By Hattie Klotz
The journey from a warehouse on Lancaster Road in Ottawa’s east end to the Preston Street location of Kathã has been one of many thousands of kilometres, from the north, east and west of India, finally to the south. It’s also seen Indian food thrice reincarnated, each time just a little differently.
Chef-owner Sarath Teegavarapu started in February 2019 with NH44, offering classic curries and Indian street food. In October 2020 he moved to Preston Street and reopened as Vivaan, next to the Sala San Marco. At Vivaan, elements of street food appeared alongside more sophisticated plating and curries that included a shrimp coconut that was one for the ages. In the spring of 2023, Sarath decided it was time for the next iteration of his culinary journey and in early September he reopened as Kathã, which means storytelling in Sanskrit.
Sarath, who grew up in Hyderabad, and came to Ottawa 10 years ago to pursue a master’s degree in computer science, held down several part-time jobs in Indian restaurants while he was studying. “All the time, I was asking myself, ‘Why is this Indian food all the same?’ I knew I wanted to do something different.”
yone who loves food, so many of the memorable meals we have eaten have been enjoyed at home, with family. So many of the best recipes are passed down from generation to generation. And so it is at Kathã, a menu built from family recipes, enjoyed at home, across the generations. But these are not just Sarath’s family recipes, they are the collective effort of his team of chefs, sharing their Indian heritage in the kitchen at Kathã. The restaurant’s website proclaims, rather boldly, “Our philosophy is that food, like a good story, has the power to captivate, inspire and transport you to different worlds.” And at Kathã it does.
Kathã offers an eight-course tasting menu with wine pairings. The wines have been carefully chosen in collaboration with a sommelier at Buyers and Cellars. The night of my visit, they worked well with each course. I ate 10 dishes, each more superlative than the one before. One course appeared with two offerings at once and another—not really a course, I suppose —was an exquisite honeydew melon, fennel, cucumber and lime palate-cleanser sorbet. A miniature beef tartare featured a mild Kerala-spice flavour, not the slightly acidic gherkins and capers more usually associated with this classic European dish. A solid rectangle of perfectly rare steak arrived on a large puddle of horse gram sauce with yogurt and curry leaves. Horse gram is a protein-rich lentil that, in the magical hands of chefs at Kathã, transforms into a rich, creamy sauce with a fantastic feeling in your mouth.
It’s hard to choose a favourite among so many winners, but mine was a small piece of sea bass with crispy skin and vibrant orange, crunchy salty salmon roe on top. Floating on a soup of coconut milk and fish stock, dotted with chilli, curry leaf and coriander oils, it was heaven in a bowl. The chef who presented it at our table explained that it was his great-grandmother’s recipe from the Kerala region of southern India. And then a ring of cinnamon fried bread arrived. Akin to an elegant doughnut, crunchy with sugar and spices, bobbing like a life saver in a puddle of milk and ground pistachios, and decorated with deep pink rose petals, this was a winner too.
Sarath is working with a team who have poured their hearts and family culinary histories into the menu. Every three months they’ll do it all again, changing things up to keep contemporary Indian food at the forefront of Ottawa’s fine dining. A great reason to return time and again.
Kathã, 225 Preston Street
8-course tasting menu $100
Wine pairings $50