I first started going to Wagamama in 1992. In those days there was only one branch in Streatham Street, Bloomsbury near the British Museum and close to the intersection of Oxford St and Tottenham Court Road. I had just graduated from high school, was working in London and earning money for the first time. Wagamama was different, young, inexpensive, healthy and above all delicious. It became my go to place for meeting friends. It was always bustling you invariably found yourself perched on the narrow staircase watching the diners and playing the game of guessing who would leave first.
Wagamama is a noodle bar, where you sit on long communal bench tables, inadvertently eavesdropping on your neighbors. The orders are transmitted to the kitchen (not revolutionary now but it seemed so in the early nineties) and the food comes out as it is ready, so the concept of appetizers and main dishes does not follow the traditional chronology. Wagamama means spoilt child (according to the restaurant) and was the brainchild or Alan Yau, a successful restauranteur who know has a portfolio of London restaurants and a global empire including over 90 branches of Wagamama. In the spirit of spoilt children I have mixed feelings about the success of Wagamama. I applaud and understand the success but part of me is nostalgic for the day when it was smaller, more exclusive and not the global giant it is today. I am conflicted in my love for Wagamama and my dislike of chains. At the same time, I dearly wish that there was a Wagamama in Columbus.
Wagamama specializes in large steaming bowls of ramen, gyoza (dumplings) and pan fried noodles. They also serve various mixed fruit and vegetable juices. Green tea is complimentary. The menu has expanded a lot since the early days and they now have a lot of seasonal specials, a range of asian inspired desserts and even breakfast in some locations but the old favorites are still there. As I now get to visit Wagamama infrequently, I usually fall back on my old faithful Yaki Udon and although I have had similar dishes elsewhere, I have not found anything that can sate that particular craving. I do have the Wagamama recipe book, so I could try to recreate the magic at home.
The Wagamama website has some fun things. They usually have a clever online advent calendar and some cute games and animations but I think you have to become a member to see them.