Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ (Toronto)

With so many Japanese restaurants with a rendition of Gyu or Guu in their name, keeping them separate can be confusing. At the corner of Church and Jarvis, sits Gyu-Kaku that’s more barbeque house than izakaya… it also has nothing to do with the popular Vancouver chain. Instead, Gyu-Kaku is part of a 650-restaurant worldwide franchise (though none located in Japan), started in LA.

Although their menu focuses heavily on barbequed proteins, there are also a number of izakaya-like dishes on their a la carte menu. If you’re indecisive, choose from the “BBQ course” meals available - we went with the meat lovers for two ($60). With “meat lovers” in the title, you’d expect there to be tons of protein. Served in two stages, based on cooking time, it’s a smart way to avoid overcooking the meat. The first round included yaki-shabu beef, toro beef, and kalbi chuck short rib. With these thinner cuts, we were advised to cook them 30-60 seconds per side.

Since the yaki-shabu is the thinnest, these were done in no time. Depending on the slice, they were a bit chewy, given the brisket is also rather lean. Despite the thick layer of fat on the toro, it was also a tougher cut of beef, but as you chew through it, the melted fat covers the tongue mixing with the sweet caramelized glaze to create a lovely sauce. Meanwhile, the kalbi is a combination of the two, my favourite of the bunch.

All the meat arrives marinated and flavourful. However, if it’s not strong enough or you want to change the flavour profile, bottles of sweet, spicy (really sweet and spicy), and ponzu (slightly sour) dipping sauces are also available at every table.

As we reach the finishing point, a second helping of meat arrives including bistro-hanger steak, New York steak, and spicy pork. These thicker cuts require up to two minutes per side – since we’re getting full, waiting longer is a welcomed break. Taking the longest to cook, the thick slices of New York steak are good, but should have a peppery coating instead to give it that charbroiled taste. Meanwhile, the spicy pork definitely had a kick, which sort of sneaks up on you and gets you at the back of the throat before you realize what’s happening.

By far, our favourite protein was the bistro-hanger steak. It’s tender, juicy, and has a real full-bodied flavour. While good on its own or with a bite of over-watered sticky rice, I particularly enjoyed the hanger steak tucked into a piece of lettuce salvaged from the salad.

There were a few vegetable dishes included in the meal, but it’s not a lot. To start, a bowl of Gyu-Kaku salad - leafy green lettuce topped with shredded daikon and a creamy miso dressing. During the meal came a bowl of hot salty edamame and a foil packet of corn that’s re-heated on the grill. We also added on an order of kim chee ($4) to the dinner, since the crunchy spicy cabbage goes so well with barbequed meat.

As if there wasn’t already enough protein, an order of chicken karaage accompanies the meal; the deep fried nuggets of chicken really juicy and not too heavy given they’re only dusted with a light coating of flour.

To end, a scoop of ice cream (green tea, vanilla, or black sesame) - the coldness a welcomed respite after the hot barbeque meal.

The restaurant is a little warm, but thankfully not smoky. Gyu-Kaku uses a special grill that sucks the smoke into the bottom of the table and out through a vent; even with over a dozen of them in use, the restaurant was relatively smoke-free and I left not reeking of cooked meat. Staff are also regularly replace the metal grill plate (ours was changed three times), which also cuts down on the smoke and ensures the later slices of meat don’t have burnt pieces of sauce on them.

Compared to traditional Korean barbeque restaurant, Gyu-Kaku’s service is impeccable; staff checked in at regular intervals, we never had to ask someone to re-fill our water or bring more sauce. Gyu’s yakiniku dining is quite enjoyable. Thanks to the comfortable spacious tables and ingenious smoke sucking equipment, I can get my fill of grilled meats without smelling like it.     

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 81 Church Street

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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