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Dec 17, 2009 05:51 PM

Guu is Guu(d) – review + pics

From the moment you walk through the inconspicuous doors of Guu, you’re immediately greeted by the warm hoots and hollers of the staff of Guu. The atmosphere in Guu is electric and you feel happy just being near such enthusiastic young people. The waitstaff are extremely polite and gracious and are eager to please. Sitting at the bar is, IMO, the way to go because you get to see a bit of the action. No where else in Toronto have I ever felt the ‘atmosphere’ done so well. My most similar experience would have to be at Ippudo in NYC.

The look of the space is modernist, yet warm, with lots of glazed wood used throughout the space. The bar stools feel sturdy, almost too sturdy as I struggled to move them aside to fit in my seat. The menu is simple and descriptive. I was lucky to be dining in a large group, so I got to sample a large variety of items (I’d say almost 80% of the menu). I’ll include photos and a short description below, spending a bit more time on some of my favourite dishes.

Guu is an Izakaya. The type of food they serve is like Japanese Tapas/bar food. This import from Vancouver is exceptionally popular there, and many have been anticipating their arrival in Toronto for quite some time now. Right from the get-go, I would have to say I was very impressed with the space and the service.

Takoyaki was the first dish we had. It was lightly battered and well-fried. This was an indication of their frying expertise to come. The tako /octopus inside was very tender, as well as very miniscule. I would have liked less mayo drizzled on top of my tako-ball, but the flakes of bonito on top never fail to amuse me and take my mind off the overpowering mayo. I enjoyed this ‘meatball popper’ and it did well to whet my appetite. Overall, it was nice, but since I tend to shy away from battered ‘fish ball’-type creations, I doubt I would order it again on my own.


Next on the menu was the salmon natto. A beautiful egg yolk sat atop a rainbow of chopped vegetables. It was a delightful array of colours to behold and I really enjoyed the interactivity that accompanied the dish - how you had to mix it yourself. The natto was pleasant and not overpowering (though, personally, I enjoy the taste of natto) and the texture was signature ‘natto’ (if you’ve had it, then you know what I mean). It was complimented well by the crisp accompanying vegetables that were tart and a bit astringent in comparison, as well as the fried wonton crisps. The yolk added a nice creaminess that paralleled the natto’s texture and IMO enhanced it. Once mixed, they can be scooped onto the accompanying seaweed sheets and eaten as rolls. I highly recommend this dish.


Oysters are definitely one of my favourite foods. However, Guu’s interpretation left a little something to be desired. Their Kaki Mayo was unfortunately drenched in a thick paste of cheese, creamy sauce and spinach, which IMO masked the subtle sweetness of the delicate oyster beneath it. The cheese itself was not sharp, and I thought it was one of their weakest dishes. SO enjoyed the Kaki as a dish, but believed it failed on the level of being an ‘oyster dish’.


Who doesn’t love fried chicken? I sure do love that battered loveliness! Guu’s version is moist and well flavoured from a deep marinade. The batter is light, and thin. The frying was done exceptionally well and was not at all greasy. I could eat an entire plate of this and be very happy, and full. SO, however, states plainly: “It’s still just fried chicken”. I guess we can’t all be fans of fried chicken.

Fried Chicken:
Moist interior:

The Aburi Salmon came next. This dish neither wowed me, nor disappointed me. Once again, I found the mayo to be too overpowering.

Aburi Salmon:

Kombocha Korokke is supposedly a signature dish of theirs, but it didn’t work for me. I personally do not enjoy a hard-cooked egg, so this dish wasn’t going to shine for me from the start. The presentation was amusing though.

Kombocha Korokke:

One of the highlights of the evening came next - the grilled saba. The fish was uncharacteristically moist. If you enjoy mackerel, then I would highly recommend this dish. It was very fragrant and the taste was spot on for me – not too salty, nor drowned in its accompaniments.


Gomaae is a dish served cold. It’s comprised of spinach and a black sesame sauce. I believe it would have worked much better if the black sesame was more fragrant. I would have liked a more freshly roasted and ground version in order to make this dish ‘pop’ for me.


The kurage that came next reminded me a lot of a cold Shark’s Fin dish. Instead of the highly controversial (and expensive) shark’s fin, a firm jellyfish was used instead. The crunchy texture was very refreshing, and the sesame oil used to coat the delicate jellyfish also made the dish very aromatic. I enjoyed this dish a lot and I found that it was a good choice as an intermediate course because it was light and texturally different than previous courses.


