From bowl to soul. Wagamama is a contemporary hangout perfect for sitting back and soaking up the summer vibe. It’s a place that will fill you up without slowing you down. There’s tunes playing, it’s centred around sociable school dinner-style benches and there’s a buzzy open kitchen. And to complete the experience: the staff are super accommodating from start to finish – we leave feeling like we’ve dined at a pals place. From our host, Rob and our waiter, Kamil to the restaurant manager, Kamila and the cheery chef, Dom – we’re in good hands. On this occasion, we’re checking in at the new White Rose branch in Leeds – stopping off for some post-shopping soul food.
The restaurant itself is bright, vibrant and buzzy. Feeling like we’ve been whisked away from a busy week to a bustling dinner party, the restaurants has a different feel to it than most restaurants under an umbrella chain. We love the design – it’s very much set out in straight lines – pick out your own wooden booth or perch on the shared benches. It’s a sociable spot, perfect if you’re rounding up your chums for post-work dinner or a weekend catch up. Glasses clink behind bar, chop sticks clatter on the tables and flames fire up from the kitchen. The place sort of has a canteen feel – it’s all very open. It’s sociable and we love it.
Just what exactly is an Asian-inspired tipple? I’m never quite sure what to swill my meal down with – whether it be noodles, a curry, tapas-style sides or a fishy feast. But one thing is for sure, the waiting staff here know exactly what they’re talking about, and depending on the section of the menu you order from, they can recommend a suitable sip to go with it. On this occasion, we figure we can’t go wrong with a cool beer. Trying out the summer menu means it’s sunny outside (you’d think) – and we’re in luck today, because it is. So after a long day at the desk, a beer goes down swillingly. If you prefer soft drinks to accompany your spices, there’s a selection of super healthy juices and tasty green teas. Try the Positive Juice (£3.50) for something zippy, refreshing and to give you that summer glow. It’s a good-for-you green juice mixing pineapple, lime, spinach, cucumber and apple.
At Wagamama HQ, the team believe in the philosophy of kaizen – meaning ‘good change’. And we couldn’t agree more. The spiced-up, summer-inspired dishes are a good change if there ever was one. The vibrant menu is inspired by fast-paced, Japanese ramen bars and a celebration of Asian-fusion food. It’s fresh, it’s lively and it’s nourishing – everything we look for in a sumptuous, summery feast. The Asian spirit and the focus on spices really make this place what it is – a little ginger to get those taste buds tingling, some chillies to warm you up and a bowl of noodles to nourish the body and soul. From the flavours and the pairings, to the colours and the aromas, everything just works here – and if you’re unsure or you’d like to swap in some ingredients, the staff and chef are more than happy to do so.
The menu is split into the following sections – sides; to share with fellow diners, hiranta steamed buns; something a little more stodgy, gyonza; dumplings, donburi; big bowls of steamed rice, ramen; hearty bowls of hot broth, teppanyaki; sizzling, stir-fried noodles, omakase; chef specials, curries and salads.
What we ate
This visit is all about the chef specials and the new, summer-inspired dishes on offer and so, with wide eyes and grumbling tummies, we try them all. Kicking things off with the beef tataki (£6.35). The name comes from the way it’s cooked; a lightly seared steak, marinated, thinly slices and served chilled after being frozen. Next up, the bang bang cauliflower (£4.75). Vegetables in the tastiest form – to put it simply. They’re crispy, wok-fried and coated in firecracker sauce.
The main event arrives in the form of the chicken samla curry (£11.25) and the grilled bream donburi (£12.95). The curry is a fragrant, lemongrass-infused dish, with shiitake mushrooms, peppers, baby plum tomatoes, coconut and a chilli and coriander garnish; while the donburi sea bream comes dressed in a spicy vinegar with teriyaki sauce and finished with carrots, pea shoots, spring onions – served with a side of kimchee – for an added kick.
And if the whole experience isn’t already sweet enough… we can’t resist on the colourful dessert offering. I opt for the fruity option with the yuzu and lemon tart (£5.75), served with raspberry compote and fresh mint – truly refreshing and zippy. My dinner date goes for the sweet and spicy offering – the chocolate and shichimi ice cream (£3.95). It’s an unusual sensation: cold ice cream with a spicy kick at the end. But it works.
We’ve got our eye on the Wagamama recipe book and we’re ready to cook up a storm for our dinner party pals this summer!