EatVancouver | Featuring Vikram Vij and Vij's restaurant
When you think of Indian food, it tends to be about butter chicken, chicken curry, Tandoori chicken... so on and so forth.
That's not the case with Vij's.
What Vikram Vij has done amongst his three restaurants spread across Vancouver and in the Lower Mainland, is the opposite of the generic belief of what Indian restaurants serve.
Photo by BeVancouver | Reuben Dongalen Jr.
Vikram Vij is a world-renowned restauranter and chef that has also appeared as a Dragon on CBC's Dragon's Den. What he is known for is pushing the envelope on Indian food, changing what most know about the cuisine.
"What we've done is put ourselves on the plate," said Vikram. "We are very true to the tradition of cooking. So roasting of the spices; onion, ginger, garlic, you know, from scratch. Each dish is created for each specific meat or vegetable. So, it's not like we have a pot of curry sitting there and we just mix it together."
So, when you come to Vij's, it's an entirely different experience.
"I think it's a Vij's cuisine, not just Indian cuisine," he said. "You come to Vij's house... The restaurant is not called Taj Mahal, or Cuisine of India, it's called Vij's, which means you're in my house, and that's what I've cooked... I don't care where it came from, what the inspiration was, as long as there was love and passion cooked into that dish. That's what we are so known for and famous for... (the) idea of 'you come to my house, I'm going to take care of you.'"
It's not an Indian buffet, nor is it a place focused on the classic combinations of chicken curry, rice, and naan... instead, Vikram and his partner, Meeru Dhalwala, a Vancouver restaurant legend in her own right, knew they had to be different to find success.
"Initially when we opened the restaurant, there were so many other great Indian restaurants, and there are still so many great Indian restaurants that do a fantastic job. I needed to differentiate myself from them, because if I kept the same menu, then people would have compared and said 'is his chicken curry better than that guy's chicken curry?' What I wanted to do was create our own niche," he said. "...We realized people were looking for something different... people didn't want to have the same Indian food experience."
With many great Indian restaurants in Vancouver and in the region, to put a twist on the traditional dishes was unheard of. With that being said, Vikram needed a plethora of knowledge and skills to turn a traditional experience into something more modern.
"Born and grown up in India, but lived in North America, I learned those techniques of french cooking, Italian cooking, of modern self," he said. "So the Lamb popsicles, the dish I'm going to show you, is a very classic example of who we are as human beings. The dishes are not meant to be traditional, the dishes are meant to be modern Indian food."
The lamb popsicles are essentially a rack of lamb prepared on a special sauce that can only be heated up and enjoyed once. The lamb is marinated, tenderized, and then placed over top the sauce that is a combination of classic Indian spices, cream, lemon juice... all very simple ingredients.
What simplicity does for Vij's, is show the love behind their cooking. That's why the food is so delicious, and that's why people come back for it time and time again.
"The whole experience is the service, the love, the wine pairing, the cocktail pairing, and everything else that goes really well with the dishes itself," he said. "As long as you and I are happy with the dish, and we feel like 'yeah, it's tasty, it's flavourful,' that's all that matters... that's what we did for the restaurant."
During these tough times with the pandemic, Vij's was one of the mainstays for takeout, and is now open while following all safety precautions from socially-distanced tables and seating arrangements, sanitizer, gloves and masks, etc.