Scores out of 5: Veggie friendly : 3/5; Value for money: 4/5, Quality of cooking : 3.5/5; Ambience : 3/5; Service: 4/5 ;Atmosphere: 3/5
Whenever a bunch of us from work want a quick, reasonably-priced, hot lunch, we head to our local Wagamama's. If you don't have an aversion to Oriental food, then Wagamama pretty much has something for everyone; including us vegetarians (I'm not sure of the vegan options though).
For those of you unfamiliar with the place , the seating is pretty much like it would be in a school cafetaria -long rows of benches laid out one alongside the next. For some reason all Wagamama's seem to have really poor acoustics. So its not the kind of place for a romantic date and you invariably have to focus on your food and avoid conversation (or strain really hard to hear what your mates are saying). This can sometimes be a good thing, especially when the food is hot and you are tired of the office gossip. That said, at the Moorgate Waga's I've often inadvertently eavesdropped on gossip from unnamed other banks because the next set of people is seated just an elbow-nudge away. The poor acoustics could partly be attributed to the fact that Waga's is almost always packed to the gills at lunchtime, but more honestly , I think it has more to do with the layout, building materials and set-up of the place.
Starters at Wagamama are probably best avoided by veggies; they are unimaginative !! The grilled asparagus is not really worth it; one pays £4.10 for a 4-5 asparagus spears with a light tasteless dressing - not spectacular at all. The edamame is another rip-off at £3.50 for a small bowl; I think edamame (on account of its simplicity) is best cooked at home; for the same money you'll get more than a kilo of the frozen from your local Chinese / Korean supermarket and it takes only a couple of minutes of boiling in salted water, plus it's a really nutritious snack. The yasai gyoza (vegetarian dumplings) are tempting. But a big warning here. There have been a couple of times in the past few years when I have been served the chicken dumplings rather than the veggie ones. They look exactly the same from the outside. Except that the veggie ones are served with a single leaf of parsley on top, to tell the waiting staff of its veggie-ness. I bit into one once before I realised it had chicken inside and then given my incredibly fussy veggie-ness, spent 20 mins in the restroom cleaning my mouth; that said, they were really apologetic and seemed to mean it genuinely. This chickeny-mishap happened once again a few months later (both times at the Canary Wharf branch) but this time I had been savvy enough to cut open the gyoza and check, so i wasn't as miserable, although it was a bit yucky to be honest. This kind of serial mistake makes a committed veggie like me quite annoyed and I must admit, I did give the Wagamama chain a miss for a while after. That said, the pleasantness of the waiting staff, their willingness to add or remove ingredients as per one's choice and the generally good value have drawn me back
In terms of mains, if you're looking for something soupy, you should try the soupy-noodly saien soba. Top tip : Have it on the udon (egg-free thick) noodles as Udon noodles hold their texture better in the boiling hot, soupy liquid. the standard noodles end up with the texture of bread thats been soaked in warm milk for days - i.e. mulchy. If you prefer a more stir-fried kind of noodle, head for the yasai yaki soba. Its a soya-sauce flavoured stir-fry with really fantastic-tasting, shocking pink, pickled ginger on top of the noodles.
And if you like your rice try the yasai katsu curry ( consisting of plain rice topped with breaded aubergines / other vegetables and a weird curry sauce) or the yasai cha han (vegetable fried rice). I tend to order the vegetarian dishes with the "no-egg" option because I'm somehow never entirely sure if the egg served is free-range and given that the eggy pieces often smell a bit weird to me (and this could be a personal thing), I prefer not to take the risk of things going wrong when its rush-time lunch hour for the chefs.
All the veggie mains are REALLY NICE.
Note: With the yasai cha han (fried rice), Wagamama serves a miso soup for free. If you are careful about your vegetarianism, I'd suggest avoiding this, as it smells a bit sea-foody to me. But that could be my imagination. However I must note here, that the dish is labelled as vegetarian and Wagamama seems pretty serious about its vegetarian labelling even if its staff sometimes make mistakes during a service.
[ Its worth noting here that at last count , I found that sushi chain Itsu's vegetarian dumpling soup wasnt vegetarian at all, although the dumplings are vegetarian, the soup as a whole isn't ; I smelled something fishy in it and after several enquiries I was told by the then Canary Wharf branch manager that apparently they forgot (for a while) to mention that they use bonito (tuna) flakes in the soup. I haven't eaten at Itsu since; The attitude reminded me of the great Mars-bar debacle when Masterfoods was very strenuously insisting at one point that some vegetarians are happy to consume products containing animal-derived whey / animal rennet. Just an annoying lack of sensitivity to vegetarians that I will not tolerate]
Back to Wagamama - Drinks that are available at Waga include Japanese beer, sake' and fresh fruit juices (which I tend to plump for and are invariably quite good and very refreshing and healthy)
Main course portions are fairly substantial at Wagamama's. So I haven't really tried very many puds at Waga. Of the ones I've tried , the chocolate cake with wasabi paste was vile. The pavlova is ok.
In summary, Wagamama has a decent selection of vegetarian options, the staff are veggie-friendly and it's good value. Stick with a few staples and you will do well and come away with a full tummy. Don't expect gourmet food though and you won't come away disappointed.
City Point Moorgate or Wigmore St (behind Selfridges) and other locations