TOM HAWORTH takes a look at the menu at Wagamama, where diners are encouraged to try something different

SUSHI, fans of Japanese cuisine may be interested to know, does not mean ‘raw fish’. A foodie friend recently shared with me a culinary secret: it actually means ‘seasoned rice’ and while it may contain raw fish, it doesn’t necessarily have to.

The Orient, together with the rubicund territories situated off the Mediterranean coast and the bustling bazaars of the Near East, has for decades offered a welcome reprieve from the banal and humdrum nature of British cooking (indeed, there is an old joke that the rapid expansion of the British Empire was actually an attempt by desperate Englishmen to find a decent meal).

Yet, to their credit, the country that brought us the auditive misery of the karaoke machine and the unthinkable terror of the Divine Wind has done a fine job in transmitting the delicate flavours of the Far East to a population of culinary barbarians.

Japanese restaurant Wagamama is located at the Outlet Centre and is hugely popular with foodies of all ages, though millennials appalled at what their parents once routinely endured (sugar sandwiches being a favourite of my late father’s) seem to have taken a particular liking to it. And one night last week, while all about were losing their heads over Snowmageddon, we three kings of the Orient decided to give it a try.

For creative, non-conforming types who prefer to mix and match and create their own dishes, Wagamama offers ample opportunity to ‘knock yourself out’, as it were. At various points throughout the generous and reader-friendly menu you are implored to ‘meet the dish’ and ‘make it your own’. The extensive selection of sides includes, among others, steamed edamame beans served with salt or chilli garlic salt (£4.50), pork ribs in Korean barbecue sauce (£6.75) and crispy fried squid dusted with shichimi accompanied by chilli coriander dipping sauce (£6.75).

After a brief deliberation, we decided on tori kara age, crispy chicken pieces served with spiced sesame and soy sauce (£5.75); duck wraps with Asian pancakes and cherry hoisin (£5.95); and ebi katsu, crispy fried prawns wrapped in breadcrumbs and drizzled with chilli and garlic sauce (£6.95). Sharing is caring, and we all care deeply. After sampling a bit of each, we all agreed that the tori kara age was the top performer. The chicken was beautifully cooked and perfectly crisp, and the spiced sesame/soy sauce combination was delicious.

Next, the main course. The main event is broken down into a variety of headings and sub-headings. There is a selection of donburi dishes, described as “a traditional bowl of steamed rice topped with chicken beef or mixed vegetables”. There are a number of variations you can order, and one of our number opted for the grilled duck donburi, served with a spicy teriyaki sauce and topped with a crispy fried egg, cucumber and spring onions (£14.25). He greatly enjoyed the shredded duck, before praising the unorthodox addition of a fried egg.

Our second king of the Orient ordered the seafood ramen, a hot broth of prawns, noodles and vegetables garnished with wakame and samphire (£13.95), while I took the plunge with the ginger chicken udon teppanyaki, a stir-fryesque dish with strips of ginger-infused chicken (£10.75). The seafood ramen and the ginger chicken were both beautifully seasoned and cooked to perfection. The prawns on the former were delicate and generously large, while the ginger-flavoured chicken, mixed with coriander, beansprouts and egg, was delightful.

The restaurant offers a selection of Asian craft beers and passable house wines, but the food is definitely the star of the show. It must also be noted that the staff were extremely polite and attentive; nothing was too much trouble and the food arrived promptly.

It is a futile struggle to attempt to free yourself from the culture into which you are born. This is what George Orwell meant when, in 1941, he wrote: “The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it.” But this is true only as much as we wish it to be. For those who want to explore the world and all its culinary offerings, throwing off the mundane staples of fish and chips or bangers and mash, but come over all cold at the thought of leaving the Kemble Drive vicinity, a gap year at Wagamama will make for a comparable experience.


Swindon Designer Outlet, Kemble Drive, SN2 2DY

Parking: Yes, in the Outlet Village car park

Disabled access: Yes

Adver ratings:

Décor: 8/10

Food: 8/10

Choice: 9/10

Customer service: 9/10

Main course prices: Approx £8 - £15

TripAdvisor rating: 4/5