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Wagamama what the deal?

This place seems to have a cult following. Despite seemingly having locations every other block I have never been. I only know a few people who have. And the reports back have been mediocre at best. I walk by one the other day and thought about going in for lunch but nothing on the menu really jumped out at me.

What do people who have been there think of the place?

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  1. I've been several times and I really enjoy it. The noodles have a good texture and the broths are wonderfully flavored. My favorite are the ramen dishes, especially the chili chicken ramen. I like having the fresh vegetables & the grilled chicken, along with the toothy noodles and spice. It's a really filling & warming dish. I'm Japanese-American so it's a bit of a comfort food thing for me too, I guess.

    Also, when I had friends visiting from the States last week, we went there with their 2 kids (8 & 13) for lunch. The kids loved it and insisted on going back for lunch the next day. Luckily there are enough around that we didn't have to go back to the area we were in previously.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Just One Bite

      I hate going simply because of the seating policy. In a half empty restaurant, why do I have to squeeze in between two people on a bench for 8? Very irritating.

      1. re: monkeytennis

        Totally agree. I know some people enjoy being elbow-to-elbow with strangers, but it's not for me.

        The first and only time I went to Wagamama's, I ended up sat next to a toddler who messed himself and his parents either failed to notice or care. This obviously soured the experience, but I remember thinking the food was distinctly average too.

    2. OK - it's not gourmet food but for the price and quality, it's not a bad choice for a meal. I think tourists get a kick out of eating at a Wagamama. They must be doing something right because their empire is ever-expanding. My husband lived many years in Japan so he's noodled-out, but I sometimes go alone if a location is convenient to where I am.

      2 Replies
      1. re: zuriga1

        I admit that I've only been once (the branch in the N1 centre in Islington) but I thought it was quite expensive for what it was (and I'm not one of these visitors who think everything in London is expensive..)

        If it actually _was_ noticeably cheap then I'd be more inclined to go back, but I wasn't really happy paying that amount of money for uncomfortably squished-in seating and food which didn't arrive until my companion had already finished eating.

        My general impression is that those of my friends who like Wagamama like it because it's predictable.

        1. re: Kake

          Our service in Guildford was very fast and good, but I did think the prices had gone up a bit since my last visit which was probably 2 years ago. I've gotten so used to the inflated prices here that I didn't think too much about the bill till you mentioned it here. I did think we paid a lot for my husband's bowl of soup with a few pieces of this or that in it. We weren't squished, as the place wasn't full, but I know what you mean. Wagamama serves a purpose - I guess that's the best we all can say for it!

      2. It's just awful overpriced fast-food-like ramen. Avoid.

        1. Its cheap and pretty good, comfort food, plenty of variety and good clear flavours. People get snobby about it because its a chain, but its actually decent. Its not gourmet nor does it purpot to be, but I know several cities and towns in the provinces whose dining options would be hugely improved by a Wagamama. Nothing wrong with a decent chain. I can imagine that if a child soils themslves communal sitting isn't great, but come on you were seriously unlucky with that. I quite like the buzz of communal dining, if you don't, don't go.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Iestyn Morgan

            I love communal dining and I usually dine alone so I'd much prefer to be put with a table of similar strangers as usually happens back home in Chinese places, but Wagamama's food is just mediocre at best.

          2. wagamama to me is just OK.

            What london needs now is a REAL ramen bar. a simple, unfussy place that does one kind of ramen but does it well.. its an obession in Japan, and the craze is sweeping parts of the US, particularly in LA, although a handful of places have cropped up in NY too...

            there is nothing in the world i like more than a good bowl of ramen.

            2 Replies
            1. re: foreignmuck

              Ramen Seto
              19 Kingly street (behind carnaby street)
              W1B 5PY

              Authentic ramen, lots of Japenese diners as well as Brits.

              1. re: Nii

                i used to think Ramen Seto was OK. i used to go there quite often, but the last few years it has gone seriously downhill... a long way off the real deal unfortunately....

            2. OK, I confess. The closest restaurant to our theatre in the burbs last night was a Wagamama. DH agreed to eat there. As said before, it's just OK.. and the place was filled with uni students which says something about the prices. DH who knows his ramen said nothing tasted like real ramen. I had yaki soba which I could have made better myself, and I'm not the greatest of cooks.

              1. Wagamama is to Asian food what McDonalds is to burgers. Consistent, formulaic, well marketed, inexpensive, and bland. It serves a purpose and many love it.

                I was disappointed on my first visit last year because I felt it should have been so much better, I think it is "de-tuned" food constructed for the mass market. This is mass market food in the countries it comes from, so it is disappointing that we get such an ersatz version.

