One of the fastest growing dining trends in Vancouver is that of the izakaya, a Japanese word for a drinking establishment that also serves tapas-style food. Offering a quirky and unusual selection of Japanese dishes, these restaurants have become much more about the food than the drink. One of the oldest and most popular izakaya in Vancouver is Guu, a fantastic chain of restaurants that pushes the envelope of fusion cuisine and “bar food.”
About the restaurant: Anyone who has been to Japan will find Guu a really authentic experience. The interior is slightly dim and atmospheric with a wooden bar in front of the kitchen and a very Japanese look to the place. As the hostess seats you, you’ll be greeted by a chorus of chipper Japanese voices as you’re announced. For me, it brings back memories of little izakaya places in the back-alleys of Tokyo.
The staff are all very cheerful and friendly, and happy to explain the more esoteric items on the menu. The restaurant is a favorite among Japanese ex-pats and students, and it can get quite lively and crowded during peak hours.
The food: This is not your average sushi place; while there are a few “common” dishes like yakisoba, the majority of Guu’s food is unique and unusual. You’ll find things like beef tongue, croquettes, fried shrimp and mayonnaise and takoyaki (deep fried octopus dumplings). All of them are absolutely delicious.
Guu uses particularly excellent meat in their dishes, especially beef; the beef tongue is wonderfully chewy and juicy while their striploin (one of the specials) is tender and melts in your mouth. There are a lot of particularly good fried dishes as well, such as pumpkin and egg croquette (the mashed pumpkin is a sweet and mellow counterpoint to the tangy mayo sauce). There are pleny of unusual ingredients like duck breast, cod roe, shark fin, eggplant and pork cheek. And if you’re not feeling too adventurous, try out their oden (a sort of hotpot with broth) or grilled items. Again, no matter what you order, it will be fantastic and well-prepared.
It’s also worth noting that several of the Guu restaurants have somewhat different menus. I usually go to the one near Robson, but many people find the menu at Guu with Garlic the best. If you like one, try and make time to try the others.
My favourites: Gyutan (beef tongue), pumpkin and egg croquette, scallop on garlic toast, takoyaki.
Cost: Like Tsunami Sushi, the cost of your meal really depends on how much you eat. Each dish is approximately $5, meaning those with a small appetite can eat for very cheap while ravenous and eager tasters may find themselves spending quite a bit more.
Location(s): There are several locations in Vancouver; my favorite is the one near Robson Street, while another popular one is in Gastown. Link to Google Maps.
Website and menu: Here.
Summary: If you like Japanese and are willing to try something really different, you can’t miss Guu. Proving that there’s far more to Japanese cuisine than sushi and rice bowls, it brings an authentic piece of Japan to Vancouver, and offers amazing tastes and textures to boot.