Guu, amusingly, had their own version of Ramune – the very popular soda drink with the special ‘bead’ top that needs to be popped to get at the nectar inside the bottle. I didn’t get to sample it, but friends who did said it was the same as other versions, but just had a “Guu” label.


Daikon is another great palate cleanser IMO. The fresh, crisp root vegetable’s astringent properties acted to break up the heaviness that may have accumulated from the fried, and more heavily flavoured dishes that came before it. As a dish on its own, I wouldn’t have made a point to order it, but it was a nice addition to the grand meal.

Daikon salad:

Oden is a soup-based dish served in a stone pot. It is filled with an assortment of goodies; such as radish, tofu, bamboo shoots and fish cake. You could also order the items a la carte. The soup itself is light and not too heavily salted. I enjoyed this dish and would recommend it if you enjoy a light broth. During the cold Toronto winters, this dish serves well to warm the belly.


Since pork belly is all the rage right now, we had to try Guu’s version. Their Kakuni was succulent and extremely tender. The fatty bits were nice and oozy as well. It had the perfect amount of salting and it literally melted in your mouth. The side egg was a nice accompaniment for substance, and textural contrast, but let’s be honest! We’re here for the tender pork belly and it delivered (luckily, the microwave reheating didn’t mar the taste for me in the least).


Next up was a favourite dish of the SO’s and mine. It was the Tako Wasabi and it really packed in the heat. It was octopus based and was diced alongside a healthy serving of wasabi root. It’s served in a small portion on purpose, I’m sure, because the heat is very satisfying in small quantities. I couldn’t imagine eating a large bowl of this!

Tako Wasabi:

Always a sucker for raw shrimp, the opening special Vancouver shrimp sashimi came next. These were incredibly tender and sweet. I really, really loved them and would have ordered many more, if not for the fact that Guu claimed to have run out of them for the evening! Darn. They are served simply, naked, except for the shell around the head, and paired with wasabi. The head is not something to toss aside and is really the best part! Sucking the ‘goe’ out of the head is like eating sea urchin. Waste not, my friends!
Shrimp Sashimi:

I have really never met a tongue I didn’t like eating, and that went for Guu’s version as well. The Gyu Tangue was exceptionally fragrant from the expert grilling. The taste was equal parts sweet and salty and I loved every morsel. I particularly enjoy the texture of tongue and this one did not disappoint. I enjoyed the generous portion, though I could have eaten much more if given a choice! Bravo!

Gyu Tangue:

Tofu salad was what you would expect. Firm tofu served beneath a neatly piled tower of fried wonton crisps. The mushrooms added a nice musty aroma, but overall, I found the dish somewhat plain. As plain as tofu, I guess! If you love tofu, then this is a very strong dish. Myself? I kept nibbling at the remnants of the beef tongue that came before it. It was nicely subtle, but after eating dishes filled with salt and wasabi, I lusted for more.


Next, a filler dish came. The Kimchi Udon was bright and loud in taste, stemming mostly from the spicy roe on top of the silky udon. Texturally, the udon was just ‘okay’ for me and didn’t stand out. The roe held a nice contrast against the soft udon. The spicing of the roe punctuated each bite and made the experience quite exciting and unexpected. Was it a standout for me? Probably not, but it was definitely worth trying.


Though this was easily the best agedashi tofu I have ever had, apparently my dining companions felt it lacked in refinement. The crisp skin was thinner than anything I’ve experienced in Toronto (by far), but was apparently sub-par when compared with the Vancouver variant. The tofu was agreeably less than silky, but I still enjoyed this dish immensely. The sauce was a perfect blend of salty and sweet and went beautifully with the tofu.

Agedashi Tofu:

Gyu Shabu Salad was cold when I had it. I am not sure if it was meant to be that way (the beef), but there was just so much else to eat that by the time I got to it, it was stone cold. I felt if the meat was a bit warmer and freshly cooked, the dish would have shone a bit brighter. But that was probably my fault. Overall, the dish was just ‘okay’ for me. Once again, the black sesame was not fragrant enough for my tastes.

Gyu Shabu Salad:

Okonomiyaki is a very popular dish in Izakaya’s and I was told this was a very good version. To be honest, this really wasn’t my ‘thing’ and I only had a small piece and was satiated (but I still wanted more shrimp sashimi darn it!). It is similar to a pancake made of various seafood bits and vegetables. It reminded me of a zucchini pancake or even a latke to be honest. By this dish, my stomach was filled to the brim and perhaps it wasn’t the best time for such a substantial course.


