When a new vegan product is launched, you can expect that vegans everywhere will catch wind of it and if it’s something we’ve been waiting on for a while, everyone will be rushing to try it out for themselves to see whether it lives up to expectation. Chain restaurant Wagamama recently teased the vegan community by announcing they were trialling their new vegan menu in just a few of their branches before releasing it to all of them nationwide. Before you know it, the new vegetarian and vegan menu was available everywhere and to no one’s surprise, many vegans made it their mission to go and try it, including myself.
Wagamama opened the doors to their store in Bloomsbury, London 25 years ago in 1992. Inspired by fast-paced, Japanese ramen bars and a celebration of asian food, Wagamama set out to create a unique way of eating. Practising the Japanese art of kaizen (meaning ‘good change’), they strive to bring the fresh, nourishing, flavours of asia to all till this day.
At first I was a bit sceptical about whether Wagamama would live up to my own expectations. As an Asian who loves her fix of Asian food, I have high standards and I know what I like. I used to regularly pass by the branch on Lothian Road and seeing the sandwich board placed outside on the pavement, I was never impressed by the dishes that were supposedly Japanese. The OH also went once with some friends years ago and wasn’t too impressed by the food he was served. You can then imagine that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when my friend and I decided to try the new vegan menu at the St Andrew’s Square branch in Edinburgh.
Wagamama on their new vegan menu
The store at the new building on St Andrew’s Square is tucked amongst some recently launched and upscale restaurants and bars. The modern decor and sky-high ceilings makes Wagamama fit right in with its neighbours while also offering customers a budget-friendly option. If their aim was to give customers a taste of the bustling ramen bars, they certainly achieved the atmosphere. Sat on long benches or bar stools, customers can catch glimpses of the chefs preparing the dishes from the open kitchen area while waiting staff quickly bring orders to the tables as soon as they’re ready.
For their first ever separate vegan menu, I’m happy to see that there are a few options to choose from for each course to suit different tastes. One of the dishes I was very pleased to find is gyoza, pan seared Japanese dumplings.
Yasai steamed gyoza with dipping sauce
I’ve been to Japanese restaurants before where some have mentioned their gyoza (one of my favourite dishes) aren’t vegan but don’t offer any more information about why this is the case. I absolutely love the filling within the dumplings that luckily don’t taste too much like meat, in flavour or texture, but still offers a lovely rich and dense combination bursting full of flavour. The difference between the steamed skin and the part that was grilled gives the dumplings a nice contrasting texture (between soft and crunchy) and the dipping sauce, which I thought was soy sauce, was lovely and thick with equal measure of sweet and salty.
It was a difficult choice when it came to choosing the main course, but I went with what my Asian food cravings demanded: noodles in soup.
The generous ramen bowl reminds me of the bowls I was served when dining in Japan when I was there years ago on holiday with my sister. The shichimi coated silken tofu radiated with warmth, still hot after being freshly prepared, with a crispy coating flecked with chilli. I love the contrast between the crispy tempura-like coating with chilli and the melt-in-your-mouth silky tofu that I’m used to eating in Asian cuisine.
The grilled mixed mushrooms were also very tasty. I tend to fry my mushrooms with a bit of garlic to give it some flavour, but I couldn’t see any condiments with these so expected it to be bland and was pleasantly surprised how flavoursome they were!
The udon noodles were nice, not soggy at all, which I thought would happen with noodles that haven’t been cooked right and has been sitting in soup for a long time. The noodles stayed nice and al dente right till the end and I even slurped some of the very yummy curried vegetable broth finished with pea shoots, carrots, chilli and coriander at the end. Couldn’t help myself!
If you’re like me and can’t take too much spice, this udon bowl has got some kick to it but not too strong. If you want a bit more spice, try eating the slices of chilli as well or ordering the yasai itame or yasai samla curry with rice which, according to the menu, are spicier options.
Having never been to Wagamama before, I can’t honestly compare how the new vegan menu compares to the options vegans were offered previously, but I can say that I was not disappointed by what they had to offer. The only thing that I wasn’t quite used to, although it’s not a deal breaker, was having the food delivered as soon as it was ready which meant I got my udon noodles first, before my friend got her vegetarian curry and my gyoza arrived later, but it was about 15 minutes before hers arrived.
The food was great though and it met my strict Asian expectations of what Asian food should taste like. I would be more than happy to come back with the OH and/or other friends to sample the other dishes on the menu.
The Wagamama branch I visited was at Unit 5 St Andrew’s Square, EH2 2BD (phone 0131 285 4787) but there are plenty of locations around the UK and you can search for the one closest to you here. Please note that if your party is less than 6, you can’t make a reservation ahead of time and will be seated as soon as a table becomes available. For groups of 6 or more, make a booking with your local restaurant here.
Have you tried the new vegetarian and vegan menu at Wagamama? What did you think of the food? Do you have a favourite dish?