There are a number of restaurants that people always pull a face at when I say I have never gone to it before; Wagamama was always one of them. For a long time Nandos was another (even then I have only gone to Nandos once and it was when I was a vegetarian and therefore I just had the halloumi). And for a while I felt pretty ashamed about it whenever I made that sort of statement, this was a pretty obvious internal feeling from perhaps 16 up until 21/22, but then I realised that actually the people raising it should be ashamed because they are just flashing their middle-class childhood/teenager privilege whilst masquerading now as some working class hero…
Then some friends suggested going, I had already eaten but agreed to go along to at least get a bit of an understanding as to what it was about, and I just had some lemongrass tea and a juice. New places make me feel pretty nervous, especially when my partner isn’t with me, so it actually worked out quite well for me just to be able to sip on some drinks whilst having a chat.
It was also a good way for me to gauge the staff approach, the style of the menu and how they approach labelling things for allergies etc and how easy it is to actually communicate with other people around the table. Service seemed average and the menu meant that anybody with allergies would need to ask for the massive menu to be whipped out which is all pretty standard for a chain restaurant but that does not make it any less disappointing.
The way that the tables are quite thick and wide, combined with the benches not having any backs, it makes communication quite difficult and getting comfortable a challenge too. It became clear that it is not the sort of restaurant suitable for a group of six people to go to and sit around and chat; you could perhaps manage a group of four being able to talk diagonally across the table but that they still want you to move in and out fairly quickly rather than their restaurant being a space for anything more than a quick business interaction.
That said the food smelled and looked fantastic and the drinks were enjoyable too. It gave me a chance to talk to the person opposite me without much interruption and with the background noise being able to sort of be drowned out because of the layout of the restaurant. With that I was intrigued enough to go back at some point and actually have a bit of food and see if the flavour matches the visual appeal.
So a few weeks later I dragged my partner along with me to have a large lunch on a Saturday instead of spending the evening cooking before me needing to dash straight to bed to prepare for my horrible early Sunday morning work alarm. I had taken the time to look up their allergy menu online as I am supposed to avoid eating soya so did not want a dish with it loaded in especially through the noodles… that left me with two choices from the main menu! I knew that soya would limit the choices quite a lot but it surprised me more that they have not implemented the ability to switch one type of noodle for another to help give people with allergies a bit more choice but luckily for me I liked the sound of the dishes available to me.
The food itself was fairly flavourful and enjoyable to eat but nothing truly mind-blowing and because of the chatter from people over the years praising Wagamama I guess I expected something better given the price tag on a lot of dishes.
The bao buns were soft and fluffy but the filling flavours seemed to get lost somewhere and like the duck was roasted a little too much to be able to have flavours attached to it properly and they are something that I would not bother to order again based on this experience.
I found the eating of the noodles to be fairly stressful as they handed me a number of implements including this large wooden flat spoon, cutlery and the chopsticks were sitting on the table but I had no idea what the wooden thing was for and despite all the paper placemats they seem to opt to not give people a quick cheat sheet guide on how to use certain utensils or eat certain dishes. They clearly presume people, including the teenagers in another bit of the restaurant, are just supposed to naturally be experts at eating a bowl of noodles in broth. It is that sort of small detail that really annoys me about chain restaurants because adding a cheat sheet to their menus, table settings or similar would not massively increase outgoing costs but would enhance user experience.
The noodles were fresh, tasty and enjoyable but not something that I would consider running back for again as for the price of the dish I would much rather do a more simple take on a seafood dish at home and be able to eat it on a comfortable seat without feeling rushed and knowing what all the tools on the table are for.
For all the hype over the years I expected more and instead it left me a little disappointed. If you can tell me why it is such a fantastic restaurant or you know of better alternatives in and around London then please do let me know in the comments below!