Wagamama, Carnaby, London
Love it or hate it, Wagamama has always had a special place in my heart. It was my first job in hospitality (that wasn’t family-owned!). Also it introduced me to Japanese cuisine (albeit, not super proper). In a way for a lot of Brits, it may have served a similar purpose. It’s certainly prolific around these parts and still popular. Wagamama makes for a reliable eating option, and dining on the katsu curry was a pleasant reminder of old times.
Curry some favour
When this dish arrives on the table, I can visualise it in my hands as I run it to the table. Palms sweaty, a dozen things running in my head. A clinging hope there’ll be leftover gyoza to gorge on after the shift. My first and only hospo job was at Wagamama, which thrives beyond expectation here in the UK. Over in New Zealand it has really struggled whilst in Australia, it is completely extinct. The dining culture is very different between these three markets, and the southern hemisphere is teeming with cheaper, more authentic Japanese eating options.
The line about the menu (as I recall) was that it’s not Japanese food per se, it’s Asian-inspired fusion flavours. Slightly watered down, slightly cleaned up for the local palate. It’s not always a bad thing. It makes the food accessible and more of an all round crowd pleaser.
My dish was the dish I ever had at Wagamama: the chicken katsu curry. Almost identical to the dish of old, with the signature half shell of rice on top of two chicken pieces cut at 45 degree angles. The curry is a bit more milder than I remember and the chicken seems a little less too. But I guess you could say the consistency is there. My fond memory of this dish was in a tinfoil rectangle box, and after my first trial shift, which I think went really well. It was exciting eating the thing I had spent all night serving. And from there, I was hooked.
Decent flavours but at £10.50 there’s easily more authentic, richer, generous portions elsewhere. Still, Wagamama is framed as a funky venue and never claims to be anything else.