Wagamama, the British pan-Asian restaurant chain, has recently opened its fourth branch in Dubai. The newest addition is located in Palm Jumeirah’s underground mall, Golden Mile Galleria and we had the pleasure of being invited there for a review this week.
Styled with the looks of a modern Japanese ramen bar, the funky open-spaced dining area of the restaurant is invitingly casual and perfect for a long-winded meal with the family.
Where did Wagamama get its name?
There’s a cute little anecdote behind this unusual-sounding name!
Wagamama was founded in 1992 by celebrated restaurateur Alan Yau, a Chinese immigrant who landed in London aged 12 with no capacity for the English tongue. Wagamama was Yau’s very first restaurant venture, and he has since opened a number of noted restaurant chains including Michelin starred ‘Hakkasan’. Yau has been awarded an OBE (Order of British Empire) for his contributions to the restaurant business.
Yau decided to open a Japanese-themed restaurant at a time when no one thought the dining trade was worth investing in. He was brainstorming on a clever name for his brainchild, when one day he saw a young mother dining with her hyper little toddler. The little boy was bouncing about and fussing over his food as toddlers do, and the mother kept repeating ‘Wagamama, Wagamama!’. Yau approached her to ask what that meant, and came to learn its Japanese for ‘naughty child’. What a catchy name, he thought!
in japanese, our name means ‘naughty child’, or ‘one who is wilful and determined’
a good example of that determination is the art of ‘kaizen’, meaning ‘good change’. this philosophy sits right at our heart. it shapes every dish we create, and pushes us to find better ways in all that we do. we’re restless spirits. forever creating and making things better
we’ve been practising kaizen since 1992, when we opened our first doors in london’s bloomsbury. inspired by fast-paced, japanese ramen bars and a celebration of asian food, wagamama burst into life. we set out to create a unique way of eating. bringing the fresh, nourishing, flavours of asia to all
that was 20 years ago now. two whole decades to sharpen skills and refine recipes. to play with spices and discover tastes. we continue to get better with every day – Wagamama website.
The very first Wagamama restaurant opened in Bloomsbury, London in 1992. With a contemporary play on Asian flavors coupled with funky ramen bar interiors and competitive pricing, the brand quickly earned a cult following. Today Wagamama has over 140 restaurants in the UK alone, and is also present in 15 other countries worldwide.
At Wagamama in Golden Mile Galleria, you can choose to dine alfresco given the gorgeous weather we are finally enjoying here in the UAE.
Despite being a weeknight, the outdoor area of the restaurant was packed, and we found ourselves a table inside.
Upon being seated, my daughter was delighted to receive a Wagamama activities sheet along with a Kid’s Menu. It kept her busy while we browsed through the menu options. How cute is the little blue Wagamama bunny?!
We decided to start off with a round of drinks. At Wagamama, they have an allocated juice counter at one corner of the restaurant dedicated to creating freshly squeezed juices in varying mixes.
From left to right: Super Green, Fruit, Raspberry Rush and Carrot.
The Super Green juice is a very light, healthful mix of fresh apple, mint, celery and lime. The predominating flavor here is apple, which is accentuated with the mild saltiness of celery. From all four of the drinks on our table, this had the biggest bite of ‘sour’ thanks to the generous squeeze of lime.
The Fruit juice is a fresh muddle of apple, orange and passion fruit. I couldn’t taste much of the later in this drink; it was mainly orange to me.
Raspberry Rush is a mix of raspberry with apple. This too is a very light, refreshing sip with predominating berry notes.
My favorite fresh juice at Wagamama was the Carrot. This is freshly squeezed carrot juice that has a hit of ginger heat with every sip. Highly recommended!
As you can see from the photo above, we have a budding blogger on our hands! My four year-old has got herself a little camera, and now she insists on clicking all we eat as well 🙂
For our round of starters, we went for Wagamama’s Chili Squid, Ebi Katsu and Steamed Chicken Dumplings.
The deep-fried golden Chili Squid at Wagamama gets a Japanese face-lift with a generous sprinkle of ‘shichimi‘ (a seven-spice mixture from Japan that is predominated with chili flavor). It is accompanied with a dipping sauce that has a delightful play of coriander and chili flavors, and is the perfect accompaniment with the crisp salty batter of the squid.
Ebi Katsu is yet another battered and deep-fried seafood starter with Japanese origins. The flesh of prawn is mashed up, but the tail has been kept intact making it easy to pick up with the chopstick. The batter consists of panko breadcrumbs which lends a crumbled texture to every bite. The Ebi Katsu is accompanied with a deliciously spicy chili and garlic sauce, and a wedge of lime for garnish.
