Wagamama (London, UK)

While I mostly focus on the truly offbeat eats here, every once in while I encounter a chain restaurant that is notable for its quality, its novelty (especially chains in regions outside my normal travels), or both.  One chain that I’ve enjoyed for many years for many trips to London is Wagamama.

For those note familiar with it, Wagamama has been around since the early 90s, primarily in London, and is based upon a somewhat loose interpretation of the Japanese Ramen Bar concept: serving up fresh bowls of noodles or rice on long bench tables to customers, focusing on quick but good food.  They’ve changed it from a purely Ramen noodle concept to a more pan-Asian motif, with the menu also having several stir fries, Thai dishes, Chinese dishes, and other Japanese noodles dishes.  Basically, they serve up everything from gyoza, to salads, to yaki soba, to curries, to ramen and itame in a “fast casual” setting.

I like it, since it’s one of three ways to get fairly quick and affordable food while traveling around London (the others are to find a decent looking pub and get some pub fare, or grab a train station pasty from one of those places that make my sister-in-law’s Cornish family shudder).  They also have some nice little hidden gems on the menu, such as gyoza and their own ginger beer, which is rather tasty (reminding me of the made-to-order ginger ale at Big Bowl in Minneapolis, another similar restaurant concept).

As far as the food itself goes, I’ve always loved the ramen at Wagamama, particularly the miso ramen, with lemongrass-spiced chicken and miso broth severed over a giant bed of fresh ramen noodles.  It’s several notches better than those nasty instant ramen noodles (although somewhat shy of what you’d get from an authentic ramen shop).  Served up with some nice hit chili oil, it’s a good hearty meal for under 10 quid.

On the other side of the menu, Carol got the chicken itame, which is basically a Japanese-inspired variation of a Thai curry: coconut and lemongrass soup with sprouts, chili peppers, book choy, mushrooms, and cilantro (err, coriander, this is England…), which she rather enjoyed as well.

So, it’s not fine cuisine, but it’s a good option for a quick lunch, especially for people in a similar situation to mine (tourists looking for something affordable but different than your typical London fare).  My US readers should aldo note: Wagamama even has a handful of US locations, mostly in the Boston area…

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