Dessert comes before the main course

THERE ARE
Wagamamas around London. They are basically Japanese, the word meaning
‘move your arse, there is a queue waiting for your seat’. (I am
beholden for this translation to one of my children; it may not be
totally accurate.)n A quick word of warning: customers sit at communal
tables of eight, couples sitting opposite each other, so contact to
partners is made with feet rather than hands or shoulders, and one sits
on wooden benches that are wide enough for two Japanese, but a squash
for two people toying with visits to WeightWatchers.

The places
are so busy that you are likely to queue, though as food comes without
delay, queues move quickly. It is also important to bear in mind that
the food you order arrives in no particular order; therefore it’s wise
to order one course at a time… unless you enjoy receiving a dessert
before the main dish, followed by one appetiser and the other dessert.

On
the menu – which depicts nine faces obscured by soup bowls – is written
“Positive Eating, Positive Living”; I suppose this could be another
translation of Wagamama. It is significant that there is not a word
about positive queuing nor positive shuffling of one’s bum to achieve
comfort on the wooden bench.

But you can’t argue with success:
Wagamamas are full and noisy and funky, and have punky staff who
scribble the number of the dish you order onto your place-mat, which
certainly stopped me doodling – until I found that it was no more than
a guide as to who gets what.

As for the food and drink, now that
we have finished with the periphery, it is good, fresh and healthy, and
helpings are large and prices not just reasonable, but wholly
affordable. For £11 you can eat a Miso soup and pickles; yaki udon (a
word my computer did not accept), which consists of fried udon noodles
with shitake mushrooms, egg, leeks, prawns, chicken, red peppers,
bean-sprouts and Japanese fishcake in curry oil, garnished with spicy
ground fish powder, fried shallots and red ginger; then a high-quality
juice.

There is a wine list: red, white and rosé, nine wines in
all and none at more than £15.75, very good plum wine at £15.95 for a
large flask, though tea, which should have been excellent, was
pathetically weak and no warmer than tepid even after it came back to
us after the waitress with a paper clip encircling her lower lip said:
“hotter, stronger tea is no problem”.

I have been to Wagas many
times, and what every visit had in common was that the people sitting
around me got more interesting dishes than me.

I think the
ultimate solution to this problem is to wander around the large room –
they tend to seat about 200 – note what people are eating and check the
number that the server has jotted on their placemat.

What makes
for speed of the arrival of dishes is that the order pad is
electronically zapped to the kitchen where it is cooked on receipt;
they suggest that while some dishes may arrive before others, don’t
wait: tuck in and share. This is another good reason for enrolling at
an evening class and mastering the technique of chopstick manipulation.

They
serve desserts, cheesecakes and coconut icecreams, but the USP is the
clientele, none of whom wear suits, few are aged between 35 and 70 and
all warrant examination: from the oriental kick-boxers, via students
from the sub-continent, au pairs from Scandinavia, nurses from nearby
hospitals (we went to the Wigmore St branch), to families from Tonga.

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