After hearing all about the yelling and long line-ups outside the restaurant that start at 5:00pm for dinner, I finally decided I needed to give Guu Izakaya a try. After all, long line-ups usually mean a good experience and great food!
Located at 398 Church Street, just a little north of Gerrard Street East, the standalone restaurant has a front patio right in front of it. There’s also parking right next to it, which is great considering this is downtown Toronto. The actual entrance to the restaurant is just off to the side where there are two wooden doors. Now, normally in any other restaurant, you are quietly led to your table, but at Guu, I was surprised by being greeted by the entire restaurant. Every waiter and kitchen staff will shout out a greeting in Japanese as you are led to your table.
Guu is an izakaya, which according to their website, is a traditional Japanese tapas. It’s a casual place for people to gather to share drinks and food, as well as to socialize. You can definitely get the sense of this culture since the tables are long communal tables incorporating an open kitchen. It is also very loud and great for friends to laugh over drinks.
As an izakaya, Guu doesn’t serve your regular sashimi and sushi. In fact, there are no rolls or sushi on the menu! There are instead what I’d like to call “snacks” and appetizers to share, including many cold dishes, deep fried items, grilled fish and meat, and some more substantial rice and noodle bowls. I was a little confused by how the whole concept worked, and found out it is best to order in rounds since the table space is so small.
So, that being said, our party (including Natalie, my other Campus Correspondent, and our other good friend Emily) started off with cold dishes and some drinks. I was a little overwhelmed by unfamiliar names of things on the menu, so I instantly gravitated towards the seaweed salad. As I have said before, this is not your typical menu; there is no miso soup! Back to the salad: needless to say, it was great. There was a lot of seaweed on top of fresh mixed greens and quite large, but definitely good for sharing. I also enjoyed a great cocktail that had cranberry juice and vodka, called Geisha. Natalie had an interesting bottled Japanese soda where you poke a marble into the opening. Emily had the Bamboo, which is a cocktail that has some lychee flavour to it; a great drink!
We then had some sashimi. Again this is not typical sashimi, since this stuff was seared on the outside and had dressings of mayo, ponzu, some wasabi and garlic chips. We ordered 3 types: Maguro Tataki (tuna), Salmon Tataki and Gyu Carpaccio (beef). I was a little nervous about beef sashimi, but it ended up being excellent.
Next, we moved onto the grilled and deep fried items on the menu. We had the Kabocha Korokke, which is essentially a ball of deep fried pumpkin with a hardboiled egg inside, drizzled with some special house sauce. This was absolutely delicious! I normally don’t even like pumpkin, but this I loved. It was, however, a little hard to share this because cutting up the pumpkin was a little messy.
The Okonomiyaki was equally good. It’s basically a Japanese pancake, and worth trying. We also had the Ikapiri, which is deep fried calamari with spicy ketchup, and I wasn’t exactly impressed by it. I probably like plain deep fried calamari better actually. I am pleased to say that the grilled black cod with miso was amazing; I just absolutely love black cod! (You’ve probably established that in my last restaurant review of Koko! Share Bar.)
After all of these dishes, we finally moved onto the carbs. We tried a pork ramen and the Kinoko Bibimbap. The pork ramen was very good and had tons of flavour. The soup base was a little salty but I think that is what gives the ramen the flavour. I wouldn’t recommend drinking that soup. But I have to say the Kinoko Bibimbap was one of my favourite items of the night. Served in a sizzling stone bowl, it has rice with mushrooms, cheese and seaweed, and it is to die for! I won’t even tell you how it tastes because you all need to try it yourselves.
On a side note, I took a trip to the bathroom and it was pretty cool. The individual 2 piece bathrooms are stocked with supplies, including dental floss and mouthwash.
Overall, I had a great night at Guu Izakaya with Natalie and Emily. The food was delicious, the atmosphere was lively, and the waiters were friendly. However, if you don’t enjoy noise, I would not recommend this place. The restaurant is very loud since every time a person walks into the place, the entire team yells. I don’t think it’s a restaurant to go to on a daily basis, since I would get tired of all the noise and it certainly isn’t great for the student budget.
If you are planning a visit to Guu, be sure to get there early, especially on Fridays and the weekends. It is quite busy. I went on a Monday and we managed to get a table at 7pm, but seats quickly filled up. Also, don’t go with a party of 12. It will be very hard to find a table to fit that many people. Be prepared to spend around 35 dollars excluding drinks. Lastly, enjoy the experience!
I don’t eat Japanese food a lot, so I don’t know why my reviews have all been about them. I promise my next restaurant review will not be a Japanese restaurant for those of you who like other types of cuisine!
For more information, visit guu–izakaya.com/toronto/