By David Stewart White
They come seeking fast, fresh, and cheap Asian-inspired food. And for thousands of Londoners Wagamama fits the bill. With a dozen locations in greater London, this noodle house chain is popular with locals and visitors to the city.
The restaurants are minimalist modern. Seating is on bench seats in semi-communal tables. Noisy? Yes. Crowded? Often. It's the food (and prices), not the ambiance, that packs in diners at Wagamama. Servers record orders on each table's paper placemats. Food arrives as it is ready—a starter may lag behind a main course and some diners may get food before their tablemates. It is all part of the casual appeal of the Wagamama restaurant model.
Inspired by Japan's popular ramen bars, Wagamama offers pan-asian food, served fresh, with attention to details. Have a food allergy? Just ask and your server will bring out charts showing exactly what dishes are prepared with what ingredients. For Wagamama, a food allergy means even more than "no shrimp in my Pad Thai, please." It means no shellfish has even touched the pans and utensils used to cook and serve your order. (Note: in this case it meant no Pad Thai—and a whole list of other "no-no's" for our shrimp-allergic diner.)
Wagamama has more than 100 locations in Great Britain, plus outlets in several European countries. The chain has just four restaurants in the United States, all in Massachusetts. For London visitors ending their vacations to fly home, Wagamama offers one last chance—there's a location in the departures area of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.