Gyugyuya, a recent addition to a crowded stretch of Dundas, is a rare Japanese restaurant in Toronto not focused on sushi. No, Gyugyuya is a curry house, serving up large portions of rice and aromatic Japanese curry topped with a wide variety of sizzling meats.
Curry, introduced to Japan by the English in the 19th century, has become quite popular in Japan over the past 50 or so years, and Japanese curries turn out to be not so different from more familiar varieties. Gyugyuya's take on it is aromatic and pleasantly spiced, with hints of nutmeg featuring prominently. All of Gyugyuya's curry dishes feature the same curry, and thus rise and fall with the quality of the meat.
The restaurant itself isn't especially appealing, a long, narrow space painted a deep shade of yellow. Top 40 blares in the background. Metal cups and serving dishes further add to the industrial feel. Still, it's busy, even late in the lunch hour, and people seem to be enjoying themselves.
On the advice of our server, we start with the Gyu Curry ($11.99), which features soft, flaky beef on top of rice and curry, with a cabbage salad and sliced hardboiled egg on the side. The thin strings of beef are tender and sweet, with a faint saltiness to them, and the delicious meat pairs well with the sauce.
The Karage curry ($9.99, $3.99 as a side) features fried chicken with a hard, thick exterior. It's less interesting, as the relatively flavourless breading predominates, and the chicken lacks the rich moistness or flavour that good fried chicken possesses.
The Yakitori ($9.99/$1.99) is a little better - the chicken skewer is moist with some flavourful charring, though the chicken itself is bland, resulting in a dish that is more average than anything else. Additional meats, eggs (fried and boiled) and other toppings are available as add-ons, though the curry dishes are plenty filling.
The menu is focused mostly on curry and on bowls, which feature meat over rice, sans curry. The Katsu Don ($9.89) comes with fried pork or chicken, and the pork version comes out sizzling. It's almost schnitzel-esque, with a thin breading that allows the tender and delicious pork to shine. It's all topped with a fried egg that adds some welcome moisture and texture, and thick strands of cooked onion add sweetness, though the dish doesn't come together in quite the same fashion as the curry, though the individual elements are strong. The side salad and miso are, however, standard-issue.
Gyugyuya bills itself as Toronto's first restaurant specializing in Japanese curry, and with its bold decor and meaty dishes it does stand out. The underlying elements should be familiar to curry fans, though: It's a regional take more than a curry revolution. As with any cuisine, some things work out better than others. Avoid the underwhelming chicken dishes and stick with the beef and pork and everything should work out fine.
Photographs by Miranda Whist. Follow Anders on Twitter.