Advantages Quick, convenient, value for money and good quality Japanese fast food.
Disadvantages Excessive packaging, choice can be limited, can get crowded at busy times.
|Value for Money|
|Standard of Menu|
|Standard of Service|
There used to be a time when sushi and bento were considered too exotic for all but the most adventurous Western palates. When I first started out as a young lawyer in the City, the only way you could get Japanese food for lunch was to hunt out dedicated restaurants and sushi bars tucked away in obscure corners of town. In my case, that meant either a trip to Moshi Moshi Sushi – a conveyor belt style establishment hidden behind Liverpool Street Station – or for a more involved, traditional sit down meal at an independent family run eatery. In both cases, the experience of locating these places was as hard as finding the means to pay for them. Happily, with the advent of the Yo! Sushi and Sartori chains, and the adoption of pre-packed sushi in high street supermarkets like M&S, Waitrose and Tesco (and to a lesser extent, noodle bars like Wagamama), Japanese food in general (and sushi in particular) has long ceased to become the exclusive province of moneyed businessmen on expense accounts. However, until recently, accessibility came at the not inconsiderable cost of quality, but a new chain has emerged on the streets of the City of London that aims to bring affordable, takeaway sushi (and bento) of a decent standard to the masses. That chain is Wasabi.
The Wasabi chain, which has around twelve branches scattered across the business districts of London (ex. Canary Wharf, Fleet Street, Finsbury Pavement, Waterloo & Victoria Stations) offers both ready-made sushi and bento (rice, fish/meat, and vegetables arranged In a single takeaway box). The name of the chain comes from the hot green and strongly flavoured garnish usually served with sushi, which is also sometimes known as “Japanese horseradish” (although the way it gets up the nose and into the sinuses, it’s more akin to English mustard). More detail about their locations, menu and a short history can be found on their website at: www.wasabi.uk.com
Amongst all the raw fish, the less adventurous palate is catered for with Westernised favourites like tuna sweetcorn sushi and California rolls, as well as vegetable hosomaki (i.e. cucumber and red pepper fillings instead of fish, and patently non-Japanese ingredients like sundried tomato and mozzarella). A selection of soft drinks (and a few Japanese specialities like Calpico and Green Tea) are also available.Once you are happy with your selection, you queue up to pay. Wasabi can get very busy during the lunchtime rush hour (around noon to 2pm) and queues out the door are not unheard of. However, service is usually quite fast and I have never waited for more than four or five minutes. Condiments are not free – a small charge of 5p per sachet is made for wasabi, gari (ginger pickle) and soy sauce, all of which are available in front of the tills. You will be asked whether you want to eat-in or take-out, but as I have never bothered sticking around, I don’t know if there is a VAT surcharge for using the small number of tables and chairs provided. Your sushi is packed in a plastic bag with chopsticks and napkins. If you bought soy sauce, a small plastic container is provided for you to dispense it into. Most major credit and debit cards are accepted.
The prices charged are fairly similar to what you would expect to pay for an equivalent tray of sushi at M&S, and less than a third of the price of a similar selection at Yo! Sushi. In my estimation, the freedom of choice, the freshness of the ingredients and the significant improvement in quality over their supermarket equivalents makes Wasabi sushi excellent value. The food is made fresh daily and turnover ensures that what is put out in the chillers has not been hanging about too long. Anything not used is thrown away at the end of the day. My only niggle is not with the food – it’s with the packaging. At the end of a meal – between the tray, bag, wrappers, sachets and used chopsticks, there seems to be a pretty big pile of waste, some of which can be recycled, but some which can’t (the abundant plastic sushi wrappers being the main offender). This seems a disappointing oversight in an otherwise slick operation.
All in all, Wasabi provides and excellent new entry into the very crowded lunchtime shopper/office worker market, providing fast food of good quality at affordable prices (a rarity for decent sushi). With a newly opened establishment at Waterloo Station, late night returns home from town just became a lot more interesting. Fortunately, I am also blessed with one very near my new place of work, which I plan to use at least once or twice a week.Highly recommended.
© Hishyeness 2010
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