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When it comes to eating out, I don't tend to branch out and in fact over the past year i've struggled to do so to a greater extent. Recently however, I had the opportunity to visit Wagamama, and despite some anxiety and reservations, I plucked up the courage to branch out of my comfort zone and try something new. I'd heard the name thrown about a lot, but until I visited, I wasn't sure as to what nationality of food the restaurant even served! I was in for a treat.
Who are Wagamama?
Wagamama are ultimately a chain restaurant who specialise in Japanese food! Japanese isn't a nationality I was over familiar with so I went in trying to be very open minded. The Wagamama story began back in 1992 when the first restaurant opened, located in Bloomsbury London. Since then, the restaurant has grown effortlessly in success and has expanded from the United Kingdom, now residing in over 17 countries. You may be interested to know, that the name of the restaurant actually means "Naughty Child". I found this quite funny as it wasn't something I was really expecting. The idea behind this title is that the chain like to think they are a little bit naughty, and a little bit mischievous; bringing something a little bit different to your taste pallet! After having dined here, I realise this is actually a really suitable name for the restaurants - very different to anything i've ever had. The particular Wagamama I visited was situated in Covent Garden London. We arrived for dinner at around ten past six and it was beginning to get exceptionally busy. This is only to be expected though as it was considered prime time. We were lucky enough to be seated immediately (there were three of us, and placed at a 4 seater table) however I think if we had arrived any less than half an hour later, we'd have to wait on a table as this is when the crowds began to flood in. If you are in London, and this particular Wagamama is full to capacity, there are others situated around the centre, including Tottenham Court Road, Earls Court, Camden and others. All restaurant locations for London and the rest of the UK can be found on the website with postcodes and directions!
Inside the restaurant, I was actually pleasantly surprised! It may be because I wasn't expecting too much, but the interior was actually really nice. One thing I did notice when I entered the restaurant initially was the noise. I prefer to dine in quieter restaurants these days as my anxiety can be triggered by too much noise stimulation and I must admit this place did worry me to begin with. There seemed to be many people walking about freely too. Once seated though, it was harder to notice the hustle bustle and I did end up relaxing a little more. Like I stated, there were three of us in our party and we were seated at a 4 seater table, or when I say seats, I really mean bench. I was a bit worried about how comfy these "benches" would be, but they didn't cause any problems! I can't actually remember if we were taken to a table or simply found one ourselves, but I know it was an easy process and we were seated within 2 minutes of entering the restaurant. In Wagamamas, it is likely that you may end up next to other diners that you do not know due to the lay out of the benches! It reminded me of the mean girls canteen, only a little fresher looking. It is worth bearing this in mind. If you want a quiet, private dinner, you have to be prepared that it may not end up quite as you planned.
A short while after arriving, much like any other restaurant, a waitress arrived asking if we wanted to order drinks. We hadn't really settled down yet so all opted for a quick and easy diet coke. I would have liked to have a proper look at the drinks menu and try something maybe a bit more exotic, but the diet coke did the trick and arrived back 5 minutes later. It was as diet coke is; nothing too exciting. The menu, and ordering the food was rather more challenging than ordering our drinks due to the interesting set up and display of menu items. I'm used to having starter, main course,
Pictures of Wagamama
chicken katsu curry
dessert menus easily displayed and split into easy to read sections, however this was a different set of affairs! Fair enough, it was segmented into it's relevant sections but due to our lack of understand for half the blinkin' words on the card, it proved a hilarious challenge!
The menu itself gave a clear glossary and code words stating whether things were suitable for vegetarians/spicy/allergies etc etc. All nutritional information is stated online.SIDES - I was rather confused as there didn't seem to be a 'starter' menu, however I think some people may order one of these sides as a starter dish, or something to nibble on when they wait on their main dish to arrive. Amongst these dishes you can order;
Chilli Squid which are simply as they sound; deep fried pieces of squid served with a chilli, coriander and garlic dipping sauce
Ebi katsu which are deep fried prawns served with a dip
duck dumplings and dip
chicken and vegetable dumplings Amongst many, many more! One of the girls I was with ordered the deep fried prawns which came with a delicious garlic and chilli dip! I tried one of her prawns and good lord it was amazing! It was VERY deep fried though and there was a lot of batter on the outside, so if you wanted a proper fishy starter/side this probably isn't one i'd go for. It reminded me of the chip shop prawns you get; no bad thing for me that's for sure.
