Lineup at Bhavan equals good food, great price

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

Vegetarian Heaven. For really great value order the Saravanaa special meal, a platter of curries, pickles and breads

Mia Stainsby

Jim and Tara Travis of Vancouver enjoy paper dosas served to them by chef Veera Pondy at Saravanaa Bhavan on West Broadway. Photograph by : Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun

Experience tells me to be wary of a lineup out a restaurant door and to enter fully aware that lineups mean one of two things: either you’ll find good food for a great price or you’ll eat 10 pounds of fuel food for the price of a bottle of Pepto Bismol.

At Saravanaa Bhavan, the lineup on weekends is for the good food. Not fantastic food mind you, but decent, very well-priced South Indian vegetarian food. The dosas (the melodramatic diva of South Indian dishes) are especially good and there are a lot to choose from. The baseball bat-sized crispy south Indian crepes, with a filling in the mid-portion are light, crispy and delicate — a meal for under $10.

Saravanaa Bhavan is part of an international chain of vegetarian South Chennai-based restaurants. (Chennai is the former city of Madrid, population 7.5 million.) The restaurant locations cover the globe, from India to Oman, Singapore, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, the U.S.A. and the U.K.; in Canada, there are two in Ontario and this is the first for B.C.

Part of the reason for the attractive prices is the owners haven’t sunk a lot into looks; it’s a bare-bones, brightly lit room. However, there’s no shortage of servers. They seem to be bent on good service but some need more training, or the system is flawed — the runners seem lost and a couple of times we saw our dishes go sailing by before the guy stopped in his tracks and looked perplexed, even with numbers on tables. Over here! we beckoned.

Going back to the dosa, I’ve gone about eating it by mauling with knife and fork and Roto-tilling my way through the gargantuan crispy crepe. Saravanaa manager Mano Jayaramen set me straight. (Did I sense him rolling his eyes at the other end of the phone?) “Take a bit in your hand, then dip in chutney,” he says, “then in sambar. It comes with two, three chutneys but all have to go with sambar.”

So, get that? Break off a piece, dip, dip, dip and eat. The sambar is a soupy lentil dip.

As well as dosa, there are other typically South Indian dishes — vada (like lenti doughnuts) and idli (steamed rice and lentil dumplings). Utthappam is more like a dense pancake with various toppings. The idli are often served in hospitals because they are healthy, Jayaramen says.

But I’m fixated on dosas. In India, they’re breakfast. “We eat a lot,” Jayaramen laughs.

For really great value, order the “Saravanaa special meal,” a platter of curries and pickles and breads. For $8.95, it’s worth the wait in a line. A separate menu features some vegetarian dishes from Northern India, dishes we’re more accustomed to in Vancouver — aloo gobi, mutter paneer and the like.

In case you’re curious about the sign that says “HSB”, Jayaramen says that the “H” is for hotel, explaining that when the restaurants first opened, there was little distinction between “hotel” and “restaurant” in India. He adds with pride that in Delhi, Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi’s son Rahul stood in a queue to eat. Once recognized, he was offered a VIP queue-jump but he graciously opted to be democratic.

And if you’re wondering what the name of the restaurant is about, Saravanaa is one of Hindu god Shiva’s sons, a name often used in businesses. Bhavan can be translated as house or store.

– – –



Overall: Rating 3 1/2

Food: Rating 3 1/2

Ambience: Rating 2 1/2

Service: Rating 3

Price: $

955 West Broadway, 604-732-7700. Open for lunch and dinner, daily.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone. Restaurants are rated out of five stars.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008


Comments are closed.