Steel blue walls, chrome signage, semi-private dining areas separated by subtle blue curtains, filament lightbulbs and the kind of lighting that makes you feel like a character in a pre-recession bank robbery film – Sticks’n’Sushi, on the roof terrace of the Westgate Centre, barely needs to hand you a menu before impressing you.
Like the majority of restaurants at the top of the Westgate, this is not a locally-owned place, but neither can it really be denigrated with the title of ‘chain’; rather, Sticks’n’Sushi is one of a growing cohort of places that opened one or two branches in London, did rather well for themselves, and are now trying their hand at feeding the provincial masses.
In the Oxford branch at least, the interior design cannot be fawned over enough. Some very serious thought has been put into making what is quite a large space seem intimate and personal, without indulging in that annoying trend of placing rows of tables for two so close together that private conversation becomes impossible.
The menu is extensive, and often impenetrable. There are endless iterations and combinations of sashimi, nigiri, yakitori, salads, meat dishes, platters and combinations to choose from, and whilst the photography is beautiful and the dishes are clearly assembled with skill, the 15-page menu seems unnecessarily exhaustive.
If you don’t like the idea of performing advanced menu gymnastics and succumbing to paralysing indecision, let me save you the bother – head straight for the ‘Extravaganza’ platter. Because whilst Sticks’n’Sushi may have overthought their menu, they’ve also overdelivered on the food itself – it is utterly fantastic.
Served in three stages, the ‘Extravaganza’ provides enough volume and variety to rival a high-end tasting menu, and at £98 for two, is considerably cheaper. Tuna tataki is embellished with a chunky take on the vinegary wafu dressing and an indulgent sesame and black truffle sauce, and ceviche-style scallops jostle for space with wasabi and seared salmon. Juicy tempura prawns offer a crunchy, oily and moreish counterpoint to all the sharp flavours and fresh fish, but the fun really starts when you get into the sushi proper – maki rolls are laced with shredded fried shrimp and buttery wagyu beef, and salmon and hamachi nigiri deliver perfect meaty intensity atop the sticky, aromatic rice.
By the time the ‘sticks’ section arrives, you may be close to defeat, but don’t give up – one of the greatest treats on this menu are the garlicky scallops wrapped in bacon and deeply savoury, miso-marinated black cod. The rib-eye beef stick is a little dry and unremarkable, but for one item to fall flat on such an astoundingly flavoursome menu is a crime which can be forgiven.
If you do give Sticks’n’Sushi a visit – and I highly recommend you do – be sure to make a few selections from their extensive sake menu. Some served warm, others cold, some light, some strong, others sparkling and others unfiltered with visible rice sediment remaining – for someone less than well-versed in Japanese rice wine, it’s a delicious (albeit potentially lethal) eye-opener. Soak up the atmosphere and get comfortable – this is a very welcome addition to Oxford’s restaurant scene.
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