While studying abroad in London during college, we developed a deep-rooted affection for the Asian noodle chain, Wagamama — truly ahead of its time with convivial communal seating, backless stools, a penchant for fusion, and a fine-fast-casual ethos (an aesthetic that eventually inspired none other than David Chang). And so — we’re not about to divulge precisely exactly how many post-college years later — it’s a bit of a thrill that the franchise has finally opened its very first location in NYC.
Smack in the center of the Flatiron District, it’s perfectly positioned as a waystation for both busy locals on lunch hour, as well as tourists from all over the world. Certainly, it’s got more than enough space to accommodate both, with both a deep-set dining room and backlit bar with ample seating downstairs, and additional tables upstairs, where diners can peep at the bustling scene below from a curved, modernist balcony.
An open kitchen occupies the rear of the space, currently overseen by the chain’s director of food, Steve Mangleshot. And the British chef (along with a slew of other, mellifluously-accented staff) aren’t the only London imports; Wagamama’s prized noodles have also made the trip; to be used until the company is able to find an acceptable local supplier.
Among the varieties are fat, slippery udon tossed with ginger chicken and snow peas, along with flat, translucent rice noodles used for pad thai, and slender, wheat-based soba incorporated into stir-fry, which — in our young, carefree, pre-food writer days — used to be our go-to order (upon present-day sampling, it appears that our taste buds have significantly evolved since then).
It’s the ramen selection that suggests that Wagamama has somewhat matured through the years, boasting a range of customizable broths like “Spicy” (infused with chili), “Light” (plain chicken or vegetable), or “Rich” (reduced with dashi and miso). Globe-trotting toppings include Hakka Chinese-style Chili Chicken, Korean Bulgogi Pork, Japanese Silken Tofu and Omelet, and the all-in Wagamama version, a hodgepodge of mussels, prawns, chicken, fish cake, greens, and a tea-stained egg.
Granted, it’s still not the caliber that ramen-educated New Yorkers have come to expect from proponents like Chang, but it’s something we (and we’d imagine he) can’t help harboring a soft spot for!
210 5th Ave