Guu Sakabar, Toronto

Having just opened its doors in the beginning of 2011 this location of the Guu empire (another location in Toronto, six in Vancouver and one in China) has definitely taken the Annex by storm. Located a block east of Bloor and Bathurst this Japanese pub (Izakaya) is constantly busy and I can definitely understand why. The atmosphere is fantastic, the food is strange but definitely tasty and the staff is probably the friendliest around. I promise you won’t be leaving the venue disappointed.

If you’re interested in dining or even drinking here, come prepared for a wait, or make reservations because the place fills up very fast. They can usually take couples without issue but also be ready to share tables since there’s only communal seating. The decor is incredible, modern yet cozy with an open kitchen and bar seating all around it. However, the best part is the front dining room where customers are required to take off their shoes and crouch down to their seats on tatami mats. Before moving on to a short blurb about the food and drinks, I must warn that this is not a place to go for a romantic and quiet dinner. The waiters yell their orders across the restaurant to the bar staff and therefore it’s very loud. It definitely adds to the experience but could also cause issues if you’re trying to have an intimate conversation with someone.

Let’s talk food!! I definitely recommend ordering from their daily specials list which features seasonal and fresh fish/produce. We had a B.C. tuna ceviche which was incredibly fresh and delicious . Also, that particular evening they featured a dish of raw B.C. sweet shrimp which was a first for me. It was incredible! The shrimp was so tender it melted in your mouth while imparting wonderful flavours of the sea. It’s definitely something I will return for (hopefully I catch it again before their season runs out). We also tried their fish and chips, fried chicken and calamari which were all exactly what we had hoped for: fresh and fried (perfect company for beer). The only thing on the menu I don’t particularly recommend is the “oden” or Japanese hot pot as they had translated. It’s a cloudy broth that smells like feet (I’m sorry but its a fact) in which they plop whatever ingredients you choose. Options include lotus root, taro jelly (imagine chewing through the sole of your flip flop), daikon, soggy deep fried tofu, bamboo shoots or a hard boiled egg. It may be a personal choice but it was definitely hard to even keep an open mind and taste all these ingredients…. I guess it’s just not for me. Remember that the restaurant runs a tasting menu so all the plates are fairly small. I recommend ordering at least 3 per person for a full dinner. Prices per dish hover around the $5 mark so the restaurant is accessible to those eating on a budget as well.

Having sat at the bar that particular evening we were able to see all their wonderful cocktails go out and I must admit they all looked tasty. The combinations are what you would call “outside the box” but the presentation was absolutely stunning. We opted for 1L steins of Saporo (under $10 each) which helped us devour the large amounts fried grub we ordered.

Overall, I think their motto sums it all up for me: “Guu is Guuud”!

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