Wagamama - ugh!
Having seen Wagamama's all over the place in my recent global travels and even a bit encouraged by a few Chowhounder fans for the chain, I finally succumbed during a trip to Bristol England after more than a few culinary misfires during my week here.
Last prize certainly goes to Wagamama. How or why it is popular remains a mystery because it is not cheap and the food was just plain awful, to almost inedible. I had the touted panko chicken curry and it was curry glop on tasteless crunchy things I guess at one time were chicken slices.
The salad dressing on the mixed greens was good. That is where it all ends. The vegetable gyozas were inedible. Don't bother. Staff was pleasant about my unhappiness and felt I should have ordered differently. But this is a place I will never go back to.
I tried to explain I was only unhappy with the concept. It was not like it was a "bad" meal that could be corrected. Trust me, I am sure my meal is as good as it gets at Wagamama. But I'll take an honest McDonalds anyday if I am starving next time, over this faux pan-asian, we-are-the-world organic "healthy" feeding opportunity.
How they could take 6 venerable asian cuisines and come up with the lowest common denominator for all of them and make money doing it, is beyond me.
It's a chain, so you have to give it some slack - the people who work will simply not care about food. The menu will be designed to be easy to cook and maximise profits
Secondly the concept is very dated. It started in London in 1995 ish, by Alan Yau I believe. At the time (at the original location) it was revolutionary in making ethnic dining modern and relevant. Not only that, but standards were very high.
I believe that after expansion, the menu has been watered down and diluted. Alan Yau has sold it. He has now started Cha Cha Moon, and Busaba which are both far superior "urban asian" restaurants.
You can make a generalized statement when it's generally true. In the case of Wagamama, standards have slipped as it has expanded. Even if the people working there care about food they may not have the freedom to express that when working there - eg if the dumplings are all factory made & pre-frozen, they cannot do "specials" or seasonal variations to the menus. I remember being in Yo Sushi! (another dated chain-Asian) and the chef being shouted at in front of the customers for not weighing each piece of Sashimi in case a customer got too much.
That being said, some chains do manage to enforce high standards (A&W in Canada springs to mind).