Wagamama, meaning ‘naughty child’ in Japanese, is Hong Kong-born London restaurateur Alan Yau’s runaway success story.
It’s now in its 23rd year, and has just opened its 95th restaurant in the UK on Chichester’s South Street.
The entrepreneur revolutionised chain restaurants by orders taken via PDAs, and wirelessly networked to the kitchen.
Food order numbers are written on customers’ paper place mats, dishes not necessarily served at the same time. But this doesn’t deter those who come in their droves to this naughty child.
The chain was initially refused permission by Chichester District Council, which changed its mind after an 800-strong Facebook petition and the restaurant opened its doors on January 13.
I visited within the first 24 hours, and the operation was running remarkably smoothly. Possibly the head office A-Team was in charge, a practice often used by chain restaurants alongside new recruits.
Expect American-type patter of the ‘how are you today?’ style and lots of eye contact by red t-shirted staff. American-accented Spanish Pedro was pretty ace.
Customers sit on benches on either side of large tables or, unusually for a Wagamama, at tables with chairs at the front of the minimalist space sans décor. And I mean nada on the walls or tables. The emphasis is on the food and the service – and a quick turnaround.
The menu features curries, chilli dishes, noodles, rice dishes, stir fry and various sides including miso soup and tea-stained eggs.
There are several new additions to the tried and tested menu such as mahi mahi curry, grilled duck with ramen noodles and pulled pork gyoza (steamed grilled dumplings with a black vinegar and ginger sauce).
Old favourites are still available like ginger chicken udon (noodles with chicken, egg and vegetables) and ebi katsu (deep-fried prawns in panko breadcrumbs). Prices start at £3.50 for a small plate to between £8.95–£13.95 for a main dish.
Kare lomen, ramen noodles in a spicy coconut and lemongrass soup with grilled chicken, cucumber and beansprouts with coriander and lime (£10.25), came in a large bowl with a paddle-like spoon and chopsticks. Noodles, a cheap commodity, filled the colourful bowl too generously.
The plentiful chicken, more steam-tasting than grilled, was easily dealt with thanks to chopstick prowess, but could have used more seasoning, as could the soup. Where was the lemongrass, more pronounced spicing? It wasn’t a bad bowlful but it just lacked that distinctive punch I expect as a long-term Wagamama fan.
A rather remarkable passion fruit cheesecake was a creamy mass on crushed ginger biscuits with a lovely burst of fruit on top.
Available in two sizes, my mini dessert cost £1.65 but most desserts, including a large cheesecake, cost around £5.50. There are also apple and ginger dumplings or half moon pancakes with date and orange purée.
I suspect the 95th naughty child will have people queuing thanks to the power of Facebook and those Wagamama aficionados. It is, after all, the only Japanese offering in town.
My bill came to £17.75 including Kyoto sake.
Wagamama, 26 South Street, Chichester, PO19 1EL. 01243 533955. Open 11am – 11pm every day.
Disabled access: Downstairs disabled toilet. Good space for wheelchair users.
How to get there: Exit the A27 at Chichester station turn-off, drive past the station on to South Street and the restaurant is on the left halfway up. Parking in car park off Theatre Street.
Ratings (maximum *****)