This izakaya was one of the firsts to appear in Toronto. Most people still don’t know what an izakaya is, so here it is: It’s typically a chill hang-out place for Japanese working class to have a drink and snacks after work. They destress, have some laughs and have some hard liquor to take the edge off. The snacks are obviously to provide some sustenance, and also so everyone don’t leave completely smashed. I’ve heard so many people complain that their dishes are too small. But of course they are! They’re meant to be snacks! Furthermore, you may think that the dishes are expensive, which is true to an extent. However what I learned from our trip to Japan, is that Guu use much better quality ingredients than you’d normally see at a typical Izakaya, which is the reason for the higher price point. That concludes my short spiel about Izakayas.
Nonetheless, everyone was raving about it, and told us it was amazing; so amazing that we’d have to go early to line up. This particular izakaya is very special to us, because it was tfung and my first date (going out to a restaurant anyway).
He drove me out from London for the weekend one Spring Friday. We planned to get to Toronto early afternoon, so we had some time to go shopping at Eaton’s Centre, and then line up early for Guu.
Since then, I’ve been to Guu 3 times more, twice with my other friends and once more with tfung. As a result, this post will be a compilation of most of the dishes I’ve had, and will be quite representative of the restaurant itself. I have yet to go to the Sakabar, so this will be for the original Guu Izakaya, located on Church.
I’ve tried all the tataki and carpaccios they’ve had to offer (other ones are maguro and beef), and these two are by far my favourite. The scallops are a little more on the soft side, and had that sweet and fresh seafood taste. Salmon is probably my ultimate favourite type of sashimi fish (like many other people), and so the salmon tataki was geared more to my own preference. The tataki and carpaccios in general are pretty standard, and the sauce is more on the sour side. It creates a appetizer to some of the more flavourful and succulent dishes to come. I thought that overall, the fish didn’t have a lot of fish flavour, which may be due to a lower grade of sashimi being used. But since it’s covered in sauce and served with green onions and garlic, it doesn’t make much sense to be buying the highest grade. I do like the tataki, and at around $7, it’s a pretty good appetizer. It’s definitely not a “must-have” at Guu though.
This dish is absolutely adorable. Even the name makes me smile. This is the Kabachi Korokke, which is a baked egg inside a pumpkin croquette. It is covered in thousand island-like mayo sauce, with the cute little wooden spoon sticking out of it. This makes for a very good dish to share. Due to the fact that most of the dishes at Guu are meat based, I like to order this for some carbs. The pumpkin provides some sugars to keep you full, and the egg is just a nice touch. It’s a pretty simple dish, nothing extravagant, but it’s definitely something I wouldn’t make at home, and to me that’s worth ordering. The pumpkin is piping hot, cooked thoroughly so that it is very soft. The egg is fully hard-boiled, so for those of you who prefer a golden yolk, this is not the dish for you. It might sound a little dry, but paired with the mayo sauce, it’s pretty good.
Now for the star of the restaurant, in my opinion. Every time I’ve been to Guu, I’ve ordered the Gindara. It is one of my favourite cooked-dishes in Japanese cuisine. As a result, tfung has learned how to make it, giving my wallet a nice break whenever I want to eat Gindara. Gindara is $11, (now the price has increased to $11.80). It is a pretty small piece of fish, so if you love black cod, I’d recommend getting one for yourself. If you don’t know what black cod is, or never had it, I recommend you getting it because it is absolutely delicious. There is no “fishy” taste. The texture is so soft and easy to break off, it’s what we call “cotton-like” when we describe the texture of a piece of fish. The sauce is of miso base, and is not too salty, with just enough sweetness. The only thing I have to complain about this dish is that it’s a little small, but only because everytime I order this I want to order another one! To put the price in perspective, I recently visited Origin and my friend ordered a slightly bigger piece of black cod for $30…Gindara is a definitely “must-have” at Guu.
I have to be honest and tell you that I was thoroughly disappointed by the Ebimayo. While the shrimp was fresh with that crunchy seafood texture, the batter was awful. It may be because there’s sauce on it, but if it’s served fresh, it shouldn’t become so soggy so quickly. The flavour of this was good, but I probably wouldn’t order it again.
Apart from the Gindara, I’d say the baked oysters would be the other “must-have” at Guu. I’ve only had better baked oysters at one other restaurant, but they use more of a mayo base, and there is no cheese in it. The oyster itself in the Kakimayo isn’t particularly large or juicy. It’s a pretty standard oyster, but the avocado, cheese and mushroom with it is absolutely genius. At $7.50 for the two oysters, I think it’s a pretty good deal. This was one of the highly recommended dishes that tfung’s brother had told him about on our first date, and to this day I still think it’s a good recommendation. It’s something that you usually don’t make at home, so it’s nice to get it here. The avocado is very much a paste consistency, and the baked cheese on top adds an interesting and different type of flavour to the whole.
I’ve had two desserts at Guu. One was the coconut icecream and matcha green tea cheesecake, and on another occasion, I had the yuzu cheesecake. The coconut icecream was good, nothing extraordinary. It had good coconut flavour but might be commercially produced. The green tea cheesecake completely disappointed me. There was not a lot of maccha taste, and I didn’t like the baked edges. It gave a “woody” taste that I do not enjoy in my desserts. Thankfully it wasn’t too sweet, and the cheese wasn’t too overpowering. The piece is small, so it’s not too difficult to finish.
On the other occasion, I had the yuzu cheesecake which was absolutely amazing. Maybe it’s due to my crazy obsession with yuzu, but I thought there was just enough of the citrus yuzu taste to off-balance the heaviness of the cheesecake. There wasn’t the baked crust as in the green tea cheesecake, and it was quite light overall, despite the fairly firm texture.
Other than the fact that most of their dishes are good, I thought that the atmosphere is super cute. It can be loud, so this is not a place for a romantic, intimate date. It is actually better for a group of friends to celebrate something, as they have a “birthday special” which is essentially 7 shots of some kind of liquor. They like to scream IRASSHAIMASE when you walk in (followed by something else that I couldn’t understand). They also like to shout out the orders so that everyone working knows what’s coming. To me, this makes me feel like everyone woking is on board to make sure your orders are done. In a way it eliminates the “missing orders” that can often happen at a restaurant like this, where customers may order more dishes later in the meal.
Overall, I love this place. This is by far my favourite izakaya in Toronto and Montreal. I’ve yet to try one that displays better quality ingredients and accuracy and consistency in flavour at other izakayas. Furthermore, it holds a dear sentiment to me, and that’s what makes me love it even more! The service is efficient and polite, as expected by the Japanese, making me feel like I’m really paying for something legitimate. Since the sakabar opened, the wait has been limited to just peak hours only, which is great. I highly recommend this restaurant, especially if you have never tried Izakayas in your life!
Atmosphere: loud, lively, friendly
Price: $20-40 (depending on how hungry you are)