Wasabi has been teasing the people of Leeds with its impending presence for over a year now – baggsying one of the renovated Albion Street plots and plastering it in promotional material weeks before Trinity launched.
Finally, last April – with much fanfare – Trinity launched but Wasabi wasn’t ready yet. Not a problem, there was to be a staggered launch with some places opening at a later date. Then a few months later, the second wave of Trinity shops opened! But Wasabi wasn’t ready yet. Perhaps – being an eaterie – Wasabi would launch at the same time as the much talked-about Trinity Kitchen. Then a few months later still, Trinity Kitchen opened! But Wasabi wasn’t ready yet.
And then almost a year later, Wasabi announced that it would be opening its doors at 12 noon on February 19th, with a generous giveaway of Free Sushi for a year for the first 50 customers. I went down and got my place in the queue at just gone 11am to make sure I was one of the lucky 50, and I waited until noon came round…and then!!
Wasabi still wasn’t ready.
In the end, we ended up being let in at about 12:35, after being strategically left outside to play hype-man and make the place look popular, while their Social Media manager Tweeted photos of us, and people wandered past on their way to buy a Boots Meal Deal.
I’ve got no problem being used as a marketing tool – that’s essentially the purpose a food blogger serves – and I’ve queued for ages to get into enough empty nightclubs to understand this particular tactic, but we were stood on the other side of the store’s glass facade, and we could tell that there was nothing going on in the restaurant to warrant this cynical delay.
Upon entering the store we were greeted by a member of staff attempting to explain the queuing system, the blueprint for which was seemingly devised by M.C. Escher. A large queue snaked around the fridges where sushi platters were kept, but you could skip that and go straight to the hot food counter if you wanted, which was sandwiched in between the fridges and the cashiers. Once you’d been served, you then had to join another queue to go to one of the tills – certain tills for hot food and certain ones for sushi, but with no indication which was which.
We decided to go for hot food, and kind of awkwardly stood near the counter, unsure if we were in the right place, or if we’d unknowingly pushed in front of somebody. My partner ordered the Chicken Katsu Curry (£4.95) and then joined one of the queues to go and pay. I stood at the counter for a while longer while people were seemingly picked at random to order their food, eventually ordering the Salmon Teriyaki (£5.95) with a Chicken Yakitori (£1), Tempura Prawn (£1) and Two Fried Chicken Gyoza (£1.50) (Although I did only get the one Gyoza).
The meals at Wasabi are very large portions, served in tubs which require you to tackle your food top-down, with the rice at the bottom. I attempted to eat mine side-on to get an even distribution of rice throughout the meal, but it defied gravity and stuck to the bottom of the tub, requiring excavation with the plastic fork.
My Salmon wasn’t terrible, but it was very poor – it possessed a strong flavour suggesting that it was long past fresh, and was dry inside and out; the only moisture coming from the Teriyaki sauce which tasted like it was made almost entirely from Balsamic vinegar.
My partner’s main was similarly bad, the chicken was greasy, with the panko breadcrumb lost its crispiness and turned almost furry, having absorbed moisture from the meat. The sauce was ok – I mentioned in my review of Yu Kyu that some attempts at Katsu curry sare nothing more than chip shop curry sauce, and this was a prime example of that.
The Yakitori, Tempura and Gyoza were of the standard you could expect from an Iceland Christmas buffet, and they were entirely cold. One bite into the hard, fatty Yakitori and I immediately lost my appetite.
Would the food have been this bad if it hadn’t been left in the hot-trays for half an hour longer than usual while the queue was left brewing outside? Not quite, but it still wouldn’t have come close to being good. This is exactly the same quality of food, if not worse, that you could receive at the most basic of All You Can Eat restaurants – at the current price point, Wasabi is placing itself in direct competition with Yo! Sushi, and it doesn’t begin to come close.
To put a positive spin on the place, the cold food that we saw in the fridges looked good and was proving very popular. Nigiri, Maki, Sashimi and hand-rolls were all lined up in impressively uniform rows, sealed in cellophane to be bought Pick-n-Mix style, or in ready-made mixed sets.
The soups and salads looked very fresh; albeit a little expensive for the equivalent of something you could get from Pret. The cost really become an issue when you consider that the brilliant Pho is upstairs, serving similar healthy salads and soups, made fresh, for around the same price.
And that’s where Wasabi really shows its flaws; Leeds has been spoilt for choice recently with various ventures popping up and providing brilliant, exciting, affordable food, made by people who actually give a shit, and this place stands out like a sore thumb. Newton’s Third Law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction; Wasabi is the antithesis of Trinity Kitchen and all of the other great food progress that’s currently being made, it is actively bad food, attempting to look like something more.
On top of this, when I Tweeted about my dissatisfaction with the food; knowing that fellow bloggers had attended, I received the following audacious DM from Wasabi:
Such is their blind arrogance and refusal to accept critique, that they assume the only reason anybody could fault them is if they didn’t win their promotional contest.
Actually, being one of the first 50 people in the store, I was given a card which entitles the holder to a free Wasabi meal up to the value of £10 every month for a year. After eating there that prospect fills me with dread, so I’ve donated my card to a person living on the streets; at least some good will come of the experience.