Guu Izakaya (Toronto)

I’ve now dined with the lovely Andrea from High/Low Food/Drink in three different cities – San Francisco (when we first met at the Foodbuzz Festival), New York (where she lives now) and now Toronto (her home town).  The stars aligned to make her visit to Toronto coincide with Conor’s and we planned this meal by email quite a while ago (we’re like that!).  Andrea took it upon herself to suggest some restaurants and when I saw Guu Izakaya listed, I knew that was the place!

Andrea, Conor and me.

Guu opened to a lot of hype back in the winter, an outpost of the original Vancouver locations.  Even though it looked amazing and despite all the hype, I hadn’t been yet because to be honest, standing in line for 2 hours in the middle of a Toronto winter isn’t my idea of a great time.  In the warmer months, that wait might be less painful, but Andrea had other ideas.  We were instructed to arrive as close to 4.30 as we could (we were meeting on a Monday so the lineups would be less intense than later in the week) so that we would be first (or close to it) in line.  Andrea had also arranged with the very friendly and accommodating management to be allowed inside before service began to take photos before the craziness of dinner service ensued! It was great to get in there because once servica has begun, it’s a hive of activity and it’s not easy to get pictures without being in someone’s way!

The place is decorated with vintage Japanese advertisement posters:

Once we had all the photos we wanted and had had a good look around, we headed out to take our place at the front of the queue.  Upon entering (each party is summonsed individually to enter) we were welcomed with a loud chorus of sing-song Japanese greetings from the staff which continues all through the evening as people come and go. It’s very vibrant and full of positive, happy energy.

We sat on the small patio, mainly because we wanted to be able to chat (not so easy inside, it’s pretty noisy) and, of course, the lighting out there is so beautiful in the early evening for taking pictures of the elegant food.

Ok, down to business. Drinks were required.

Andrea could not go past the “Berry Sakegria” ($6.80) with sake, strawberry, raspberry, apple, orange, pear, lemon, lime etc (yes, the menu said “etc” and this turned out to be black peppercorns!).  It was beautiful and Andrea said it tasted just like regular sangria:

(see the peppercorn lingering there on top?)

Conor and I went for the “NAMA Lemon Sawa” (Fresh Lemon+Vodka+Soda) and “NAMA Gra Sawa” (Fresh Grapefruit+Vodka+Soda) – both $5.50 – which had the best presentation of a drink I think I have seen:

Yup – you got to make your own!

Both delicious and refreshing on a warm summer’s night but fairly low on the alcohol to juice ratio.

We had a tough time deciding on the menu items.  It’s basically “small plates” so it’s good to go with a group to have the opportunity to taste many different dishes.  We probably ordered a little too much – some of the items are larger than others – but on average you are looking at 2-3 plates per person.  Most of the dishes we ordered were the perfect amount when split in three – gave you enough of a taste without it being too much. So without further ado:

“KAKUNI” Sweet miso braised pork belly with boiled egg $6.50

This was really unusual – the pork belly was moist and tasty and the egg, though a bit oddly discoloured from the miso, was an interesting addition.  The spicy wasabi added a nice kick without being too overpowering.  Lots of salt and sweet in there.

“TOFU SALAD” Tofu and garlic sauteed mushrooms on greens with crispy wonton chips 5.80

A lovely fresh salad with a good range of textures.  A perfect palate cleanser between some of the other stronger-tasting dishes.  Not normally a tofu fan unless it’s deep-fried but I really enjoyed this and would definitely order it again.  I loved the crunch of the wonton chips in contrast to the tofu and the mushrooms!

“KABOCHA KOROKKE” Deep fried kabocha pumpkin croquette with a boiled egg inside $4.50

Yes more eggs!  I was a bit wary of this, sounded a little too much like a weird scotch egg for my liking but I was really surprised.  There was a nice thick layer of the pumpkin surrounding the egg and the mayo drizzle added that bit of moistness that the dish needed.  REALLY enjoyed this one, perhaps because I didn’t know what to expect.  My Petits Chefs might call this one “surprising.”

“EBIMAYO” Deep fried prawn in crispy batter with spicy mayo $7.80

Not the most exciting of choices but as it’s such a relatively simple dish, it’s a good one to order to see how well they do with it.  The prawns were juicy and perfectly cooked inside the crispy batter which was just the right amount.  The spicy mayo was a nice touch but I personally thought it didn’t really need that much – perhaps a small bowl for dipping?  We all loved the very 1970s prawn chip garnish and had a most excellent discussion about how wonderfully fake those things are, how great they are to cook and how fun it is to eat them by letting them melt on your tongue. But I digress…

“TAKOYAKI” Deep fried puffed octopus balls served with TONKATSU sauce and mustard mayo $5.00

I had never had these before and quite enjoyed them.  I found the octopus to be a little chewey on the inside but the flavour was certainly there.  Plus, the presentation was gorgeous:

Sweet Potato Fries with a Honey/Mustard Dipping Sauce (didn’t get the price on these – a daily special):

These might just be the longest fries ever. They were perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside which is hard with sweet potato fries.  The honey/mustard dip was a refreshing change from mayo or ketchup.  Could have eaten a lot more of these.

“KINOKO CHEESE BIBIMBAP” Rice, garlic sauteed mushrooms and cheese with seaweed sauce $8.30

Ok this might just be my favourite dish of the evening. Basically a risotto gone Asian with the addition of the seaweed. I absolutely loved this!  they mixed it at your table:

Another surprise that the cheese worked with the seaweed flavour – was not expecting it to marry so well. WOW!