                1. I also generally avoid chain places, however, I have developed a keen attraction to the sushi/sashimi sold at Wasabi. I know it’s a chain, but I’m not sure how many there are; I frequent the one on Piccadilly and Sackville Street. Avoid any of the warm foods (e.g., chicken katsu, stir-fry noodles etc) at all costs, as they are terrible. However, the quality of the fish is far superior to that of Itsu and the prices are more than reasonable. Two pieces of nigri are £1.50, and 5 pieces of fairly-high quality sashimi run £3.50. Definitely check it out. If you are in search of a quick sushi/sashimi fix for about £5.00, this is definitely it.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Will125

                    I find the rice use in Wasabi's sushi to be so repulsive that you'd have to pay me to have it again. I could make better sushi rice and I've never tried to before. Oh yeah, and their fish is NOT fairly-high quality.

                    1. re: JFores

                      I strongly disagree with you. For the price you pay, the sushi is fair. Remember, you are paying £5.00. It's at least 50x better than Itsu which costs a lot more. This discussion is not about what the best sushi in London is, but rather the merits of a chain.

                      1. re: Will125

                        I think much of the problem with Wasabi's rice is that the sushi is chilled. Sciencey things (*waves hands and makes the excuse that The Curious Cook is all the way downstairs*) happen to rice when it's chilled beyond a certain point. Some people, me included, really don't like the texture of chilled rice. (At home, you can reverse the process by heating the rice up again, but this is obviously not an option while out and about hunting sushi.)

                        I am very very fussy about my sushi rice (more so than about the fish TBH) but I like Wasabi's convenience, specifically the fact that there is one on the concourse in Victoria (rail) station; very handy when you're rushing to catch a train but are starving (and don't fancy cheese).

                      2. re: JFores

                        'totally replusive'....just a slight exaggeration I think.

                        I find their sushi good - cheap and cheerful.

                        1. re: Nii

                          The rice is SO AWFUL. I can't get past it. Oh yeah, if they marketed it as cheap sushi as opposed to fast and convenient sushi would you be supportive? Mmmm cheap raw fish...

                          1. re: JFores

                            Cheap in price, not necessarily in quality. To be honest, I'm not really clued up on sushi. I've had good sushi but London isn't in the same league as non Japanese sushi cities like NYC or San Francisco, so I'm yet to try the best I suppose.

                            1. re: Nii

                              Not sure about that last comment - LA and NYC yes definitely both excellent sushi cities but SF, I havent sampled or heard anything from local friends to suggest it rates highly on the sushi scale. London is also making strides - go try the sushi counter at Tomoe on Marylebone Lane especially the scallop and squid nigiri.

                              For cheaper sushi I advocate both Tomoe and Atari Ya cafe ahead of places like Itsu, Wasabi, Samurai etc, we are talking chalk and cheese and for not that much more money per piece (maybe GBP 1.25 at Atari Ya and GBP 2 at Tomoe).

                      3. re: Will125

                        Their sushi and sashimi is OK - not super, not bad for the price. Their egg fried rice, stir-fry-like stuff and other hot dishes are pretty grim - rubbery chicken, lukewarmish, really food of last resort.
                        Much better if you are prepared to tolerate chain sushi - and with some delicious smoothies - is Abokado. Have always found their sashimi to be nice and fresh. Their wraps are also excellent.

                      4. they've expanded to the us now as well, with a location in boston and more on the way, i'm sure. to each his own, but it depresses me to hear people in nyc saying that the city really needs a branch. my friend's kids love the place, so i've eaten there much more often than i'd like. even on a good day, it's barely mediocre.

                        1. The shame is that this place used to be really good. I was a regular customer at the original restaurant (in Bloomsbury, off Tottenham Court Road), it was 1994 and I was studying nearby on Store Street. You used to have to queue up for 30 minutes to get in but it was worth the wait. I especially used to enjoy the prawn and ginger stir fry dish, it was tasty, filling and under a fiver. Then there was the novelty of Japanese beers reaching a more mainstream London audience for the 1st time. And good gyoza I remember as well.

                          Little did we know then that it would turn into the monstrous phenomenon that it has today. I cant remember when I last sampled but its a long while ago and Im never ever tempted to go these days.

                          16 Replies
                          1. re: oonth

                            I think that was the first and Alan Yau founded it in 1992 so no doubt it was still fresh and vibrant and had not been "corporatised".

                            I think Yau continues to do good things with Asian food (I enjoyed the food at Hakkasan, but hated the noise) so I will be intrigued to see how his "Cha Cha Moon" chain fares.

