally melting and falling apart. It was a generous amount of it too.
  • They were incredibly moist and fatty, but the fat was creamy and not chewy or gelatinous.
  • The sauce was a bit soupy and it tasted like a smoky tangy tomato based curry sauce with marsala spices, bay leaf and perhaps kaffir leaf.
  • I loved the crunch of walnuts for texture and there were some braised okra pieces too (the black pieces that look like raisins in the photo).
  • The braised okra wasn’t as slimy as when it is served whole and I think the seedy slimy centres were removed.
  • It was quite a nutty dish and it was served over a sesame rice pilaf.
  • The sauce wasn’t creamy, but full of meaty flavour and Indian spices.
  • It was mildly spicy, rich and hearty and perfect comfort food.
  • The “jelly beans” were actual jelly beans and I’ve never seen this in any dish let alone an Indian dish.
  • They make the jelly beans in house and they really tasted like jelly beans, not like Jelly Bellies, but standard jelly beans.
  • The texture is different and these ones had a sugary granular texture.
  • There were white and red mini jelly beans and they tasted a bit lemony as well.
  • They were a bit soft due to the heat of the dish slowly melting them.
  • The jelly beans added a sweetness to the savoury spicy dish which I loved, but personally I would rather sweetness come from natural sugars.
  • I would rather dried fruit like apricots or raisins than jelly beans because I found adding candy cheapened the dish a bit, although it also made it interesting.
**Wine Marinated Lamb Popsicles in Fenugreek Cream Curry - 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
  • On Tumeric and Spinach Potatoes $29.75 $28.50 (With unlimited naan and rice)
  • This is the signature Vij’s dish.
  • It’s consistent and it never fails and if they took it off the menu there could easily be a protest.
  • Even with all the hype surrounding it, it still delivers. I’d wait 45 minutes for this alone.
  • This is an incredibly rich dish and it’s best shared because it’s heavy.
  • The sauce is equally as good as the lamb and that’s what makes the dish fantastic.
  • It was definitely a modern take and the cream curry sauce had a sweeter side and it almost tasted like a South East Asian curry.
  • The lamb was tender, moist and not too gamey and it was grilled to a medium-well. I prefer medium rare, but it was still juicy and tender so it was overlooked.
  • The lamb didn’t have a spice crust and they actually didn’t carry as much flavour as I expected, but the flavour really came from the sauce.
  • The fenugreek cream curry sauce was rich, thick and sweet, but there was also a bright tang to it which was from the homemade yogurt base.
  • Fenugreek has a nutty sweetness that tastes like burnt sugar or maple so that’s where the sweetness comes from.
  • The sauce had an intense umami (savoury flavour that you can’t quite describe) and it just makes you salivate.
  • The sauce tasted like it was made with lamb juice drippings or bacon drippings.
  • I liked the sauce being thickened with yogurt rather than all cream (even though there was still cream).
  • There was a bed of spinach and buttery tender potatoes swimming underneath.
  • The dish still had Indian flavours, but it was innovative and new and I absolutely loved it and highly recommend it.

BC Spot Prawns in Coconut & Fenugreek Masala – n/a

  • With wheat berry pilaf $28.50 (With unlimited naan and rice)
  • This was given by mistake, but I got the photo before it was taken away.
  • It looked pretty good, but I prefer BC Spot Prawns in a different style and preferably with the shells and head.

Complimentary Naan

  • The naan isn’t made in a traditional tandoor oven, but it was still good.
  • It was quite standard, soft and buttered with ghee and it comes unlimited with all the entrees.
  • I have had it a couple times where it tasted really chewy though.

Mint Chutney

  • This is also complimentary and I could have eaten it alone. I actually did eat it alone.
  • It was refreshing, minty, and sweet, but everything had enough flavour that I didn’t even end up using it.
  • It would be great with the Lamb Popsicles.

