Wasabi Sushi is a kaitenzushi (or sushi train) restaurant on Cuba St, run by the same people who own the Kazu restaurant on Tory St and Kazu Yakitori & Sake Bar on Courtenay Place. I had been there once or twice under its former management (though I can't remember much from those visits), but was pleasantly surprised when I returned from a stint overseas and came across the post-facelift Wasabi.
Although I can't remember the old Wasabi too well, the new one feels a lot brighter, more energetic. The walls are now painted white and ample lighting allows a clear view of the dishes on the conveyor belt which circles around the long-narrow bar. No mood lighting here, but it suits the atmosphere - somewhat fast-paced (though not hurried), lively, fun.
E and I often come here when we need something quick, but don't want junk food. And this is about as fast as it gets: you're seated, drink orders taken, and off you go, pulling food off the conveyor belt as soon as you like.
The sushi, while perhaps not at the standard of a high-grade sushi restaurant in Tokyo, definitely gives a solid performance. On this occasion we started with the salmon nigiri ($2.80) and a small plate of edamame ($2.80), which we nibbled at whilst we gazed at the constant parade of food passing by and waited for our opportunity to pounce.
That opportunity came soon after with a plate of seaweed salad ($3.50), one of my favourites. As an exchange student in Japan during high school, my host mother tried to force me to eat this semi-slimy salad, and I hated it. But, as time went by, I started to actually enjoy the salty, toothsome bite of the seaweed, the hint of savoury sesame. Wasabi's version didn't disappoint, and it was gone in no time.
A lot of the items passing around on the conveyor belt seem to be pretty standard: the same old salmon nigiri, the avocado rolls, and so on. Often (especially when the place is not so full) they are the same old dishes, making their way around twice, three times, and more. Which is fine, but when something interesting pops up, I'm the first to grab it. On this occasion I spotted an eyecatching seared rare beef nigiri ($3.50) .
Although I generally like my meat cooked medium rare or more (stemming from an incident whereby I unwittingly ate raw horse sashimi in Japan), this was actually quite good - there was a hint of soy and sesame - could it have been the flavour of the marinade?
There are a lot of creative-looking sushi rolls making the rounds at Wasabi, such as the spicy roll ($3.50) (I'm unsure what the official name of this creation is) below. Though I'm usually more of a sushi purist (why does everything have to be covered in some crazy sauce?!), they are still quite enjoyable.
Inari-zushi ($2.80), or as we used to call them as kids, o-inari-san ("Mr Honourable Inari"), are about as simple as you can get: a sweet-soy flavoured fried tofu skin, stuffed full of plain sushi rice.
I was a little disappointed that the ones I got yesterday were a little, um... deflated. . I mean, it's great that they're in the cheapest price bracket, and maybe I'm being too picky, but leaving out that extra bit of rice to get the tofu skins filled nice and plump, right to the edges without having to fold up the wrapper, can't possibly be saving that much money? Or maybe it can, there is a recession on after all. (NB: Just Hungry has a great photo of how inari-zushi should look, plus a recipe.) I have no complaints as to taste, though.
A couple of non-sushi dishes that sometimes pop up (unfortunately, I didn't see any on this visit) which are worth snatching off the line include ebi-furai (crumbed prawn), kara-age (Japanese fried chicken) and more. Miso soup and udon noodles are also available if you need something to warm you up, and sushi can be made to order, which is great if you've been staring at the dishes rolling by, waiting for your favourite tempura shrimp roll, which inevitably always seems to get snapped up by the couple sitting closest to the chef.
Now if you have never been to a kaitenzushi restaurant before, you might be wondering how the prices are calculated. Simple! The plates are colour coded, with each plate representing a different price bracket. Everything that passes by in front of you is priced between $2.80 and $5.50. When you're done eating, you go to the counter, and someone will count up the plates stacked up at your place and your bill is calculated accordingly. When finished, you'll end up with something like this...
Wasabi is a fun place to go for a quick bite, but beware of going there on a totally empty stomach: although each dish might be cheap, it adds up quickly! Due to the layout, it's probably not somewhere you'd want to go for group conversation: everyone sits in a line along the conveyor belt bar, so it's really only easy to talk to the person sitting next to you. Even though the concept of a sushi train restaurant is self-service, staff were prompt, attentive and courteous (this seems to be standard among the Kazu group of restaurants). Although Wasabi isn't perfect, it is definitely among my favourite sushi spots in Wellington. Recommended.
173 Cuba St
Open Tues-Sun for lunch and dinner (fully licenced)