My Shanti by Vikram Vij
Since Craig is always taking me out to eat for the blog, I wanted to return the favour and celebrate his birthday at My Shanti restaurant, Vikram Vij’s South Surrey restaurant creation.
The majestic but homey interior features all sorts of fancy creative flourishes, from the fine silk sarees hanging from the ceiling to the largest hand-painted fabric tapestry outside of India, created by an Indian artist with some help from local villagers to represent the connection between our environment and the food we eat. I can’t do it justice with a photo, so I’d recommend going to see it (and feel it, it’s safe to touch) in person. We saw several people stopping to admire the craftsmanship during our visit.
Also be sure to check out the lounge with its bar, books, and lanterns, the patio complete with grape vines, DJ spinning tunes in the summer, and a couples swing where you can practice your Kama Sutra.
…Umm I mean sit and take in the romantic vibes.
We started with a couple reasonably priced beers, with local favourites Central City Brewing Company’s Beer League Lager ($6.50) and My Shanti’s revolving seasonal selection, which was Old Yale Brewing Co’s Himalayan Salted Caramel Porter ($7). I’m a big fan of the cheap, easy to drink Beer League Lager, but this is coming from a guy who grew up slugging back Lucky’s in Island hick-towns, so take my beer recommendations with a grain of salt.
Speaking of salt, the Himalayan Salted Caramel Porter was light on the salt, heavy on the caramel. A dark, rich beer this one’s perfect for beating the winter chill.
We were brought a courtesy amuse bouche, Indian style. These Gol Gappa shots (reg. $1.75 each) are meant to calm the stomach before the curry storm with a blend of cumin, mint and coriander. A thin and crispy pastry shell is partially filled with a chickpea and potato mixture, which you top up by pouring in the spiced tamarind mint shot.
The shells held up well to max filling, with enough liquid left in the shot glass to savour the refreshing yet complexly spiced mixture separately. Interestingly enough in India Gol Gappa is served on a banana leaf which is thrown on the ground for the cows to eat. Apparently they too find the flavour irresistible. Sustainable too!
Vikram’s Favourite Snack ($12) is a 10″ naan pizza topped with thick-sliced portobello mushroom and a creamy Korma cashew sauce then sprinkled with fresh chopped coriander. We opted in for the masala paneer topping ($2) and the cheesy, creamy result was sensory overload. Very mildly spiced, this dish will suit any palate, and the crispy naan beat any flatbread or thin crust pizza base I’ve had.
The theme at My Shanti is shared plates, and I’d say this one is good for two to four people. Despite being “personal size”, it’s a tad rich for more than two or three slices each.
When the beers ran dry I sprung for a Dawa Daru, listed on the menu as “medicinal alcohol”. With the current state of the world I figured I could use any boost to the ol’ immune system. In India many people refer to alcohol as their “medicine”, a kind of cure-all for whatever ails you. “Just give me my Dawa Daru, I’ll be fine” kind of thing. 2 oz of dark rum is the prescription here.
The other medicinal ingredient, gur syrup, is made from jaggery, an Indian rock sugar. When burnt a bit and added to the drink, it gives a molasses-like touch that blends well with the dark rum. The orange peel fit well also. Although locales aren’t listed for drinks, Dawa Daru would be a perfect fireside sipper for a cold Thar Desert night.
One thing I loved about My Shanti (and there’s a lot to love here) was the listing of which region each dish is inspired by or originated from. Each menu item is drawn from Vij’s travels in India, with the Roadside Chana Masala with Bhatura ($16.25) hailing from the dusty roadside stalls of Amritsar.
The bhatura was a wonder to behold, proudly puffed up and delicately browned, the buttery texture a pleasure to feel between the fingers and the teeth. The chana was as good as any; the gravy was rich, spicy but not tastebud-destroying, which came in handy for savouring the homemade ginger pickles it was laced with.
Craig chose Chicken Korma ($20.95) for the meat main, and boy did he pick a winner! The chicken was grilled and oh-so tender, with charcoal-ey flavour front-and-center in every bite. The garlic cashew cream sauce was similar to the one on the naan pizza but with some added kick and a distinct hit of lemon. Take the best barbecue chicken breasts you’ve ever had and then dunk them in the best Korma sauce you’ve tasted and imagine the results.
I’ve heard some Indian friends complain that My Shanti isn’t “real” enough for them, but the new twists and tweaks he’s put on the old traditions are an improvement in my books. This korma dish is a prime example of how you can appeal to Western palates without dumbing things down in the process. Revelatory.
We rounded off our meal with a side of cumin rice (.75 per cup, two cups pictured) and raita ($2). The raita is listed on the menu at $3 with pickled onions, but you can hold the onions and take a dollar off should you wish. I’m normally not a fan of Indian-style pickles, but after tasting the pickled ginger I wished we had been a bit more adventurous here.
The rice was absolute perfection, and really so was the entire meal. I’m honestly trying to find one fault with the evening and coming up empty handed. Maybe if I wanted to get really nit-picky I could point out that for a finer dining establishment they could offer cloth napkins. But they do fold their paper napkins in half for added “fancy”, so there’s that.
For Craig’s b-day My Shanti hooked us up with a lone Gulab Jamun. We were super stuffed (whoever said My Shanti’s portions are small must be in possession of a bottomless pit as a stomach) so the small treat was a perfect end to the evening. Be careful, they’re HOT!
If you go on any given Saturday, you will come face-to-face with the unstoppable force of nature that is Vikram Vij. Always “on”, he spent the evening going to all the tables greeting the guests, many by name, exchanging jokes and stories, some of which have made their way into this here post. Genuine, friendly and outgoing, Vij and his staff were a big part of the experience that we won’t soon forget. Thanks for an amazing evening guys!