See Wagamama, think Chicken Katsu Curry, am I right? This was the dish that initiated me into the Asian-inspired food chain, back in my much fussier days. My taste buds have broadened since my first ever visit and the menu has exploded since then, too. Although the Katsu is still their best selling dish, with around 70k serves every single week. The full menu dabbles in subtle changes throughout the seasons, so let's dive into their summer offering, and an exclusive twist at the end of our night.
We took our seats at the brand new White Rose venue in Leeds, part of 'The Big Six' that have expanded the original food court. We started with beer, two exclusive pale ale options to Wagamama from Meantime Brewing. The Kikku has a fiery finish, with a subtle warmth from the shichimi infusion. The Kansho is much fresher, with ginger and lime flavours that just peek through - both are ideal for the food, but I'd opt for the Kansho for easier drinking.
To begin, a few of the smaller plates - take these as starters or side dishes, or order a few more for an Asian tapas feel.
Beef tataki - something I wouldn't usually pick, a lightly seared, marinated steak - it's very light, but delicious. That tiny relish is Japanese mayo, richer than your standard and although small, makes a significant difference.
Bang bang cauliflower - this is coated in firecracker sourced and could be my gateway to liking cauli. The heat was definitely present but it's not mind blowing.
Duck gyoza - amongst my favourites of Japanese cuisine, deliciously crispy with a rich dipping sauce - highly recommend.
Onto the mains, we were treated to the newbies on the menu.
Seared nuoc cham tuna - my first tuna steak. Alone, the taste is still too fishy for me, but on the fresh bed of quinoa and kale it was delish. Probably my favourite main of the evening, which I wouldn't have expected.
Sticky pork belly - served with grilled aubergine, all coated in a teriyaki glaze. Pork belly is always hit and miss for me and this wasn't my best serve. The veg worked brilliantly in the glaze, but there are much better dishes you should be trying in my opinion.
Salma curry - Wagamama curries are on point. My all time favourite (and a permanent option) is the itame, it has a Thai green curry feel and is seriously fresh. The salma is much warmer, with lemongrass, peppers and mushrooms. This was seriously good and a real representation of what Wagas does so well.
Pad thai salad - a whole load of goodness in a bowl, this serve was with prawns which I worked around in favour of the veg. The dressing of ginger miso freshened this up so very well.
As a few of those with us had either never been to Wagamamas, or only tried a couple of dishes on repeat, we were treated to some of the favourites off the menu before our final surprise.
The firecracker - A simple veg dish, with that same coating as the bang bang cauli. That spicy marinade creates a rich heat, with lime and white rice to cool it down if you dipped in too deep.
Grilled duck donburi - a must try for any regulars. We had the duck serve (but there are a couple of other styles to try), topped with a dreamy crispy fried egg, spicy teriyaki sauce and packed with veg, on a bed of white rice.
Short rib ramen - the ramen dishes are another favourite of mine and there's a flavour for everyone on the menu. This one is the short rib ramen, which literally slid off the bone before being shredded. Work this into the chicken broth and complementing veg - it's polite to slurp this so dive in.
Remember I said the Katsu reigns as the best selling dish? So much so that the Waga exec head chef, Steve Mangleshot hates it - purely because he has never found a dish that comes close to the same mass public show of love. Well, Steve had spoken us through the rest of the new dishes through the night and had a twist on this Waga classic - for dessert.
A scoop of coconut ice cream with that somewhat iconic katsu sauce ladled over it. I think every single person there was in agreement that somehow, it worked. As long as you kept the ice cream and sauce in every spoonful, it wasn't as ridiculous as it sounds. This one was a VIP exclusive ;) but if you want to give it a try, reserve a spoonful of that sauce on your next visit.
I always remember the Meadowhall branch being really quiet, as people opted for the usual McDonalds or TGIs. For something slightly out of the ordinary but nothing to scare you, get to Wagamama on your next trip to town - unless this cuisine really isn't your style, you will not be leaving disappointed.