Opening it’s doors in central London in 1992, it’s about frickin’ time that this killer Asian-inspired Japanese chain opened up shop in NYC. With a focus on communal eating and the mindset of “kaizen” meaning “continuous improvement” that you can feel oozing from the aura of each smiling server, you must make immediate plans to visit Wagamama. With over a hundred-and-fifty locations, this two-story mezzanine-styled restaurant with it’s black marble, raw wood and iron thoughtfully architectured decor, restaurant is not going anywhere, so you have time. Honestly though, it feels like one of those times like the first time you look at a roller coaster and put off going on it for a bit, then when you finally got on for a ride, the second it’s over you want it to start up again so you don’t have to jump off and wait on line all over again. I promise you, the longer you wait, the bigger the the chance that you are going to have to wait on a line. New comers will hear of the opening and come to explore while veterans who know the goods will be coming back for more.
This particular location’s kitchen is being run by head chef Xhez who has been working with Wagamama for going on ten years. He leads the kitchen in executing culturally rich dishes that have been around forever because their so good, like ramen. Their ramen is special in that it has a richness in both flavor and story. As the story has been conveyed to me, I will do my best to relay it to you. When I approach ramen, my heart gets excited first over the noodles then over everything else. I’ve come to see that I’m not the only one who feels that way. Once upon a time, in 1921 to be exact, young Luigi Ugo left his home in Tortona, Italy and moved to London where he began selling fresh pasta to neighboring hotels and restaurants. As demand grew, Luigi felt the need to open a shop to be able to supply it. As time progressed, he began seeing that it wasn’t only Italians who enjoyed his noodles, but so did the growing Asian community. Noodle bars began to envelop the neighborhood. When Wagamama opened in London, they found Luigi’s shop which generations later was now being run by his great grandson Paul who was still masterfully crafting these noodles. Now, he makes noodles solely for Wagamama.
“We serve noodles the world over. We’ve spent over 20 years perfecting them and we’ll never stop. They’re ours, and we’re proud of them. Noodles may just seem like noodles, but to us, they’re so much more.”
The noodles are the star. It’s funny to say that because every single bite I had had me convinced that that dish was my favorite until the next plate was placed in front of me. With decades of experience and a consistent desire to better their skills and cuisine, this doesn’t surprise me. It’s safe to say, I’m obsessed with their everything—curry dishes, dumplings, rice dishes and, duh, their insanely amazing ramen.