Japanese food isn’t known for being especially free-from-friendly. I love the subtle flavours of Japanese cuisine whenever I have had the chance to try it – but that’s not often.
Wagamama though is a Japanese dining experience with a focus on nourishing dishes. With health trends moving towards gluten-free and plant-based eating, it’s no surprise that the chain – which first opened in London’s Bloomsbury in 1992 – has a good selection of free-from dishes.
There are two Wagamama branches in Leeds. If you’ve ordered Wagamama delivery you’ll have been served by the Greek Street outlet. I ate recently* at the Trinity branch, way up on the top floor of the shopping centre, next door to Cielo Blanco.
Even if the food hadn’t been beautiful (which is had), it would be worth eating at the venue just for the views over the city from their balcony.
To be honest, I do prefer to eat local and avoid big chains where I can. But, life happens and eating local isn’t always the easiest option. As a gluten-free and vegetarian diner, grabbing something from a well-known chain can be the easiest option (especially when eating on-the-go). Being able to rely on an online menu makes it easier to plan meals out when eating with a big group of people, with a big range of needs and expectations. I prefer to shop and eat local where I can, but I’ll admit that sometimes it is more convenient to opt for a national chain, like Wagamama.
*Full disclosure: Wagamama invited me to sample their dishes on a complimentary basis, as a free-from food blogger. The nature of the visit has not influenced my opinion or this review, and (obviously) everything here is my own view.
Wagamama Leeds Vegetarian + Gluten-Free Dishes:
I was invited (with a plus 1 – hello, mum!) to dine at Wagamama and report on their recent menu changes. We were lucky enough to sample all three vegetarian and gluten-free options:
- Gluten-Free Pad Thai – This dish was the winner for both me and my mama, with rice noodles and a nutty, spiced flavour. If you’re stopping off at Wagamama, this is the dish I’d recommend. If you love Pad Thai dishes, you should also try my own recipe for gluten-free and vegetarian Pad Thai.
- Gluten-Free Yasai Ramen – This was the dish with the plainest flavour and, being totally honest, not our favourite. Mushrooms are used, to give the dish a bit of flavour once the gluten-containing ingredients have been removed, which makes for quite a plain sauce. The dish wasn’t horrible by any means, and anyone who prefers mild dishes will love it.
- Gluten-Free Yasai Itame – This dish has similarities to a Thai Green Curry, which is my go-to Thai dish. Served up in a bowl, this dish has a really light and delicate flavour.
Visiting Wagamama Leeds another day? Pin it so you don’t forget!
Wagamama Leeds Gluten-Free Desserts:
The real treat was Wagamama’s dessert menu. The restaurants have completely overhauled their desserts. Usually, their menu changes come in the form of small tweaks, but this is a total menu switch.
In overhauling the dessert menu, Wagamama were looking to add more free-from options, as well as moving away from generic, I-could-eat-this-anywhere puddings and towards Japanese flavours and styles.
After each dessert was developed, it was trialed at Wagamama’s London flagship, before another round of refinements.
The new dessert menu was rolled out nationally to every store on the same day. Wagamama want their staff to accept and really know the menu, so all staff were able to taste every dish before it was rolled out (I’m betting that was an “I love my job” kind of a day…). Desserts are shipped to all Wagamama outlets from a central kitchen.
So what did we think of the new desserts?
With the full menu totaling 13 dishes, we didn’t think we’d quite manage the sample them all, so we were served up a selection of the gluten-free desserts on offer:
- Spiced Mango and Coconut Parfait – This was a real showstopper! Layered coconut and mango sorbets are stacked up under popped quinoa (I had to ask too – it’s essentially teeny tiny popcorn. Popquin?) and a sweet passion fruit coulis. The dessert had a really beautiful, subtle flavour.
- Pink Guava and Passionfruit Sorbet – With a delicate peachy-pink colour, this sorbet had a very light, sweet flavour. The perfect way to end a big meal.
- Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream – If was going to pick one flavour, this would be it. I LOVE coffee, but the subtle, milky flavour was beautiful, and far from a wake-you-up coffee hit. Pieces of toasted sesame give a little savoury crunch, which balances the dish out perfectly.
- Chocolate and Sichimi Ice Cream – This one was definitely the wild card! As a fan of chili chocolate, I thought that the kick of sichimi in this ice-cream rounded out the rich chocolate flavours nicely, but not everyone will be convinced. This is a love-it-or-hate-it dessert which, if nothing else, will start a heated debate at the table!
Speaking to the staff at Wagamama was really interesting too. Thanks to their tasting sessions, everyone seemed to really know their stuff, and to have a passion for the kind of nutritious and flavourful food dished up. Our server was vegetarian too, and had some great recommendations for other places to eat in the city: local Japanese eatery Little Tokyo came highly recommended, as did the ever-changing street-food scene at Trinity Kitchen.
The Trinity Wagamama branch is expecting a big refurbish this summer too, and I can’t wait to return, and see what changes they make.