Friday, 29 June 2012
Wimbledon used to be the place that restaurants went to die. It's strange how the smartest areas of town seem to suffer from a dearth of decent eating options; look at Hampstead, for example, with its couple of half-assed gastropubs and a Gaucho Grill, or Knightsbridge & West Brompton where people go to see and be seen eating salad. You'd think that where the disposable income goes, good food would inevitably follow but the opposite seems to be the case; where times are hard, and incomes low, restaurants fall over each other to offer great value and a great time. In areas that they don't have to try to turn a profit, well, they don't.
Thank heavens, then, that Wimbledon finally has a restaurant worth the trek to SW19. I don't mean Sticks'n'Sushi of course, oh no - that wouldn't be worth anyone's Zone 3 Oystercard supplement. I mean the Lawn Bistro, up the hill in Wimbledon Village, which opened a few months ago and is serving classy, starry dishes for a very reasonable amount of money and which I enjoyed very much. I may one day get around to reviewing it, but in the meantime Hugh Wright has, as usual, said everything worth saying about the place on his blog and I urge you to go read it.
Anyway, to Sticks'n'Sushi. The ninth in a chain, though the first in London (all previous branches are in Copenhagen), it presumably has plans to expand even further so quite why they've chosen Wimbledon for their flagship is unclear. Perhaps it has something to do with the huge space required for their "concept" - a massive open kitchen consisting of rows of gleaming workstations and looking like the set of Iron Chef. It's certainly impressive, and the rest of the room is attractive in a sort of chainy way even if it did remind me rather disturbingly of the inside of Fire & Stone in Covent Garden.
But my heart sank when I saw the "menu". Rather than have anything so pedestrian as a sheet of paper with available dishes listed on it, Sticks'n'Sushi prefers you rifle through a glossy catalogue of artfully photographed seafood, with barely more than a couple of dishes per double-page for extra annoyance, and the odd box of smug 'sustainability' guff. Even more incredibly, there are two of these catalogues, one containing A La Carte and the other a number of suggested "meals" with irritating names like "Salmon, duck and his friends" and "Mixed emotions". It's almost impossible to settle upon anything though because by the time you've reached the last page of this Littlewoods Catalogue of Food you've completely forgotten what came first. It's pointless, and annoying, and so in a desperate attempt to cobble together some kind of variety between the two of us we ordered a few bits of sashimi and a few yakitori and hoped for the best.
The food, on the whole, wasn't all that bad. Some "blini" (not very Japanese I know, but they were a special suggested by our waiter and rather than to have to plough through that menu again we agreed to have them) were on the bland side but still had enough nice fresh fish and crab to be worth the effort. Sashimi (tuna, salmon and yellowfish) was nicely presented on a pile of ice but were only middling-quality as you can probably tell by the rather mean strips of fat in the salmon. And beef tataki threw some interesting textures together, and was particularly enjoyable dipped in the goma dressing it came with, but was fairly low quality cow.
Elsewhere, "ebi bites" (deep fried prawn things in batter) were soft and greasy and drowning in mayonnaise, tuna yakitori was overcooked to dry grey, and chicken tebasaki (wings) managed somehow to be bland despite being incredibly overseasoned. Nothing was hideous, or even inedible, and I can think of certain things I would even like to try again amongst the whole load of stuff that I certainly wouldn't, but overall this was mediocre Japanese food, all style and no substance, glossily presented but lacking heart.
Which is what you might expect from a chain, and it's still not the worst Japanese food I've eaten in London (Yo! Sushi has few rivals in that department), so why is there no chance of hell I'd ever go back to Sticks'n'Sushi? One reason and one reason only - the stupidly high prices. Our meal, with a couple of cocktails and a £20 half (half!) bottle of sake came to £112.16. Luckily for us (if not them), this was a PR invite, but this is about as much as you'd pay in Roka on Charlotte Street, where the flashy presentations are matched by real skill at the stove, or even at Sushi of Shiori where £50/head will buy you two hours in the company of London's most talented Japanese chef. It's cheaper than Umu perhaps, or Yashin, but for heaven's sake this is a chain with chain ambitions, not a boutique omakase sushi bar. It's simply not worth this amount of money.
But don't worry Wimbledon, you still have the Lawn Bistro. And don't worry the rest of London, because there's no need to travel to SW19 for good sushi, you can go to anywhere above as well as Asakusa in Mornington Crescent or Ten Ten Tei in Soho. And for great yakitori, as well as Roka there's the wonderful Bincho on Old Compton Street, which regularly offers a thrilling range of things on sticks for very little money indeed. I'm not sure what it says about the standard (and cost) of food available in Cophenhagen that SnS is so wildly popular over there, but we have no need for another mediocre Japanese chain over here thank you very much. One is more than enough.
I was invited to Sticks'n'Sushi