It’s a Saturday lunchtime, the sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day.
Dish Detective has not planned for such lovely spring weather and has organised a shopping trip to Whiteley Shopping Centre, with a promise of a cinema visit after, with their best pal.
The centre is immaculate, all the shops bar one (possibly a former betting shop) are occupied by big brands and it feels like we’re in a computer-generated image of an ideal shopping centre.
The big brands theme extends to the food and drink venues and there’s plenty of choice for lunch – there’s Yo! Sushi, Frankie and Benny’s, Harvester, Prezzo, Nando’s plus much more.
We opt for Wagamama as the restaurant looks spacious and welcoming – plus it promises a slightly healthier lunch than Dish Detective’s usual pre-cinema choice of Five Guys (delicious by the way – their milkshakes are easily among the best in the world and don’t get me started on the burgers or chips).
The Wagamama chain began in 1992 in London and has since expanded out to towns and cities across the country, opening in Whiteley when the shopping centre opened in 2013 . It has a busy restaurant at Gunwharf Quays too.
Its philoshopy is ‘kaizen’, meaning ‘good change’. According to its website, this ‘shapes every dish we create, and pushes us to find better ways in all that we do.’
The restaurant was inspired by fast-paced Japanese ramen bars and its menu boasts a range of Asian food. There’s no need to worry if you’re not au fait with Japanese cuisine, as the staff are well-versed in all menu items and ask “is this the first time you’ve eaten at Wagamama?” when you sit down.
Dish Detective has eaten in several of these chains before , so already knows what to expect.
A warning to any newbies though – Wagamama is different to other UK restaurants in that there’s no set meal structure . You get what you order when it’s ready. That way it’s fresh.
All the food is cooked in an open kitchen, so you can see the chefs busily working.
We go for two of the fruit drinks for an extra health blast – a large tropical (£4.50) made up of mango, apple and orange and a regular fruit juice (£3.50) made up of apple, orange and passion fruit. They are freshly-squeezed and pulped and are delicious.
Shopping is hungry work so we go for sides of bang bang cauliflower (£4.75) a crispy wok-fried cauliflower coated in firecracker sauce mixed with red and spring onions, garnished with fresh ginger, an order of steamed edamame beans served with salt (£4.50), ideal for picking at while we await the main course, and a portion of chicken steamed gyoza (£5.95) which come as five tasty steamed chicken dumplings, served grilled with a dipping sauce.
For the main dishes we order a chilli chicken ramen (£11.50) – a type of noodle-soup that comes in a black bowl with lots of veg and a teriyaki lamb (£14.95).
This comes with mushrooms, asparagus, kale and mangetout served on a bed of soba noodles in a pea, herb and wasabi dressing. Both of us hold the coriander (yuk).
All the food comes out swiftly, with just a short delay between our two main courses, but it’s laid back and relaxed so Dish Detective doesn’t mind friend tucking in as there were plenty of sides to fill the gap.
The restaurant staff were pleasant, swift and – despite it being the busiest time of the week – they seemed to be taking the rush in their stride.
We sat for over an hour, catching up on some gossip, and the total bill came to £53.60 (with a large fizzy water £3.95).
It was fresh, healthy and generally a very nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
We skipped desserts – instead choosing to take milkshakes with extra cream from Five Guys into the film, thus cancelling out any attempts at a healthy lunch. But so, so worth it.
Tel: (01489) 564900
(ratings out of 5)