Wagamama: Fast Dining and Fine Cocktails
Time for a Cocktail? Wagamama shows how mixology could be coming to a chain near you…
A summer’s evening, and the doors are thrown open onto a busy street in Hammersmith. Three young ladies sit at a high, pale wood bar, sipping from martini glasses. The bar-top is elegant brushed metal – the atmosphere is spacious, light, and has an element of quirky design from its original fittings as a fire station. This could be any up-and-coming cocktail bar in London.
But look closer, and you’ll see that behind the island-bar are some familiar sights. The bright red T-shirts… the deep ramen bowls… the sheets of paper being scribbled on by a waiter with a sharp memory for numbers…
Because yes, this is Wagamama; the chain refuge of the noodle-hungry. It’s not usually synonymous with cocktails – green tea and dishes that arrive piping hot and delicious as soon as they’re ready, yes. But cocktails and a bar?
Hammersmith is now the third restaurant that is offering a specially created cocktail menu, and they’re doing it properly. This isn’t just a case of shoehorning in the odd cosmopolitan and mojito at the end of the drinks menu – they want to make it a true drinking experience, where one might come just to enjoy a tipple (although we defy you to not be tempted by the gyoza). But are the drinks up to scratch?
We arrive on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, and the aforementioned ladies are already on what looks like their second drink. The set-up is certainly conducive to just sitting and enjoying a tipple – we perch on one of the high black stools around the central bar. Our barman, Ed, is only too happy to talk us through the list – one that combines classics with Wagamama favourites. We naturally hone in on the specialty cocktails, and are seduced by the Sake Mojito. It’s a twist on the rum classic, using vodka and shirakabe sake with fresh mint and a dash of lime.
We’re impressed with the mojito straight away – it packs a fabulous punch and the sake gives it a great taste. I find mojitos sometimes run the risk of being a bit too soda-heavy, but this one is jammed with flavour and has a kick of citrus from the lime. There’s also a rather nice floral element that balances the whole thing, and enough sweetness to complement the acidity. We’re sold.
Next we ask Ed what the best seller is, and are told it’s undoubtedly the Ginger Lychee Martini. Good, because this is presumably what the ladies at the bar were enjoying, and we’re keen to try.
The drink arrives; a beautiful pale yellow with a lychee garnish. It incorporates gin and lychee liquor with ginger syrup and lemon juice. The first sip is a revelation. Lychee can sometimes have a sickly taste, particularly when combined with ginger syrup. But the fruity liquor is lifted by a tang that is almost fiery – the kind of rough effect you get from fresh shavings of root ginger. We are told that Wagamama make all their own syrups and infusions, hence this amazing flavour. No wonder it’s so popular.
Next we look to the new green tea sharers, and opt for the Oriental Pearl Grey. This unique drink includes gin, Chambord, earl grey tea and sparkling elderflower with a twist of lemon and coriander. It arrives in a stunning heavy stone teapot and two little Japanese cups. There’s a definite sense of ceremony to pouring the drinks – perfect for a party of sippers. The drink itself is quite sweet – the Chambord gives it that slight sickliness, but luckily the elderflower ensures it is still refreshing, and there’s a wonderful aftertaste of coriander that is certainly unusual and much appreciated by the taste-buds.
During our tea-session we realise there’s no way we can sit in Wagamama without having any food – it’s far too tempting. Since we’re at the bar we decide to order one of the sharing options, and go for the Mixed Platter, which includes delicacies like the lollipop prawn kushiyaki (scrumptious seafood marinated in lemongrass and chilli) and grilled belly pork skewers. The perfect accompaniment to an evening of drinking, and the whole thing is delicious.
We decide to ask Luca, another seasoned Wagamama professional, what his favourite drink is, and are advised to try the Sake Margarita. It’s a really good twist on the classic, and the sake mellows the tequila. It’s zingy and pops in the mouth, as fresh as a newly laundered kimono.
The final cocktail we decide to imbibe is the Yuzu Collins, and once more Wagamama comes up trumps. With a mix of gin, yuzu sake and fresh grapefruit juice they have created a more-ish cocktail that is reminiscent of a glass of alcoholic bitter lemon. The sake is infused with yuzu fruit and the grapefruit gives it an even more lip-puckering freshness.
We stumble away from Wagamama two very happy campers, with our thirst and our hunger entirely sated. Plus, with each individual cocktail under £7, then the focus is on accessible, purse friendly drinks that give a true taste of Asian flavour.
It seems bizarre that a decade ago, cocktails were usually found at rather exclusive venues. Now that Wagamama are offering a special menu it proves that the general public are keen to experiment and enjoy a more exotic and ambitious style of drinking. I certainly predict that the concept will be a success for this Asian chain, and that it won’t be long before other food-focused places jump on the bandwagon. For now, get yourself down to Wagamama Hammersmith to try some delicious food and drinks that are not only value for money, but will open your taste-buds to some exciting flavours.