RAMEN- Ramen is a section of the menu which I believe many people order their main course from. Ramen is simply a noodle soup dish. Here you can chose from dishes including;
chilli beef ramen
grilled fish ramen
pork ramen and various others. All of these come with a soup, the meat/main, and various vegetables and sauces. One of my friends ordered the chicken ramen as her main course and it arrived in a huge bowl with what looked like a ladel. She was also given chopsticks which went untouched (hahaha!). The chicken ramen looked utterly delicious!
TEPPANYAKI - thankfully, the menu came equipped with a glossary for dummies like me who are pretty clueless! This helped me decipher and decide what I wanted in the end. Teppanyaki refers to griddle cooking. These dishes include a bed of noodles fried on a griddle and topped with toppings of your choice. Again, the choices are extensive and you can chose from options such as:
chicken and prawn pad thai
ginger chicken udon
teriaki salmon noodles All of the teppanyaki dishes come with vegetables. There are also various different types of noodles to choose from including soba and udon. None of our party ordered from this section of the menu, however I must admit I was tempted and if I ever come to the restaurant again, I think I may be swayed, especially by some of the sea food options.
CURRY DISHES - when I first looked at the menu, the word "curry" is what I was immediately drawn to; probably because it's the only bloody word I could read but none the less. Even after scouring the menu top to tail and reading the descriptions of each dish, I was drawn back to the curries everytime! Amongst these options were;
mahi mahi curry
chicken katsu curry
yasai katsu curry and various others. My friend and I both ordered the chicken katsu curry which I believe is one of the most popular dishes at Wagamama! This consisted of breadcrumbed chicken, with curry sauce and rice. It is possible to get the grilled version of this and I only wish i'd known this sooner as the breadcrumbed version did seem a bit unhealthy and heavy! None the less, the chicken and curry sauce was to die for. It was absolutely delicious and definitely up there with some of the best curry i've tasted. I am not a huge rice fan however after adding salt and pepper to it, it was very tasty and I did enjoy it. There was plenty of curry sauce, and I was almost tempted to ask if I could pay for some to take home with me as it was so bloody delicious! The presentation was lovely too, the rice presented in a dome over the chicken, with the curry sauce poured generously over the fluffy white rice. On the side of the plate there was a salad and some sauce which was nice too. I managed to polish the majority of my meal off leaving only some of the rice! There was not a scrap of curry sauce left on my plate. My friend thoroughly enjoyed hers too. It definitely wasn't a traditional curry and in fact, it didn't actually seem like I was eating a curry at all, but it was really tasty none the less and I would definitely recommend it. If I was to revisit, I wouldn't say no to reordering this, but I'd also really like to try something else on the menu after this success!
DONBURI - Another section of the menu is the "donburi" which refers to a rice dish, as opposed to noodles. I am not a huge fan of rice so initially these didn't appeal, but after seeing some of the other diners receive theirs, I sort of wished I'd opted for one of them! These donburi dishes came in options such as
chicken and prawn cha han (cha han meaning stir fried rice)
chicken tama rice
teriyaki chicken donburi
yasai cha han
These come served in a large bowl with a bed of rice and the toppings you chose including chicken, seafood (prawns, salmon, egg, tofu etc) and the relevent sauces, stir frys and vegetables. The portion size of these again seems huge and something i'd really be willing to try.'CHILLI DISHES If there was something that was going to sway me away from choosing the chicken katsu curry, it was some of these utterly mouthwatering sounding chilli dishes. I don't like overly hot food, but I do like a mild chilli, so luckily these are all given a spice rating on the menu to stop yourself killing your taste buds. Amongst the options were
chicken chilli men
firecracker prawns (SUPER SPICY!)
yasai chilli men
prawn chilli men All of these dishes came on a bed of noodles (soba or udon) or rice and topped with again the relevant toppings, sauces and vegetables. I was VERY tempted, I must say!
SALADS - there are salads available too as both main courses and side garnishes. I believe that they can be customised to what you fancy but I am not 100% as we didn't order from this section of the menu.DESSERTS - after my meal I was positively full, but when my friend suggested we order dessert, I couldn't resist. In the end we decided to get two between the three of us as we were feeling pretty full up. Some of the mouthwatering options included:
chocolate fudge cake
coconut reika (coconut ice cream with mango sauce)
half moon pancakes (with a chocolate, date and orange filling - served with ice cream or cream)
an array of cheesecakes
fruit lollies In the end we opted for the white chocolate ginger cheesecake and the coconut ice cream! I particularly adored the ice cream. I'm not usually a fan of coconut flavourings however the ice cream was to die for! The subtle flavour was enough to tempt my taste buds and the sharpness of the mango sauce was absolutely delicious. The perfect tartness! I probably could have polished off an entire pint of the stuff had I had the chance. I had a mouthful of the cheesecake, but as i'm not a fan of ginger flavours in puddings, especially how rich this one was, I left it to the girls and they didn't seem to gutted about it! Both puddings were polished off nicely and I think any more than two between three of us would have been a bit much. Overall, the desserts were splendid and i'd definitely recommend pushing through your fullness to give at least one of them a go. The girl at the table next to us had what appeared to be the chocolate fudge cake, and despite not being a huge chocolate cake fan, to me, it looked AMAZING! I almost wish i'd ordered it to myself.