Guu’s sashimi salad was nice and I particularly enjoyed the crunchy seaweed chunks on top. The fish selection was nice and the quality was top notch. I didn’t take too much note of what was included, but I got to sample the hotate (scallop) and sake (salmon). I once again found the mayo sauce to be distracting. Would I order this again? Not likely to be honest, mostly because there were so many stronger dishes (but that’s generally how I felt about all the salad courses… perhaps I am unfair against the vegetables in favouring meat


Sashimi Salad:

Though I didn’t consume any alcohol during the dinner, my friends didn’t hesitate to sample much of the drink menu. I believe many of them particularly enjoyed the bamboo drink. I found the mixed drink menu to be very reasonably priced, and the selection nicely varied.


The last tapas entry before dessert was the grilled salted pork cheek. The yuzu pepper was something that made the dish a real knock-out because it helped to cut the excessive saltiness of the dish. I particularly enjoyed the char-grilling and salting that was done prior to searing which made the dish very fragrant. I really enjoyed this dish and would recommend it.


Last, but not least, was the lovely Sake Cheesecake. This was a very tiny sliver of cheesecake, but what it lacked in size, it packed in flavour. The sake, I found, was very pronounced and really elevated the cheesecake from the norm. I still do find that portioning to be a bit small for $4, but once again, just my opinion.

Cheesecake sliver:

With our cheque came some lovely frozen grapes, compliments of the chef. They were a simple and elegant way to end the meal. Free things, no matter how small they may seem, are always welcome and make a customer feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Frozen Grapes:

Here is a photo of the kitchen itself. It’s always amazing how much food comes out of such a small space.

Guu Kitchen:

I’ve also included some photos of the menu. They’re not perfect, but I didn’t have a chance to upload a more comprehensive version.

Specials menu:
Guu menu:
Guu menu 2:
Guu drinks menu:

Upon leaving the restaurant, we were once again serenaded with the same hoots and jolly hollers we were met with when we first arrived. It really makes you feel so welcome to this establishment and I just can’t wait to come back!

I would highly recommend Guu for a casual and fun night out – the more the merrier! It’s great to sample more of the dishes; otherwise, you get too full too quickly. I was very surprised something like this can be found in Toronto. I really think that Guu is world-class and now understand the excitement coming from other Chowhounds upon hearing of their opening! The atmosphere is fun and electric and the food is really top-notch, with of course some dishes stronger for me than others. I hope they can maintain the quality of their dishes, because as it stands, Guu really knocks their competitors out of the water in Toronto. Guu-d luck to them! It’s a small space, so it’s bound to be packed. So run, don’t walk to Guu. You won’t be disappointed. I know I wasn't!

Guu Izakaya
398 Church Street

Cheers and Happy Eating!


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  1. Ha! I was just wondering if this place is open yet! Thanks for your thorough review, BokChoi.
    Do you know if they have nankotsu on the menu?

    1 Reply
    1. re: mogo

      Hi mogo and thanks! I didn't see any yakitori really on the menu, to be honest (which surprised me). But I could have just missed it. Alas, no chicken cartilage!

    2. all I have to say is....


      I need to go.

      1 Reply
      1. re: aser

        It's really good/fun - and it's only in soft-open phase now (well, I guess official by the time most peeps read this). I'm writing up my bit now. I think there were a handful of dishes that stood out, but I'm not sure I'd say we'd have a full meal of it (in terms of repeat visits). However, I did have a really good time during my visit and I felt the cocktails were interesting. Perfect for the snack+drink crowd (which is what an Izakaya should be)! Great energetic vibe from the place. Look back in an hour or so for my babble, though BokChoi has it covered.

        398 Church Street, Toronto, ON M5B 2A2, CA

      2. I think I'll pass. I don't understand the fascination with this place. The food doesn't seem that different from the "hot items" you get at any AYCE menu. But the prices for each little single serving dish are outrageous. What was the damage for this meal? I'll bet you'll have to spend at least $50 per person to get a decent amount of food. While many of you may think that's probably a bargain to spend that kind of money. I can think of far better places to eat for that price than japanese "tapas".

        5 Replies
        1. re: sbug206

          We spent about $45pp (tax and tip!) - and my post below shows how much we ate and only some of what we drank. Thought it was very cheap considering how much booze we got.