And here’s a look at the Steamed Chicken Dumplings at Wagamama:
These little dumplings have been steamed and then grilled to give a textured brownness to the outer layers. They are well-packed with a mildly spiced chicken mince stuffing, and the flavors really come to life when dipped in the soya sauce served on the side.
We were hosted by Mr. Ramsis, who is the General Manager at Wagamama’s Golden Mile Galleria branch. For our round of mains, he recommended we try the dishes under the ‘Omakase’ section.
The Omakase (or ‘Chef’s Special’) section has 5 dishes, and Mr. Ramsis insisted we tried each one!
First up was the Yakitori Duck. This is a ‘DIY’ style dish that consists of a mound of rice that is topped with finely shredded grilled duck meat. On the side sits a freshly grated salad of cucumber, mint and white radish garnished with fresh sprigs of coriander. A small bowl of flavorful citrus yakitori sauce sits on the plate, and you have to pile up all this mixture into the paper-thin Asian pancakes served on the plate. Putting it all together is rather fun, and perhaps I over-stuffed my pancake as it was quite a challenge getting each bite down! The Yakitori Duck can be likened to an exotic Japanese variation of a Mexican burrito.
The Grilled Tuna at Wagamama is the perfect choice for the diet conscious. Seared tuna steak is grilled to medium-rare and served on a bed of quinoa, along with a miso cucumber and sesame seed salad on the side.
I loved how beautifully cooked the tuna was. As you can see below, the insides have maintained a perfect pink:
However, I actually enjoyed the quinoa even more than the fish! The quinoa on this plate was stir-fried with kale, red peppers, edamame beans and slivers of fresh onion. This wholesome mix is not only packed with nutritional goodness, but tastes amazingly good too!
The third dish we tried from Wagamama’s Omakase menu was their Beef Massaman Curry. All Thai cuisine fans will identify this as not being Japanese. However, the Massaman at Wagamama is not Thai either.
First off, it doesn’t have a coconut milk base like its Thai counterpart. Secondly, the use of vegetables may include shitake mushrooms and aubergine, but at Wagamama they also include sweet potatoes. This curry has a satiating homely feel to it. It would make a hearty meal over hot, steamed rice on a cold winter’s day.
The fourth dish from the Omakase menu features noodles, and was my husband’s favorite from all the mains. Here is Wagamama’s Teriyaki Lamb. The teriyaki lamb has been grilled and shredded, then tossed with mushrooms, asparagus, kale and mangetout and served towering over a bed of soba noodles. The stir-fried noodles have infused with a hint of wasabi heat, and include an assortment of exotic Japanese herbs.
The fifth and final dish from the Omakase menu was Wagamama’s Coconut Seafood Broth. This is with a very large bowl of mixed seafoods including mussels, scallops, prawns, squid and prawn that have been poached in a coconut-vegetable broth. The bowl is also piled halfway up with noodles, making it a substantial dish on its own, and is garnished with chilies, spring onion and fresh coriander.
Ironic how pale and bland the broth looks when photographed. The taste is quite the contrary; every spoonful is packed with a decadent coconut-seafood punch! We were too full by this stage to do justice to the entire dish, but we still managed to spoon out all the broth. I’m planning to have a bowl of Wagamama’s Coconut Seafood Broth all to myself on our next visit!
For our dessert round, Mr. Ramsis presented us with Wagamama’s Chocolate Fudge Cake and the Ginger Lemongrass Creme Brulee.
The Chocolate Fudge Cake is a slice of sin. The chocolate sponge is multi-layered with a deep, dark and decadent chocolate fudge and the cool scoop of vanilla on the side acts as a respite from all this richness.
Wagamama’s Ginger Lemongrass Creme Brulee is a clever play of Asian flavors on a classically French dessert. The blow-torched caramel upper cracked under the pressure of my spoon to reveal a very creamy, airy brulee right under.
The creme brulee has a subtle scent of lemongrass, and the unmistakable hit of ginger which is altogether unexpected and exotic at the same time. This dessert is a definite must-try if you are looking for something out of the ordinary.
With all this over-eating, we had to drown it down with hot cups of Earl Grey tea.
Overall, we had a very satisfying meal at Wagamama. 20 years into their craft, the chain has definitely gone to prove they know a thing or two about fusion Asian cuisine! Couple that with a funky ambiance and super friendly customer service, and you are bound to come back for more.
We dined at Wagamama’s newest Dubai branch in Golden Mile Galleria (The Palm). They have a total of 4 branches around Dubai. For more details, visit the Wagamama website.