We Want Wagamama!

Dear Wagamama: please bring more restaurants to the United States!

Since discovering this restaurant chain during a semester abroad in London I have been craving their delicious noodle dishes and patiently waiting for them to come to the U.S.

Wagamama is an Asian-inspired noodle bar with dishes that include dumplings, ramen noodle soup and stir-fried udon noodles. The first restaurant opened in London in 1992 with the idea “to combine great, fresh and nutritious food in an sleek yet simple setting with helpful, friendly service and value for money.” While I was living in London, Wagamama quickly became my favorite place for a meal with friends, family visiting from the U.S., or even on my own.

Wagamama restaurants feature sleek and modern dining spaces that resemble high school cafeterias. Long wooden tables with benches fill the room, leaving little to no space between separate groups. Most of the restaurants are located below the street level entrance so there are no windows. The open kitchen shows a flurry of cooks stir-frying vegetables and stirring soup broth. There are no paper pads here – servers write down your order on wireless handheld devices that send it directly to the kitchen. The dishes come out quickly and as soon as they’re ready, so one person may get theirs before the rest of the group. If you’re thirsty, there is a variety of freshly squeezed juices to choose from. Everything on the menu is reasonably priced.

Currently there are more than 60 Wagamamas around the UK. There are many locations around the world including in Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and the UAE. I always thought if Wagamama could travel to these far away places, why not to the United States? Wagamama’s recipe for good food served quickly surely would translate to success here. I know I’d certainly keep one near me in business!

The good news is Wagamama has finally arrived here! The first two restaurants opened in the Boston/Cambridge area in the spring and summer of 2007. I recently checked out the Harvard Square location and found the great dining experience wasn’t lost in the trip across the pond.

I started with the duck gyoza. The deep fried duck and leek dumplings are served with a spicy hoisin sauce. They’re crunchy and not too oily, with plenty of tender meat inside. For my main course, I ordered the dish I always ordered in London: yaki udon. Udon noodles are cooked on a hot, flat griddle with curry oil, along with chicken, egg, shrimp, bean sprouts, red and green peppers and shitake mushrooms. It’s garnished with spicy ground fish powder and pickled ginger. Each bite is a different combination of flavors: the spice of the curry oil, the saltiness of the shrimp, the woodsy taste of the mushrooms. It’s a huge portion that somehow, I’m always able to finish.

Wagamama is located at 57 JFK Street in Cambridge and in the Quincy Market building in Boston. Hopefully other U.S. locations will be coming soon!