Richmond, Surrey, is classy, there is no doubt of that. Its long riverside terraces attract those wanting a river view along with a glass or two of something summery. OK, that’s true when the sun’s shining, but summer is short and the weather gets cool. However, the well-appointed high street is buzzing all year round and has a few places to eat hot food that are worth investigating.
Central Richmond is the domain of many a chain eatery but these are not created equal. There are several that offer “international” cuisine and a couple with an Italian bias, and they each have their followers, but the one that seems to have the most universal appeal and the most loyal of regulars is Wagamama, which has been voted an official ‘coolbrand’ for 2011.
I admit, to my shame, that this was the first visit I had ever made to a Wagamama in the UK, or indeed anywhere in the world, for it is a worldwide phenomenon. I believe that it has avoided the Asian market as the menu is designed to appeal to Westerners rather than competing with “authentic” restaurants in Japan. It’s described as a pan-Asian restaurant but its style is that of the casual Japanese Ramen bars …although those noodles originated in China!
Wagamama is the brainchild of Alan Yau. Today there are 90 branches in 13 different countries, spread across five continents. Alan Yau OBE was born in Hong Kong and is one of London’s most successful businessmen. He is also the founder Hakkasan and Yauatcha, as well as Thai restaurant Busaba Eathai, one of my favourites, and a Chinese noodle bar named Cha Cha Moon. Alan is truly a pan-Asian restaurateur.
The Richmond branch of Wagamama has an almost anonymous door to a small lobby with stairs and a lift to the 1st floor restaurant. It has 108 covers and is furnished with bench seating and communal tables. Its décor is minimalist but the warm wood prevents the space from feeling cold and too Zen. This might not be the spot for an intimate romantic dinner as your table could hold strangers as the evening progresses.
We arrived at 6.30pm and few tables were taken, but more chilled and hungry diners arrived as the time passed. Lots of these folks were evidently regulars and placed their food orders without even a glance at the menu. That’s always a good sign in these days of healthy competition.
The drinks menu offers a good selection of soft drinks and juices; the wine list is what you would expect from a casual restaurant and included all the popular choices. You will be here for the food rather than drinks but the Asian beers will be the draw for the aficionado. Asahi super dry, Kirin ichiban, Tiger beer are all here. Half a dozen teas for those not wanting alcohol, and the green tea is free.
The list of dishes was interesting and a welcome change from sushi. Noodles and rice are here as the cornerstones of Wagamama. There are no starters listed but small plates that can be side dishes or nibbles before your main course, although each dish will be delivered to your table as it is ready rather than in order.
Chilli Squid was our first small dish. Deep-fried squid seasoned with sea salt and shichimi and served with a chilli and coriander dipping sauce was attractive and delicious. The batter was light and the seasoning vibrant. Good presentation and attention to detail.
Chicken Tama Rice – grilled chicken breast stir-fried with courgettes, mushrooms, spring onions in a garlic and wine sauce – was my guest’s choice of main dish. This was served on sticky white rice and was a substantial portion of delicately charred meat and vegetables. Good flavour from the mushrooms that really did taste of something.
I have reviewed a couple of Wagamama cookbooks and I have readers on a daily basis searching the net for a recipe for “Chilli Men”. This was the dish that I was looking forward to trying for myself. What was all the fuss about? Chilli Men – stir-fried chicken or prawns, courgettes, red onions, peppers, mushrooms and mange-tout in a spicy tomato chilli men sauce, served on soba noodles – was the focus of all this internet attention. I can now understand the appeal. This well-balanced dish has heat that doesn’t mask the aromatic lemongrass. It’s popular for a very good reason!
Sweet Ginger and Apple Gyoza was new to the dessert menu and was tempting on such a cold winter’s night. Another hefty portion that was enough for the two of us. Five deep-fried ginger and apple gyoza, dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with vanilla custard sauce. The ginger was fragrant and exotic. Worth ordering.
Everybody raves about Wagamama and it does indeed have lots to recommend it. Great food and service in an appealing environment. Any criticism? Yes – there isn’t one in my town.
3 Hill Street, Richmond TW9 1SX
Phone: 020 8948 2224
Monday to Saturday: 12noon – 11pm
Sun: 12noon – 10pm
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018