Prior to the opening of Oxford’s Westgate next week, we were invited to a preview evening of Sticks N Sushi on the fancy rooftop terrace. Granted, it didn’t look too fancy last night but there was an entire army of hi-viz vests scuttling around and I was repeatedly reassured that “yes, it will all be ready for Tuesday’s grand opening”. We were whisked through by security and there was little chance to do much more than think “where exactly are we right now in relation to what used to be here?!” and “oooooh”.
The answer to that question, by the way, is where the golf ball used to be, overlooking Littlegate Street and up towards Queen Street but I could be wrong, I was thoroughly disorientated by that point!
Anyway, after navigating cables and trees and indeterminate items waiting to be unpacked, we arrived at the relatively calm oasis of Sticks N Sushi. This was their first open session and whilst I heard a few reports of one or two nervous staff members, we didn’t see any of that and that is exactly why you have a soft launch – to get feedback on the food, find out what works and what doesn’t and give staff a chance to get that smidgen more confidence. I usually think it’s unfair to review somewhere in the opening days unless, like this, it’s that bloody good.
The restaurant itself is a corner unit, benefitting from two glass sides which, when finished, should offer some pretty awesome views of Oxford. Inside is an exposed roof, low hanging lights, social tables as well as private ones, bar seating and a higher table set up to take advantage of those views. All of which can be separated off by the use of deep blue sheer material to create individual areas rather than one cavernous space. One quibble I did have was the range of lighting. We were at the end of a social table seating ten and there were spots of light and spots of dark. Given that my eyesight isn’t great anyway, I found myself leaning into the lighter spots to read the menu and moving my plates over in order to get photos! Not ideal if you’re sat next to complete strangers. Some of the smaller tables have their own anglepoise lamp, others have much brighter hanging lights.
Once seated, we were advised that as it was a launch event a special selection of dishes had been selected for us – a sigh of relief there as the menu is pretty damn extensive – running to 32 pages! A lot of it is made easier for you by suggested platters so don’t be put off! Hot towels were provided, along with a carafe of still water that contained a charcoal stick that removed the impurities in the water. Given how hard and nasty tasting Oxford water is, this attention to detail impressed me. A glass of very good Sauvignon Blanc and a bottle of Kirin Ichiban Japanese beer arrived along with a bowl of soy glazed, grilled edamame, £4.80. These were served with a wedge of lemon, giving the little pods a salty, sour, smoky flavour which went down very well.
Our first dishes were tuna tartare – tuna, avocado, sesame, yuzu, miso, ginger, spring onions and rice chips, £9.80 and kobu kataifi – sea bass, wafu, kataifi and spring onions, £12. The tuna was fresh, firm and the balance of flavours worked really well. The rice chips were thin, crispy and way bigger than the chips description leads you to expect!
Seabass slivers were wrapped around kataifi – finely shredded crispy pastry, think of Turkish baklava with that crisp vermicelli, with a dressing of soy, mirin and rice vinegar.
Already impressed at this point, we were keen to see what came next! Ebi bites are tempura shrimp drizzled with a miso aioli, chilli, lime and coriander £7.80 and these came with hotate kataifi, £10.80, which made us both “ooooooooh’ simultaneously! Scallops wrapped in that crispy kataifi with miso aioli and bursting little balls of trout roe on top. The sweet meatiness of the scallops, the crunchy coating, the salty creaminess of the aioli and the little explosions of the roe all combined to sheer joy.
And then the sushi arrived! Six different types on our plates, suzuki seabass nigiri £3.00, salmon nigiri £2.40 both of these slivers of fish on top of sushi rice, ready for us to adorn with pickled ginger, creamy wasabi or soy sauce. Then there was gypsy roll filled with seared fish, avocado, cucumber, ginger, chilli and red onion £7.50. Pink alaska was salmon, cream cheese, avocado and crayfish roe £8.50. crispy ebi was tempura shrimp with spicy sauce and sesame £8.50 and finally, a Mamma Mia of avocado and cucumber rolled in chives and sesame £6.50.
Next up was a selection of sticks, we had two different flavours. The first was a chicken teriyaki £3.60, three meatballs on a skewer liberally drizzled with teriyaki sauce. These were almost like a sausage, with a casing that when bit into released juicy, herby meat mingled with the sweet, tart, saltiness of teriyaki. Really, really good. The other stick was the only jarring point of the evening for me. Chiizu Maki, bacon wrapped Emmental cheese £3.50. Any other time I would be all over this but alongside everything else that we’d eaten, it was big, bold, brash and overpowering. I ended up with a mouthful of hot gooey cheese that just didn’t gel for me with the delicate flavours of everything else.
Finally, dessert! We had yuzu cheesecake with raspberry umeshu jelly and chocolate fondant, all desserts are £3.40 or you can choose three for £9. Or you can go all out and have a taster of all twelve desserts for £30. If you can manage that at the end of a meal, then I applaud you! The cheesecake was creamy, citrusy and with a crumbly base then topped with cubes of jelly, which for me were somewhat unnecessary, the cheesecake didn’t really need it in my opinion. Chocolate fondant isn’t something I expected to see but this was a dark chocolate caramel with a peppermint core and a hazelnut brittle that worked really well with that zing of mint in freshening the palate. We washed these down with a couple of very good espressos and then we rolled our way home!
As you may have already guessed, we were pretty bloody impressed. If this is an indicator of the standard of just a few of the new restaurants we have incoming, then I’m going to be very, very happy. Skint but happy and full! Our full food bill would have come to around £100, plus drinks so don’t expect this to be a Yo Sushi type experience – it’s way, way above that. You absolutely get what you pay for in terms of quality, freshness, service and ambience. However, you can do this on less of a budget by choosing from one of the many platter suggestions in that very extensive menu so don’t be intimidated by our bill – where we definitely overindulged but it was SO GOOD!
Go for a special occasion or go with friends and relish every moment!