Until the other day I’d only heard the following about Wagamama: ‘amazing’, ‘soooo good’, ‘love it so much’, ‘really want to go to Wagamama’ and the like. With so much enthusiastic praise behind it, I eagerly anticipated my first visit. On glancing at the menu I remained considerably excited, thinking ‘oooo…this looks interesting’. Such thoughts, however, quite quickly morphed into more of an ‘ohhh…this feels a little overwhelming’ as I scanned the rather extensive list of meals. I’m an English student, I like to read, but for me there felt like far too much reading required for this menu. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It meant there was plenty of choice, the food was exotic, ‘pan-Asian’ to be precise, and after making the effort to read through the explanations as to what all the dishes were, many did sound pretty appealing.
Wagamama is styled on Japanese ramen bars, meaning lots of long tables and benches to provide a communal feel and busy atmosphere. Unfortunately for my boyfriend, this meant he ended up sitting particularly close to a small and squirming child of about five, who repeatedly knocked and poked at my boyfriend before knocking his bottle of Sprite off the table where it smashed on the floor, spraying my boyfriend and another of our friends. When the waitress came over to mop up the Sprite with paper towels, my boyfriend offered to help, more in order to gain access to the paper towels in order to wipe the Sprite off his five hour old new shoes than clean the floor. But we got one of our side orders knocked off the bill for ‘being so helpful’. This free side turned out to be the perk of the meal out, which may give you a clue as to where the rest of this review is going to go.
At Wagamama, the food is delivered to the table as soon as the individual dishes are ready instead of the whole table being served at the same time, in order that the food reaches the table extra ‘fresh’. I suppose it sounds like a good idea in theory, but I’m not too sure how much it outweighs that slightly awkward moment when the first person gets their meal and somewhat self-consciously has to make a start on it whilst the rest of the table watches and waits. I’m sure this is something you can quite easily get used to with regular Wagamama eating, but I wonder how necessary the approach really is, and how much difference it makes to how fresh tasting the food ends up being.
After as much analysis of the menu as time would permit, I think I may have managed about two- thirds, I finally settled on the Wagamama ramen; noodles in a vegetable soup topped with chicken, smooth dory, prawn, kamaboko, (a Japanese processed seafood) fried tofu, mushroom and wakame (seaweed), along with a side of chilli squid. The chilli squid, when it arrived about half way into the meal, I liked, although maybe that was because the breadcrumbs and dipping sauce were really flavoursome and spicy. But was it tasty spicy or just spicy spicy? I’m not entirely sure anymore, but I’ll settle on saying the chilli squid was pretty good. The other side dish on the table that I tried was duck gyoza (deep-fried duck dumplings with a cherry hoi sin dipping sauce) which I would also say was fairly tasty and likeable. But my main dish, the ramen, I’m not sure. This was my first ramen, so I can’t really compare it to anything. Perhaps ramen just isn’t my thing, but this one definitely didn’t do much for me. The extra additions to my bowl of noodles and soup were ok, my favourite being the one prawn that floated in the middle of the bowl (shame there was only one). But the mound of noodles at the bottom of the bowl became quite tedious to eat after a while, and the soup I can only describe as fairly average. I wondered whether perhaps I just hadn’t made the greatest menu choice, but a taste of my boyfriend’s chicken katsu curry failed to impress me either and reminded me a little too much of kebab shop curry sauce. This was my boyfriend’s second visit to Wagamama, having ordered the yaki soba on the previous occasion. He hadn’t thought much of this dish either and had put it down to a bad menu choice too. So, between the two of us, we have so far scored 3 out of 3 for choosing the wrong thing. How many times can you ‘just choose the wrong thing’ before you decide the restaurant just doesn’t cut it for you? Because part of me does really want to like Wagamama, like so many people seem to. Maybe I need to give it a few more tries, keep ordering until I choose the right thing. And another part of me wonders if that’s really worth it.
Anyone keen to defend Wagamama, I really do want to hear what you think is great about it. Likewise, if you get where I’m coming from, it would be good to know that it’s not just me failing to grasp the hype.