Wagamama – spring cleaning the chain

The wagamama story begins in 1992 when their first restaurant opened in London’s Bloomsbury. Inspired by traditional Japanese ramen bars and Asian flavours, it was designed  to offer a new kind of dining experience – one that offered fresh Japanese-inspired food in a friendly, vibrant setting. Today, wagamama is an award-winning series of restaurants, spanning 17 countries – 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  knows this well,  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  flavours and styles with something to please everyone.

We began with a duo of freshly made fruit juices:  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  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  a refreshing relief.  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  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  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.   Salmon miso saladThis (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?  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,  ideal for groups and families.


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