Guu is one of my choice restaurants in Vancouver. The tasty food, the fun atmosphere, the entire izakaya concept: who could say no to getting yelled at upon entry into a restaurant? As such, when I read on Twitter that a new store, Guu Kobachi, was opening up, I managed to coerce Nobody into trekking over on opening day.
For whatever reason, I thought there would be an epic line-up. Contrary to my beliefs, the two of us were seated at the bar as soon as we went in thanks to the fact that we arrived just after it officially opened. With its Japanese-looking storefront, Guu Kobachi fits right in with this block of Denman Street. I was lucky enough to find some free 2-hour parking on nearby Barclay Street. Although they do have a small-parking lot in the rear that’s available after 6pm, there are various sections of free, non-permit parking on the residential side-streets, such as Robson (past Denman), Haro (yes, it’s a street name), Barclay, and such. Good luck finding a spot, though.
In comparison to the original Guu, Kobachi definitely has a bit of a sharper, cleaner feel to it, but you still get an izakaya feel to it from the larger communal table near the back and the Japanese decor. There were numerous pots of flowers, given as gifts from various Japanese companies, scattered throughout the restaurant, which was a nice touch of homely grandiose. Aside from the ambiance, what separates this Guu from the others is that the menu changes daily. That’s always an exciting adventure, of course: who knows what they’ll be serving up from day to day? When I was handed the menu, the second page was accidentally left out at first, so I thought that the choices were quite limited at first. They serve up smaller Kobachi dishes ($3.80/each), different preparations of sashimi and salad ($6.80/each), special dishes, udon, and salads. If you’re with a big group, you may as well order all of the relatively inexpensive Kobachi dishes just to get a chance to try everything.
The first item to arrive was the miso kakuni, which consisted of 5 pieces of slowly stewed pork belly and quail egg in haccho miso and soup. I really enjoyed this dish: the texture invited you to sink your teeth in and really enjoy the fatty meat, and the slightly sweet, somewhat tangy flavour was expansive and dynamic. If they’re offering this, I would advise ordering it.
Another Kobachi dish, the chicken gizzard, came next. I’ll admit I wasn’t quite sure what part of the chicken the gizzard came from and ordered the dish solely because I thought the name was kind of amusing. Thanks to our collective data plans, Nobody and I eventually narrowed it down to some kind of digestive organ. Cold and sitting in a pool of chili oil, the gizzard had a mildly spicy taste that was pleasant to eat as an appetizer of sorts. In terms of texture and size, it was like eating a chewy peanut. You do get a bit of a strange, somewhat unpleasant aftertaste after eating this, though, so wash it down with some beer. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, order this.
A staple at izakayas, we also ordered the chicken kara-age regular ($5.80). Served with a size of mayo sauce, I really liked this. The chicken was succulent and had a very inviting texture to it, although it could have a been a little crispier. Nonetheless, anything deep-fried just has to be good, of course.
The kaki-ten ($7.80), oyster tempura with miso-flavoured mayonaise and served in a bamboo steamer, came next. Continuing with the philosophy on deep-fried foods, Nobody and I both particularly enjoyed this. The tempura batter was very crispy and fried quite well, giving a salty taste to the oysters inside. When paired with the mayonaise, the pieces were quite enjoyable to eat. A problem that may arise in its consumption is the oyster spilling out as you’re eating it, so be sure to slurp it up quickly.
The sockeye salmon sashimi came next. Its presentation was extremely cute: it was served in a small boat of sorts, with a generous amount of wasabi in a tiny flowerpot. The soy sauce was also given in a more traditional-looking soy sauce jar; you can vaguely see it in the background of the photo (and no, I’m not quite sure why I stopped using flash). I ordered this sashimi out of my love for sockeye salmon, but Nobody and I felt that it was a bit of a miss. The fish was not as beautifully red as it could have been, and the pieces were quite small for its price. The freshness and taste were certainly there, but this dish really came and went quite quickly. Perhaps the marinated version of this would have been a bit more gastronomically exciting, although its presentation is already quite so aesthetically.
Another Kobachi item, the marinated conchi in garlic soysauce, came after. This was another dish that I ordered out of curiosity after seeing its name: the two of us weren’t too sure what “conchi” was, and a Google search surprisingly wasn’t too helpful. After asking our waitress, we eventually learned that it was whelk, which, I suppose, makes sense. Like the gizzard, this was served cold and had quite an interesting, slightly rubbery texture of it. Each piece had quite a tangy, somewhat salty flavour to it thanks to its marination. Again, another adventurous food item to try.
What came next was a half-hour break in food as we waited for our next dishes. Throughout our meal, each dish took quite awhile to come, but this is probably attributed to the effort they put into their dishes as well as the fact that it was opening day. Eventually, the rolled green cabbage arrived. Interestingly enough, we were served one of these at first, and another came in its own bowl a few moments after we had divided the sole helping we initially received. We weren’t too sure as to why this is, although we were only charged for one in the end. The description of this item, stewed ground meat rolled in Chinese cabbage and drenched in tomato chicken soup, made it sound quite appetizing. However, the rolls looked a little dumpy and haphazardly put together. While the roll itself had quite a good texture for something rolled in as stringy of a wrapper as cabbage, the tomato soup came on a little too strong; it was almost like eating a spoonful of tomato soup (what?). The dish was okay overall.
The barley-fed pork miso ($8.80), broiled miso-marinated barley-fed pork loin on a bed of greens with two cubes of sweet potatoes on the side, was the final item to arrive. The meat had a nice flavour to it; it was pleasantly salty without being overpowering. It was, however, a little dry, although the texture was not necessarily tough or hard to chew. The sweet potatoes on the side certainly complimented the meat by way of contrast. A plus was the fact that the greens underneath did retain some of the flavourings from the pork, though, and it was a great way to actually get some vegetables ingested.
We were at Guu Kobachi for about two hours and a half to sample their opening-day offerings. Our bill came to around $26.50/person, which is quite standard for Guu sans alcohol (I’m a responsible driver). My overall thoughts on what I had at the restaurant were positive. In general, the diverse range of dishes offered just on its first day showed the care and effort that Guu puts into ensuring that the quality of their food is top-notch. While Kobachi may not capture the free spirit that is Guu Original, it is nonetheless a solid addition to Denman Street and the Guu franchise. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, I would definitely advise giving Kobachi’s concept a try.
Conclusion: Andy ate a lot.
735 Denman St.