A couple weekends ago, a friend of mine from out of town came to visit Toronto. She was keen on going to an izakaya with old friends since there are none in her small town in Nova Scotia. After a great night at Guu Izakaya several months ago, I made reservations for six people at Guu Sakabar (559 Bloor Street West) at 7pm on a Saturday night.
The atmosphere is high energy, but I have to say that it was a notch down from Guu Izakaya: half our party walked in and found our table without being (shout-)greeted at all by a hostess or other staff, and in general they were always so busy it was difficult to get their attention at times. A much less important side note: I was shout-greeted when I called Guu Izakaya, but got a more subdued/normal greeting when I spoke to Guu Sakabar on the phone. We were also rushed out due to the two-hour time limit, but more on that later.
We actually sat at the zashiki side of the restaurant (not pictured) where we took off our shoes. Instead of having to sit cross-legged at the table though, there was a space carved out under the table for us to dangle our legs so we could sit more comfortably. This might be a pretty big deal for those who are uncomfortable sitting cross-legged!
Like during my visit to Guu Izakaya, we enjoyed a round of some sake from a bamboo container.
500 mL = $17 || 750 mL = $25
Delicious as always. :) Kanpai!
We started off with five dishes to share:
bbq pork tacos with greens, scallion & karashi mayo, sesame (2 pieces)
Since there were six of us and only two tacos, we each had a bite or two and passed each taco around each side of the table, joint-style. Obviously none of us had the foresight to order more than one of these dishes. That was a fun sharing experience, haha, and it’s definitely part of what I love about izakayas and tapas-style meals. The tacos themselves though were okay but nothing special.
deep fried Japanese pancake with squid, tonkatsu sauce & karashi mayo
Delicious! We all enjoyed this one. There isn’t a whole lot of squid in it though, but even my friend who doesn’t like squid thought this was a great dish. We shared this at Guu Izakaya between four people and it was a little more difficult between six unless some just want a bite to try it.
deep fried soy sauce marinated chicken with garlic mayo
We originally ordered it as a safe dish for the pickier eaters of the table, but it was pretty good in its own right. I felt like the dish was particularly small given the price though, and I had to steal a bite off someone else’s plate to have any at all.
deep fried octopus balls with tonkatsu sauce & karashi mayo
I like takoyaki in general and thought this was good! It got pretty mixed reactions around the table though.
baked B.C. oyster with spinach, mushrooms & garlic mayo, topped with cheese
STAR OF THE SHOW. This was shell-lickin’ good. Easily my favourite of the dishes that we ordered – such creamy goodness!
At this point, we were obviously still hungry. Our waitress came by and told us that she would be taking our final orders as we had to leave soon due to our time limit. It was hard to gauge what and how much everyone at our table still wanted to order here or continue eating at another place, so we hurriedly made the following decisions (including another order of the kakimayo):
deep fried calamari with spicy ketchup & wasabi mayo
I liked this! Not particularly spicy and served on large chips to offset all the sauces.
foot long grilled pork cheek skewer with yuzu pepper
Everyone at our table really enjoyed this dish – the pork cheek is just deliciously fatty.
Guuu’d sake tiramisu
Ahh, I wish we just decided to order more than one of these right away! It’s a great take on tiramisu and so delicious. I prefer it to regular tiramisu.
BIRTHDAY SPECIAL: SEVEN SAMURAI SHOOTERS
flavoured shots of sake (comes with singing/shouting and general excitement :D)
We actually had two birthdays at our table and ordered this special so that we could also experience the hoopla of birthday singing and screaming by the staff. For the two hours we were there, I’m sure we saw at least five ‘birthdays’ being sung out, haha. The other specials were more dessert-based and had ice cream so of course we picked the sake shooters. These were actually very sweet and dessert-like, which was a nice surprise! Probably didn’t have much actual alcohol in them though, haha. I like the candle they added in the top shooter. :)
Overall, I really like Guu but much prefer the Izakaya location on Church Street for their more efficient (though there are long waits involved with both places) and energetic service plus no seating time limit. We were reminded a lot here about the two-hour limit on weekends (other reviews, the reservation website + e-mail + text, the staff) and went back and forth with waiting a long time for an available server and feeling rushed to order and finish up. It was a big scramble.
Also, the crazy loudness of the places is one of Guu’s defining features and I have such a love-hate relationship with that fact. It can be super fun but actually also pretty stressful to be shouting at each other about what to order and accommodating everyone’s dietary preferences + the time limit + way too busy servers.
I think I’d only come back to Guu Sakabar with a smaller group (four or less) on a weeknight. If on a weekend, it would be better for people to already know what they’re going to order for the table beforehand. My friends and I had a good time here, but we would have liked to continue ordering more dishes and sake to share as the night went on. The food was great and general atmosphere of the place is fun, but the stress of the time limit and the service ended up leaving a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s difficult to have proper conversations here though, so maybe it was for the best that we were forced out to get food and drinks, and relax and talk to each other at a nearby pub afterwards. So in that sense, our dinner at Guu Sakabar was still a pretty good start to the rest of our night!