Brighton has now accumulated a fair cluster of chain restaurants but the ratio still remains happily in favour of our independents. But there is space for the chains and the balance is good, ensuring there is something for everyone, including diners who need the safety net dining experience, and sometimes convenience, a chain can offer.
And some of them I have a lot of time for myself; Carluccio's is one of my usuals, mainly for the actual produce (my go-to polenta and grissini) but I have enjoyed quite a few good meals there, I love a great big bowl of cure-all Pho every now and then and also Jamie's Italian have fed me well too with great pasta, meats and a half decent burger.
But Wagamama is the one I have been to the most, it's around the corner from my studio so great for speedy, slurpy lunch breaks, and in a city where space really is a premium, it's one of the few places you can guarantee to be seated if you are with a group with no reservation. They are particularly brilliant it you have kids (yeah, yeah, boo hiss), with friendly staff who turn a blind eye to the mess (sorry!). They also have those fantastic Phil and Ted clip-on high chairs which were so good I bought one for Baby Foodie after using one there.
I've always found their entry-level Japanese inspired food really fresh, filling, relatively healthy (check the menu before you go as some items are really calorific) and good value. So I was really happy to be invited along to try their new Spring/Summer menu which is hitting the restaurants any time now.
It seems as if they are trying out a few new things to pep-up their menu a bit. We sampled quite a few dishes but my highlights were definitely the Miso Salads, dramatically flecked with black hijiki seaweed. This comes with chicken or salmon (both good) and loads of fresh, sweet peashoots, crunchy carrot and goma wakame seaweed. The dressing was a fiery wasabi miso mayonaise dressing. I normally opt for a salad here so this is right up my street.
Also good and screaming healthy is the glass noodle salad with a pile of edamame and afzuki beans, roast squash, rocket and again, some goma wakame seaweed. The dressing was an interesting avocado and wasabi one, bound with a little mayo I think. The portion was rather massive and filling too, bigging up your 5-a-day quota for sure.
The boys on the table seemed to like the beef lettuce wraps. They had a nice kick of heat in a barbecue sauce and served with soft red peppers an onions. I thought the curly endive was an interesting wrap choice, making it a bit tricky to eat, trying to tuck the wayward ends in your mouth, but gave it a nice crunchy texture.
They are also introducing some summer rolls, which personally I can take or leave at the best of times. I don't go crazy for the rubbery texture of rice paper but enjoyed the chicken ones (beef also available). I would have preferred a bit more heat in my dipping sauce though but the miso marinated chicken was beautifully tender.
I normally wash a Wagamama meal down with one of their juices and they have added two new ones which I sampled. The strawberry, apple, orange and mint version was lovely, like a fresh grown up milkshake alternative - would be great with a shot of vodka! They also have an Alphonso Mango juice too but you have to love texture in your drink for that one.
So, despite some changes, there are some things that are staying the same. For the die-hard Katsu Curry lovers, you can rest assured that it is still firmly on the menu.
30 kensington street, off north road
I was invited by Wagamamas to try the new menu.