Siddhartha's Indian Kitchen
If you're looking for great Indian food in Vancouver, BC, consider Siddhartha's Indian Kitchen on Commercial Drive. Commercial Drive is one of Vancouver's most vibrant neighbourhoods, bringing together artists, hippies, political activists, hipsters and yuppies in its homes, shops, and restaurants. It's a magnet for foodies from all over the city, as well as for out of town vacationers. Ethiopian, Japanese, Jamaican, Mexican and Indian restaurants line what locals refer to as "The Drive". And even in this vibrant corner of Vancouver, Siddhartha's Indian Kitchen stands out with a massive mural painted on its side and a menu of delicous Indian food.
The golden sign that reads "Siddartha The Indian Kitchen" shouts India! with glitz and glamour like you'd see at a wedding. Past the sign you enter a rectangular room with simple tables and chairs. The tables by the windows have elegant "tea-party" chairs, and all of the tables are adorned with beautiful lotus-shaped candle holders. This is a fantastic touch. The candle holders complement the dark tables, and also represent India's national flower. The lotus flower symbolizes divinity, fertility, wealth, knowledge and enlightenment. It seems only appropriate then that the VanEats boys would name their dining package Siddartha's Nirvana, since nirvana is often characterized as bodhi, a concept translated most commonly into English as 'enlightenment'. It probably wasn't really the reason why, with more focus on the food awakening the senses or a blissful state of mind, but it all adds up. On that note, let's talk about the food and the dining experience.
Typically when I eat at Indian restaurants I prefer a nice cold Kingfisher, a glass of white wine, or maybe a mango lassi. But this time around I opted for Chai.
I loved the ceramic mugs they were served in as they fit perfectly in my hand and warmed them up after the chilly and rainy spring bike ride I had beforehand. The chai itself was nothing special, and a little disappointing as it was unsweetened and a little cold the first time they served it to us. They also didn't have soy milk which was problematic for my friend and probably so for many of the past and future patrons. One might think that Indian food would not be a good idea for someone who is lactose intolerant but you'd be surprised at how many dishes are made without dairy, such as pakoras, samosas, biryani, and many things from the tandoor. It would be nice though to still have the option to drink Chai with everyone else, especially since the next time they served us some it was freshly made, steaming hot and slightly sweetened. One of my friends drank at at least three cups of it.
After quite some time, and a fair amount of Chai, the first three courses arrived.
It was a unique presentation for an Indian restaurant as there was minimal sauce and even some leafy greens. We were a little confused at the fact that we all only received one piece of each item. For one course to consist of one scallop, another one a single chicken chunk and yet another course just one pakora, is a little bit ridiculous. If that's how you define a course, then most of my meals are double digit courses. Not only that, but it differed greatly from what we saw in the video, the images on the VanEats Facebook page and in other blog posts, where there were at least two or three of each. In fact, it actually states scallops, and tender chicken pieces in plural on the package description.
Siddhartha's Indian Kitchen course one: Pakora.
Batter fried marinated mixed veggies served with a cilantro, cardamom and green chilly dip.
Pakoras are typically only made with one or two ingredients but occasionally you'll find a good batch that mixes it up and throws in the occasional cauliflower floret, some spinach, or eggplant. Siddartha's vegetable pakora was on the simple side and was basically your tuberous friend, the potato, deep fried; like a french fry sort of, but better. The pakora had a nice texture, a moderate amount of spices and was freshly made, but it fell second to the dipping sauce for sure. I would put that sauce on everything that needed a little more kick to it. It was gentle going in but definitely left some fire lingering in your mouth after you finished chewing. It was okay that there was only one pakora on our plates, as the chef surprised our table with a complimentary plate of pakora while we wait for the first three courses. It was time for something else.
Siddhartha's Indian Kitchen course two: Chicken Tikka Masala.
A tender chicken piece marinated in yogurt and spices cooked in a tandoori oven.
Chicken Tikka Masala is always something I look forward to when eating Indian. The fact that it isn't coated in curry is refreshing and makes you feel like you've made a healthier choice. I was pleasantly surprised with there version of it as the spices were well done and coated the chunk of chicken nicely. It was more so how the chicken was cooked until juicy and tender that made this dish stand out. There's no sauce to mask this dish so if you overcook the poultry there's no faking that you've made the dish poorly.
Siddhartha's Indian Kitchen course three: Mango Coconut Scallop.
Mango & Coconut Seared Scallops, EXCLUSIVE VANEATS.ca appetizer
Scallops aren't on typical Indian restaurant menus...for a reason. I appreciate the Chef's willingness to try something new and step outside the box to make "modern/fusion" Indian, while creating something exclusively for the VanEats package, but I think the idea was grander than the result. He had the right idea in using high quality, ocean-wise scallops from his Commercial Drive neighbour, The Daily Catch, but despite the base product being key in the success to the dish, it only goes so far. It held very little coconut or mango flavour and tasted like it looked, a little blob of a white fleshy mollusk. If it were accompanied by mango chunks and scallop friends, as shown in the video and promotional images, then it probably would've improved the "course" incredibly.
