Thursday, 1 November 2012
Pork Ramen @ Wagamama
Younger readers might be surprised that there was a time when Wagamama was fashionable. Granted, this was when Oasis released Definitely Maybe, John Major was Prime Minister and the author of this blog had just moved to London. Yes, that long ago. In those days this noodle bar was considered a pioneer, as neither Japanese food nor communal casual dining was all that common.
Nowadays, Wagamama is one of the UK's best-known chain restaurants; it's even expanded overseas (I've seen branches in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Sydney). However, popularity doesn't always equate to quality, and it'd be fair to say that the noodlescenti can be a bit sniffy about this restaurant. That's why I wasn't that keen on going there the other Saturday. But it was late, I was pissed, it was raining and my mate's wife vetoed a trip to Nando's (I was a bit indignant - Nando's is great post-session grub). So that's why after over three years (and 265 blog posts) I am finally writing about Wagamama.
I'm not sure there ever was a 'Golden Age of Wagamama' but it'd be fair to say that the food was better when there was only one restaurant with a shorter menu. To be honest I found the menu bewildering. In addition to the Japanese dishes, there were some interlopers such as pad Thai as well as some weird pan-Asian dishes that could be (kindly) described as unique. Some branches, although not the one I visited, even offer sushi. Blinded by choice, I played it safe and went for a newly introduced dish: pork ramen (£8.50).
It's all too easy to be negative about Wagamama (and chains in general) so I would like to point out that the toppings of pea shoots, wakame, menma, spring onions and half a tea-stained egg were fresh and of good quality. There was also a fair bit of barbecued pork although I can't remember much about the taste of the meat or the accompanying Korean barbecue sauce. The ramen noodles could've been springier, but I guess I should be thankful they weren't mushy. At this point, you're probably wondering this isn't a bad bowl of noodles, and as my friend pointed out I did wolf it down pretty sharpish.
However, all this good work was letdown by a lukewarm and insipid broth. I like my soup noodles to come with a steaming broth, not one that is merely tepid. It was also underseasoned and lacked depth, and despite being advertised as a miso, ginger and chicken soup, I couldn't pick out any of those flavours.
I also had a taste of a stir-fried udon dish, which I found to be too sweet (although I do concede I did eat quite a bit of this dish). With hindsight, I wish I'd ordered what my mate had: chicken katsu curry, proper dirty post-pub grub. Sides of ebi katsu (prawns in breadcrumbs) and duck gyoza dumplings were also ordered. I can't remember much about these but being a bit pissed I'm sure they hit the spot at the time.
There are many better noodle options than Wagamama, but they tend to be in central London. So when out and about after a drunken night in Richmond, I guess this noodle chain scratches an itch. It's far from great, but I wouldn't say it's so bad that it is to noodles what Ping Pong is to dim sum. And for that I guess I ought to be thankful.
Wagamama, 3 Hill Street, Richmond TW9 1SX (Tel: 0208-948-2224)
Nearest station: Richmond
With branches nationwide