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Restaurants

Guu SakaBar

Posted by Brigitte Noel / Reviewed on March 28, 2011 / review policy

GUU RESTAURANT TorontoGuu SakaBar is the second Toronto location of the Vancouver-based Izakaya franchise. Just like Church Street's Guu Izakaya, Guu SakaBar is a blast from the moment you enter until the second you step back onto the street.

From the sidewalk, Guu SakaBar's facade is an austere brick wall with the look and feel of a sophisticated bunker. But inside, it's a party - quite literally. The cheer that erupts when we walk through the door prompts us to think we've arrived at a shindig held in our honour.

This is Guu's usual welcome, but many are actually being celebrated. Throughout our meal, we witness four different birthdays, manifested through frenzied productions led by staff - as servers hand out shooters to those being fĂȘted, their cheers become songs and the whole restaurant gets involved.

Guu BloorThe host seats us directly beside the sound system and we must discuss menu options over the thumping bass of club beats and the yelling of the energized servers. The atmosphere is electrifying, but this is certainly no place for a quiet date.

Guu AnnexWith its warm lighting and wooden accents, it's hard to believe this beautifully decorated restaurant was once a Burger King. The venue known as "Guu 2" is divided into a cozy tatami-adorned zashiki room and a communal dining room. Seats are also available at the bar overlooking the kitchen.

The menu offers an abundance of extravagant Japanese tapas-style creations. Overwhelmed, we select items at random, certain we will not be disappointed. A smiling server takes our order and walks a few steps to yell our meal choices at the kitchen staff. They receive the order and cheer, of course. Allusions to a "fancy Japanese Lick's" are heard on more than one occasion.

Guu Sakabar TorontoWe start with drinks - Japanese beer is flowing freely, as photocopied signs posted all over the restaurant inform patrons that one dollar from each Sapporo purchased goes to Japan's earthquake relief efforts. Guu SakaBar could earn its way to our heart via our stomachs, but this altruistic gesture gives us another reason to swoon.

Guu 2 TorontoThe first dish arrives quickly. The Kimchi Udon ($7.80) is a bed of deliciously firm udon noodles in a creamy sauce, topped with a mix of kimchi and spicy cod roe. A pinch of nori seaweed adds color and texture to what ends up being our favourite fare of the night.

Our next dish is considerably less visually appealing. The Assorted Oden ($7.50) is a sizzling hot pot full of strangely shaped treats. A large disc of taro jelly, a hollow tube of puffed fish cake and a hard-boiled egg are some of the delicacies floating in the steamy broth. Our table is not the biggest fan, but I take a particular liking to the creamy custard-like texture of the taro concoction.

Guu restaurant TorontoIntrigued by the presence of Brie Cheese ($5.20) on the menu, we order it. Within a few minutes, three deep-fried wedges of double cream brie arrive at our table, the buttery cheese soaking in a pool of mango sauce. It's a rich treat, but the tart mango balances out its extravagant decadence.

The Seared B.C. Tuna ($6.80 - top photo) is one of the best cuts of fish I have ever tasted. Lightly seared and thinly sliced, it melts in the mouth almost instantly. The Sashimi Salad ($7.80) is equally delicious and combines assorted cuts of (raw) fish with shaved daikon, greens and wasabi mayo.

Guu SakaBARThe Daikon Salad ($6) is an eclectic and refreshing mix of juicy pieces of radish and cucumber, tender jellyfish and deep-fried potato slivers.

By the end of our dining adventure, we are still slightly peckish - this is often the downside of tapas-style meals. Luckily, the dessert options all seem delicious. We share the Green Tea Cheesecake ($4), which narrowly wins our favour over the Almond Tofu ($3.50) and the Sake Tiramisu ($5). Those will have to wait for next time.

Guu TorontoGuu Sakabar is open from 5 p.m. to 12 p.m., Monday to Thursday, from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday to Saturday and from 4 p.m. to midnight on Sunday.

Photos by Courtney Lee Yip

Discussion

49 Comments

kaela / March 28, 2011 at 10:41 pm
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oishi desu! can't wait to try it, vancouver location is amazing.
Chuck D / March 29, 2011 at 09:30 am
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Don't believe the hype.
JT / March 29, 2011 at 09:54 am
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Guu was excellent but has now regressed to being just good. I think the quality has gone down since it became the "it" place to go 1-2 years ago. Word of warning, due to small portions and many items being in the range of $5-8, your tab can rise very very quickly and that is before introducing alcohol into the equation. If you intend to eat and be full (rather than just drink and eat just a tad), expect your visit to cost around $50-60.
Vince / March 29, 2011 at 10:44 am
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Nice pics! Guu 2 is guuuud
rek / March 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm
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At those prices I think you're paying for the decor as much as the food on the plate. If not more.
Alessandro / March 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm
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I'm always skeptical when I hear the words "extravagant tapas-style creations" - usually means you will spend a lot of dough and get out with your stomach half empty...
k / March 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm
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This restaurant is considered expensive? You're in Toronto, Guu is a welcome change from $30 to $40 entrees.

Two of us ate here the other night; we drank a ton and ate a ton, and our bill only came to $135, around $150 with tip.

While I'm still not sure if the Guu2 food is as good as the original Guu, I'll definitely go back. The experience alone is worth it, SO much fun!



Simon / March 29, 2011 at 12:55 pm
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Posted by BlogTO on Facebook: "Will Guu SakaBar change the Annex's shitty restaurant rep?"

Since when did the Annex have a shitty restaurant rep? Sure the Green Room has been a saga but that's most certainly been perpetuated by BlogTO writers frequently updating on the places status.

Some of my favorite sushi spots in Toronto are in the Annex and there's certainly a couple great brunch spots as well as a ton of wonderful evening hangout spaces. I dont know much about this place in particular but it seems like the type of place that gives you lots to look at but not much to eat. I'll pass.
mindvinyl / March 29, 2011 at 01:36 pm
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i don't think one restaurant can change the reputation of an entire neighbourhood. the annex, for being such a great neighbourhood needs some serious help in the restaurant department. variety would be nice.
m replying to a comment from Simon / March 29, 2011 at 01:40 pm
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can you list them, please? while it seems that there are many options in the annex for food, they are all mediocre at best, and the brunchscape is a total wasteland - what insomnia and grapefruit moon? please...

i've been a resident for over 10 years and have to say i am definitely not alone in finding it difficult to have a good dining experience.
m / March 29, 2011 at 01:42 pm
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oh, and i f anyone says hey lucy, i am going to cry...
kk replying to a comment from Simon / March 29, 2011 at 01:59 pm
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a lot to look at but not much to eat? what could you possibly be basing this on? go see for yourself before you pass judgement.

dollar for dollar you won't find a better restaurant experience in the city, at either location.
Nala replying to a comment from Simon / March 29, 2011 at 02:00 pm
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Simon, the sushi restaurants in the Annex ARE the reason the Annex has a shitty restaurant rep. With the exception of Sushi Couture, all garbage.
sally / March 29, 2011 at 03:28 pm
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1. I have a good view of the back of the new Guu from my office and have, for days now, watched the kitchen staff take open containers of food (raw fish on a tray, beans in a tupperware container, soup in an uncovered pot) from what I assume to be the basement into the back of the restaurant. Um, that’s really gross. They’re using the alleyway –a disgusting and highly-trafficked alleyway– to move fresh uncooked, uncovered foodstuffs. That’s gotta be against all kinds of health regulations.
I, for one, will NOT be eating there any time soon!
sally / March 29, 2011 at 03:29 pm
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1. I have a good view of the back of the new Guu from my office and have, for days now, watched the kitchen staff take open containers of food (raw fish on a tray, beans in a tupperware container, soup in an uncovered pot) from what I assume to be the basement into the back of the restaurant. Um, that’s really gross. They’re using the alleyway –a disgusting and highly-trafficked alleyway– to move fresh uncooked, uncovered foodstuffs. That’s gotta be against all kinds of health regulations.
I, for one, will NOT be eating there any time soon!
Randolph Magoo replying to a comment from k / March 29, 2011 at 04:26 pm
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Didn't have enough money left over for a decent tip?
n / March 29, 2011 at 04:54 pm
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Guu is overrated.
It is true - not many good restaurants in Annex area. Lots of terrible sushi places... certainly not my dinning destination, but I guess if you don't know better it is good.
courtney lee / March 29, 2011 at 05:17 pm
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i guess that's the thing with reviews, before you pass any judgement, go for yourself. if you don't enjoy a movie, it doesn't mean someone else might. we're here to give you our opinions and share with you our experience, as unbiased, paying customers.

maybe we don't know any "better" whatever that can mean, but we're just regular torontonians who want to give you a peek into the new places in town.
m / March 29, 2011 at 06:33 pm
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Sorry, but 'regular torontonians' sounds to me more like ' lowest common denominator'...
sam / March 29, 2011 at 06:47 pm
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I've been to the new guu twice now. This new location is a welcomed addition to the sad restaurant scene in the Annex. The food is inexpensive but good, the staff is still working out some service kinks but are ever so cheerful, and the atmosphere is the perfect place for a fun night out. Wish they had the tongue though on this menu.

The last time I was there and had a strange experience. As the night progressed the kitchen was getting a bit slow and whipping out the small dishes. The table next to ours waited 20 mins for a dish or two they had ordered. They called the busy server over and said they were canceling the dishes and wanted their bill. When the bill came they then insisted on speaking to the manager to see if they could get a discount. The table was pretty rude to the server and the manager as well when they were complaining(I saw their bill and it was just $40).

20 mins is a bit long to wait for such a small dish, and the service is bound to have a few hiccups considering they just opened, but such bad behaviour on the customer's part is just embarrassing. Shame on you sucky babies.



c / March 29, 2011 at 07:14 pm
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Whaaaa...
expensive? what are these comments?

Guu is dirt cheap. Its a fucking Izakaya you losers its not a restaurant.
Try to bring something cool to this city and ppl will just never get it.

Guu should stay in van where people get food. Stead of trying to revolutionize a city with like... 3 good restaurants. Toronto food scene sucks... at least Guu is doing something to shake it the heck up.

Geeze.
Tim C / March 29, 2011 at 07:33 pm
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I <3 Guu. Cannot wait to feast at the new location.
J replying to a comment from k / March 29, 2011 at 08:54 pm
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Hey K,

Glad you liked Guu so much you tipped a whole 11%.

fYI servers have to give a percent of what they earn to the kitchen/hosts/bartenders. So when you under tip or god forbid don't tip at all (for good service) you're actually making the server pay out of their own pocket.
me replying to a comment from J / March 29, 2011 at 09:39 pm
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if tax is ~13%*, $15 is a 12.5% tip, while 15% is $152.92. given that they said "around $150 with tip", that sounds about right.

* is it ~13%?
yt replying to a comment from J / March 29, 2011 at 09:46 pm
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yo J,

yer math: it was actually a little under 13% tip. (tips and taxes are [or should be] calculated on the services rendered) :P

morga replying to a comment from c / March 30, 2011 at 12:44 am
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Actually, Toronto's Restaurant scene seems to be exploding and you sound like a schmuck for suggesting otherwise. We just landed David Chang, Scott Conant and Daniel Boulud.Vancouver wasn't ready for Boulud, he obviously thinks Toronto is a better fit. Coming to Toronto is officially a trend for successful restauranteurs.
Mr. S. replying to a comment from orly / March 30, 2011 at 04:49 am
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Yeah, tip after taxes so you spend more out in Toronto than you do here in Tokyo, and for less.

BTW: the oden the reviewer didn't like, is the way oden is.
mr. hood / March 30, 2011 at 04:54 am
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15% is so last decade, and for the energy and effort some servers put out, they should receive 18% this is standard at most places that "include gratuity" if you enjoy your service, go 20%, or if you had a memorable go higher!

or do what i tell a lot of people, have 1 drink less, and add that drink cost to the tip...

DM / March 30, 2011 at 08:53 am
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Guu is overrated because people in TO are hyping it up, I have been eating at Guu since the 90's in Vancouver.

