My fascination with sushi dates back to my university days in France, marked by several clumsy attempts at rolling maki in a French friend’s kitchen. Since then, sushi has steadily featured into my list of favourite foods; however, it took five more years and a move to London to turn such appreciation into unconditional love.
That shouldn’t be surprising, if you consider where I come from. Think small country town, where for ages the most exotic restaurants have been a Chinese place subject to regular Food Hygiene inspections, and a shabby kebab joint, whose main attraction is a man-sized statue of a chef holding a kebab wrap. I mean a real kebab wrap, and I’m still wondering how often they change it.
The opening of the first sushi restaurant, in 2009, caused a stir. Everyone my age wanted to try it, excited about world food finally breaking into our provincial universe. Everyone the age of my mother wondered what all the fuss was about, shocked that anyone could ever want to eat raw fish. In an endeavour to bridge this generational gap, I once took my mom there. I have a very vivid memory of that dinner, spent in the attempt to control her rage at not being able to handle sticks. To me, sufficiently conversant with the cutlery to actually enjoy my food, the sushi was good enough to warrant a second visit. I returned to that place a couple of times, but once the hype was over, its neon pink and white interiors, strobe lighting and fast food-like atmosphere became no more than the former latest sensation in town.
That remained my idea of a sit-down sushi restaurant for all these years. Given such benchmark, my first visit to Sticks ‘n’ Sushi in Wimbledon felt like the discovery of a new, unexplored land, and made me wonder if I will ever get back to sushi “as I knew it”. The same feeling I had after my first holiday in Sardinia, when I realised I’d never be able to dip my feet in the High Adriatic again, after swimming in such beautiful sea.
Sticks ‘n’ Sushi was the destination of choice for a food blogger night. The company of Leyla, owner of one of the wittiest blogs I’ve come across recently, and Selina, whose Mauritian delicacies have a special place in my heart after Food Blogger Connect 5, was a pleasure in itself.
The restaurant welcomed us to a massive expanse with spaced-out tables, ideal for both small parties looking for privacy, or groups in need of extra elbow room. If at a first glance its stylish, low lit interiors hinted at a poshness I wasn’t quite prepared for, the enthusiastic verve of our waiters Emily and Jordan, who set us up with three fruity (and better still, alcohol-free) cocktails in no time, immediately dispelled such impression.
We’d consulted the menu beforehand, and didn’t take long to settle for a sumptuous sharing platter, combining both Sticks and Sushi: warm meat and vegetable skewers, and cold fish rolls. First came a generous portion of futomaki, uramaki and nigiri. Or, for sushi novices: fish, vegetable and rice rolls wrapped in seaweed, inside-out rolls (with rice and sesame seeds on the outside, and seaweed at the core), and fish slices laid down on soft rice cubes.
While all of these were excellent, I have the fondest memory of the shrimp, halibut, tuna and salmon nigiri, fresh like no raw fish course I had before. The futomaki, with hints of avocado and ginger enhancing the taste of seared fish, also deserves a very special mention.
I was expecting sushi to win hands down on any other dish I’d sample, but the warm yakitori skewers that followed were my favourite savoury course of the evening. To my stomach, already content with a fulfilling array of sushi rolls, yakitori was a fine feast of well-paired flavours. Grilled asparagus and crispy bacon, tender chicken breast with a pleasantly mild chilli dip, and finally the tastiest of them all: tsukune meatballs, made of a chicken sausage mixture flavoured with garlic and ginger. Sticks beat Sushi, 1 – 0.
Tea and dessert introduced me to a gamut of tastes and ingredients I had only barely heard of before. Matcha latte, frothy and unusually palatable to one who cringes at the idea of tea with milk. The tangy notes of yuzu, paired with lemon in the most fresh and citrusy ice cream I’ve ever tasted. A crème brûlée that led me to rethink my resolute stance on all crèmes brûlées in the world: I shall be blamed for all the times I gave it a miss, not believing that something so smooth and delicate can be created.
The raw food cake I’d set my eye on since the beginning came last, saved in a feline goodie bag that made my Crazy Cat Lady side glow, and sneakily consumed upon arriving home, well past eleven. Even though I felt positively stuffed from dinner, curiosity was threatening to keep me awake at night. Indeed, this moist, nutty, spicy cube of sweetness was a high note on which to close my day.
I left the restaurant stuffed and happy, glad that I had worn leggings in the morning. With no buttons to unbutton, belts to undo, or zips to unzip, I felt pleasantly full even while lusting after the last bite of dessert on my way home.
My final verdict is a heartfelt thumbs up: I’d gladly return to Sticks ‘n’ Sushi. Even though its prices fit my budget for special occasions more than my allowance for regular dining out, my sweet memories of that “stuffed and happy” feeling leave no doubt about the restaurant offering good value for money. Our dinner yielded a lot in taste and satisfaction, and I’d be happy for Sticks ‘n’ Sushi to delight me again.
Sticks ‘n’ Sushi
58 Wimbledon Hill Road
London, SW19 7PA
020 3141 8800