Enter your email to read this article
Read news on any topic, in one place, from publishers like The Economist, FT, Bloomberg and more.

Sushi Life Cardiff: 'I ate at the tiny sushi diner in line for a top award and it really deserves to win'

If you walk down Wellfield Road in Roath, you'll be met with a proper lush cosmopolitan mecca for foodies. With everything from Turkish cuisine to Italian, and from restaurants to delis to cocktail bars, it's a food frenzy all squeezed into one quaint one street that leads onto the luscious Roath Park. But with so many shops packed tightly together, it's easy to walk past the small Sushi joint that has been nominated for Restaurant of the Year in the UK's first ever Uber Eats awards - unless, like me, you were on the lookout. And although tucked away, once you try its menu, you can easily see (and taste) why it's been given a gold star.

We were late for our booking. Cardiff had decided to enter monsoon season and every man and his dog, it seems, had jumped in their car to beat the weather creating even more traffic than usual at rush hour. To make sure we didn't lose our 5.15pm slot, I quickly gave the restaurant, which opens at 5pm each day, a call to see if we can move our booking 10 minutes later, painfully aware that we had our table for only an hour and a half - it was more than fine, they reassured me on the phone.

We park up a few streets over, just off Albany Road, and powerwalk to Sushi Life to make sure we don't miss our allotted time. As we walk through the front door, which is mildly overshadowed by the Globe's painfully blue entrance, we are immediately greeted by one of three waitresses who checks our name and shows us to our table.

READ MORE: Inside Wales' newly refurbished flagship M&S foodhall

The interior is snug with just over ten (or thereabouts, depending on the size of the party) tables slotted into the small space. Decorated with industrial, large hanging lightbulbs and long, leafy plants, on a horribly rainy day, it makes for the perfect cosy atmosphere. And Sushi Life's - owned by husband and wife duo Maria and Corneliu Chiriac (former head chef and manager of Yakitori1) - prices are just as comfortable as its decor.

We start off by ordering drinks, an Appletiser at £2.30 and an Asahi Super Dry Japan Beer for a cheeky £3.20 - quite the bargain - and some appetisers: seasoned edamame beans (£4.50) and a serving of chicken gyozas (£5.80). The gyozas are salty and crisp. There's a satisfying crunch from being deep fried before you taste the chicken, which has a lovely smokey flavour, contrasted yet complimented by the sweet chilli sauce. The edamame beans are fresh, warm and dangerously moreish.

The unassuming looking Sushi Life on Wellfield Road (Mark Lewis)
Sushi Life's chicken gyoza paired with sweet chilli sauce (Eve Rowlands)

Following the recommendation from the waitress, for our main we opt for the generously portioned Tokyo Platter, which at £27.50 is an absolute bargain for what you are served. We also wanted to try a vegetarian option so went for the 'Zen Roll' (£9), of which we received a whopping eight pieces.

Arriving in approximately ten minutes, the platter looks stunning. Filled with a variety of colours and served on a bridge-like wooden curved structure, we were very happy with our choice, 24 pieces of mixed Maki rolls: California maki, Cut the Crab maki, Hell in the Kitchen maki, Prawn Tempura Maki, Green Dragon maki and Red Dragon maki rolls.

We start off with the Green Dragon Maki, which is made up of salmon, cucumber and avocado topped with sliced avocado, Japanese mayo, crispy tempura and chives. Upon the first bite, the creaminess and zing of the mayo come through immediately, followed by the freshness of the avocado. The salmon which fills the centre has a subtle flavour that is possibly outshined by the mayo. However, it's not lost, and after making your way through the rice around it, the salmon falls apart wonderfully in your mouth.

Sushi Life's Red Dragon maki roll (Eve Rowlands)
Salty and moorish edamame beans make a perfect appetiser (Eve Rowlands)

Working from left to right, the Red Dragon is next. Salmon, cucumber and avocado - which provide a certain creaminess to the centre - topped with flame-torched salmon, Japanese mayo, black masago (fish eggs) and chives. It's prominently fishier - perhaps due to the salmon overload (on the top and inside) but the addition of masago add a delicious saltiness with a zingy aftertaste. The chives for me were lost in this bite, but it wasn't missed.

The California maki (surimi (crabstick), cucumber and avocado topped with toasted sesame seeds) was subtle but interesting. Not a frequent crab-eater, this maki roll was a new experience for me. Tender and fresh - a word I kept coming back to - the crab was paired wonderfully with the roll's topping, which I couldn't quite place at first: Shredded seaweed (I'm told by our waitress). The first bite was subtle with a minerally aftertaste. A second wind introduced my tastebuds to a crispiness that was like I'd just dipped my tongue into Rest Bay's waters. Thankfully, we had two portions of each flavour each, so I was able to go back for a second sitting and its flavours were delightful and even more prominent.

This was contrasted by my next mouthful. The zen roll's beancurd outside provided a honey-like sweetness which was complimented by the sweet potato and red pepper tempura inside. Dipped in the accompanying soy sauce, it was a burst of flavour in all directions.

As we're tucking into our bridge-loaded sushi, the restaurant slowly fills up. And with a place so small, it's not difficult to do. There are now three other tables in the restaurant - one in either window and the table next to us, which was so close you could hear snippets of their heated conversation, though that only added to the cosiness of the cafe. Every so often, Sushi Life's waitresses would come over - the journey from the front desk to our table was approximately three steps, but it's the thought that counts - and check we were happy. We respond with a euphoric and genuine: "everything is delicious".

