"It's not much but it's ours"

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


She is lovely yes she's sly
And you're an ordinary guy

It’s probably sixteen years since I last visited a Wagamama. It was the very first one located in Bloomsbury and coincidentally (or maybe not) just round the corner from the first Pizza Express. In those days it was absurdly popular and the no-booking policy invariably meant queuing though they were kind enough to bring you a beer while you waited. The creator and owner of Wagamama, Alan Yau, sold his stake on about ten years ago and moved on to other projects nearly all successes although there was odd aberration – any remember the Italian joint Anda ?

Anyway, running restaurants for Russian oligarchs is obviously not floating his boat so he’s resurrecting Wagamama in the form of Cha Cha Moon: a sort of ‘Chinese’ version of the original which was ‘Japanese’ in flavour. The first branch is on a site just off Carnaby Street which he’s had for about four years. Expect another branch imminently in Whiteley’s and then coming soon to the rest of the known world - which is how these things roll.

First impressions after stepping into this first incarnation were of a Wagamama that had grown with its first customers i.e. people like me. It’s still functional but a bit more sleek, a bit more grown up, the seating a bit more padded (fortuitously, given my ample arse). You still have to sit at canteen-style refectory tables but for billy no-mates like me there’s a raised bench where you can watch out for staff trying to stop you taking pictures (a common theme in Alan Yau restos) and watch other bloggers get told off for doing the same.

So, all fine and dandy. Big problem is I was never that enamoured with the food at the original Wagamama and nothing seems to have changed in the intervening period. The menu is basically all about noodles, either with soup or without and a selection of side dishes. Dishes come as they’re prepared which may not be the same order as you’d er…ordered them or even wanted them. They’re all priced at £3.50 which is cheap but everything tastes that way too.

Char sui mian suffered from tasteless pork in a watery, tasteless soup. There were some pak choi and spring onion which didn’t seem to add anything. It was dull and boring to eat. Garlic Chinese Chives were oily but quite pleasant. They’re served in a pretty large portion - by the end I’d had enough for one lifetime.

XO Cheung Fun was poor – too dry - but the XO sauce tasted good. Crispy Duck wasn’t. Dry Duck more like, however, I liked the accompanying noodles. There was also a little bowl of what tasted like chicken (duck ?) stock that had more flavour than the preceding soup.

I might have enjoyed the Turnip Cake more if it wasn't covered in so much gunk - I couldn’t find it let alone taste it. I did order a dish of Cod and Bitter Melon but the order was forgotten. I’d had enough anyway. A non-alcoholic cocktail of Guava, coconut and lime was pleasant enough to distract me from the fact I wasn’t having a proper drink. I needed it too as the food gave me an unwelcome bonus of a dry mouth for the rest of the day.

One thing you can’t do here is stop eating so you can take a little break. As soon as you do that you’ll be asked – in my case five times – if you have finished, which probably is a good indicator of what this place is all about. Turnover.

Really, if you want cheap Chinese food there’s plenty of buffet places around where you can eat as much as you want for less money and I daresay the quality would not be far off what I ate here. But don’t take my word for it, give it a try before the prices go up (they’re in a promotional period) and you may get lucky. I can only hope when the prices do go up the food improves although I somehow doubt it.

When I got home there was news about yet another catastrophe of nature, this time in China, with a death toll running into the tens of thousands and rising. If my only problem was that my noodle broth was a bit one note then I’m doing pretty bloody well. At the end of the day it’s just a bad meal and not the end of the world.

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Blogger Max said...

I thought the first Pizza Express was on Wardour Street.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 1:01:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

You're right I think the one near the BM was later - possibly the second one ?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 2:47:00 pm  
OpenID worldfoodieguide said...

I remember Anda! It was expensive for what it was, and didn't last too long. I was staring at your plate of garlic chives and wishing I'd ordered them too (next week). Are you planning to go back for more or have you had enough?!

Helen Yuet Ling

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 10:14:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

They were nice but there were too many and it got a bit boring trying to finish them - definitely a dish for >1 person.

I may return when I'm less noodled out and if there isn't a queue. Don't like queues.

Thursday, May 15, 2008 12:07:00 am  
Blogger Max said...

No queue at 7.45 last night.

Thursday, May 15, 2008 11:20:00 am  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

The backlash has begun.

Thursday, May 15, 2008 6:04:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cold chicken, pomegranate and glass noodle dish is the ONLY thing to order, I assure you.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 6:47:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

I'm sure you're right but you're not seriously suggesting I should go all the way to the West End, queue for ages just to spend ten minutes eating some cheap and nasty Chinese Food in the company of annoying-as-hell twenty-somethings and tourists. Thought not.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 11:35:00 pm  

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