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Wagamama location: 10a Lexington St, London, W1F 0LD, UK, SE of Piccadilly Circus, and 49 other locations
Ichiban location: 50 Queen St., Glasgow, UK, and one other location
Izakaya location: 69 Front St. E., Toronto, Canada.

Since Wagamama opened its doors back in 1992, It's grown into a small empire of Japanese noodle restaurants whose aegis spans from Ireland to Auckland by way of Dubai. Long communal metallic tables stand in rows, built-in benches on either side. The staff use PDAs to put orders through to the kitchen, then scribble down the numbers corresponding to items ordered on each persons' paper placemats. Food is served whenever it's ready. The concept is efficient, but the practice is fairly pleasant, most of all because the food is good. C.'s apple-and-lime juice was fresh and tangy. My amai udon was nicely put together, the flavors blending into rich comfortingness. The white chocolate and ginger cheesecake had a flavorful spicy bite, with a dash of chilli mixed into the toffee, complementing the cheesecake.

The prices are competitive enough at Wagamama that I know students and faculty who swear by it was a nice way to have a meal out while living the costliness of London. A good balance between price and quality is also why the Glasgow Worldcon guidebook enjoined the attendees to check out Ichiban Noodle Café, a place whose virtues and physical setup - if not the menu - read a great deal like Wagamama's. I quote the convention guide, "This is first of all a noodle bar, plus some rice-based ones; but it also serves well-prepared sushi and bento boxes. This place cannot be praised highly enough." And indeed, a dozen or so of us had an very competent dinner there on the night before convention started. (Thanks to fjm. And where I met grahamsleight, autopope, feorag, and many others.)

The downsides of food served as and when it's ready was more apparent in a large group than a small one. Everyone around me had finished eating a good ten minutes before my bento box arrived. Several of them generously waited for me - and the food itself was worth the wait - but it did make for awkwardness, with several people long since finished and eager to leave, and three of us just beginning to eat. Perhaps that's exactly why Wagamama chooses to focus its menu on a tigher selection.

Wagamama's success is exactly why Izakaya opened to great acclaim a few months back in Toronto. The physical format is the same again: shared tables, hard benches, PDA-equipped servers. The prices too are competitive, with mains in the $9-10 range and "starters" in the $5-6. I put "starters" in quotes because both Izakaya and Wagamama emphasize izakaya-style eating, Japanese tapas. I had some tasty duck dumplings at Wagamama, and both the Toronto Star and Now reviews make me suspect that Izakaya's offers some good cooking too.

I don't know how closely these restaurants cleave to new wave Japanese noodle bars (can any of you tell me?), but I like the way the trend is spreading around the English-speaking world so far, with good food, efficient service, competitive prices. These won't be the last meals I eat at this new breed of sit-down fast food.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 20th, 2005 10:45 pm (UTC)
Manchester had a wagamama, but I never went to it, i think I can't remember I went to one of the asian ones in the printworks. I just remember that my rice wasn't cooked well, it was overpriced, and the portions were tiny. So I think it wasn't wagamama. you know what i just checked it wasn't, it was Tiger Tiger I went to. I can't recommend them! But I did enjoy Nandos.
Aug. 20th, 2005 11:24 pm (UTC)
Noodle bars are oddly rare where I am (considering the number of Issei and Nisei rounded up in this area during the war), although I think I remember write-ups of some of these in the Grauniad when I lived in Germany. Here the most ubiquitous Asian fast-foods are teriyaki (usually prepared by Koreans) and pho (pronounced Fuh, if you didn't know), lovely Vietnamese beef noodle soup. There's actually a pho restaurant called Pho King *laughs sophomorically*. It is a nice change from ramen and udon, though -- lighter. I think also better for the gluten-intolerant, since the noodles are rice (do rice noodles have wheat in them?)
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 21st, 2005 10:20 am (UTC)
I haven't tried it, but thank you for the recommendation!
Aug. 21st, 2005 01:35 am (UTC)
Two bonuses (boni! No, wait! Bona!)
1.) A food post, and oh, how I love them.

2.) A lovely new word to play with: Wagamama. I like to say it slow. Wa... ga... ma....maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
Aug. 21st, 2005 08:22 am (UTC)
Graham and I went to Wagamama and must have gotten the wrong things, because we generally found them overpriced and bland. In any case we haven't gone back--but there does seem to be a second one opening in Manchester so we must be a minority. Then again, I'd much rather go for Thai-style noodle dishes than the Japanese ones, so maybe that's why I found it less than appealing.
Aug. 21st, 2005 10:20 am (UTC)
Not all things appeal to all people, and that's just how it should be. Or maybe I just lucked out on the dish I happened to order. Or you went on a bad day. Who knows... my entire write up was based on one trip to Wagamama and one trip to Ichiban. Mileage may vary.
Aug. 27th, 2005 10:03 pm (UTC)
The main problem with the Ichiban in Glasgow was the there was no warning that it was a very steep long flight of stairs up. This was a VERY UNPLEASANT experience for Mark, especially as they put mushrooms in his food when he asked them not to. Otherwise Electrical Eggs were really helpful, but that was a nasty surprise that could have been avoided with three words in that guide - no handicapp access.

I preferred my coconut-chilli-prawn-noodle thing at wagamama last week to either of the noodle dishes I've had at Ichiban or Obento. Absolutely love wagamama desserts though. And at Obento the seaweed on top of my noodles dance and waggle from the steam, which was really cool.

(As for the sushi, have not found anywhere in England that is even remotely close to anything I ever ate in LA, but that might by the rose-tinted glasses of time speaking.)
Nov. 7th, 2012 03:13 am (UTC)
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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )