Wagamama: Japanese chain opens new Cairo location

It’s an odd sensation to eat in a place like Wagamama. You may be in Egypt, at either of the Japanese chain’s two locations–in City Stars or Nile City Towers–but you’re eating exactly the same selection, served in exactly the same style, by identically trained waiters, as in countless other countries around the world.  

It’s difficult to argue with the concept: stylish interiors, well-trained staff, a sleek, fresh and hip menu.  Wagamama is a concept based around Japanese ramen bars, which was–fitting for this international age–started in London, serving up a wide range noodles, rice, salads and side dishes. All come with funny names–like gyoza, itame or udon–but the makers of Wagamama were kind enough to produce a full-scale glossy menu that allows you to order by simply pointing at the prettiest picture.  

At the same time, though, Egypt has a character of its own, and the international concept of Wagamama invariably inflects somewhat to its host culture. Understandably, Wagamama’s staff struggle with the bizarrely named dishes just as much as the non-Japanese patrons do. You don’t order by name, only by dish number. When you order, you have the rather startling experience of having your waiter scribble short hand on your placemat before tapping feverishly into a handheld computer. Supposedly, this expedites your order off to the kitchen, where the cooks go to work immediately. But based on the fact that they forgot one of our dishes, I wouldn’t place too much faith in this technological wizardry.  

The food is generally very good. Made with fresh ingredients, we started with some gyoza (chicken dumplings with cabbage) and continued with an orange-and-sesame chicken salad before trying steak soba, steak strips with noodles and ebi kare lomen–a remarkable assortment of vegetables mixed in with shrimp, noodles and abundant chile. With the exception of the shrimp soup concoction, which was spicy but flavorless, everything else was good. We only got around to trying one of the desserts, a “chilli mousse cake,” which brought me firmly to the conclusion that chile is for dinner, and chocolate is for dessert–and ne’er the twain shall meet.

Wagamama is a good, fun dining experience. It does seem a bit poorly suited for its current location in Egyptian malls, though; rather, it seems, it should be located on a lively street, with lots of people passing by for a quick bite. It’s a chain, which has its drawbacks (we asked for one dish to be customized, which caused a huge pullava), but also provides for a consistently innovative menu.  

Details: Nile City Towers, Corniche El Nil, Ramlet Beaulac; Tel: 2461 9944; open daily from noon to 12:30am. Dinner for two: under LE300.  Another location at City Stars.

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