Restaurant review: Woktastic Noodle & Sushi Bar
Woktastic Noodle & Sushi Bar * * *
Paradise Place, Birmingham. Tel: 0121 236 3130.
Different things amaze different people and such is life’s rich tapestry.
Astronomers gaze with wonder each time they stick an eyeball to a telescope. Where you and I might see only darkness and indistinguishable pin-pricks of light, they see stellar splendour and ponder the unfathomable potential of inter-galactic bigness.
Similarly, the owners of TGI Fridays must pinch themselves every night when they survey their dining room and see that, yes, incredibly, people really still want to eat buffalo wings and “cool bleu cheese dip” in 2009.
The thing that amazes me, though, is the sheer number of people who love being asked out for a meal. All right, I don’t kid myself I am the big draw here. I know full well, and don’t object to the fact, that I am simply the meal ticket. It is an open relationship, not unlike that enjoyed by prostitute and client.
Sometimes, the culinary earth moves; other times, the fireworks fail to explode so my guest and I just smile rather shyly, shake hands and say our goodbyes. Triumph or otherwise, people are always keen on a return fixture, so I guess my playful, endearing company must play some part, however minor.
Naturally, I expected to be deluged with interest for the annual McComb Christmas bash. Nuneaton Archie was up for it, veritably gagging for a festive scoff. Then, at the last minute, he blew me out, apologised and said he had tickets for a Simple Minds concert. Simple Minds? Was he out of his tiny mind? I hung up.
So I approached Jerry. We were all set. A festive hotel setting beckoned. Turkey and all the trimmings. Then Jerry announced – the day before! – that he had double-booked. “Drop the other loser,” I texted him. “I’m more important.”
“I can’t,” he replied. So I dropped him. Jerry can starve in 2010, for all I care.
By now, I had tired of seasonal largesse. And the plain truth is that I am a fragile soul. I don’t take rejection well and a third rebuff may well have sent me back to the therapist and I can’t afford her any longer.
Having been left out in the cold, I decided to do the only logical cold thing – and eat cold fish.
With my grand plans in tatters, I headed to Woktastic noddle and sushi bar in Paradise Place. What better place to celebrate Christmas than in Paradise, on my own.
It took me three days to park in the rammed multi-storey in Brindley Drive, off Cambridge Street. This is the world’s stupidest car park. Like most of the city’s central car parks, whole areas are given over to municipal free-loaders. They should damned well pay like the rest of us. Stuff their concessionary parking. Ever tried getting a place at Snow Hill station car park in December? Another joke. Whole areas are given over to spongers. It’s parking apartheid.
But at least there’s pedestrian access to Snow Hill, so you can get back to your car. The main door at Brindley Drive, leading out on to Paradise Circus, locks on exit so the only way you can get back in is by walking to the other side of the building.
Mentally broken, I approached Woktastic from Centenary Square, through the spill-over of the Frankfurt Market. It was a disconcerting experience.
The first food stall I encountered was selling paella and Spanish meatballs. Was I in a Brummie interpretation of a German market in Benidorm? Then, I spotted the Kinver sausage stall, selling Staffordshire’s finest not-really-that-German-at-all-but-who-cares sizzling bangers.
I shook my head at the hardy souls gathering in the sub-zero blast, nibbling on whopping great porkers with chattering teeth and frost-bitten hands.
They must be potty, I thought. And I soon realised I must be, too. Because when I walked into Woktastic, it was almost as cold as Ice Station Paradise, although there were chairs. Survival tips from Sir Ranulph Fiennes rushed through my brain. Don’t touch the metal cutlery with bare flesh: it’ll freeze to your pinkies. I had visions of having to saw off my own arm.
Fortunately, the interior decoration was entirely in keeping with my subdued mood. There was a small tree with lights and baubles just inside the entrance, but Christmas isn’t forced down your throat. There are no waitresses in Santa hats, nor tinselled kazoos and drunks.
A Japanese Craig David was piped through the speakers – no crass festive songs, no wokking around the Christmas tree. My spirits soared as my core temperature plummeted. Rarely have I been in such a chilly restaurant.
Sushi bars hold many attractions. They are supposedly healthy unless you eat three kilos of tuna and a side of raw salmon and the food is instant. You just watch the revolving conveyor belt and dive in, no shilly-shallying about with dozy waiters. This is just as well because it took 15 minutes for someone to open a can of Diet Coke and deliver it to my place. I know I should have had green tea, if only to warm me up, but thought tinned pop would be quicker.
I asked if hot food came round on the revolving belt and was told it did. So I ate salmon nigiri, tuna nigiri, squid nigiri, octopus nigiri (I ate a lot of nigiri) and some avocado maki while I waited for the hot stuff. When it arrived, it comprised spring rolls (cold) and squidgy squidy rings (warm-ish).
It’s probably my own fault for not asking for the hot food menu, but regular diners, like me, are notoriously thick. Restaurateurs should never over-estimate the ability of a customer to make an informed choice. Still, the waitress had said the sushi belt featured hot dishes (as it does as Yo! Sushi) and it didn’t, not really.
By now, I was too cold to hang around for a bowl of chicken noodle soup and stared enviously at my neighbour, who had a dish of steaming prawn dim sum. I toyed with trading a nibble of nigiri but thought it might be construed as a weird chat-up line. I might end up with egg, or wasabi, on my face.
Value-wise, the place takes some beating. I had lunch and a drink for less than £12. I’d happily go back to Woktastic because I quite enjoyed the sushi. But I’ll leave it until the spring, by which time I may have thawed out.