If you’d told me I’d spend the afternoon sipping sake in a busy shopping mall one sunny Saturday, I would have laughed. I love Wagamama and have dined there countless times, but seeking it out for sake alone is not what I had on my bingo card this week.
I was there to check out new dishes on the Wagamama menu and so it was that I found myself queuing outside the restaurant.
I don’t like queueing. I don’t know anyone who likes it. But it gives me a chance to take in what’s new, as I don’t go into town that often (I dig working from home).
Wagamama have spilled out and set up an al fresco dining bit a few short yards from the entrance on Level Two, Derbion. Is it even al fresco as it’s not technically “outdoors”? It feels al fresco so let’s just stick with this for now.
Concierge that greets me once I reach the top of the queue is fastidiously efficient and we are soon planted at our table. The restaurant continues operating safely with hand sanitisers at the door and Perspex screens separating our dining section from our neighbours.
There are three menus; main menu, vegan and non-gluten menu, and kids’ menu. We dine from the main and vegan, because I do love vegetables and they rock. Simple.
I start off with sticky vegan ‘ribs’ created from meaty mushroom and soya protein. Charred, smoky bites with a drizzle of sweet and sticky sauce that has a mild kick, are very good. So good, that I feel I can eat this dish for the entirety of dinner, until I remember that we have got a full lunch ahead. (Note to the chefs, these sticky vegan ribs could easily be slung into a bowl, like say, a Buddha Bowl that is all the rage.)
Dining partner has tama squid. I smash my way through balls of crispy pastry and I enjoy just diving in, ready to get to the squid centre. Fried pastry shards give way to an unctuous creamy filling that feels like mashed potato emulsion and it is beautiful. The drizzle of okonomiyaki sauce and dancing bonito flakes accentuates the taste of the sea, making this another dish that I could happily eat another portion of, if I didn’t have mains arriving.
My main of raisukaree tofu is a summery dish with heft. Punchy citrus sits in harmony with creamy coconut, whilst mangetout and peppers bring crunch and bite to the party. I like the appearance of the moat curry surrounding the island of rice flecked with black sesame seed, and I almost don’t want to ruin the dish. Almost – I hesitate for exactly one second because rice is one of my favourite ingredients and I won’t wait a second longer to eat it.
Dining partner’s shu’s ‘shiok’ chicken is a Shu Han Lee collaboration. Succulent chicken is marinated in turmeric and ginger then roasted and piled onto a bed of fragrant rice. The chicken is soft and lightly spiced, which is perfect for a light lunch. I particularly enjoy the lemongrass scented rice, whilst the pickled slaw brings the whole dish together.
Dessert of smoked chocolate caramel cake is good, and it seems I am getting my second helping of the smoky stuff (I adore the chargrilled and smoky flavour profile). It is very subtle though, and I have to really concentrate to get the flavour come through. When the smoke does appear, it is very good and I savour it alongside the salted caramel.
Dining partner’s yuzu and lemon tart is refreshing, easy on the eye and the perfect end to a light summery lunch. The raspberry compote feels a little distracting, as the tart itself is multi-faceted in its flavour profile (yuzu will do that).
One of the stars of this menu is Wagamama’s sake. I love sake. I am close to opening a sake bar (hey, girl can dream), but if I did, I’d serve this baby called Sho chiku bai. The flavour profile is slightly nutty with a hint of florals coming through on the swallow. It is beautiful and when I sip it, I am curious what it tastes like with chocolate. So, I revisit that smoked chocolate caramel cake, of which there is a tiny bit left. This sake cuts through the sweetness of the chocolate and somehow invites the smoke to come to the fore. It is magic. The way it arrives and is served at our table is pure theatre too, and I really enjoy watching tinkling sake being poured from sake bowl to sake glass.
The team at Wagamama Derby are brilliant; friendly, smiley, efficient and really really knowledgeable. If Charley is front of house, it’s your lucky day, because she is a superstar. From making you feel at home, to providing helpful recommendations, Charley and the team make you feel like a valued diner. New additions to the menu are exciting, creative and I cannot wait to visit again. (Next time I’m using the sake as bookends to start and end the meal.)
Rating: (1: Hate – 10: Love)
Restaurant name: Wagamama Derbion
Address: Derbion Level Two, London Road, Derby DE1 2PQ
Monday – Thursday 12pm–10pm
Friday – Saturday 11am–11pm
Caters for dietary requirements: Yes, just let the team know about allergens and they will look into accommodating your food requests.
How to make reservation: Call / online
Telephone: 01332 347556
How to get there: Situated in Derby city centre on the first floor of shopping mall Derbion, it is easy to get to, and you can squeeze in a little shopping after lunch.