The wagamama story begins in 1992 when their first restaurant opened in Londonâ€™s Bloomsbury. Inspired by traditional Japanese ramen bars and Asian flavours, it was designed Â to offer a new kind of dining experience â€“ one that offered fresh Japanese-inspired food in a friendly, vibrant setting. Today, wagamama is an award-winning series of restaurants, spanning 17 countries â€“ and there’s one in Edinburgh.
So what do you do when you have a successful formula, and lots of loyal customers? If you are smart you give them the same thing but different.
wagamama Â knows this well, Â as a recent introduction to their new Spring and Summer menu additions in Edinburgh demonstrated. On a buzzy, busy Monday night, development chef Andy took us through the new dishes, an exciting selection of Â flavours and styles with something to please everyone.
We began with a duo of freshly made fruit juices: Â strawberry and mint, which was reminiscent of a high season English Garden party and a tropical cousin made from the wonderfully named Alphonso Mango. This was followed by wraps made using translucent rice paper with fillings that ran from a vegetarian option with glass noodles, to a rich spicy beef variation. All came with a kicky little dip, decoratively laced with chilli flakes.
Then we saw wagamama’s ideas people trying a little too hard to catch the street food wave, with the same rich spicy beef, served Â awkwardly on a piece of lettuce, accompanied by an over-fierce chilli dip. This was the least successful presentation of the evening and the verdant, healthy salad, pictured above, which followed, was Â a refreshing relief. Â Superbeans, edame and aduki, were tossed with sliced radish, butternut squash and glass noodles and then served on a bed of wasabi rocket leaves. Tasted alone the latter promised to be masochistically earnest, but the light dressing containing avocado lightened and smoothed the whole thing into a very pleasurable summer main course.
Salads and summer are synonymous, and wagamama Â went on to demonstrate the pleasures of a big bowl of full of varied tastes and textures, by giving us a wonderful concoction of three seaweeds served first with Â chicken then salmon. The chicken version was pleasant enough but the salmon brought out the true seaside experience and made us wonder why we didn’t eat seaweed more. Â This (pictured here) was the standout dish of the evening for me and I would have happily stopped there, but there were some new hearty, main course soups for us to try. A shrimp paste broth, with lemongrass and rice noodles, and a variety of interesting mushrooms was again the background for both a chicken and seafood version. Once again, the seafood option was voted the winner – the chicken being a touch sweet and sickly. The vegetarian version, from the standard menu, was a ginger-flavoured broth with marinated tofu and was by contrast stimulating and palate cleaning.
So why to go to wagamama? Â Go for informal, upbeat dining with interesting and healthy tasting food, doled out in generous portions by cheerful attentive staff. Prices are sensible, with a vast range of options to suit all palates, even the least adventurous. Vegetarians might struggle a little, but the staff point out they make an effort to accommodate food preferences and special dietary needs. The free beakers of hot green tea are a delicious bonus. It’s a fun experience, Â ideal for groups and families.