Wagamama Norwich – A Review

Wagamama first opened its doors in Bloomsbury, London, in 1992 and in the 25 years since then has grown into a chain of over 120 restaurants in the UK with more than 20 overseas.

Wagamama in Norwich has recently undergone a “shiny new” refurbishment and I was lucky enough to be invited along last week with other food bloggers and writers for the official re-opening. I was accompanied by my friend Cathy – an avid foodie like me – and between us we tasted (and tested) a variety of dishes. We met one of Wagamama’s top executive chefs who talked about Wagamama’s food and history. I was particularly interested to see the new vegan menu which offers some delicious meat and dairy free dishes.

Before the refurbishment, the restaurant had a slightly clinical feel: bright white walls, a lime green feature wall and plenty of stainless steel. The new décor is a complete contrast: while there is still a white and green theme (but no lime!), it’s been softened by the addition of exposed brickwork on pillars, wood panelling and a marble bar counter. Copper coloured pendant light fittings cast a warm glow throughout the restaurant and the large wall mirrors – with a hint of copper on the glass add a sense of space. The bench seating has remained and adds a sociable feel to the dining experience. In my opinion, the new colour scheme and feature lighting are very stylish and make the Wagamama experience more relaxing and intimate.

The waiting staff whetted our appetites with a selection of side dishes, which were placed in the centre of the long table so that we could all dig in. The pork ribs in a Korean barbecue sauce were very popular as was the chilli squid.

We tried two prawn sides: ebi katsu (crispy fried prawns in panko breadcrumbs served with a spicy chilli and garlic sauce) and lollipop prawn kushiyaki (prawn skewers marinated in lemongrass, lime and chilli). For me, the star of the side dishes was beef tataki: lightly seared marinated steak, thinly sliced and served chilled, dressed with citrus ponzu and Japanese mayonnaise.

We chose our own main dishes and each of us ordered something different. I chose the chicken and prawn pad thai (rice noodles in an amai sauce with egg, beansprouts, leeks, chilli and red onion, garnished with fried shallots, peanuts, mint, coriander and fresh lime) while Cathy plumped for the chilli ramen with chicken (a spicy chicken broth topped with red and spring onions, beansprouts, chilli, coriander and fresh lime). I noticed that there was an awful lot of red chilli in Cathy’s bowl but she coped with it admirably!

Someone else on our table had selected the Wagamama ramen which was a substantial bowl of food containing chicken, seasoned pork, prawns and mussels in a rich chicken broth with dashi and miso. Another diner had the steak bulgogi which consisted of marinated sirloin steak and miso-fried aubergine served on soba noodles, dressed in a sesame and bulgogi sauce and finished with spring onions, kimchee and half a tea-stained egg.

The portions of food were very generous and well presented. The chefs had clearly taken time to ensure that the dishes had visual appeal as well as great flavour.

Some desserts then miraculously appeared on our table including a white chocolate and ginger cheesecake that was drizzled with a chilli toffee and ginger sauce, yuzu and lemon tart and a wonderfully moreish cake comprising layers of chocolate sponge, dark chocolate parfait and hazelnut cream with a sleek chocolate mirror glaze. By this time I think we were all quite full but for the purposes of research we valiantly clutched our forks and sampled each of the puds. Well, it would have been rude not to!

I should mention at this point that we could have chosen dishes from the vegetarian and vegan menu. Meat-free at Wagamama doesn’t mean taste-free: side dishes included bang bang cauliflower; mixed aubergine and panko aubergine hirata steamed bun and yasai gyoza with a dipping sauce. For lovers of katsu curry, the vegetarian version consisted of sweet potato, aubergine and butternut squash coated in crispy panko breadcrumbs, covered in an aromatic curry sauce and served with white rice and a side salad. Vegan main courses included yasai pad thai, kare burosu ramen and yasai samla curry. The vegan dessert options were limited to two different flavoured fruit sorbets but I would hope that the Wagamama chefs will soon add more puds to the menu.