After finishing the three tiny first courses, I was eager to see how the could do a mini butter chicken and baigan bharta. And then it arrived.
Siddhartha's Indian Kitchen course four: Butter Chicken.
Boneless marinated chicken pieces cooked in a rich tomato cream sauce.
The tables turned at this point. No longer were we talking skimpy portions of simply satisfying food items, we were entrenched in a ramekin full of creamy, copper orange delight. What I saw, and what I ate were big chunks of voluptuous chicken swimming in a bowl of savory, spicy, edible lava. It wasn't spicy in the, "I need a tissue, my nose is running" manner, but in that it was made with fresh spices that could make a non-believer of butter chicken a believer. The chef also mentioned that all of his dishes were made "healthily" but I'm not sure how you can make a sauce like that healthy. Eaten alone, on rice, or on naan this dish was a hit with everyone at the table. Normally I dislike promoting a dish that is so common to West Coast Indian food eaters but it was pretty worth trying if you're already on that boat.
Siddhartha's Indian Kitchen course five: Baigan Bharta.
Smoked, roasted eggplant cooked with tomato, onion, cilantro, spices & a hint of lemon
This dish was not what I expected at all for an eggplant dish. I guess if you break down the name it actually does translate to "Eggplant Mash" so it should be no surprise that you could almost not tell that eggplant was in there; no chunks of it, all pureed. It didn't really feel like an Indian dish to me and it didn't feel as healthy as they claimed it to be. I find it hard to believe a dish that is made of eggplant and doesn't include oil, especially since most of the ones I saw online and in cookbooks all had it as an ingredient. That said, it was anything but insipid and kept me coming back for more and was a favorite of one of my friends. Eventually though the flavour became a bit much for my system to handle on it's own and it didn't taste that great on the naan and only sort of worked on the rice.
Siddhartha's Indian Ktichen course six: Naan.
Fresh baked, buttered naan with fresh onion & cilantro
First things first, since when is Naan considered a course? I guess white folks might eat bread and butter for a starter in their meals but Naan just seems like more of an accompaniment than something to eat on its own. It's whole purpose (in my eyes) is to cradle the curries and carry them to my mouth. This naan was less oniony, tomato-covered and cilantro flavoured then advertised. It was pretty basic and like the other dishes seems inconsistent among diners who had the package as some had it buttered and garlicky while others semi-sprinkled with the fore-mentioned ingredients. This naan was definitely nothing to call home about.
Siddhartha's Indian Kitchen course 7: Banarasi Kheer.
Rice pudding topped with pomegranate, raisins and mango syrup
Confused right? So was I. The Siddartha's Nirvana package includes Ras Malai not rice pudding! Alas, they apparently just ran out of it before it was time for our dessert. Considering they knew I was writing a review I was a little upset (it showed in my face) at the fact that it hindered my ability to write a full review in time for my deadline and I don't live in the neighbourhood so couldn't come back without making an extra effort. Regardless, the others had to have the ride pudding as well, and none of us were particularly thrilled. In fact, none of us actually ate them as we were so sick of rice at that point it was one of the last things we were craving. My friend did pack them up though to take to her sister as she didn't want them to go to waste, and we were left with a sweet tooth unsatisfied. Begrudgingly I had a few bites just to see how theirs stacked up to those I've had in the past. I skimmed the top of it, scooping up the toppings to eat with the rice. Had I not, it would've just tasted like rice with cream. Bland, boring, starchy. It needed cinnamon at the very least and it proved that you can't just make it look nice, it has to taste good too.
Course eight (the return visit): Ras Malai
A heavenly Indian delicacy in light milky syrup made from the purest form of cottage cheese with strawberry, mint and mango syrup.
Bill claimed that this dish was better than cheesecake. Being a cheesecake lover, I dismissed this statement as an over-exaggeration and a sales move. But you know what? It was actually really fantastic. I don't know if I'd go as far as saying it's better than cheesecake unless you've only been eating store bought cheesecake. It does have the same premise though as it is made out of cheese, is sweetened and embellished with syrup and fruit. This cheese though is not cream cheese, isn't laden with fat and won't leave you feeling 10lbs heavier. It's light, sweet and is complemented with mango syrup, the fresh mint leaves, and an artistically prepared strawberry. Not only was it enticing it was worth savoring bite after bite and best when eaten with a little bit of each flavor in every bite. My only complaint? I wanted more.
Overall the food at Siddartha's Kitchen was well done, it was no Vij's but that's a big comparison. I would go back there to explore more choices on their menu, but would wait for a day when I had a lot of time so as to not have the urge to go to the kitchen as ask them if they forgot my order. In other words, we were confused at how it could take so long, and the service staff that day seemed like they were new, or cautious, or maybe a little bit of both. Basically they need to work out a few kinks in how they run things and show a little bit more consistency in their dishes if they expect regulars. If I tell someone to go try something on your menu, I want it to be the same, or very similar, to what I tasted during my visit.
For a full set of photos in high resolution check out my gallery.
To buy your own package for only $16 click this link to the VanEats website.
For more information on the restaurant check out their site.