Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala have been running Vij’s since September 1994. Our restaurant has stood out from other Indian Restaurants, because we do not serve what is typically expected. We enjoy combining spices from, say, Gujurat, with spices from Punjab. We avoid using a tandoor oven, since it’s already so commonplace elsewhere. Our food philosophy has always been to keep our spices and cooking techniques Indian—from all regions of India—while using meats, seafood and produce that are locally available. To this effect, we change our menu seasonally.
We do not take reservations, and the rationale behind this policy is personal and quite simple. In 1994, we were young, working hard, and loved to eat out at good restaurants on our night off, but found that many of the places we wished to dine at were prohibitively expensive. For our restaurant, we decided to cut out the overhead cost of taking reservations, and use that savings to keep our prices reasonable. As a result, we have a first-come, first-serve, no reservation policy. Everyone’s a VIP, as long as they love Indian food. While there is often a wait for a table, we make sure that people waiting in our lounge receive chai and hand-made, original, hors d’oeuvres. People can also order beer, wine, cocktails or our ginger-lemon drink. If you’re in a hurry, Vij’s is not the restaurant to choose. Come relaxed, and come with people whose company you enjoy.
Our younger restaurant next door, Rangoli, opened in February 2004, and serves as a playful companion to its elegant big sister. Our Vij’s menu is based on the premise that we are having a fancy dinner party and we’ve cooked all day for it, whereas at Rangoli, it’s more like we’re cooking dinner for our family, and you happen to drop by. We can’t tell you which restaurant is better because we’ve made sure that each restaurant has its own distinct personality. For example, when we purchase lamb, the rack goes to Vij’s, while the leg of the same lamb goes to Rangoli. The beef tenderloin goes to Vij’s, while the leg and shank go to Rangoli. As at Vij’s, the meats and poultry served at Rangoli are hormone and antibiotic-free. So, if you’re in the mood for a stewed curry, it’s Rangoli, and if you’re in the mood for a fancy meat curry, it’s Vij’s. Incidentally, both places have plenty of vegetarian options, and a few vegan ones.
The focus on wine has been an important part of the experience at Vij’s. Vikram is a certified sommelier, and our wine director, Mike Bernardo, is passionate about pairing wines with our food. Even without the use of red chillies, our curries can be quite complex and layered, making it confusing for some to pair wines with them. Mike finds that youthful, fresh and crisp white wines, with not too much oak, work well with Indian food. As for reds, medium-bodied, low-tannin selections are ideal. Vikram agrees with this general philosophy, but he personally enjoys bigger and bolder wines that are sometimes difficult to pair with spicy foods. Nevertheless, it can be done, and when done well, it’s wondrous. So, let us know your preferences, and we’ll help you choose from our general and specialty wine lists. We also serve local, unfiltered and unpasteurized beer, and make our own original cocktails.
We have been selling packaged versions of our curries at Rangoli’s market since it opened in 2004. There are 15 curries available, each representing a favourite recipe from one of our menus. We have always cooked these in the Rangoli kitchen; initially, we thought that we would only have to supply our own market. However, local retailers have started selling the curries, and demand has been too great for our modest restaurant kitchen to keep up with. As of summer 2010, we are moving into new production headquarters in Cloverdale, BC. The same Indian hands will be making the curries in Cloverdale, but we’ll have a bigger and better cooking space, bigger pots and some machines helping us out with the packaging process. Look for an expanded roster of retail venues for these products.
In 2007, we published our first cookbook, titled “Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine.” The cookbook was all about Vij’s—how we started it and our original recipes. This cookbook won the 2007 Cuisine Canada Gold Award for Cookbook of the Year. It also won the Cordon D’Or Gold Ribbon for International Cookbook. In September 2010, we published our second cookbook, titled “Vij’s at Home: Relax, Honey.” This book is about our family and the Indian meals we eat at home. In addition to our profession, food plays a big role at home in terms of how we relax, spend time together and eat healthy meals with busy schedules. As the subtitle on the cover says, this book encapsulates the love and ease of Indian cooking.