It wasnt even one of my favourites, I like Gyoza King and Kingyo better.

I cant wait for all the TO people to think Izakaya isnt cool anymore so the crowds die and I can just go have a drink and easy bite with some friends..

PS your not comparing it to the original unless you are referring to the Thurlow location. The original TO location was a toned down version (menu) to see if people here would accept it
kevin / March 30, 2011 at 09:53 am
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first of orly your an idiot. it is customary to tip around 15% on the total bill before taxes and if the service was top notch you should tip around 20%. to insinuate that someone is a "bitch" for tipping on the bill before taxes just makes you sound belligerent and uneducated.
i for one tip on the bill after taxes and the tip i leave is based on service. if i receive outstanding service i don't mind leaving a 20% tip or more, if its good service i will leave a tip of 15% or more, but if the service is shit and i am the only one in the restaurant, i am not going to be pleased and i will probably leave you a tip that is less then 15%.

secondly, all you people who are calling K cheap are pathetic. since i was the one who was with K and paid, K's figures were just a guesstimate as K did not pay, hence why K said 'around'. our bill came to $134.11 after tip which was 15% (considering i used the 15% tip option when i used the debit machine). oh and orly that tip was based on the total bill after taxes. K and i have been to guu on several occasions and we have left very generous tips of 20% or more and that was because the service was outstanding. however on this occasion the service was not as exceptional as it usually is, which i understand given it was opening night, and when our bill had came there was an additional 5 drinks and 2 dishes on our bill. they obviously adjusted it once i mentioned the error, but it was still a bit upsetting hence why i left the 15% tip.

sorry everyone for the novela of a comment but some of the people who comment on this site are moronic and have no idea in what they are saying.
Hmmm replying to a comment from kevin / March 30, 2011 at 01:12 pm
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You have to figure servers are a well represented demographic on blogTO so they'll do anything to guilt customers into feeling like cheapskates. :)

Tipping on tax isn't the same as tipping on food/drinks--anyone with have a brain can see that. People can do whatever they want, but its nothing less than giving a bonus because its not being done for services rendered.
MIke / March 30, 2011 at 01:34 pm
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15% - 20% tip, on top of HST?
Am I the only one thinking there is something wrong with this picture?
Restaurants should pay their staff properly.

Just came back from Australia. Service is excellent with a few exceptions at highly touristic spots. A friend returned from New Zealand and there is no tipping expected in restaurants there.

Tipping should be a reward for outstanding service, and not be automatically expected.
yt replying to a comment from Hmmm / March 30, 2011 at 02:28 pm
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Yo Hmmm,

what are you even saying? I had to read your comment 3 times and then give up. it seems like you're taking a jab at what i said. when you tip you are most definitely adding a gratuity to what the restaurant did for you...but tipping on tax is a chump move plain and simple. anyone that suggests otherwise is, i would guess, working (or has worked) in the industry.

(or were you saying that tipping isn't mandatory? i think anyone with 'half a brain' could figure out that the bill tells you what you pay to avoid johnny law getting involved)

Also: If anyone can't figure out what 15 or 20% tip is...i have to warn you that you are inhibitig my ability to ever again trust another "i believe that children are the future" song. to my mind, you would have to will yourself to not understand how to calculate a tip on a multiple of 10 or 5. (this is a troll inviting anyone to reveal their pride in their ignorance!)
CK / March 30, 2011 at 03:42 pm
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I tend to tip 15-20% before taxes. Tipping on tax is retarded.

Funny, people arguing on tipping at a Japanese restaurant. While anyone who has been to Japan knows, you don't tip at all when eating over there...
christie / March 30, 2011 at 04:37 pm
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EAT DRINK TIP.
rek / March 30, 2011 at 04:42 pm
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Why would you tip on the after-tax amount? You're tipping the server for the government's share? Nonsense.
mike / March 30, 2011 at 06:22 pm
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"On top of HST" means "in addition to HST".

