Mar 30, 2019 —
Have you ever had a crush on someone when you were younger and then met them again years later as an adult? And things just weren’t the same? Somehow, that magic feeling was gone? Well, that is how I felt tonight at Vij’s.
I had really been looking forward to this dinner at Vij’s new location on Cambie. The last time I went was when it was still located on South Granville…with the relentless line-ups (they didn’t take reservations then), the chaotic and crammed waiting area with servers frantically passing out free appie samplers to keep hungry customers from revolting, and Vikram Vij himself working the room with his famous grace, charm and hospitality. I actually took a private cooking class with Vikram once, and I was entranced by his stories, his passion for food, and his wife’s cooking (now his ex-wife, but she still heads up the kitchen and creates most of the recipes).
But as soon as I arrived this evening, at a boxy and sterile-looking structure on Cambie street, I was bewildered. If it wasn’t for the monstrous “VIJ’S” painted in bright blue on an exterior wall, I might have thought I was standing outside of an office building or public library. When I entered, I was warmly greeted by the host, but was immediately struck by something I thought I would never see at Vij’s – empty tables…lots of them. The main dining space was as disappointing as the outside: cold, lacklustre and lacking the vibrancy, colours and textures that I associate with Indian restaurants (and with Vij’s). However, the adjoining lounge area (which was completely empty) did have some colourful and visually interesting geometric design elements.
Undaunted, and determined not to see any faults with my beloved Vij’s, I turned my attention toward the menu. I was encouraged. The menu was as creative and interesting as it always was and it took me a while to make my choices. I really liked their option of “small plates” for the main courses (about half the size and price) so that I could try more than one main dish. And I decided to share two appetizers with a fellow diner, so things were looking up.
Our server was prompt and efficient, but lacking warmth and hospitality much like the entire space itself. And, he was Caucasian (like all the other servers), which further detracted from any sense of authenticity, in my opinion.
So, finally, the food arrived. And while it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t particularly outstanding either. The biggest disappointment was the lack of heat/spice in all the dishes. While I do have a high tolerance for spicy foods, even the more heat-averse diners at our table could eat the “be careful it’s spicy” chutney by the spoonful!
Here is a run-down of what I had:
Local pork center cut loin in coconut-cumin curry – Not a bad dish, but I was disappointed by the lack of heat and coconut flavour. Again, just run-of-the-mill.
Jackfruit in black cardamom and cumin curry – intrigued by the jackfruit, I had high hopes for this dish. But the flavour of the jackfruit was lost in the run-of-the-mill curry sauce. The cardamom and cumin spices were lost in the mix.
Chickpeas in star anise + date masala on grilled kale – This was the better of the two appetizers, with a more complex curry sauce that had a lovely hint of cinnamon. But the grilled kale was quite bitter and detracted from the dish.
Trio of chutneys – To accent the main dishes, I ordered the mint-mango chutney, the date-tamarind chutney and the “spicy” chutney. The flavours were very muted for these chutneys. Instead of adding that splash of vibrant flavour to the dishes, they just added to the muddled flavours. The “spicy” chutney was milder than a overripe tomato.
Wine marinated ‘lamb popsicles’ in fenugreek cream curry – This is the most popular dish on the menu and has been for years. And, yes, it was nearly as good as I remembered it. Tender lamb chops in a creamy, mildly spicy curry cream sauce with a layered and complex flavour profile. If you go to Vij’s, this is the dish to order.
In terms of price, Vij’s is definitely more expensive than your typical Indian restaurant (about $15 for a starter and $30 for a meat main dish). And, I wouldn’t mind paying those prices if the meal really satisfied my craving for the rich, complex and aromatic Indian cuisine that I love (along with that spicy afterglow). But the dishes, and the entire experience, simply left me feeling cold.
So, would I go back? Unfortunately, no. And as I walked away from Vij’s this evening, I couldn’t get the words of that famous Elvis Presley song out of my head. Vij, you’ve lost that loving feeling.
@flygyrll is a foodie who’s had the opportunity to travel to over 60 countries. Her passion for travel and food has afforded her a palate and appreciation for world cuisine. She now resides in Vancouver and is systematically working her way through the local food scene as an epicure and hobby blogger.