With different Japanese izakayas popping up around town, it’s been forever since I last visited a Guu location. I remember the Thurlow location was my very first izakaya that I’ve visited in Vancouver and it was such a unique experience: the screaming servers, the exchange of Japanese throughout the room and the long list of small plates that we could order. It was so much fun I took a visiting guest to Guu Garlic after. Now, years later, I’m back.
Guu Garlic’s name came from the extra use of garlic at this particular location, and it still holds true to this day. With my girlfriends, we ordered a number of dishes. First, the Salmon Sashimi didn’t look super fatty at first, but it’s actually quite good. It tasted fresh and did have a bit of the fatty texture.
And so we had an encore of sashimi. The Assorted Sashimi included salmon, scallops and tuna tataki. Not very many pieces so I’m not sure if it’s the best value, but the scallops were sweet and the tuna tataki was skillfully thinly seared on the outside.
Funny enough, we also ordered the Tuna Tataki (when a bunch of hungry women blindly ordering food off a menu, there could be a lot of similar items lol). The difference here was that they made it more like a salad by including some greens, ponzu sauce and a generous serving of crispy garlic chips (remember I talked about the use of garlic? Proof #1). I prefer this iteration of tuna tataki, using the slightly acidic ponzu sauce, over the sashimi version with just soy sauce.
The last raw dish was the Yellow Tail Carpaccio. The flavour of yellow tail (hamachi) is quite delicate, so the sauce was a bit too over-powering in my opinion. The garlic chips (Proof #2) and sliced onion were actually a bit sweet (though also a bit spicy) so they did work with this plate.
Ebi Mayo is my must-have at all izakayas. The prawns here were lightly battered, and were nice and crispy. It could use a bit more chili mayo, and a bit more heat in the mayo. The portion size could also be bigger; there were only 5 prawns.
The Kabocha Croquette was a pleasant surprise. It’s like a scotch egg but instead of sausage meat they coated the hard boiled egg with mashed Japanese pumpkin (kabocha). The whole croquette was crispy outside, then the mashed pumpkin was creamy and the sauce worked really well. I would get this again. I think I’d also try making this at home!
Hotate Butter is grilled scallops with a soy garlic sauce. The scallops were slightly grilled on the outside, still soft and sweet inside. Once again they used garlic chips (Proof #3) to add some crunchy texture to the dish. This reminded me of the Tuna Tataki dish.
I was quite excited about the Beef Tongue (Proof #4) but it was a bit disappointing. It’s nicely seasoned, but certain pieces were a bit chewy. When I found a tender piece, it’s really good. The sauce here was basically the same as the Hotate Butter.
Their Pizza was a Japanese interpretation of an Italian favourite. It uses Japanese mayo, which many people love, mixed with some bay scallops. It was creamy, and the naan bread was crispy. And it was piping hot when it got to our table. It’s not authentically Italian, but it’s very enjoyable and worth an encore.
And who wouldn’t want more of the fatty, creaminess in Japanese mayo? The Kakimayo is similar to Oyster Motoyaki, except this time the chopped oysters were mixed with the mayo sauce, then baked in a dish and topped with some cheese. It was bubbling when it arrived at our table, and we devoured in within seconds! With a burnt tongue!
Onto the fried items. We accidentally ordered the Karaage, which were just good ol’ chicken tenders. Although seasoned well, they were a bit dry. And a bit boring. The garlic mayo dipping sauce (Proof #5) was good, but it could be jazzed up with a little heat. On the other hand, the Chicken Cartilage (i.e. chicken knees) were more interesting. There were a lot of them, which was probably a better value than most other dishes. They were crispy, crunchy, but I think I prefer the way how Chinese restaurants prepare them.
The Takoyaki was fried, instead of grilled, but added extra crispiness to the exterior. The inside was still soft and mushy like the typical takoyaki. Pretty good, but nothing spectacular about them.
And to wrap up the dinner, we ordered what they called “The Smoothest Almond Tofu“. I was expecting the texture of tofu pudding, but it’s more like a panna cotta. Was it the smoothest almond tofu? I’m not sure; but it’s certainly smooth and creamy, with prominent almond flavours. If we weren’t too full we probably could have ordered more of it!
What makes Guu so great is the atmosphere. And that hasn’t changed. You are greeted with a loud welcome, then servers shout the orders across the room throughout the evening. You become very aware that you are in fact in a Japanese izakaya. We only wished that they had air conditioning, or maybe just a fan, on this hot summer day. With the open kitchen pumping out dishes non-stop, it was quite warm sitting inside, and we started to sweat a little bit.
Overall, the dishes were all well seasoned, well executed. And Guu Garlic stays true to its name and allows you to walk away with a garlicy breath. Guu is definitely living up to its reputation as one of the longer standing izakayas in Vancouver. The dishes are still the classic ones, though, and they are not as innovative as their competitors; for the adventurous, sophisticated foodies in Vancouver, this could get boring. I have my reservation about the value for the price you pay, but Guu certainly offers you the quality and consistency that you can trust and rely on.
1698 Robson Street, Vancouver