One can’t plan for an evening dinner at Vij’s with any certainty. The restaurant doesn’t have a reservation policy – no exceptions. My requests to get one on the pretext that my daughter, Nurin, and I had travelled far or that our guest had to leave early were politely turned down. Vikram Vij himself sent me an email from India , which he was visiting, to decline my request.
This somewhat discouraged me and I decided to opt for a different Indian restaurant where we would still be happy to have a conversation with Mr. Bruno Freschi. But there was some sort of a calling from Vij’s - the world renowned restaurant. It had to be Vij’s and nothing else, I determined. My heart then was not set for any other other restaurant recommended for Indian food, although I did make and keep multiple reservations at two nearby restaurants on Broadview until the last minute, just in case Vij’s was full when we got there.
We were told the best chance to try and get into the restaurant for the first seating would be to arrive and queue up outside about 30 minutes before it flung its doors open at 5:30pm. All three of us (my dad, my daughter and myself) got to Vij’s about 35 minutes before the opening time. Vancouver has not been that warm this past winter and I was concerned about us standing in the line for that long. And moreover, one can’t be in the line up on behalf of multiple people who will be part of your group. Nurin was quite prepared to volunteer this while we would sit in the car.
There was no one at Vij’s upon our arrival, and we felt that 15 minutes in nearby stores would not affect us in any way. Chapters, the book store, was a little further away. The Aveda boutique is a few yards round the corner and one of Vancouver’s favourite chocolate chain stores, Purdy’s, is across the street from Aveda. A trip to both these two wonderful shops for a total of fifteen minutes, and not one minute more, might be a sign of disrespect - but the cold was biting. Good time-keeping was in order and any temptation for chocolates and the wonderful Aveda products had to be resisted.
No sales-pitch for our well-being from Aveda was our hope. But dark chocolate, with a minimum 70% cocoa was good for the heart, reminded my dad, a lover of chocolates. Yes, we bought some and quickly crossed over to Aveda. No sales-pitch was made. The staff probably knew we were there to linger.
Nervously we walked to Vij’s. Were we late for the first seating? Nearly so, I must admit. The queue was about fifteen people strong when we got back. A long periscope should have been attached to my head to clearly see what was happening around the bend from Aveda.
Never take a chance at Vij’s, even on Mondays. This is not for complacent people. If you arrive at the restaurant at the opening time you are most probably out of luck, and if you decide to show up a little bit later during the peak dinner time then your comfort zone for the next 60 to 90 minutes is the little lounge. Or you can make your way to the rather informal Vij’s sister restaurant next door.
Authentic Indian food lovers may talk about the hype that is associated with Vij’s. I had already heard and also read some negative comments earlier. But we had not come here for authenticity – my mum and I (?) can handle authenticity quite well – the easy kind I mean – curry and rice.
We were here to talk to Mr. Freschi in a nice environment and to experience the restaurant’s world class status. Vij’s did not fail us from start to finish on the ambience and any of the items that were brought to our table. It was all flawless and the food impeccable. It would have been worthy of a wait, if we had to. I would in future.
Waitresses went around with morsels of nans, cassava and samosas – complementary and so delicous that we asked for a special separate order of a couple of the items. Where was the oil in the fried stuff, we wondered? Was it “Bounty” napkins that had sucked everything up?
Each of us ordered a separate main dish and again these were absolutely delicious. The plates were wiped clean by each one of us.
But more than the food it was Mr. Freschi’s wisdom and humility that impressed and struck us the most, and made it a memorable evening. We became students in front of him as we heard him speak for almost two hours about the iconic Jamatkhana he worked on from 1980 until its opening five years later. But the conversation was not all about architecture. He shared personal stories and mentioned his trips to Boston and Paris for meetings related to the Jamatkhana. His extremely warm regard and respect for His Highness the Aga Khan was most touching to hear.
He has aspirations of one day particpating in the design of community and Imamat projects such as the proposed Aga Khan University in Arusha and the Burnaby Park project, as mentioned in his interview.
We wish him well for the fulfilment of his wishes. Mr. Freschi deserves the best - he is gifted intellectually and humble at the same time; he has an immense respect for Mawlana Hazar Imam and the Jamat; and he has designed a truly iconic Jamatkhana that stands just as proud today, as it did when it was opened almost twenty five years ago. The modern Ismaili community has inherited Jamatkhanas that are decades old. The Burnaby Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana, the first of its kind in North America, should be around for generations. Mr. Bruno Freschi has become a historical figure for the Jamat.
My father summed the evening by saying: “This was the best evening in my life”.
Thank you, Bruno, for making it so.