The drinks selection was varied with a choice of teas, coffee, wines (bottles or by the glass), beer, soft drinks and fresh juices – there was definitely something available to suit everyone.

I left Wagamama in Norwich feeling pleasantly full and I will return as soon as I can to try some other things on the menu. It will take several visits to try everything but I don’t think that’ll be an onerous task! The waiting staff were courteous and attentive and we appreciated the Executive Chef taking time to talk to us about the food, the flavours and the Wagamama ethos.

 

 

I was invited to Wagamama for a complementary meal in order to review the restaurant following its recent refurbishment. The above reflects my honest opinion of my November 2017 visit. The photographs of the food items are taken from Wagamama’s website.

 

 

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‘Japanese Food Made Easy’ – A Review

My kitchen cupboards contain an array of sauces and condiments including soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, ketcap manis and even a small bottle of sake. When I make any food classed as ‘Asian’, I tend to randomly throw in some or all of these things in varying quantities until I’m happy with the taste. So for 2016, one of the things on my ‘to-do’ list was buy a book on Japanese cooking and learn how to make some authentic dishes. After a quick Google search and a look on Amazon, I found “Japanese Food Made Easy” by Fiona Uyema.

Japanese Food book cover

Fiona explains in the introduction that she was born in Ireland, studied Japanese at College and lived in Japan for three years, where she met her husband. After the birth of her first child, Fiona started writing a Japanese cooking blog and also taught cookery classes, and demonstrated at food festivals and events in Ireland and then had the opportunity to write a cook book.

The book guides the reader through the basics of Japanese cooking and gives some of Fiona’s favourite traditional recipes (some with a modern twist). I was pleased to see that almost every recipe was accompanied by a full-page photograph. Fiona has also included chapters about Japanese food culture and dining etiquette and a comprehensive list of basic Japanese ingredients. Suggested suppliers and stockists are listed – with website addresses – although these are based in Ireland. There are of course similar suppliers in the UK and elsewhere.

The recipe sections are divided as follows:

Rice

Soups & Salads

Chicken

Beef, Pork & Lamb

Fish & Seafood

Vegetarian

Noodles

Sushi & Sashimi

Desserts & Drinks

Bento Planner.

This book contains a lot of the items I’d eat if I went to a Japanese restaurant e.g. gyoza (dumplings), chicken katsu curry (a Wagamama restaurant staple thaqt’s very popular), tempura, a variety of noodle dishes (I’m really into noodles at the moment) and of course sushi. Fiona shows you how to make a variety of dips, stocks and sauces and as these are the real ‘flavour carriers’ for the dishes, it’s useful to know how to whip these up to keep stored in the fridge.

I’m in temporary accommodation at the moment (we’re in the process of buying a house having relocated from south London to North Norfolk) with only a very small, poorly-equipped kitchen, but I’ve made a few of the sauces e.g. teriyaki, tonkatsu and okonomiyaki and used them to liven up the limited range of food I can currently make.

Here’s my ‘teriyaki rice’ dish using Fiona’s recipe for the sauce:

 

Teriyaki rice

 

And here’s my very substantial ‘miso soup’ using Fiona’s recipe for the stock. I added edamame beans (I buy them fresh in Tesco), rice noodles, mushrooms and spinach.

 

Miso soup

 

I can’t wait to move into our new house and have a fully functioning kitchen again so I can make more of Fiona’s recipes. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in Japanese food particularly if they have felt a bit daunted by the thought of trying it at home. I have three or four other Japanese cook books written by Japanese authors which are also worth a look but they assume that the reader is more experienced in Asian cookery. Fiona’s book stands out because it takes the fear away!

 

Disclaimer: I purchased the book ‘Japanese Food Made Easy’ and was not asked to write a review for any rewards or incentives. This review represents my honest opinion about Fiona Uyema’s book.