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Wagamama Noodle Lab: How good are the new vegan dishes?

How forgiving are you when it comes to restaurants where you've had a bad experience? Normally, I'm not inclined to give places a second go. I've not been back to the Vietnamese restaurant that served me pork spring rolls instead of vegetable ones, and didn't even bother to apologise.

Last time I went to Wagamama's Noodle Lab - where the Japanese food chain tests out new dishes before adding them to the menu at its restaurants nationwide - the food was OK and the service was bad. Me and Mr Flicking the Vs left the lab not thinking we'd be likely to be back any time soon, if at all.

But after a stroll around St James Park and through Soho the other week, we wandered past the Noodle Lab and, seeing so many new vegan options on its menu, we thought, well, may be we should give it one more chance. Happily, we were glad we did.

After being underwhelmed by the vegan seitan katsu last time, I gave the new seitan dish on the menu - sticky seitan stir fry - a wide berth. (Said seitan katsu just involved too much chewing. I felt like a cow labouring my way through a mound of cud, or the discoverer of some new mandible workout.) Mr FtVs is a glutton for punishment, and ordered it on our behalf.

The stir fry was described as greens, asparagus, and seitan in a sweet and sour sauce. 'Sweet and sour' always make me think of that lurid orange syrup that you'd always get in small town takeaways, a sort of radioactive colour and tooth rotting consistency that made it wildly popular. I was big fan. If you're looking for a nostalgia hit, this is not it.

Wagamama's sweet and sour wasn't the 90s Lucozade-coloured stuff I remembered - it was sweet, yes, but smoky and satisfying, a thin tasty puddle for the rice, seitan, and assorted veggies to make themselves at home in. There was also a generous amount of red chilli and broccoli, which is always a quick way to win my heart.

Also on the menu was the Cookmama, a dish that's meant to be a collaboration between Cookdaily of  Shoreditch Boxpark fame and Wagamama. It's udon noodles in a curry oil, with mushrooms, veggies, togarashi tofu, and coconut bacon.

That coconut bacon was pretty much the best I've eaten, the togarashi tofu was crisp and satisfying, and the curry udon were comforting in their solid carbiness. I wouldn't have said no to a few more veggies to cut through the heft of the noodles, but I've no complaints on the flavour front.

I have on the sustainability front though - why the cardboard bowl, instead of the normal reusable ones? If it's meant to make you think you're eating Cook Daily's street food, it doesn't succeed. It just makes me feel like all those times in shared student housing when someone would rather buy paper plates than do the washing up. Hopefully, the Cookmama will become a permanent fixture of Wagamama's menu -- but please, please can we have a normal plate?

Then, there was dessert. We had intended to have chocolate and peanut butter tart, only it was sold out. I can't really blame them for that, I guess most people didn't fancy going home without a taste. Luckily, there's more than one vegan dessert on the Noodle Lab menu, and it's a doozy.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the mango and matcha mille feuille:

Though you'd expect pastry from a mille feuille, the layers are sponge and mousse. And they are all beautiful. I didn't get much in the way of matcha, and the mango put me more in mind of apricot, but it was all good. I would have licked the plate if I thought I could have got away with it.

So, there you go. If this was Jerry's final thought, I'd be delivering a few homilies about the power of forgiveness, and just because someone's done you wrong, doesn't mean you should hold it against them forever. Which would all be true. But let me put it another way: forgiveness is a good idea, because it means you'll get more excellent dessert. And if that's not enough of a reason to let bygones be bygones, I don't know what is.

Wagamama Noodle Lab
81 Dean St,
Soho, London
020 3198 2984

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  1. Thanks for the reviews as I have been watching Wagamama's vegan developments from afar, with interest but uncertainty. It sounds like your selections this time around were excellent. Incidentally, I have nostalgic memories of traditional sweet and sour too, but suspect as an adult I'd be happier with the version you got here.

  2. So glad you gave them another try, the dishes look amazing!


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