GUU IZAKAYA: Always reliable Japatapas

416 977 0999  |   $3.50 - $9.80  Small Plates


I’ll start by saying this review is way overdue given that I’ve written almost 70 of these since last September. If you’re a reader of the blog, chances are you’ve already been to Guu because it’s massively popular and has been since it opened in 2009. I’d been a couple times before, but finally got around to going again, taking some pics, and thinking about what I’m eating. Here goes what you already know.

Photo Credit: blogTO


The menu is a collection of 48 Japanese tapas nestled into categories like apps, cold dishes, deep fried, oden (slow cooked hot pot), grilled, and rice & noodle. The variety is impressive and, from my experience, you’re not likely to get a dud if you close your eyes and just pick items at random. That said, we decided not to do that, and instead picked what looked interesting.

Of course, you have to start with a ‘big mug’ of Sapporo by virtue of its novelty. It’s $9.50, looks about the size of a pitcher, and makes you happy. Good value. 

I’ve also heard good things about the cocktails here, and at $6-$7 each, why not try one? (note: ordering the big mug is a valid excuse)

We started with the gyu shabu salad on the recommendation of our server, which is essentially very thinly-sliced beef warm beef on greens with an exceptional black sesame dressing. The salad greens and peppers were fine, but the tender beef with sesame combo was a definite winner. 

Next up, deep fried octopus balls with tonkatsu sauce (delicious) and karashi mayo (a Japanese mustard-mayo). It’s kind of hard for these not be awesome; the two sauces are savoury and sharp, and the hot inner-octopus, while a bit chewy, was a good complement. Overall this is a very unique flavour combination for most North American palates. 

Next up was marinated octopus with wasabi stem and nori wrappers. Octopus was much more tender here, and the I liked the idea of wrapping your own little bites. However, the wasabi stem is powerful. I’m not an enormous wasabi fan, so I got a little blown out by the dominance of the flavour. 

Next up was marinated jellyfish, a first for me. It comes to the table looking like a clear rice noodle, but upon further inspection it’s clear this is something different. I’ll say it doesn’t really taste like anything; the marinade and salad is what you’ll taste. I found the jelly fish tough, rubbery, and arduous to chew even with a marinade that may have tenderized it.

Next up, we came back to traditional flavours with bacon-wrapped scallops and enoki mushrooms, a soy sauce and more karashi mayo. These are going to be tasty no matter what, and the added sweetness from the sauce with a little bit of mayo was delicious. I don’t understand why only half of them are stuffed with enokis though. Leaves some folks at the table wanting more.

We then jumped into the deep fried section again with prawns and mayo. This dish is really quite basic, but lets the seafood shine. The prawns were juicy and perfectly cooked with a thin, crispy batter and some spicy mayo. 

As I went through the menu, it became obvious that mayo was on a fair number of these dishes. Not sure if that’s a Japanese preference with fried foods or just a Guu-ism.

Another deep friend item we ordered was egglplant with sweet miso sauce. While tasty, I was missing the crunch you come to expect when you read ‘deep fried’. Parts of the pieces were sort of crispy, but there isn’t any batter, so the sauce made the majority of them quite mushy. Conceptually, deep fried eggplant sounds like a great contrast between crunch and mush, but the contrast just wasn’t here.

Next we grabbed buta kimchi bibimbap with ground pork served in a sizzling stone bowl. This was great once we let our rice crisp up and gave everything a quick mix. I think we were hoping for a higher ‘stuff’ to rice ratio though.

We finished with a pseudo-dessert as opposed to something on the menu: deep fried brie with mango and blueberry sauce. Suffice to say this was an indulgence. 

We found the textural contrast we were looking for here for sure, and the two sweet sauces with the fatty goodness over top made me promise myself that the next day would be a ‘salad day’.

Service and Ambience

The ambience here is particularly novel for Toronto (or at least it was before the copycats). The room is bustling with hungry folks at communal tables, happy to no longer be waiting in line, all of whom are greeted in unison by the kitchen and waitstaff both when they enter and when they leave. 

Photo Credit: Toronto Life

Service was also pretty good, given how hectic the restaurant was (and usually is). You get the feeling the staff have gotten used to the high-paced environment.

Our food came out reasonably quickly, as is to be expected with tapas, and our server was happy to make a recommendation when we needed her to.

The Reco?

You already know you should go to Guu. For most of us, it’s the first time we’ve tried many of the dishes, and more often than not they leave you quite satisfied.

Yes, you’ll need to wait at least 30 minutes in line most days, but plan ahead, put your name down, kill some time, then enjoy one of the more unique dining experiences Toronto has to offer.

Other reviews:
 FoodiegatorJ     |    Cafe Joie

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited August 12, 2012

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