“KAKIMAYO” Grilled oysters with spinach, garlic mayo and cheese on the top. $6.80

I didn’t eat this (not a fan of oysters) but Andrea had been eyeing them from online reviews for a while. Both ladies enjoyed this dish.

“SALMON NATTO YUKKE” Chopped salmon sashimi with seven friends (Natto, shibazuke, takuan, wonton chips, garlic chips, green onion and raw egg yolk). Mix them up and wrap it in NORI seaweed. $7.80

Another gorgeous dish mixed at the table:

Since I don’t eat salmon (raw or cooked), this was another one I sat out. But it was consumed with great pleasure by my dining companions. I just love the freshness of the dishes they mix and finish for you right at the table. And it was served with “friends” – love that!

Throughout the meal, we ordered more drinks. Just FYI, the “big mug” of Sapporo is not the tall elegant glass I was expecting it to be. It is, in fact, a “big mug”:

(as in, bigger than my head!!!) No, I did not finish this.

Andrea went for the more elegant “Bamboo” (Melon Liqueur+White Wine+Lychee Juice+Soda) – $5.50:

After a little break, we decided we *had* to look at the dessert menu.  And ended up ordering the almond tofu – described on the menu as “ultra creamy almond tofu in the world”($3.50).  We did not order the “big boy” size, based on the “big” beer experience…

This was, indeed, ultra creamy. I am not a tofu fan and almond is not my flavouring of choice in desserts but this, I was sold on.  It was like a panna cotta in its consistency and very light and refreshing. A perfect way to end the meal.

Well, nearly.

How could we *not* order the “BANANA TEMPURA” – Deep fried banana tempura with coconut icecream and dressed with chocolate and mango sauce – $5.80?

Drizzled with mango and chocolate coulis, this was extraordinarily decadent and light at the same time.  The coconut icecream was very refreshing and the batter very thin so it’s not like the “fritters” you might remember from your childhood.

Conclusion? This is an amazing place to come with a group of people.  If you were alone or just with one other person, you wouldn’t get to have the full eating experience (and even with three, we barely scraped the surface of the extensive menu).  Inside the restaurant, it’s communal tables so you have to be comfortable with sitting with strangers – I love that style of eating but I know it’s not for everybody.  On the patio, you have a table to yourselves, so no sharing, but those seats are coveted in the warmer months so it will pay to get there early.  There is a 2 hour limit on tables to eliminate huge queues and when we left around 8pm, the lineup was not too bad. But it was Monday night after all.

I would definitely go here again – there’s so much more I would like to try!  And next time I would sit inside for the full Guu experience!

Guu Izakaya
398 Church Street,
(416) 977-0999

Guu Izakaya on Urbanspoon

40 thoughts on “Guu Izakaya (Toronto)”

  1. Now I’m really sorry you girls didn’t bring me along!

    I cannot abide by any place where you have to wait like that: simply not worth it to me. (Nothing against the restaurant; just a victim of its own success.) So good for you getting special treatment.

    Sounds, and looks, fantastic.

  2. I’ve been wanting to go for months but the whole line thing puts me off. I’ll just have to bite the bullet and go!

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  4. I’m so glad you got to try all those different dishes! Yes you’re right, it is much better going in a large group. I went to Guu twice and each time with only one other person, so the second time I made sure I order something new =) Great post Mardi.

  5. A super fun meetup and the food at this place sounds terrific! The banana tempura with mango sauce looks so tempting!

  6. I’ve been holding off on my first Guu visit, but this makes me want to go there immediately. LOVE the shot of the octopus balls! Great post; you’ve convinced me to make the trip.

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  8. hello there 🙂
    stumble upon your blog! lovely blog you have here. Found you on foodbuzz 🙂 Will be dropping by more often! Feel free to save me on your blogroll 🙂 Happy summer!


  9. Lots of interesting dishes at this place, especially that kabocha croquette. I love anything with kabocha. Its sweet taste and starchy texture are just so unique.

  10. These pictures are stunning! This post makes me wish I was there! Each of the dishes have such vibrant colors. Oh and the cocktails! I especially like Andrea’s bamboo drink. Also, thank you for providing prices, it’s astonishing what great food you can get for reasonable prices.

  11. Dear Friend!
    Greetings/Bonjour du Japon!
    I’ve always been intrigued about what went for Japanese food abroad!
    Although what you have sampled is a good mixture of Japanese, Korean and Chinese food, I reckon you can expect about the same in izakayas for “young” people in Japan!
    Good quantity. Prices tend to be the same.
    The takoyaki look great, as well as the sweet potato fries!
    The kakimayo is a bit of fusion, and mayo seems to be everywhere! LOL
    I harbour doubts about putting Japanese sake in a coktail, though.
    By the way, “sawa” means “sour”!LOL
    Thanks for sharing!
    Great pics and intelligent report!
    The old geezer will come back!
    Best regards,

  12. what a fun dinner! while all the food looks terrific, i was most captured by the cocktails . . . might have to figure out how to make a few of those for summer evenings on the deck . . .

  13. Such a fun arvo/night, this place rocked it and the company was perfect 🙂

    I’ve had bibimbap since, and it did not live up to the magic. I hope Guu hasn’t ruined me for other bibimbap.

    I also cannot order a beer now without thinking of your big-as-your-head mug!

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