Wagamama revisited

March 14, 2016

It’s hard to remember sometimes how far the “casual dining” sector has come over the last 20 years. Nowadays it seems everyone who’s run a butty van or spent a couple months as assistant manager at Pizza Express is desperate to launch their Korean/Peruvian street food concept, while cash-rich city funds buy up anything that seems a runner.

In 1992 it wasn’t really like that  when Alan Yau, now possibly more famous in foodie circles for his restaurants  Hakkasan and Yauatcha, opened Wagamama. Simple shared bench tables, lively far-Eastern cuisine, competitive prices and a turn-up and eat approach made a big  impact in London. When it started to appear in the regions it was a real revelation  – I remember being hugely excited about going to Nottingham and quieting for 30 minutes to squidge up next to some strangers to eat a plate a noodles.

In a world when slick  but dull food places are on every corner, and when Wagamama itself has over 100 branches and been passed like a toy between private equity firms (current owners are Duke Street Capital), does it still have something to offer?

The Leicester branch has apparently been refurbished and I had some vouchers so gave it a try. It retains some benches  but there are conventional tables too – it’s a pleasant environment, especially if you like looking at the busy coming and goings around the Highcross restaurant quarter and the Showcase cinema.

Food wise it still has a selection of ramen noodles, rice dishes, curries, teppanyaki grills and other quick and cheerful Asian dishes. We had a couple of mains and a couple of side dishes.The pork ribs were pretty ordinary – they had the feel of things that been hanging around a far time before being heated up and given a glaze with spoonfuWP_20160311_19_06_45_Prol or two of unexciting  sauce from a big tub. The squid was better  – a bit dry maybe but tasty with a feisty salt and chilli rub and a sweet chilli and coriander dipping sauce, it was very easy to enjoy.

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The mains were pretty good. Chicken raisukoree  had everything present and correct  –  chicken, mangetout, peppers, red and spring onions in a very pleasant  coconut curry sauce with sticky rice,  chillies and coriander. A quarter of a fresh lime was probably  the most lively flavour in the dish but I certainly  had no complaints  – it still had something of that thrill of that first encounter with far Eastern food.

Teriyaki chicken donburi – glazed and grilled chicken  with sticky white rice, shredded carrots, pea shoots and onions – was another good dish, though the kimchee with it was pretty insipid.

We passed an enjoyable hour at Wagamama and if the food wasn’t all amazing, the best of it was good and tasty and offered in an environment that entirely suits a busy city centre where you can come and go  quickly.  If I was looking for a new culinary adventure I’d probably dig out a backstreet Chinese café and see where it led me, but Wagamama still serves up a pretty good mainstream alternative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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