DRINKS - One thing I was gutted about was not getting to sample something from the drinks menu, instead only having two diet cokes. The list is huge though and there is an extensive range to choose from if you so wish!
Fresh juice including options such as root juice, super green apple juice, carrot juice, orange juice and tropical juice. All of these are fresh and full of fruity/vegetable goodness. They probably count toward about 6058 of your 5 a day as well! I would have loved to try the tropical drink.
Soft drinks - the standard affair here with options such as coke, sprite, ginger beer, appletiser, fanta etc. My friend had a fanta.
Beers, Wines and Alcoholic beverages
Hot drinks are available too in the form of various coffees, teas and hot chocolates! A hot chocolate would be a nice idea if you're too full up for a dessert but want something a little sweet to end your meal on.
** Although Wagamama is a very popular destination for a sit down lunch or dinner, there is also the option to create a BENTO BOX which can be enjoyed either sitting in or taken away. Here you can build a box up from a selection of 5 side and main dishes. These are only available in selected restaurants and are only available until 3pm Monday-Friday! They look very good though. As well as being able to prepare your own bento box, there are prepared ones including
chicken katsu bento - chicken katsu, edemame, side salad, 3 gyoza and a drink
yaki soba bento - yaki soba, edemame, side salad, 3 gyoza and a drink
yasai katsu bento - yasai katsu, edemame, side salad, 3 gyoza and a drink
KIDS MENU A very nice feature of Wagamama is that there is a kids menu. This isn't something i'd have expected as it's not a restaurant I typically associate with dining with children. This menu, although sticking fairly traditional, does "dumb itself down" and become very child friendly with some typical kiddy meals:
cod cubes- breadcrumbed cod, rice and veg
mini chicken cha han - stir fried rice, chicken and veg
mini chicken katsu - a mini version of the delicious breaded curry meal
mini chicken ramen
mini chicken yaki soba
mini grilled chicken noodle - noodles with chicken and vegetables
mini grilled fish noodle and many many more!
There is also a WINTER COLLECTION and I assume this changes with the season.Overall, the menu is extremely extensive and utterly mouthwatering. I was happy with what I choose to order however there were various other mouthwatering options i'd like to try. As someone who hasn't tried any food from Japan before, I was really thrilled and I liked how "simple" everything seemed although initially being a blinkin' nightmare to understand.
In terms of pricing, I wasn't expecting greatness! I'm used to chain restaurants where once cheap prices are now expanding greatly, so the 'classiness' of this chain didn't leave me too hopeful. None the less, the price of my meal wasn't actually too bad! Side dishes are around the £2.50-6 mark depending on the size and what you order. Most of the starts sit around £4, which although expensive, isn't too extortionate as the quality of the food seemed to be pretty high. In terms of main courses, you can expect to pay between £7 and £13 (from what I can remember!) for your meal. My chicken katsu curry cost me £9.60 which yes is pretty expensive but extremely justifiable. Drinks I found to be fairly expensive in comparison to the food. Fruit juices were between £3 and £5 and my diet cokes were £2.50 each! In the end I ended up spending around £20, including the two desserts I shared.
In terms of service I was really pleased with what we were presented with. The restaurant was clean and our table was not sticky or dirty at all. (I hate sticky tables,argh!) Although the restaurant was fairly busy at the time, we didn't feel neglected at all. Neither did we feel pressurised into making any decisions or finishing our meal. Quite often I feel that once you've finished you feel as though you have to leave immediately but here we managed to sit for a good fifteen/twenty minutes after pudding and not feel in the slightest bit rushed. We arrived at the restaurant the back of six oclock and were leaving at around 8 as far as I can remember. This gave us a good time to chat and enjoy our food without wolfing it down and feeling ill.I didn't visit the toilets myself, but my friend did and she didn't show any disgust when she arrived back so this can only be a good thing. There seemed to be a few high chairs on display too which is a good thing as these days there aren't enough and babies end up crawling around under your feet as you try to enjoy your dinner!
Overall, i'd definitely go back! It's not as good as traditional food you'd get in Japan of course, but it's not sushi and it's a little something different! 4/5 from me