Huge portions, lashings of soy sauce and fast service have made wagamama a firm favorite. With a handful of branches across London, its Leicester Square faces the extra challenge of being one of the busiest.
There’s an unassuming, small front, which could easily blend in among the other restaurant chains, but once you go down the stairs you’ll be greeted by a large dining room, simply buzzing with activity. Seating is canteen-style with large benches and staff have a tendency to group diners together, even when it’s quiet. You’ll often find yourself eating elbow-to-elbow.
Nine times out of ten, when you visit wagamama, you’ll be faced with a queue, but it rarely last more than ten minutes. The staff, to their credit, are efficient and good-humored.
wagamama made its name by serving up mammoth portions. It’s slightly off-kilter, Anglicised Japanese food. There’s no sushi on the menu, but there’s still plenty of seafood and a small selection of desserts. Mains are about £7 to £10 a dish. One of the most popular dishes is the chicken katsu curry, basically breaded chicken in curry sauce with boiled rice. There’s a vegetable version with butternut squash, sweet potato and aubergine, too. It escapes the pitfall faced by many other curries and is not too spicy or too sloppy - just right, to quote Goldilocks.
The ramen noodles are so huge it verges on the ridiculous. They tend to blur into the same miso flavor, but they certainly fill a hole. The stir-fried options are also served up on hefty plates but again suffer from problem that they all taste the same. Desserts may not be the most traditional, but they capture the flavours of Japanese food and add an interesting twist. The ginger and white chocolate cheesecake, for example, suffers from being a bit too gooey, but the warming sensation of the ginger plus the sweet white chocolate make a brilliant partnership – even if it’s not a 100-year-old recipe.
Healthy carrot, apple and orange juices feature prominently on the menu. Booze-wise there’s a nice selection of crisp Japanese beers, like Asahi, and a plum wine which is as sweet as it is strong. Sake is also served, cold and extremely drinkable.
The Last Word
wagamama consistently performs, and it performs well, delivering quality food. It may not be the best setting for an intimate meal, but you’ll always know what you’re getting – and know what you’re getting is good.