I remember going to the first ever Wagamama, which my research (Wikipedia) informs me opened in Bloomsbury, London, in 1992. I remember being bemused and perturbed by the layout of the place – communal tables at which I was expected to eat next to strangers – and I remember the alacrity with which the young, tattooed, androgynous waiting persons brought over the food. Most of all, however, I remember really enjoying the experience. The food was tasty, and fairly good value. (I would have been a young child at the time, and it was my parents who were paying, but I distinctly remember them commenting upon this.)
Times change. 9/11 happened, along with the invasion of Iraq. Presidents and Prime Ministers have come and gone. And Wagamama has gone on to enjoy ubiquity across the country: scarcely a town exists without young couples and screaming children packed together like sardines, chowing down on chicken katsu curry and asking for more free green tea.
Now I don’t know whether I’ve changed, or whether Wagamama has changed. I suspect it’s both. But I have come to the uncomfortable, perhaps even traumatic realisation that the place I have long frequented with my family, with friends and with awkward dates is, in fact, a bit shit. It is undeniably true that the menu has changed over the last few years, with various old favourites of mine, such as chicken tama rice and amai udon, consigned to the dustbin of history. But what is also true is that I’ve been starting to notice things about Wagamama, things which may have been there all along but which, in my youthful naivety, I may have simply been oblivious to. The service, for one thing, is pretty ropey. They scribble stuff down on your placemat with a biro in what looks to be some kind of secret code – certainly it has little resemblance to the numbers that appear on the menu. It obviously isn’t even a very good secret code, because half the time they get your order wrong. They take great pains to inform you that your dishes will arrive at different times, but what usually happens is that one meal arrives once another has already been finished, leaving you to gaze lustily at your companion’s food and play snake on your Nokia whilst they consume their meal. Surely they could get some better system in place? Also, the meals are often cold, having been sat on the ledge for ages – why couldn’t they have just brought it over? Are they actively trying to stagger the meals? And the portions are pretty small. And the whole place isn’t even especially cheap: last week my partner shelled out 14 squid for a tiny plate of teriyaki lamb. We complained about the discrepancy between the portion size and the price, to be met with the justification that the meal in question was a ‘chef’s special’, as though this were some kind of enlightening explanation. And the other month I went there with my mum, and she had a salad consisting of four lettuce leaves. Terrible times.
This isn’t a particularly witty blog post, I’ll admit. There is no glib pseudo-philosophising, no smart references to esoteric aspects of popular culture. I’m just pissed off. I have had too many unsatisfactory experiences at Wagamama to let it slide. It’s as though they are trying to be shit, to test how far people will go. And, lo and behold, people in towns and cities up and down the country keep going there, like lobotomised lemmings. It’s just not a very good restaurant. Come on people, we could all do so, so much better.
I shall be writing to Jeremy Corbyn in the hope that he will discuss the matter at PMQs.