wagamama sets the benchmark (literally in the form of the very close for comfort seating) if you're looking for a good speedy noodle.
Under the Bankside arches, this riverside setting works. The vast glass front, brick walls and clean lines sum up its simplicity. Whether you’ve been wine tasting in Vinopolis opposite, appreciating the Tate Modern art further down the Thames Path or stocking up in Borough Market on the streets above, you don’t have to go far to refuel.
With limited quiet corners and the only table for two directly facing a slate grey wall, its bright and buzzing open space is conducive to a lively group get together and its small alcove is perfect for romantic couples. The staff are friendly, the menu self explanatory and the chopsticks there from the moment you sit down, so you can practice your technique whilst you wait. Based on the popular ramen bars in Japan, the food is cooked to order and arrives hot from the wok. It’s an immediate, informal way of eating so be ready to share or sit back and relax, although everything usually arrives in quick succession with little delay.
This means the delivery of starters could be mid-main course, so all are classed as pricey sides. The crisp duck gyoza dumplings (£4.95) are just the right amount of rich meat and sweet hoisin, worth keeping to drizzle over your noodles if you have some to spare. Black tiger prawns (£5.80) are fine finger food too - bite sized nuggets encased in oil-less breadcrumbs despite being deep fried.
The mains are excellent value, large portions which come in under the ten pound mark. Yaki soba is an all round failsafe if you are struggling to make a choice between the combinations of ingredients, including a bit of everything. The chilli men are the spiciest offering - a strong explosion of peppery tomato sauce; or for a more delicate mix of flavour, try a bucket-esque bowl of miso or coconut based soup.
The rice dishes hold their own on a noodle dominated menu. Katsu curries of deep fried breaded chicken or squash, aubergine and sweet potato slices are coated in a thick, distinctive sauce. The natural version of chip shop curry sauce is not for everyone though, it tends to provoke a love or hate marmite effect. A fresher choice is the chicken tama rice – lots of shitake mushrooms and courgettes swimming in a glossy garlic and wine liquid which soaks well into the sticky mound of rice.
Apart from the ingenious extra sauce option when you now order katsu curry, if you're a wagamama fan you already know all of this, so here's the something you might not know - they also serve cheesecake. The deep white chocolate cheese, studded with chewy nuggets of stem ginger, topping a solid crunchy biscuit base and drizzled with spiced syrup can seduce even the most reluctant of sweet eaters. It sits on the placemat dessert menu which often gets overlooked, scrawled with your order numbers and splattered with soy. But absolute perfection can't be ignored. Well worth saving stomach space for, or even foregoing the main meal altogether.
A good range of Far Eastern beers, sake and plum wines, bottles of white, red or rose starting at just under £12 – the list has been selected to suit the food so you can’t really go wrong. For a soft option there are some interesting freshly squeezed juices, served in a large glass to size up to the alcoholic drinks. In fact, the bigger the better can be applied in all cases, with giant Tiger beer measuring up to the Pinot Grigio. Don’t forget the small print offer of free green tea on request too, for a smoky, leaf-infused cup to wash down your meal.
The Last Word
Eating under the arches enhances the wagamama magic. The Southbank makes all restaurants taste better.