November 15, 2010

Sampling Wagamamas

By In Reviews
It is not really a place for relaxing – communal seating, cavernous company canteen feel, overlooked by an end wall mural of a head in a bowl. Fast, buzzy, life. Welcome to Wagamamas. This is the Reading outpost, I’m sure the others fit the company styling.

A Thursday evening, the pre-cinema crowd fill the wooden benches. Aga, one of a handful of servers, scribbles the menu numbers on our paper placemats. Lack of crayons for colouring-in is a disappointment. She smiles, is welcoming and places our cocktails on the table. Not a place for a relaxing, social drink is Wagamamas so I wonder at the half-a-dozen newly introduced drink mixes. Two from the list were selected. The Wagamana Bellini (£5.25) was perhaps a mistake, too girly for a lads evening out, the Plum wine and a dash of bitters not really to our tastes, we regret not ordering something a little more Oriental and manly sounding – the Harajuku (£5.25) combining vodka, honey and Thai basil with fresh pineapple juice perhaps or the Asakusa Cool (£5.25) with shochu (a Japanese distilled spirit made from barley) with plum wine and orange juice. In contrast to the Bellini the Hinotama (£5.25) had a superb ginger kick, the whole chilli garnish perhaps a touch too much. We discuss the alcohol content of combining plum wine, sake, bitters and ginger beer. I liked it and could have had another…

A new winter special menu was released just three days before; our sampling then restricted to the new offerings. We go for the Pork Dumpling Soup (£8.95) and the Spicy Garlic Beef, Ginger and Basil Donburi (£10.85). The soup is substantial. “Sweet and spicy char sui roast pork dumplings in a pork, coriander and lemongrass broth with Sichuan spicy sausage, tea boiled egg, bean sprouts, leeks,, spinach and garnished with spring onions and chives”. The sausage is suitably spicy. The egg is only a half. The broth beautifully spiced and tasty.

The Donburi however was little more than special fried rice but tasty and substantial, overly dominated by large slices of red onion though. Described as “fragrant rice, baby plum and yellow tomatoes, red onions, red sweet peppers, spring onions, egg, chillies and basil toasted with an aromatic sweet and spicy sauce”. The side dish of spicy kimchee was nicely contrasting but where was the sauce? The egg? The halved tomatoes? Luckily the ‘side dish’ of Chicken Tebasaki (£5.25) saved the day, “Wagamamas special barbeque sauce” became the sticky-fingered focus with the rice acting as a foil. Nicking a dumpling or two from across the table likewise boosted the meal. A glass of fresh, full, nicely matched Witt’s End Australian Chardonnay accompanied. Interestingly they offer all their wines in four sizes – 125ml, 175ml, 250ml and full bottle size (the Witt’s End priced at £3.80, £4.75, £6.25 and £17.25). The list is short with five whites, three reds, two rosés and a Prosecco.

We end with a couple of cheesecakes – the Japanese Cherry Cheesecake (£4.95) and the White Chocolate and Ginger version (£4.85), the latter garnished with a chilli toffee ginger sauce.

The room was emptying, for the next cinema showing we guess. The trendily dressed Orientals, the middle-aged shoppers, the man-bag carrying students, the table of chatty Indian couples, slowly depart leaving Kleber, the Brazilian manager, time to shake our hands and thank us for coming. Time for him to have a breather before the next wave arrives for a quick taste of Wagamamas.

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