Canada’s Foodie of the Year, Deborah Son, recounts her grand prize trip to Vancouver to dine at the Top 50 Restaurants in Canada entrant of her choice. Son, who is from Winnipeg, chose Vij’s, the acclaimed Indian restaurant that ranked No. 1 in 2012 and No. 3 in 2013.
Story by Deborah Son
Vacay.ca Foodie of the Year
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — The excitement truly began to kick in when I gazed outside the window from the airplane and set my eyes upon beautiful snow-peaked mountains. Slivers of sparkly blue water cascaded down the peaks and collected into small crystalline pools within the valleys. The sun was shining brightly across the perfect blue horizon while thin wisps of white cirrus clouds streaked occasionally across the sky. Mesmerized by the natural beauty of British Columbia, I stared in awe for as long as my eyes would allow.
The Loden Hotel
My four-night stay at the beautiful Loden Hotel was accompanied by exceptional service and friendliness. Everyone that I met was approachable and helpful, and I would begin most mornings chatting with employees in the lobby about the beautiful city. My personal list of things to do frantically multiplied with each passing day with new restaurants to taste, bakeries to try, parks to explore, events to visit, and streets to discover on recommendation from individuals at the hotel. Fortunately, the Loden’s complimentary car was able to bring us to many of these destinations in the downtown area.
The hotel itself is grand; everything about the Loden emanates luxury. Recently named the No. 9 best hotel in Canada by U.S. News & World Report magazine, the Loden is a gorgeous building on a quiet street a few blocks from the heart of downtown. Aside from the gorgeous modern décor and the breathtaking view of the mountains and ocean from my suite, I enjoyed the beds the most. They were the definition of comfort. Every night I imagined I was falling asleep on a cloud and every morning I woke up to the pleasant warm touch of the sun peaking through the windows. Luckily, my trip coincided with the warm streak that Vancouver was experiencing this summer. Each day was pleasantly warm and sunny.
My mom and I arrived at Vij’s around 4:30 pm, a solid hour before the restaurant would be open. We were surprised at the group of people already patiently waiting outside, chatting to one another and sipping cold drinks from Vij’s Rangoli next door. After sitting for about an hour and having a pleasant chat with Tricia Edgar, a columnist for Vacay.ca, I found myself shaking the hands of chef Vikram Vij and being ushered into the restaurant.
Vij’s is the perfect name; when the restaurant opens its doors, you know that it is his. The chef was personally greeting every customer at the door and even leading some to their tables. I was amazed to learn later on throughout the night that Vij will also check on every table himself, several times, to ensure that his customers are satisfied and happy. Experiencing this type of service was a first for me, and I am sure that this is a rarity in most restaurants where diners will not be able to interact with the people responsible for their food.
Warm cups of sweet chai tea, complimentary to all diners, were promptly brought to every table within moments of sitting down. Several plates of delicious appetizers then began to float around the restaurant, teasing guests with a small taste of what was to come. Our attention was brought to the wine menu by our server and soon after, two enormous glasses of Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Malbec were placed in front of us.
We began our Indian-fusion meal with beets-greens-ginger-garlic bites topped with strained yogurt and candied walnuts. To be completely honest and candid, this was one of the most amazing dishes I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. The bites were an impeccable combination of sweet and savoury flavours with varying physical textures that became more delicious as we finished the plate. Next, two beautifully presented spoons of local pork belly with an apple mint chutney arrived at our table. For entrees, we ordered the organic chicken breast and thigh in a clove, cardamom, and yogurt curry with bell peppers and shallots as well as the BC spot prawns in coconut and fenugreek masala with wheat berry pilaf. I was surprised by the fiery heat in both dishes and thoroughly enjoyed the complex combinations of Indian spices. Although the dishes were extremely flavourful on their own, they were elevated by the accompaniment of warm and chewy naan bread to soak up the curry. For dessert, we ordered the sweet rice pudding, topped with edible silver leaf for some added embellishment. It was deliciously rich and creamy, disappearing within seconds.
Content and satisfied with our experience at Vij’s, my mom and I were prepared to leave the restaurant when our server brought over two glasses of Moet + Chandon champagne. Chilled and bubbly, the sweet champagne was the perfect end to our evening. Vij was a gracious host who made sure that our time at his restaurant was memorable.
Overall, I would like to thank Vacay.ca for providing me with this exceptional opportunity to travel to Vancouver. Special thanks to Managing EditorAdrian Brijbassi for communicating with me and organizing my trip, the Loden Hotel for the excellent accommodations, and to chef Vikram Vij for the excellent meal.
More About the Top 50 Restaurants in Canada
The Canadian public teamed with 34 of the nation’s top food experts to provide the most definitive resource to fine dining in the country ever published. Vacay.ca revealed the 2013 list via a video series published on May 1 that named five restaurants at a time. View all segments here:
Restaurants 1-5: Joe Beef, Langdon Hall, Vij’s, Atelier and CHARCUT are featured
Restaurants 6-10: See the video covering Toronto’s favourite and others
Restaurants 11-15: See the video covering 5 great chefs
Restaurants 16-20: See the video covering the 2013 People’s Choice winner
Restaurants 21-25: See the video featuring Araxi in Whistler, B.C.
Restaurants 26-30: See the video showing Brooklyn Warehouse in Halifax
Restaurants 31-35: See the video featuring Momofuku in Toronto
Restaurants 36-40: See the video and read about the top restaurant in New Brunswick
Restaurants 41-45: See the video for these restaurants
Restaurants 46-50: See the video covering the beginning of the countdown
Runner-up restaurants 51-100 were also named. They can be found by scrolling down on the Top 50 Restaurants webpage.
More About Vij’s
Chefs/Owners: Vikram Vij, Meeru Dhalwala
Telephone: 604-736-6664. Twitter: @Vijs_restaurant
2013 Vacay.ca Rank: 3; 2012 Vacay.ca Rank: 1
Price range: $24-$29.50 for main courses.
You Must Order: The famous lamb popsicles, which are a rack of lamb served with curry and meant for eating with your hands using the rib bone as a stick. ($28)
Need to Know … from Judge Renée Suen of Toronto Life: Unquestionably an institution that is quintessentially Canadian in ideology, hospitality, embrace of ingredients and sensibility. The cuisine is refined, yet highly approachable. Musts: lamb popsicle or, even better, the curry goat, and the complimentary chai.
Ontario Regional Chair Rebecca LeHeup of Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance says: Hospitality at it’s finest. Chef Vij is often onsite greeting guests at the door. Waiting for your table is a treat as staff bring around pakoras, samosas and other bites in their lounge. The room seems to be constantly busy yet you feel like you are in your own little world once your meal arrives- this is hands down the best Indian food I’ve ever had!
More About the Loden Hotel
Location: 1177 Melville Street, Vancouver, BC
Reservations: Telephone 877-225-6336 (toll free) or book online
Room Rates: Nightly rates in the summer start at around $299, depending on the date of arrival.
Vacay.ca Coverage of the Loden Hotel: Read “Loden Hotel has Vancouver Covered” by West Coast Sports Editor Miguel Strother.