What's lovely about this little sushi stop is that not only are the tables in close proximity, but the kitchen is too. With a window through which you can see the chef preparing dishes, it's an authentic experience you don't often get to see.

Sushi Life's Cut the Crab maki roll (Eve Rowlands)
Sushi Life's Hell in the Kitchen maki roll (Eve Rowlands)

Cut the Crab's surimi filling was creamy and smooth and matched that of the cali maki - which makes sense, seeing as they both include the same ingredients, but it's the aftertaste which sets it apart. Topped again by Japenese mayo and a green masago - which is more highlighter blue than green - you get a flash of tanginess with the sandiness of the masago's salty texture. But it was this next maki roll that took the biscuit for me.

Consisting of crispy prawns, homemade wasabi mayo, cucumber and avocado topped with tuna and dots of Japanese mayo and Sriracha sauce, Sushi Life's Hell in the Kitchen roll is to die for. I would eat a plateful of it with no hesitation. I don't know if my pallette had just got more acquainted with the dried seaweed - Nori - in the sushi, but with this bite it shines through. A gulp of seawater rather than a drip - and a welcome one at that.

The smooth texture of the tuna, which has less of a fishy taste and more of a salty buttery one adds more flavour to the tempura prawn and cucumber filling. The prawn flavour is delayed, but when it hits, the Japanese mayo topped with siracha (although, I couldn't taste the supposedly hot sauce) created an explosion of flavour - especially on my second bite when I doused it in soy sauce. Seeing wasabi mayo in the roll, I was worried I'd be screaming for a glass of water, but, thankfully with my lack of tolerance for spiciness, was underwhelmed with the heat. Although, with a splodge of wasabi alone on the side, I felt it only necessary to give it a go.

Taking my chopstick, I dipped it in the centre of the dollop (which resembled play-doh) and took off the tiniest morsel of wasabi to try. It hadn't even been a second before my tongue felt like it had caught fire, and needed to be put out. It stung and tingled and was a sensation I would not like to revisit again.

With one maki roll left to try, I was hoping it's cold, sticky rice would help cool my tongue off. Sadly, it potentially warped the taste of the prawn tempura roll. While the crispy crustacean was slightly uninspiring in flavour (and not as crispy as I was expecting), my mouth was grateful for the thick, mushy rice that, on its own, was just as delightful together with the cucumber and avocado. The toasted sesame seeds also provided a nice crunch and combination of textures.

Although we were too full to even contemplate dessert immediately (a surefire sign of a good meal to me, whose tooth is sweeter than Willy Wonka's) we were running out of time and opted to get the only dessert on offer to-go: Mochi Balls, of which for £6 you receive four - either one of each flavour or four of one. With the restaurant being as small as a living room in one of Pontcanna's townhouses, I'm told the reason we only have a one-and-a-half hour slot is that they work in bands of three due to space and them being heavily booked up each evening - allowing for some walk-ins, if you're lucky. As well as in-house sushi lovers, the girls on the front desk must also sift through what it looked to be a neverending flow of takeaway orders from Just Eat, Deliveroo and more.

From when they open their doors, their slots are around 5pm to 6.30pm 7pm to 8.30pm and then 9pm onwards. We pay the bill and wander back to the car, nursing our food babies. Upon arriving home, the mochi balls were devoured before opening the car door (not subjecting ourselves to yet another downpour).

Being curious about all flavours, chocolate mousse, strawberry cheese, mango and green-tea ice cream, we went for the fabulous four - although only got three, due to strawberry cheesecake not being available, which I'm not too sad about.

Three of four mochi ball desserts available from Sushi Life. (Eve Rowlands)
Sushi Life's chocolate mousse mochi ball, dusted in cocoa (Eve Rowlands)

Coated in rice - which has been cooked and mashed into a smooth, chewy outer layer - and filled with ice cream or, in this case mousse, Mochi Balls are a typical Japanese dessert and are dangerously delicious and dainty - meaning, you can eat way too many in one sitting without even realising it. Covered in thick, stretchy rice paper, the mousse is surprisingly rich and chocolatey without being so sugary your teeth feel coated. Usually, mousse is one or the other, but this one, dare I say, is one of the most decadent (and balanced) mousses I've ever tasted. I'd give it an 11 out of ten if I could.

The green tea ice cream is next and immediately it's a no, but that's only because I am not much of a fan of green tea and that dislike extends to its ice cream counterpart. Thinking it'd be helped along with the sugar or coldness of the ice cream, I was sadly disappointed. But that doesn't mean it's bad. With a strong whiff of the flavour on the initial bite, it's the perfect dessert for someone who is far more inclined to order the drink than me. What I am a fan of, however, is mango. And so I was excited to try the final of the trilogy.

The yellow rice skin is sweet and sticky, and the flavour of the ice cream is tart and creamy. However, I'm sad to not have had as much of a euphoria biting into this as the mousse because, unfortunately, it seems the ice cream was frozen. It was not in a way that ice cream is meant to be; it hadn't yet thawed properly, so biting into the ball was like taking a mouthful of slushy snow. However, I'm not bitter. Maybe I was too quick and had it had the texture it was most likely soon to become once melted, I can imagine it would have been heaven.

With snappy and smiley waitresses tending to our needs throughout the meal, clearing our table swiftly and answering questions about the dishes without a hint of annoyance, its service is just as delicious as the meal itself. And with a full house for the rest of the evening and the next few days, it's certainly one to book ahead of time and get in (and out) quick - before they are potentially crowned winners at the Uber Eats awards and become even more rammed than they are right now. For more information on how to book and their menu, visit Sushi Life's website.