This trip back to the UK was mostly about enjoying some good old-fashioned British food but when we went off on our own, my wife and I were both keen to try what is advertised as Japanese food in a number of restaurants. The most noticeable Japanese restaurants seem to be Wagamama and Yo! Sushi whilst lunchbox shops like Wasabi and Itsu are very commonplace too.
First up for us was Wagamama in the city centre of Leicester during the time between Christmas and New Year. We went a little early before the lunch time crowd so it was quite empty when we entered and were shown to our bench which would later be shared with fellow diners.
Unlike many places in Japan this restaurant is vegetarian friendly and also has vegan and gluten free options. All-in-all though it did seem a bit pricey but that may have been because I had been out of the country for five years and thus not so in touch with the pricing of things. It was hard for me to not compare it in price to my most regular place in Tokyo. Green tea was free though but it only came in a small cup and seemed like trouble to get refills from the busy staff.
When you order they write the dish number on your paper place-mat which was something I’ve never seen before. Rina chose shirodashi ramen (£9.75/¥1400) which is described as slow-cooked, seasoned pork belly on top of noodles in a rich chicken broth with dashi and miso. It’s then topped with pea shoots, spring onions, bamboo shoots and half a tea-stained egg. This dish also contains cereals, eggs, fish, sesame seed, soya and mollusc. I have absolutely no idea what the last thing is!
As for me, I opted for the signature Wagamama ramen (£11.45/¥1640). When thinking of ramen the ingredients I expect are noodles, green onions, an egg, and chashu (braised pork belly) in a broth-based soup. There was a lot going on in the large sized ramen bowl. Too much really as it also contained shrimp, chikuwa (a tube-like processed fish product), mussels, and chicken! Some of those extras were ok but the addition of chikuwa was strange to say the least! As for the taste, it was reasonable but nothing special. I doubt Japanese people would like it all. The area where both our dishes were found lacking was the soup which was a bit too watery when compared to the thicker taste back in Japan.
Wagamama in Leicester is on Highcross Lane and there is actually a Yo! Sushi (I think they now call themselves just Yo! as they want to be seen as far more than just a sushi restaurant) next door. Along with my parents-in-law we all went to a branch of Yo! back in August of 2014 but were fairly unimpressed!
Both places are part of Highcross Shopping Centre but not actually inside it. Wagamama had really filled up by the time we left to indulge in some culture relating to King Richard III. Click here to read ‘Taking My Wife On Her First Trip To Leicester‘.
A few days after that we were in London and Wasabi became our first port of call as Rina was craving some asian food. She ordered the sweet chilli chicken and yakisoba noodles which was a blend of Chinese and Japanese cuisine. This was a busy place selling a range of bento box lunches with the majority of them consisting of salmon, and gunkan maki sushi rolls which I opted for.
A little later we came across a branch of Shoryu Ramen which actually had a line outside. I have no doubt that this Hakata ramen restaurant would’ve more closely resembled the ramen we’re used to.
We went to Itsu on New Years Eve. Not once but twice! Both visits were pretty sad in some way as firstly we were actually waiting outside for one to open at 11am near to the British Museum.
Like Wasabi, the bento boxes also tended to consist of salmon, edamame beans and a variety of gunkan maki sushi rolls. Half a dozen soups were on the hot food menu along with some rice and noodles dishes.
Having stuffed myself at the hotel breakfast bar, I wasn’t hungry but Rina had had a light breakfast (a waste when it’s included in the room price!) so wanted something. Christmas cracker gyoza was still on the menu and looked interesting but I resisted temptation.
Rina chose the i’thai udon (£6.69/¥960) which was basically a mix of steamed udon noodles, Thai spiced coconut sauce with greens (including peas!) and shallots. She didn’t really like it but I did.
I think it’s important to remember that all of the dishes mentioned thus far are British-Japanese fusion dishes and so not really Japanese food! Try telling that to anyone in Japan though! I’ve been told a few times by students how bad such dishes are but I really don’t know what they were expecting. Basically if you don’t think of any “Japanese food” in the UK as being authentic then it’s a lot easier to enjoy and accept it for what it is.
What better way to spend the final evening of the year than back at Itsu albeit a different branch. Chicken noodle soup (£3.99/¥575) and Teriyaki chicken rice bowl (£7.69/¥1100) were on the menu for us this time. Despite having the name bowl in the title, it wasn’t a bowl as it came in a cup which I wasn’t really expecting given that my wife’s earlier order was in a bowl. Again, peas were included in my teriyaki one but that’s no problem for me.
Despite being British I’ve never really been a tea drinker. That did change when I came to Japan and started drinking green tea which to this day is the only tea I really ever drink. I’ve noticed on trips to the UK, America and Australia though that pure green tea is quite rare. I did manage to locate some but far more prevalent is tea (or tea bags) flavoured with lemon, mint, mango or whatever. All you can really taste though is the additional flavour! I am always interested to try such tea though!
Bonus: Not food related but the most common sign of “Japanese” culture in the UK is the SuperDry clothing store. Dare I say it but I actually quite like the style of a lot of their stuff (not the prices though!) but could never wear it back in Japan as the locals would just laugh at the strange Japanese used which they purely use for fashion.
Click here to read ‘Australia 2019 Pt XI: You Can Take The Man Out Of Japan But…’
Click here to read ‘Dining Out: Japanese Food Stall In Market Harborough!’