It never fails. From behind the divider that separates the kitchen from the cash at Guru’s Inspired Food Bar, I hear a succession of slapping sounds, and all I can think of is the piping hot, impeccably made naan that’s to touch down soon at my table. If I were a dog, I’d be wagging my tail.
During four recent visits, not everything has been as worthy of anticipation at this tiny, no-frills, Indian eatery and take-out counter, which opened last fall in Hintonburg. But along with that fantastic, garlicky flatbread, I’ve sampled enough punchily flavoured and even intriguing fare that I’ll continue popping by for quick, casual meals, despite a few duds and minimal ambience.
Located where the Wellington Sandwich Shop — a Hintonburg fixture for almost three decades — had been, Guru’s seats less than 20 at spartan wooden tables amid green and yellow walls, and doles out food in takeout containers, on disposable plates, or wrapped in tin foil.
The menu, which is more geared to giving each customer a plate of food rather than encouraging family-style sharing, is surprisingly large and interesting. While there are practical limitations — proteins here are limited to chicken, shrimp, fish, eggs, tofu and paneer (Indian cheese) — the menu includes not just familiar favourites such as butter chicken and tandoori shrimp, but also wraps and pastas drawing on Indian flavours, plus a few Indo-Chinese Hakka dishes.
While Ottawa doesn’t yet have a restaurant that serves a wide range of that interesting hybrid fare — Toronto, I observe with frustration, does — Guru’s is one of a handful of Indian eateries in town that offers a few Hakka dishes. At Guru’s, I’ve had the best Hakka noodles that I’ve tasted in Ottawa. They were properly textured, captivatingly flavoured with a hot-and-sour-and salty mix of soy, ginger and Indian spices, and dotted with tender shrimp or chunks of chicken.
Spicing here can be brusque and significant, as it was with a serving of tandoori shrimp that set my mouth jangling, but in a good way. Less potently flavoured, but very enjoyable, was a kebab of haryali chicken, still moist thanks to its yogurt marinade. The kitchen here also treats paneer with the same green, savoury sauce.