Those of you who know me personally know that I'm not exactly a huge fan of vegetables. For me, vegetarian food has always been like ”I'm sure this is nice and all, but... where's the food?". Exceptions have been few and far between. But suddenly, while googling around the Internet ghetto, I came across this new veggie restaurant in Riga called Buddha. The fact that they focus on food from the Indian and Eastern region, and seem to have quite high ambitions in the kitchen, made me decide to skip the meat for once and give it a shot.
”everything about this restaurant speaks of class and ambition”
It's apparent that the owners of Buddha have gone all in in every department. Everything about this restaurant speaks of class and ambition. Everything from the logo design to the furniture and decorations looks great. The indoors part of the restaurant, which is in the basement beneath the Mai Tai club, looks classy and upscale with its nice mix of Western modernism and Eastern traditionalism. The terrace out front, with large sofas and lots of greenery, is an awesome place to just kick back and chill in the sun. However, the impression is ruined partly because the terrace is right next to the busy Raiņa bulvāris, although you can't really blame Buddha for all the engine noise.
As you'd might expect from a restaurant that seems to aim sky high, it is expensive. Despite its location, it's Old Town expensive. Most main courses will cost you around €12–€15, and even the simplest of starters pushes towards €10. The menu isn't very large, either. Today I counted 7 main courses, and it wouldn't hurt to have a slightly wider choice. The second thing you will notice is how small the portions are. If you're a guy of normal build, my estimate is that you'll need a three-course meal to be full. Add to this the fact that a 0.5 liter beer goes for €5, and you'll soon realize that this will not be a cheap evening out.
”buddha is proof that vegetarians are taken seriously”
So, it's expensive, I get it. But what do you actually get for your money? Well, for those of you who were vegetarians in the 80's and early 90's, when ordering vegetarian meant having a plate of chopped up iceberg lettuce with half a tomato on top, Buddha is proof that vegetarians are taken seriously in the 2000's. This is meat-free fine dining. You can have beautiful plates of falafel with tahini sauce and cous-cous, malai kofta with rice or fried paneer in yoghurt sauce, to name some of the main courses. The presentation of each dish is beautiful. I'm one of those people, though, who don't eat with my retina. All that matters is how the food lands in my stomach. After trying a number of Buddha's dishes, I'd say that the food is good, but not particularly memorable. It's a bit too mild for my taste and too anonymous to make any lasting impression. If the Buddha chefs would dare to go just a little bit wild with the spices, it would make a world of difference. Me and a friend tried the rajma (a summer special on the menu), and the waitress warned us that it would be ”very spicy”. Of course, in true Latvian tradition, this doesn't mean a thing. We took a bite each and just looked at each other and giggled.
”the food is good, but not particularly memorable”
I really commend Buddha for what they are doing. I think that they are filling a void in the Riga restaurant scene, and I also have a feeling that they are much appreciated for it. I also applaud the concept of serving Eastern food in a luxurious setting. However, the price/quantity ratio is just too off. They should either drastically increase the portion sizes, or reduce the prices. In total, I've been to Buddha with four of my friends, and I doubt that any of them are very eager to come back, mostly because of the prices.
Also, I mentioned that Raiņa bulvāris is a noisy street, and that Buddha is not to be blamed for this. However, the street noise is nothing compared to the insane music volume in the outdoors part of the restaurant. It's by far the worst volume level I've experienced at a restaurant, ever. Even though me and my friends were almost screaming at each other, every other sentence was either ”what!?” or ”say again!?”. I don't get it, it's just so unnecessary. My text about TV's and loud music in restaurants was written largely with Buddha in mind.
Buddha has definitely got a good thing going, but they should pause for a minute and think about whether deaf, rich people are the only guests they want to have in the future.