          1. re: jlunar

            You showed at least 20 food items - does that mean each is around $2??

            1. re: Teep

              I think she meant $45 per person.

          2. How does Guu in Toronto compare to Guu in Vancouver? My hubby loves the Vancouver location and makes it a required meal every time we are there.

            4 Replies
            1. re: syrahc2

              It seems to be at the same level as the Vancouver version (s). Went last night and it was great. A few dishes I didn't care for (fried octopus balls, and grilled short ribs that were too salty), but the rest was amazing. I regret not having the shrimp sashimi or tongue, but that's for next time.

              1. re: grandgourmand

                I'm happy to say it was just like we remembered! Hubby adores it!

                1. re: syrahc2

                  Agreed. There is at least one guy, I think 2 maybe (front of house guy and one of the chefs) who they brought over from the Vancouver restos.

                  When you went - and for anyone else whose been in the past couple of weeks, are the line-ups getting any better? I'm dying to go back but I can't stomach a long wait.

                  1. re: peppermint pate

                    I went for the first time on Saturday. We got there at about 4:50pm (it opens at 5) and there was already a huge line. The five of us got in, but just barely! I think only a couple other tables were sat after us.
                    We loved it, though! I thought the service was good, considering how busy it was. And as a vegetarian, I wasn't disappointed with the selection, which I was a bit nervous about.

                    Too bad I was starving again at 9pm! Who eats at 5??

            2. Riding on your thread BC!

              Full post (plus intro/extro) with pics: (there's a lot!


              Well, there's enough that I decided to organize this by sections on the menu. Otherwise, it would be far too chaotic! Ready?

              Special Menu (2/3)
              There weren't too many specials, but we did like what was on it. I was tempted to get the uni, but ultimately decided to pass. This time!

              Marinated BC Albacore Tuna
              sashimi with jalapeño sauce. Really quite good. I liked the spice from the japaleño. Off the special menu.

              Being the Vancouverites they are, of course this made the menu. Sweet and delicate. Don't forget to suck the head! A good order.

              Appetizers (3/6)
              Apps were pretty strong all-around. I liked all that we did order, with the Takowasabi as my top pick.

              Cooked octopus with chopped wasabi stem and vegetables. To be wrapped in nori. I really really like this dish. I first had it at Kingyo in Vancouver and Guu's version is just as good (or better). Cruchy, wasabi-hot, a little bit of vinegar or something like that and a sweet hit. I asked for a second order of this. Though I was told later that this probably isn't house-made (and bought from a supplier). True? False? Someone else will have to ask.

              Kurage Marinated jellyfish and vermicelli (fake shark's fin). Small dish, but a nice crunchy snack. This makes my potential re-order list. It was tasty.

              Boiled spinach with black sesame sauce. Looking like a baby sludge monster, this was really tasty. Sweeter than the white gomaae you can find around town, I'm told. I quite liked this, though it verged on being dessert. Maybe a good intermezzo order..?

              Salads (4/4)
              I found the salads okay but nothing that I would order again.

              Tofu Salad
              Tofu and garlic sauteed mushrooms on greens with crispy wonton chips. Nice plating/stack, but entirely meh for me.

              Gyu Shabu
              Salad Thinly sliced boiled beef on greens with black sesame sauce. Needs more beefy flavour or something.

              Sashimi Salad
              Assorted fish on greens with mayo. Meh. It wasn't bad, (some tataki in there!) but I think this is not why you would come to Guu.

              Daikon Salad Daikon with greens, scallop and spicy cod roe mayo. I somehow missed the spicy cod roe taste.

              Cold Dishes (2/5)
              Interesting dishes to eat and try, though there are some repeats that swap out the main ingredient for a like one.

              Aburi Salmon
              Lightly seared Atlantic salmon sashimi with ponzu sauce and wasabi mayo. Tasty enough, with the notes of garlic adding a nice depth to it.

              Salmon Natto Yukke
              Chopped salmon sashimi with natto, shibazuke, takuan, wonton chips, garlic chips, green oinion and raw egg yolk. To be mixed and wrapped in nori. Needed more natto - you get the texture/goo of it, but no taste. I liked the takowasabi better. Less items, but better taste imo.

              Deep Fried (4/8)
              There were a couple things on the deep-fried menu that we were hesitant to order - the Brie Cheese being one of them. Someone else will have to try that out first! We also passed on the Ebimayo because we figured that we knew what it tasted like. There was no logic in that thought though - I mean, what if we missed the best fried shrimp ever?! Oh well. Next time!

