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Living in Southsea I have plenty of restaurants on my doorstep, but one of my sons decided he’d had enough of the place and was offered a job in Bristol, so off he went. Having given him three weeks to settle in, I thought it was about time I went for a visit. It’s a city I was until now totally unfamiliar with, but it seems to have a lot to offer. After a good walk and a visit to the museum, we were feeling peckish and ready for a sit down. My son suggested Wagamama, having been once before, and I’m usually ready to try a new place. Southsea has nothing in the way of Japanese restaurants and I can’t vouch for the authenticity of Wagamama, but at least it was a different experience for me.

I wasn’t convinced at first that sitting on a wooden bench would be a relaxing way of eating a meal after traipsing round Bristol for two hours, but I was actually surprised that it was quite comfortable, as long as elbows on the table were allowed. I should say, however, that I am not much over five foot tall, whereas my son is about six foot three and didn’t find it quite so easy on his back. We arrived not long after four o’clock when the place was not busy and were able to put our jackets and bags on the bench next to us, but it occurred to me that if you were part of a group or went at the busiest time, you might not find anywhere to put your things.

Menus were brought as soon as we were seated, and I liked the sound of the apple and lime juice. My son was disappointed that the sake is served chilled; he insisted that it should be warm. He ordered an Asahi Beer instead. The waiter offered us sparkling water as an accompaniment, but we said plain tap water would be quite enough, thank you. The drinks were brought very quickly. My juice had a layer of pulp at the top so I gave it a good stir with the straw, but the pulp soon insisted on rising again. The juice was delicious, very refreshing with the twist of lime, but I was left at the end with a considerable amount of undrinkable fruit pulp.

Rather than starters, Wagamama offers side dishes as accompaniments to main meals, and these range from miso soup at 1.35 through freshly steamed green soya beans at 3.50 to deep-fried black tiger prawns at 5.90. Since I usually find a main course is more than enough, we decided just to go for one main dish each. My son was immediately attracted by the teriyaki steak soba (noodles) with chillies, beansprouts, onions, mangetout and bok choi from the special menu for the day. I was torn between the salmon ramen, a grilled fillet of salmon on top of noodles in a pork and chicken spiced miso soup with seasonal vegetables, and the ginger chicken udon noodles with bean sprouts, onions, chilli, egg and mangetout. Seeing how large the bowls of miso soup were, I decided on the ginger chicken udon.

Numbers signifying our choices were scribbled on the paper mats by our waiter, who tried in vain to persuade us to add a side dish to our main meal. There was then a wait of about twenty-five minutes, as all food is freshly cooked at Wagamama. This does mean that one dish may be served before another, and in fact my ginger chicken udon arrived a good couple of minutes before the teriyaki steak. I can see that this might cause a problem if a group of people were dining together would the first one have finished by the time the last one was being served? With two people, it doesn’t matter a great deal. We weren’t in any hurry, and I would rather wait and have well cooked food than be served in five minutes with something heated up in a microwave.

We both enjoyed our meals and had nothing to complain about, but my plump udon noodles proved too much and I wasn’t able to finish them. The pickled ginger had a gorgeous taste, the chicken was very tender and the vegetables very fresh, not overcooked. My son ate every last mouthful of his, and he is easily put off if something is not quite right. I should perhaps mention that only chopsticks are available; these are disposable, and I found it quite hard to separate mine.

We had considered sampling the desserts, which are craftily listed on the paper place mats so that you cannot avoid reading the details. The white chocolate and ginger cheesecake, tamarind and chilli pavlova, and mango with lime zest and lychee sorbet all sounded very tempting, but we both really just fancied a coffee and decided we’d cross the road for a browse around Borders and take a book into Starbucks (not the best choice, as it turned out). Another time I’ll leave some room for that pavlova, I think. I noticed also that green tea is served free of charge.

The bill came to 25.25 altogether, to which we added a tip. I felt that the food was excellent value considering the quality, but I would say that 2.85 for the apple and lime juice was not cheap for a drink that became undrinkable towards the end.

I would give full marks for both cleanliness and service. The waiter (or server) did try to tempt us to order extra drinks and side dishes, but he was extremely polite, prompt and efficient, making a point of standing by the door as we left to thank us and say goodbye.

There are half a dozen main courses specially for children at Wagamama; one is a fish dish, one vegetarian, and the rest are based around chicken. Vanilla ice cream or fruit lollies are on the kids’ dessert menu, and they can have fresh orange or apple juice, or a mixture of both.

Wagamama is not a restaurant with a great deal of atmosphere – there is no music, and I did become very aware at one point of the noise of clattering glasses as they were washed. I’m not sure I would be quite so keen on going at the busiest times when complete strangers could be nudging each other and wondering where to put their belongings. Having a private conversation could be difficult. I know that it would not be everyone’s idea of the perfect restaurant, but I hope I do have a chance to go back one day, ideally at a similar quiet time. I’m still thinking about that tamarind and chilli pavlova with raspberry sauce…

Wagamama
63 Queens Road
Clifton
Bristol
BS8 1QL

Tel. 0117 922 1188

Opening hours: Monday Saturday Noon 11pm; Sunday Noon 10pm

Disabled facilities are available.

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