Today, with a saturated market and a healthy appetite for global cuisine, it is easy to forget how revolutionary Wagamama was to the casual dining scene. Ahead of its game in both technology and process, the lunchtime serving speed when my studio was around the corner served me well. But I’ve always had a soft spot for the chain, now reciprocated by my kids who love nothing more than slurping through bowls of ramen in a totally accessible restaurant that embraces a wide sector of diner, including little ones. I madly dined in half term and the place was rammo, yet the acoustics and loftiness of these places seem to thankfully dull the din.
Although many years since I ordered the infamous Katsu curry, it still is on the menu for the die-hard fans along with the gyoza and other Waga classics. But there are more interesting things to be had, with someone keeping a keen eye on food trends. I started with some delicious Tama Squid balls, with an amazingly crisp, lace-like batter and slightly squid centre, topped with sweet and savoury okonamiyaki sauce and bonito flakes.
These were chased down with some fluffy hirata steamed buns, seemingly a fad that is everywhere but one I am fully signed up to. The Korean barbecue shredded beef was tender and juicy and a perfect filling for those dreamy, cloud-like buns.
But ramen weather it is and on the seasonal specials across the menu (in gold foil - ooh fancy) I went for the miso-glazed cod ramen, which had great smoke and depth and enough of a little kick to appease my chilli head tendencies. It’s such a warming, nourishing meal that makes me feel good, (and very full) afterwards; the ultimate comfort food that doesn’t put you into a coma.
I can always guarantee a relatively quiet meal here if I’m out with my kids. These restaurant boast plenty of space for buggies, scooters, mr bear, various plastic dinosaurs and the three bags of stuff you always seem to hoist around for the little terrors. They also have great activity sheets and an interesting paired back menu for them with ramen, noodle or rice dishes of different topping combinations. I do like how healthy, varied and fresh it all looks and they have crafted it well for picky eaters - food is separate (massive deal) and easily identifiable (massive deal).
My son will always go for a broth based meal if offered, ramen not being too dissimilar to the pasta and brodo us Italians are accustomed to. The three year old chose the noodles with grilled fish - simple and with enough veg they actually eat to tick off your good parenting daily checklist.
For dessert they were made up with the fruit encapsulated ice lollies. Just enough of a treat and again, something that I didn’t mind ordering them (I didn't get the title Sugar Nazi for nothing). Myself, I had a massive bowl of coconut reika ice-cream, because, well, I’m an adult and I can do whatever the bloody hell I like.
Despite the outlook for so many chains looking bleak, and Wagamama’s recent takeover getting the investors all wobbly as well, I personally still see its relevance in the market and always happy to pop in. Whether it can weather the rough times, we’ll have to see. Let's hope so.