                            I also see David Thompson (from Nahm) is venturing into a Thai chain concept with "Long Chim" - anybody know where and when? I loved his food in Sydney and especially liked his two low cost options (although wasn't convinced by my meals at Nahm). I think he still has "Sailor Thai Canteen" in Sydney which did great cheap food at a communal table. He also used to have a great take away (part of the renowned Darley Street Thai) which packaged the aromatic herbs in a separate box so you could stir them into the dish just before you ate in order to preserve the fresh flavours.

                            If his UK chain is as good as either of these it will be a much needed addition to the UK food scene.

                            1. re: PhilD

                              Phil, I somehow missed this one until the thread resurfaced yesterday.

                              Yes 1994 was the year of the first Wagamama opening, I think we used to go there once/twice a week and like I say, it was groundbreaking stuff at the time and perfect for student sensibilities.

                              Nowadays I've come to regard Yau as simply a concepts/PR guy, I don't take him too seriously. I enjoy the food at Yauatcha (was less impressed by Hakkasan) but find the waitstaff attitude to be unpalatable and am in any case eating less and less in the West End these days. Sake no Hana I will probably try at some point although it is getting terrible reviews. A projected venture of his at the Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan fell through in 2006/07, he doesn't always get it right but his PR machine tends to gloss over these failures.

                              I haven't heard anything about the David Thompson ventures, I will keep an eye and ear out, I know how well regarded he is down under. Btw I was in Australia in January and friends in Sydney enthuse about an unassuming Thai cafe in Surrey Hills called Spice I Am, unfortunately I didn't make it there. Nor did I make it to Bistro Moncour, one of your recs on the Australia board I believe. But I did do some very good dining during my time there and found Melbourne to be a better food city than Sydney based upon what I sampled.

                              1. re: oonth

                                spice i am is amazing! i miss it so much. the only place that i've found over here that can compare is 101 thai kitchen in hammersmith. i'm sure i've written abt it before but here's somebody else saying something, and interviewing the owner who says that 70-80% of their clientele are thai (so they must be doing something right) - http://www.thailandqa.com/forum/showt...

                                1. re: t_g

                                  I've heard that 101 Thai specialised in Isaan dishes. Is that true? Been on my list to try for a while....

                                  1. re: limster

                                    is isaan the northern thai food? if it is, i dont think that they do (or at least they didnt when i last went which was a while ago). but in that article it says that they're going to start featuring some dishes from that area.

                                    1. re: t_g

                                      Yes -- it's northern Thai. The article you linked mentioned som tom, which is typical of that region, I was curious if there were more and if any changes have occurred since the article came out in 2005.

                                      1. re: limster

                                        i'm pretty sure that article's from december 07 since that's when the person posted it to that forum?

                                        yeah they definitely have som tum but i would have thought that almost all thai restaurants would have it regardless of what region they're specialising in. it's a pretty popular dish.

                                        1. re: t_g

                                          Woops, sorry my bad -- misread the post date. Thanks for all the info...need to check it out soon...

                                          1. re: limster

                                            yeah do it! i'd be interested to hear what you think. i'm surprised at how little i've seen written abt that place.

                                        2. re: limster

                                          "Isaan? is not Northern Thai, it is Northeastern Thai. The North Thai and NE cuisines are very distinctive and not at all similar. The NE is most famous for the grilled chicken, som tam, various laabs, nam tok, etc.

                                          1. re: ThaiNut

                                            Great -- thanks for the correction. What are the Northern Thai dishes like -- is there a greater Chinese influence?

                                            1. re: limster

                                              Ouch! In my last posting I omitted naming some well known Northern dishes because there really aren't too many. Most Thais from other regions of the country think of Northern food as kinda boring. It's not real spicy as NE and Southern dishes are famous for. The Northern folks have a couple of distinctive noodle dishes (Khaw Soi) and they make a number of really good dips that you'd stick pieces of vegetable into. They also have a traditional spread of food consisting of barbecued chicken and a curried beef and the dips and other stuff that is called a Khan Tok and which is interesting. Chinese influence? Maybe just a tiny bit, but don't forget that Northern Thailand does not border China and all modern Thai people derive from Chinese tribes that came in from the west and north a few thousand years ago. I'd guess that in the average Thai restaurant in the West these days most of the dishes listed in the menu would be prepared in the central region (Bangkok) style with a smattering of NE dishes and maybe 1-2 from the South but darned near nothing that could really be called Northern Thai.

                                              1. re: ThaiNut

                                                I hope I didn't say something bad to elicit an "ouch" from you....my apologies if anything I said sounded badly...wasn't my intent.

                                                And thanks again for the info. I know that China and Thailand don't border each other, but there are a lot of Teochews in Thailand that have added their dishes to the Thai repertoire (e.g. kuay chup, pork and crab wrapped in beancurd skin and deep fried, pomegranate chicken aka moneybags), although I think of them more as Teochew dishes more than Thai dishes. I wasn't sure which region they were most concentrated at, if at all, hence my question.

