The crazy thing about Japan and Japanese culture is how widespread it’s become. Here in London, there’s a Tokyo Contemporary Art Show (that has Sakura from Fate/Stay Night as its poster…), manga cafes, and tons of Japanese restaurants to choose from. Of course, there are the typical high-end sushi restaurants and teppanyakis, but London has also embraced the more…casual dining of Japan, such as noodle bars. This is Wagamama’s little niche in the London food scene, and it promises cheap, healthy noodles for the masses in a trendy and friendly environment.
I have to say, I’m not impressed.
Wagamama locations have been sprouting up everywhere throughout Central London, but one of the more convenient ones is the location next to the fabled Tower of London. It offers a nice view of the tower walls, a bit of the River Thames, and in some parts an interesting view of Tower Hill. Inside, the tables are arranged as if it were a huge mess hall, and it’s certainly quite fun to sit down and have a conversation with others over your meal. Service is quick and courteous at best, but don’t expect a lot of attention from your hosts. They’re in there to take orders, get food out, and then leave you to your business.
The menu is Japanese-themed, but certainly not in a traditional sense. Here we see soba, ramen, and curry everywhere, but with far more ingredients than a usual Japanese noodle house. Everything seems so much more…complicated here. There’s even three kinds of gyoza to choose from for an appetizer! I certainly didn’t see that one coming.
In any case, the appetizers we had were the ebi (shrimp) gyoza and the negima yakitori (grilled chicken skewers with green onion). The gyoza was quite unique in taste; there were quite a few chunks of king prawn in each of the pieces, and it gave a nice texture and flavor to each of the dumplings. The yakitori, however, was less than desirable. I’m familiar with most yakitori having nice big chunks of chicken and fresh green onion. However, this one had chicken that was almost wafer thin, and green onion was limp and tasteless. All I tasted here was the sauce put on top of the skewers. I’m not too thrilled with the yakitori, and I can think of a lot of other places with better offerings.
For a noodle house, the ramen dishes are also not very noteworthy. The miso ramen is quite possibly one of the worse renditions I’ve ever had. The lack of miso is evident, and the kitchen decided it would be best to add lots of chili oil to cover it up. The noodles are also harder than usual. In all, not too good. The chicken ramen is a little better, with a basic soup stock and vegetables harkening more towards typical ramen. However, the chicken slices were grilled with a pepper rub, so eventually the soup got a bit spicy. Nothing serious, but nothing to write home about either. The yaki-soba did fare a bit better, with the green onions, chicken, and ginger all present and accounted for. One thing I did not expect to see, however, was a bunch of mini-shrimp inside of my yakisoba. The combination of mini shrimp and chicken doesn’t work very well, to be honest. The chicken is spiced too much for you to taste anything of the shrimp, so why bother putting it in? The aftertaste of the yakisoba was also slightly saltier than I would like.
The amusing thing is, the best dish I had at Wagamama was the chicken katsu curry. Certainly, a noodle house wouldn’t be expected to have good rice dishes. However, this is Britain, and the curry used was intensely flavorful and better than a lot of places I’ve been in a long time. I haven’t been this pleased eating curry since I left Japan. One little detail, I suppose, is if you can really call this Japanese curry. It’s really more of Madras curry, and the flavors are more Indian than Japanese. Also, the chicken wasn’t the best preparation ever, but it’s better than any other dish on the table.
We weren’t too thrilled with the food, so we left the desserts alone. There are quite a few…innovations on the menu, so try them if you will. The wasabi and chocolate was particularly amusing.
In all, Wagamama is good for a quick bite to eat for a decent price. However, don’t get your expectations too high. It says noodle house, but there are probably better places to go.
**Fast, cheap food
**Food isn’t worth it
Important Information (Tower of London location only):
Wagamama Tower Hill
Tower Hill, London EC3N 4EE
Tel. 44 (0) 207 283 5897