I remember my first dining experience at Wagamama. It was in the Soho London branch next to my office, and a friend had suggested that we grab a quick bite to eat. It was a relatively new concept in the UK at the time – the idea you all sit together with strangers at a communal table and order big steaming bowls of ramen noodles. I loved it, because it’s the type of food I’ve grown up with and, beforehand if I ever wanted to have this type of meal, I’d have to go to Chinatown (or Hong Kong ) to get it.
Of course, Wagamama’s asian quick fast food is now a staple in towns across the UK, with new branches opening all the time – there are even restaurants in Boston and New York , USA, now.
Since my first Wagamama meal in Dean Street, I’ve lost count quite how many noodles I’ve slurped or katsu curries I’ve demolished. Over the years, I’ve never really had a bad dish, although some have been better than others.
When I took Monkey up to London for a day trip last week, I decided to grab some lunch at Wagamama’s new Covent Garden branch in Bedford Street and this was the first time I’d taken him. As always when you walk in, it’s heaving. But we were shown to a table straight away.
Monkey was delighted to be handed a cup of crayons and a KO Club activity sheet – a new kid-friendly activity where kids can invent their own Wagamama dish, take part in a colouring competition and make their own origami ‘ko monster’.
As he got stuck into the colouring, I checked out the kids’ menu which really impressed. A large range of mini Japanese dishes from chicken noodles, katsu cod cubes to fried rice. He opted the chicken yaka soba and was very specific in asking for no peppers! He also insisted we get some chicken gyozas and the helpful waiter suggested we could have these fried instead of steamed. He also made my mum’s day when he suggested she couldn’t possibly be old enough to be my mother!
I always get slightly overwhelmed with the menu. I flit from ramen, to the curries, to the noodles and can never settle on a choice. Eventually, I went for a firm favourite, chicken and prawn yaki soba – soba noodles with egg, peppers, beansprouts, white and spring onions. garnished with fried shallots, pickled ginger and sesame seeds, while mum went for a chef’s special of steak bulbogi – marinated sirloin steak and miso-fried aubergine served on a bed of soba noodles, dressed in a sesame and bulgogi sauce. finished with spring onions, kimchee and half a tea-stained egg. We also couldn’t resist some chilli squid, and bottle of wine…
The food came quickly, but we had a enough time to do some of the activities on the KO sheet before Monkey tucked into his noodles, which were filling and nutritious. He really enjoyed the sweet taste of the teriyaki sauce. Meanwhile, my yaki soba were steaming hot, straight from the wok, and really tasty. And my mum’s steak was done to perfection, pink and tender. All finished off with a chocolate cake and the sweetest vanilla ice cream I’ve ever eaten.
As I mentioned before, sometimes I’ve had an average meal and experience at Wagamama – the last being at Gatwick Airport before we flew to Sardinia. However, at Bedford Street, we had great food, great service and didn’t feel rushed in any way. Monkey also enjoyed the KO Club sheet.
When Wagamama is good, it’s really good. Even after 25 years on our high streets and in our towns, the chain is pushing forwards with new dishes and new concepts to keep hungry customers satisfied.
And it proves noodles are still big business…
* This post was written in collaboration with Wagamama UK