Complimentary Basmati Rice

  • The rice is also unlimited and it was well made without being dry or wet.
  • They spiced it with cumin seeds for aromatics too, but no apparent cinnamon or bay leaf.
Julab Jamun - 2/6 (Okay)
  • $7.50
  • I am really not a fan of Julab Jamun, but I promised myself I would try something until I liked it.
  • It was served hot and they were freshly made and topped with pistachio crumbs.
  • They’re fried doughnut balls made from milk powder soaked in sweet rose scented syrup.
  • They were soft and fluffy as they should be, but just way too sweet for me as they always are.
  • I don’t really have much of a reference for Julab Jamun since I usually avoid them, but I know the texture was how they should be.
  • Personally I found this quite pricey because it would be complimentary to $5 for 3 at almost any other Indian restaurant.

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13 Comments

  • Sara says:

    Wow, this place looks amazing! The picture and description of the Lamb Popsicles is just mouthwatering! Never heard of this type of dish before!

    And the jellybeans!!!!?????? That’s a first!

    ..and I can’t believe people actually wait 2 hours+ for this! In Montreal, the places with crazy lineups are max 1 hr wait, not 2 hours! Holy molly! It must be amazing! And it’s cool they give out complimentary snack bites, makes it a lot more worthwile.

  • Mimihui-Pak says:

    Cream Curry …….. BC Spot Prawns in Coconut ……. Fenugreek Masala …..&….. Style Spicy……….. amazin….I am hungry.

  • Donald says:

    Vij is a 2 hour wait because it is a very small restaurant. Max they can fit about 20 -50 people. However, most of the time the table of four is filled with 2 people.

  • Linda says:

    i LUV LUV LUV Vij’s! the service and the food is amazing and with the unlimited naan and rice, i think the prices are pretty justified. the ingredients are fresh and i like that there’s a team of women chefs back there commanding the kitchen. my favorite dish is probably the protabello mushrooms but i’ll definitely need to make a revisit to get those o so popular lamb lollipops!

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – yes! It is a female only kitchen. Meeru believes that women have a special touch with food. They did increase there prices by a $1 or so though… doesn’t stop me from going, but it is a bit pricey. Love the lamb!

  • Jayda Home says:

    Vij is opening up a new restaurant out our way here in South Surrey. I believe it’s called Shanti (what a name!) and I’m looking very forward to it opening. Bruno and I love Rangoli’s but we’ve never actually eaten at Vij. I think Vij and his wife are lovely people though and look forward to a Vij evening when we aren’t in a rush to get somewhere else afterwards.
    Got my sous vide that I ordered the other day. So excited to try it out except I’ll have to wait since it’s supposed to be a Christmas gift for Bruno….. I’ll have to make sure I buy a steak to experiment with for Christmas day.

  • Mijune says:

    @Jayda – Terrific!! Bruno will love it! Honestly it’s really easy to use and as long as you prepare ahead (consider how long the meat you’re making needs to cook for), then the hardest part is waiting!! Let me know how it goes! I love making salmon with it. I want to try turkey breast though since it’s known to be driest and I want to test it out on the Sous Vide Supreme.

    And yes! You’re right about Vij! His wife opened a restaurant in Seattle 2 weeks ago and Shanti is Vij’s project. You must try the lamb popsicles at Vij’s though! I wonder if he’ll make it there? As long as he prices himself right he should be good in Surrey, however I think he might be aiming for a Western clientele which are more likely to go regardless of price point. I say that most respectfully to both cultures :)

  • Dano91 says:

    I recently watched and hour long episode on tv that featured Vikram Vij’s restaurant and his life story. It was wonderful to see how he grew up and developed his intense passion and dedication for food. The restaurant was talked about for a short period during the episode and they spent most of the time talking about him, his travels, experiences, and I could really get a feel for what this man and his food are all about. It was also very inspiring seeing all the hard work that got him to where he is today. I am really looking forward to my first upcoming experience at Vij’s

  • Mijune says:

    @Dano91 – Excellent! Welcome to Vancouver! Or are you local? Regardless you should have a good time and now that you have the background story it’ll probably make you appreciate it even more.

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