We were delighted to hear about Guu Garden, a Guu concept restaurant near Relish. We decided to check it out and see if it could live up to the original Guu's massive shoes.
As we walked up the steps from Hornby, we saw a serene Rock Garden and a large patio which would be great for the summer. I couldn't take a photo as it was dark so here's one I found on the net. Several vintage bikes and beach cruisers were parked by the entrance so I think the proximity to the bike lane will really work in it's favor. The clientele looked diverse - all ages and nationalities and while not packed, it was busy.
The first thing we noticed was how spacious the restaurant was by Guu standards. There are tables and chairs throughout the restaurant but we chose a traditional japanese dining table close to the entrance where we could remove our shoes. A selection of cutesy sandals were available for us to borrow should we have arrived sockless. Big band and jazz played in the background seemed at odds with the food and decor, but being swing dancers ourselves, we enjoyed the music. I'm sure those who rode up on their vintage bikes, also did as well.
The menu was smaller and different from the other Guu, but still had dishes that intrigued us. J felt the menu was more adventurous but with Japanese food and Guu's concepts, adventureous is relative imho.
We started off with soul warming Oden, which is a broth with bits of free range egg, tofu, fish cakes, daikon or meat simmered for hours. After raving about the joys of Oden to my japanese intern he explained that Oden is a winter dish that is often sold from food carts. I wish we'd get one of those somewhere closer to my work!
I had the light miso based Kanto-Daki Oden with egg, fried tofu, fluffy fish cake, chikuwa fishcake, and daikon. This is the same broth they serve at the Guu on Thurlow. I believe the white mass at the bottom left, to be the fluffy fish cake. It was soft, light, almost like Chawan Mushi - savory Japanese custard. It was a little soft for me, but I could definitely see how it could appeal to someone else. The tubular fish cake (to the right of the white triangle) I've had before and always enjoy eating it because it has a firm satisfying texture and absorbs the flavor from the oden broth well. The daikon, as usual, was perfectly cooked such that it was equally tender, with no mushy or hard bits. The deep fried tofu was as expected but given the choice I'd have had two daikon or another fish cake. I ended up being too full to eat the egg. Leave no drop of broth behind.
J - feeling brave, had the Miso Oden broth. It surprised me just how thick it was, but we were warned on the menu it would be a thick rich broth. It had a gravy-like texture similiar to the soy vinegar - star anise broth my mother makes to stew her pig legs. I found the flavor enjoyable but I didn't think I could eat more than two pieces in the broth due to it's richness. One of the offerings on the menu, but not available that night was Pork Belly, which I think would have been AMAZING in this broth. Despite my aversion to pig fat, I could imagine it melting in my mouth with the enhancement of this Miso Oden Broth.
This is the whole cajun grilled squid. It was cooked to perfection with the squid not being rubbery - a common fault in squid preparation. The only thing is, we had expected it by appearance to have a sweet soy flavor, but instead had a salty, burned soysauce flavor. I dubbed it ANGRY teriyaki - all the bitterness without the sweet. I feel it would have been better with a bit of sweetness, however, it wasn't unpleasant. Let's just say, it was interesting... Like drinking a glass of milk and tasting coke. J agreed but I ended up eating this all by myself.
Here's were we went a little crazy. This dish is the Tuna Melon. It's a tureen of Melon, Raw tuna, cilantro, topped with shaved melon and garnished with dashi jelly. Looking at it in the photo it doesn't look as intimidating as it does in person... but it certainly did take a bit of will to penetrate the fishy walls.
Why this cowardice you ask? Well we once had a dish at another Izakaya which was very similiar. I believe it was called Salmon and his 5 friends.. Which included raw salmon, fried wonton skins,green onion, egg and other ingredients. When it arrived it looked AMAZING... until the waitress cracked the raw egg into the mix and began to whip it aggressively until it was a fishy, foamy mess. After one bite, we dubbed it, Salmon and his 5 Frenemies and have been leery of all raw fish combinations since. True story.
I dug in first since Jenny had braved the thick oden gauntlet earlier.... Well. It was delicious. A surprising blend of flavors. The sweet melon was a lovely compliment to the tuna which I think is due to subtle but clever seasoning. I loved the sweet frozen melon shavings on the top and the dashi jelly was interesting just by itself but AMAZING when eaten with the fish and melon. Overall, Loved it! Would eat it again. In fact, I'm kinda craving it right now.
This is our beloved croquette.
J and I are great friends but there's an area of contention. A scuff in our otherwise perfect love... and that's when we have to share a croquette. Then it's throwdown time. For the sake of friendship we always get one for each of us.
They take a hard boiled egg, wrap it in pumpkin, roll it in pancho (I think) and deep fry til the delicious outer crust is crispy. It's pure heaven if you love hard boiled eggs. The pumpkin adds a crunchy, sweet, shell to the egg and while an unlikely pairing in western food, this is a perfect marriage of flavors. Just as good as Guu Thurlow, it was good to see that the quality carried over.
We also ordered the Ramen with duck and leek. The noodles were al dente and as far as noodles considered perfect in flavor and preparation. The duck was tender with the skin a little crispy - the breast having very little fat, and melting in your mouth as you enjoyed its succulent flavors. Interesting enough, orange zest was likely grated into the ramen to help cut the fat but also the orange oils from the rind flavored the broth and noodles subtly with each bite. J didn't notice it, but I did and I really enjoyed that attention to detail. Orange and Duck go really well together.
Despite not being a fan of leeks, I tried the leak which was grilled hard on one side only. As I bit down an gooey oniony goo injected it's full leeky flavor into my mouth. The remaining veg after the initial bite was sweet and tender. Leek lovers will LOVE how it's been prepared. Me, I felt a bit violated ;P
The chopsticks say it all. We enjoyed our visit and would return again. One thing Guu lovers will appreciate is, while Guu Garden doesn't have the chaos you've come to enjoy at other locations, the already good service is even better as they have more time to spend with you and to look after your needs.
Hope you enjoyed the review. Please leave comments.