“Staggering” is how the success of Leamington’s branch of the Wagamama restaurant chain - the biggest outside of London - has been described by another developer hoping to move another restaurant into the town centre.
And when we see the crowds pack - every day - into the massive space inside the elegant Regency building in the Parade, most of us would tend to agree.
Now more than a year-and-a-half after opening, its success is as strong as ever, proving that it’s not just the reliable name that continues to draw the punters in. What it is, of course, is the lip-smackingly bold, vibrant and sense-awakening flavours of the fantastic and affordable food and drink prepared by the very talented Leamington team.
With a new winter menu available since November, the modern establishment, housed in the pleasingly contrasting period building, continues to offer the favourites, as well as some deliciously different dishes that leave you wanting to try them all.
We start with an invigorating Japanese-influenced cocktail at the bar - the first Wagamama bar to open in the UK. I go for the Yuzu Collins (gin, yuzu sake, grapefruit juice, lemon juice and soda), while my husband chooses the Shochu Grape Martini (shochu sake, crème de cassis, red grapes and lime juice).So fresh and clean are the flavour combinations, that even these alcoholic kicks feel healthy.
We make our way into the buzzing, relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant. There is no music, but the warm, communal style suits the soundtrack of chatting and clinking and we feel ready to tuck in to some hearty fare with gusto. And hearty fare is certainly what we get - although our dishes are elegantly presented and feel very wholesome, zingy and good-for-you. I opt for one of the new winter menu items, the mushroom ramen: noodles in a vegetable soup with Thai basil, a variety of exotic mushrooms (including oyster, chestnut and shiitake), silken tofu and a chilli, garlic, sesame and soy sauce. My husband orders the grilled duck version, which comes with a citrus ponzu sauce. We also order a goma wakame salad and vegetable gyoza (dumplings) as sides.
This is wonderful mid-week dining: bold, warming and filling home-style food in a very informal environment, but food that is special because of the tingly flavours and carefully chosen ingredient combinations. The salad especially was so invigorating - full of shredded raw seaweed, carrot, spring onion and chilli, with the Wagamama house dressing and sesame seeds. Simple ingredients put to great effect.
I was happily full after all that, but my husband strove on and ordered dessert: a generous slice of white chocolate and ginger cheesecake, served with a chilli toffee ginger sauce. I never would have put white chocolate and ginger together, but I was assured that the combination was an excellent one - and the gentle heat of the chilli complemented the warmth of the ginger very well. That bold quality of Wagamama shines through again.
The Leamington staff were exceptionally friendly and the team have thought of everything to do what they can to make your visit a good one. Even the jugs of tap water have gorgeous ribbons of cucumber floating inside, bringing yet more fresh flavour to your experience. This restaurant is very good value for money and it will take you to your happy place. I’m looking forward to trying many more of the varied and exciting dishes in visits to come.
Wagamama in the Parade, Leamington, is open Sunday to Wednesday, 11.30am to 10.30pm, and Tuesday to Saturday, 11.30am to 11pm. To book, call 01926 833245 or visit www.wagamama.com/restaurants/leamington-spa