                                                1. re: limster

                                                  No, no, no. My 'ouch' was only due to me being somewhat on-the-spot for a decent answer to your query. Though I lived in Bangkok for 12 years, and made many trips to the North, it was hard for me to characterize their food. Thus I had to go find my (Thai, but 25% Chinese) wife and pick her brains. I agree about the Teochew dishes which have become permanent parts of Thai cuisine. Of course you'll find Chinese restaurants throughout Thailand but I think that their biggest influence is in the Bangkok region where they pretty much control certain businesses (banking, gold shops, pawn shops, etc).

                                                  1. re: ThaiNut

                                                    Cool. Many thanks for your answer; will be very helpful when I'm exploring.

                                2. re: PhilD

                                  I'm also interested in Yau's next venture... considering I've yet to find a decent place that does good HK-style noodles. Though of course with Yau there's bound to be an interesting twist.

                                  Long Chim, last I heard might be opening in May.

                              2. I've tried the Wagamama in Dublin and wasn't particularly impressed. I didn't realize it was a chain, and just thought that the food was designed to serve the bland Irish palate. It wasn't very exciting.

                                1. After months of lurking, I've been driven to register so that I can leap to the defense of Wagamama.

                                  Their Ebi Gyoza (prawn dumplings with crispy outsides) are delicious, as is their Chicken Chilli Men. I also think their chicken ginger noodle dish is yummy, but I'm afraid I can't remember it's name.

                                  I do admit that the seating is less than ideal, and we've found the chicken in their chicken ramens (even the chilli one) totally bland, as none of the soup flavour manages to penetrate the hunk of chicken breast.

                                  One of their benefits is that they're consistent across their multiple locations (we like Pizza Express for the same reason). This is really useful when you find yourself hungry in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. It is the only edible meal you can get in Brent Cross Shopping Centre, for example.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Shivaun

                                    I've been to Brent Cross, and you're right about that, and for some reason I always need to eat when I'm there. Could it be stress?

                                    Wagamama: I use them because I'm not overly enamored of fried foods and I have a 4-year old, which makes informal, quick meals while out on maneuvers a necessity. They don't care if you share, they don't care if your child acts like a child, and they aren't going to charge you a pile of money for a hot, sit down meal. I've never had horrible service there. The loos are always clean. No, the food isn't stellar, but on occasion it's been quite good.

                                  2. If you are in Brent Cross, Canary Wharf or somewhere else with limited options then the convenience and consistency of Wagamama may make it worth your while. But if you're in the centre then there are so many better options.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Clerkenwellian

                                      It was the Canary Wharf outpost that I was looking at in the OP.

                                      1. re: Clerkenwellian

                                        I wouldn't even consider Wagamama's if I was in Canary Wharf - much better options in the area.

                                      2. I'm really not impressed with Wagamama... the first time I went, I had their yakisoba which was quite frankly, horrible. Dry noodles with no flavour, and too much sweet pickled ginger splayed on top. However, the 2nd (and last) time I went, the ramen was okay. But I wouldn't go back.

                                        And is it just me or are the green teas just always searingly hot? I've finished half my food before being able to take a sip from the blistering cups...

                                        1. I've tried it a few times in different locations and am unimpressed. I've gotten the wagamama ramen most of the times I've gone and the noodles have an odd texture that doesn't really appeal to me. I've also had the gyoza, which also left quite a bit to be desired in the authenticity department. I just don't think it's worth what you pay for the quality of food you get.

                                          1. Like or not, they are doing 2 for 1 for the next two weeks. All of the fans out there can log on to the webpage and print a voucher.

                                            1. Last time I was there, it was roughly 10 pounds for a mediocre plate of noodles and a coke. I'd only feed it to my dog as punishment. . .

                                              1. I've decided to change my opinion - I'm not impressed anymore. In the last four weeks I've been to Wagamama twice (Guildford and Southbank) and the food and service was pretty terrible. I also really don't appreciate being served a rubbery piece of rump steak when it is meant to be sirloin.

                                                I will still go to Basingstoke as everything is spot on there and the steak cooked to medium perfection, but I'm not risking it at another outlet.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: nanette

                                                  My favorite location used to be the one near Oxford Street - Wigmore, I think. I haven't been there, though, in years.

                                                  I agree that the service in Guildford leaves a lot to be desired, although I shouldn't (quoting Limster) judge by just one meal. Your meal, however, makes two!

                                                2. Just as with Pizza Express it depends on the branch. Some are better than others, and I have to agree it's fancified fast food.