Wagamama, the famous global brand, has finally arrived in Brussels.
The Asian restaurant made a bow in the city on 13 February.
That was the good news. The bad news is that, like all other such places, it almost promptly had to shut its door at the start of the health pandemic.
But, thankfully, it has now been allowed to reopen (since 8 June) and, while business has been slow to get moving again, the presence of the well-known eatery has been welcomed by foodies in Belgium.
Regulars will certainly notice how things have changed due to the crisis, including mask-wearing staff members and socially-distanced tables.
There is also a reduced menu which reflects the fact that fewer people are, currently, employed in the kitchen (again, partly due to social distance requirements).
But anyone who enjoys Japanese/Asian cuisine will be delighted to know that the food here is as good as ever.
The brand opened its first restaurant in London’s Bloomsbury in 1992 and now operates in 24 countries across the globe.The franchise also has 7 restaurants in the Netherlands.
As at other venues, all dishes are prepared in an open kitchen at the heart of the restaurant, which is an integral part of the overall design. Each dish is served as soon as it is ready — a long-established practice of Wagamama – which guarantees maximum freshness and depth of flavour.
Normally, there are “four stations” in the kitchen, each responsible for producing different types of dishes, be they the famous Ramen (noodles in a stock with meat or veg), Teppanyaki (fried noodles which are quickly cooked to retain their tenderness) Donburi (bowls of rice with a different topping) and curry (slow cooked).
Some of the classic Wagamama dishes are still on the menu,including its famous Katsu curry which, as Julie, the friendly team leader here, says is well known to the many tourists who flock to the Brussels branch.
Other recommendations include bang bang cauliflower, tama squid, gyoza (ravioli-style) and bao bun Korean BBQ beef (all side dishes or starters).
The teriyaki soba (steak or salmon) and yaki soba (shrimps or veg and mushrooms) are popular while, from the donburi lit, the grilled duck is recommended.
As well as katsu, the firecracker curry (spicy) is a good option.
There’s also a nice choice of deserts such as coconut reika ice cream, white chocolate and ginger cheesecake and matcha tiramisu are all excellent. You can “personalise” some dishes, for example, by adding noodles with eggs.
Look out too for the Japanese beer and refreshing fruit drinks that feature on a great drinks list.
This, actually, is the second Belgian branch: the first, in Antwerp, opened some years ago and has a different interior to the new Brussels restaurant. With its huge glass windows, the frontage here, though, surely cannot be matched elsewhere in Brussels.
But that’s not all: the restaurant occupies a splendid spot at the heart of the new pedestrianised zone in the city centre.
This has taken a protracted length of time to complete but, with the street furnishings and trees, now makes for a pleasant place from which to watch the world go by as you sit on Wagamama’s nice terrace munching your equally lovely food.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, Wagamama is a Japanese-inspired pan-Asian restaurant combining fresh and nutritious food with friendly service and value for money. The food is inspired by the flavours of Japan but with influences from across the Asian continent including Korean, Thai and Chinese flavours.
Wagamama was founded with a clear purpose: to create a place for “positive eating” where the food satisfies the senses and the soul. This ethos has remained intact for more than two decades, focusing on positivity, freshness and quality of ingredients and a mindset and desire for continuous improvement.
The interior here, spread over a couple of floors, is wonderfully airy and spacious. The design style is minimalist, modern and elegant with a carefully chosen mix of interior lighting styles to best showcase the different design features and elements of wood, marble, ceramic, black steel and brass.
The staff here also deserve great credit for remaining pleasant and friendly despite the unnatural and artificial demands (such as constantly having to wear masks) brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
Julie and her colleagues will kindly guide you through the lovely menu which can be helpful for those who may be first time visitors.
Despite all that is going on in the world, all concerned are working hard to keep their loyal band of customers happy.