Introducing: Guu Sakabar, the new Annex location of Vancouver’s wildly popular Izakaya chain
Despite rumours last week that the opening of Guu Sakabar (a.k.a. Guu 2) would be delayed due to the lack of a liquor licence, we’re happy to report that Toronto’s second Guu location opened this weekend. (Sakabar was originally set to open a couple weeks back, but was delayed due to a broken water tank). After almost a year of renovations, owner James Hyun-Soo Kim and Sakabar manager Natsuhiko Sugimoto, an eight-year veteran of Guu in Vancouver, are both eager to begin serving the Annex clientele.
Inside, the restaurant that was once a Burger King has been completely redesigned by Bennett Lo of Dialogue 38 (Guu Izakaya, Spring Rolls). The low-key exterior and main entrance of the Sakabar feature slate, barnwood and tiny boxed windows, just like the Church Street location. Inside, bare Edison light bulbs hang from the ceiling in the main dining room over six large wooden communal tables, complete with bench seating. Bar seating is also available for those who don’t mind the famous yelled greetings that the kitchen staff offer to patrons as they enter and exit. Unlike the original Guu, Sakabar also features a zashiki room, with a raised pine floor and tatami mats imported from Japan. The tables are lowered into the floor, providing ample space for your legs. Guests are required to remove their shoes and are offered a pair of indoor slippers.
Also setting itself apart from its sister restaurant, Sakabar is helmed by Japanese chef Ippei Iwata, who offers new dishes like the kushiage, Japanese-style deep-fried kebabs that come in seven variations—ham, bacon, quail egg, lotus root, potato, onion and mushroom ($1.90 each, $7.80 for five choices). A handful of new udon styles are available, including the unlikely carbonara udon, featuring bacon, onion and a half-boiled egg ($8.30). Another new dish straight out of Japan is the rice burger: a pair of rice patties sandwiching ginger pork, cabbage and garlic mayo ($5.80). To finish things off, the menu includes more extensive dessert selections, including sake tiramisù ($5).
In true Izakaya fashion, the drinks menu is extensive, including a house Gekkeikan sake ($5 small, $8.50 large), as well as a more extensive classic sake menu by the glass ($9.50–$10) or bottle (from $22 for 375 mL). Other offerings include shochu, Guu original vodka soda, cocktails (like a sake mojito), plum wine and Sapporo on tap. Beers like Asahi, Kirin and even Mill Street Tankhouse Ale are also available.
The thing we love the most about Sakabar? There’s now an indoor corridor at the entrance so you don’t have to wait in the rain, sleet or snow for a table at Guu. And, in case you’re wondering, “Yes, there’s still a no reservation policy,” says Natsu, adding cheekily, “for now.”
Guu Sakabar, 559 Bloor St. W. (east of Bathurst St.), 647-343-1101, guu-izakaya.com