High street dining on trial
Wagamama offers affordable pan-Asian dishes and speedy service. (Sam Hofman/David Cotsworth)
Olive visited each restaurant anonymously and paid for all meals. We used two reviewers, Tim Hayward and Tony Naylor, as well as taking into account the Olive team’s experiences. The 10 chains were chosen because each have at least 30 branches across the UK and have the same menus in every outlet (apart from some specials).
‘Global food... world music’ reads the mission statement, which means you get French pop and Latin beats with Giraffe’s menu of pan-global dishes. Its colourful restaurants have interesting design quirks; the front of the Manchester Trafford Centre branch, for instance, is done out with shuttered windows and fading billboards to resemble a Mediterranean street. The food, however, would not pass muster in Marseille. A burger came with decent, skin-on chips but the meat was tasteless. Likewise, a ‘Thai’ duck stir fry had none of the vibrant ginger and lemongrass that you would associate with Thai food. It was all chilli and dry meat.
Nachos, hot Thai duck stir fry, banana waffle split.
Eggs are free-range, chicken and beef British.
Starter or pud
Pudding. A sharing portion of nachos was small for £6.25, lukewarm and came with so-so salsa and a guacamole dominated by lime and chilli. Giraffe’s desserts are made by a third party, but a steamed pear, ginger and butterscotch pudding, served with vanilla ice cream, was the meal’s highlight.
Giraffe’s drinks list is excellent. Try Brooklyn Lager, Chegworth Valley juices or the smoothies. For wine, choose SAAM Mountain Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa, 13.9%, £19.35.
Brunch is the best time to go – try the huevos rancheros breakfast, £7.75.
40 branches. Starters from £2.95; mains from £8.25; desserts from £4.50. (giraffe.net) TN visited the Trafford Centre branch, Manchester
The Wagamama formula – affordable pan-Asian dishes, communal eating and zippy service – shows no sign of flagging. At night, the Manchester Printworks branch, a huge utilitarian basement canteen, is frenetic. Old favourites such as katsu curry and yaki udon stir fry may taste a little undemanding these days, but fringe dishes still excite. The laksa-like kare noodle soups or a recent pork soup special, £8.95, the latter loaded with peppery slices of Sichuan sausage and sweet ‘n’ sour pork dumplings, have plenty of interesting flavour.
Gyoza dumplings, yaki udon, frozen yoghurts.
Wagamama was unable to provide Olive with any information about its ingredients.
Starter or pud
Starter. Its (surprisingly pleasant tasting) probiotic frozen yoghurts are the big sellers among Wagamama’s Asian-influenced desserts, such as apple and yam crumble. However, the gyoza – filled dumplings with punchy dipping sauces (officially side dishes rather than starters) – are addictive.
Wagamama serves sake and Asian lagers, but its freshly blitzed juices, particularly its bright, zingy fruit ‘n’ veg raw juice (regular, £3.10), stand out. Best wine choice is Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 12.5%, £18.45.
Wagamama’s iPhone app allows you to locate your nearest branch, browse the menu and order takeaway online.