              Deep fried soy sauce marinated chicken served with garlic mayo. All my dining companions really liked this - and they should. It's lightly battered, crispy, and juicy inside. Don't know why I couldn't get into it. I still prefer the chicken at Ajuker - and I know they're two different animals.

              I'm used to the smushier ones from Manpuku, but I quite liked these. I can't vouch for authenticity. I'll try these again sometime though. There was so much going on at this point that it was hard to process it all.

              Kabocha Korokke
              Deep fried kabocha pumpkin croquette with a boiled egg inside. I liked this one a lot. A good snack and the lightly sweet kabocha is really nice. Though I kind of wish it were a tea egg inside with runny yolk instead of just boiled.

              Agedashi Tofu
              Deep fried tofu in dashi broth. Not bad, though they used the hard/spongy tofu, which I like less.

              Deep fried japanese style pancake with tonkatsu sauce and mustard mayo. Not like the okonomiyaki's I've had in Osaka with noodles in it, this is a crispier pancake. Still, it was quite tasty. Nice to see this Osakan dish at Guu.

              Oden & Stewed (2/2)
              100% completion on this category. Both are interesting orders.

              Egg, radish, squid & fish cake, puffed fish cake, deep fried tofu, bamboo shoot, fish cake, taro jelly. Can be ordered individually or as an assortment. Sort of meh, I did like the bamboo and taro jelly for tasting purposes.

              Sweet miso brasied pork belly with boiled egg. While the Tontoro would be my pork pick out of the two, this was a slightly sweet and fatty pork that reminded me of Chinese braised pork belly.

              Grilled (4/8)
              Of the dishes we ordered, it was really good or just bad. Enjoyed the Gyu Tangue and the Tontoro. Both are re-orders in my book. The Kakimayo? Not so much (only according to me, though!).

              Grilled Saba
              mackerel with garlic, lemon, and herb, on vegetables. Thought this was okay - I prefer standard Korean preparation of mackerel better. Depends on your taste - this certainly wasn't bad.

              Gyu Tangue
              Grilled beef tongue with salt. Really nice and tender pieces. Salt level was just nice. Would re-order.

              Grilled pork cheek with yuzu pepper. Really tender and tasty. Well salted and I really liked the yuzu pepper. I consider this a re-order!

              Grilled oysters with spinach, garlic mayo, and cheese on the top. If this sounds really bad to you, it does to me too. However, many of my dining companions liked this, but there were a couple of dissenters. Me, I thought this was a bit too odd for my tastes. One friend who doesn't like cooked oysters liked this basically because you couldn't taste the cooked oyster...

              Rice & Noodles (1/6)
              We slacked on the rice & noodle section.

              Kimchi Udon
              Boiled udon noodle with spicy cod roe. Topped with kimchi. Everyone else thought it was just okay, but I really liked this one. I just really liked the taste of the kimchi + noodle. Reminded me of a packet-of-ramen flavour.

              Sweets (1/4)
              Didn't have too many sweets, as we were really stuffed. Also, it's your run-of-the-mill Japanese restaurant desserts. Albeit, the one we did have was really good.

              Sake Cheese
              Cake Smooth and pretty good. I don't love cheese cakes, but the smoothness won me over. Had the subtle taste of sake mash.

              Frozen Grapes
              At the end of the meal, this was brought out to us. Reminded me of the skewers I had at Kingyo not too long ago.

              Drinks (8/15)
              Drinks seem very interesting on the menu and it was decided we should do our best to sample as much as we could. I didn't shoot many drinks, but highlights include the Cassis Oolong (not to be mistaken with the Oolong High!) and Bamboo (pictured up top). The Nama Gure (grapefruit/vodka/soda) was interesting, but more gimmick than substance. I enjoyed the Ume Mojito, but without the mint, I hesitate to call it a mojito. No one dared ordered the Matcha Coco. We'll have to save that for another time.

              Overall, I feel that this is a real destination dining place - the kind you go to for gatherings and events. Less your every-day eatery and definitely not your romantic date spot. While Izakaya is set up for beers and snacking, I'm not sure the area would lend itself to that kind of clientele (I would have opened in the business district for that). Still, this is just the beginning. I'm hoping we will see more dishes that dive into cartelidge and organ-meat land.

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