Still, since when did 15% tipping become normal and expected?
moochi / March 31, 2011 at 01:55 am
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why are people making such a big deal? bring your tipping experience elsewhere, this is a post about guu and not your consistencies in tipping.
in japan, it is rare to tip, if they don't care, why do you?
it is true that guu receives a lot of hype, but that is due to the lack of izakayas in toronto (ones with such heightened atmospheres).
food quality...up to you i guess, i always love it and no one ever said it was cheap. feels like blogto is filled with babies.
NIck / March 31, 2011 at 09:01 pm
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Toronto is such a hurt bag city when it comes to understanding and appreciating food. For the most part, the city is uneducated and more fascinated with 'hype' than they are with the actual food.

First of all, get it right. Guu isn't tapas. It's fucking izakaya. Do you know how bloody annoying it is to read a review where the reviewer hasn't the slightest clue as to what to expect from izakaya? It's akin to going to a sports pub and wondering why they only offer wings, chicken fingers and fries.

Secondly, if you knew the culture of izakaya, you'd understand that the snack food is somewhat secondary or at least complimentary to the drinking. When you go to an izakaya spot, you are going to drink...then eat some decent food.

That said, I wish TO had something like Guu Thurlow.
former annexer / March 31, 2011 at 10:46 pm
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The comments in this post reek of Stuff White People Like.

Anyway. Haven't been to Guu2. I had a great time at Guu1. Can't wait to go back.
Anonymous Coward / April 1, 2011 at 12:04 am
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Tipping is a plague. Spend a week in Japan: no tipping and service is 10x better than in North America.
1. Customers: Reward good service with your repeat business
2. Businesses: Pay servers more to reward good service and bring customers back.
3. Me: Happy that I don't have to do math after 5 beers and worry that I'm being a "bitch"
Elf / April 2, 2011 at 10:37 am
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We went to Guu a week ago, and it immediately reminded me of my honeymoon in Japan. The loud, cheerful staff were straight out of an Osaka shopping mall, and I was pleased to see some dishes that I hadn't seen on North American menus before, like okinamiyaki.

As for those pointing out that you won't leave feeling full: That's true. In izakaya is meant to be a place to go for drinks after work, and the food is more incidental. For these purposes, I think Guu is perfect.
mike / April 3, 2011 at 11:57 pm
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YOU ALL HAVE WAY TOO MUCH TIME ON YOUR HANDS.
rolly / April 6, 2011 at 09:34 pm
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The Annex is definitely going to misunderstand the Izakaya style (not to mention brainless critics). When I was in Guu Sakabar, two groups of people came in expecting to eat dinner. Looked at the menu completely confused... had a dish with some water and left.

If you are not into Snacks and Beer/Sake... don't bother. But if you're not into snacks and beer wtf is wrong with you?

As for it being overrated. Ya maybe, if there was another Izakaya downtown I might "rate" it. But right now its the only one and it's awesome.
Bear / April 7, 2011 at 06:55 pm
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Guu is indeed overrate. And, rolly, it's not the only Izakaya in downtown (nor is it even the best). There's one a few blocks north, as a matter of fact.
Valerie replying to a comment from Anonymous Coward / April 8, 2011 at 10:40 am
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Agreed. I'm a server and I find that you get better service from places that don't expect you to tip
T / April 9, 2011 at 01:34 am
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I just got back from Guu and I must say it was pretty amazing. The atmostsphere and food was amazing! I will go again for sure.
hhhhh / May 17, 2011 at 02:09 pm
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I just went there yesterday with my sister and her friend to celebrate their birthdays. The staff sang birthday song and brought cake for us.
The service is great. I love the loudness and cheerfulness of the waitresses! ( but I thought I was going deaf because of constant noise... )
The food is well made and delicious. My favourite was takoyaki gratin and tuna sushi with garlic chips and okonomiyaki. But really I liked all the food we ordered!
80 dollars for 3 people is not bad including 6-7 dishes, drinks (2cocktails and one oolong tea) and a cake
jop / July 7, 2013 at 02:12 pm
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for a highly motivated fun-binge seeker, GUU is the right place. But don't overstay your "time share" unless you keep ordering bite-size food, speed up your Sapporo consumption and keep them coming, which is assured by the super nice and attentive service.

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