It isn’t a frequent occurrence for Townfish to be reviewing one of the biggest high street restaurant brands, but what Wagamama is launching with Noodle Lab in Soho is a fascinating development worthy of consideration. There are various test kitchens popping up over London in the past year where restaurants use the venue as a development kitchen to try out new ideas before expanding it to a broader audience.
Noodle lab is conveniently located on Dean Street in Soho and has a similar, minimalist decor to most of their other branches including a cheekier side with neon signs proclaiming ‘hot buns’ and ‘use your noodle’. There are various TV monitors and signs asking you to provide the relevant feedback on their social media channels, including the hashtag #noodlelab.
In keeping with the spirit of veganuary, most of the testing dishes in January and February are vegan dishes. This included vegan skinny fizz as well as kineta which is an organic low-calorie drink infused with high-grade matcha tea.
I managed to try the only non-vegan dish in the trial section: salmon tataki, dressed with citrusy ponzu and Japanese Mayonnaise. It was meatier than similar dishes elsewhere and was only lightly seared so as to enhance rather than damage the flavours.
Apart from testing dishes, they do have a significant selection from their classic menu and we couldn’t resist trying their hirata steamed buns. Both the vegan steamed buns with mixed mushrooms and panko aubergine and the pork belly version with panko apple were well executed with the requisite contrast of textures with the fluffy bao standing up against the crunchiness of the panko coating.
There were so many vegan dishes on offer, you almost worry the vegans are about to take over the world. The vegatsu is a glorious creation using seitan coated in crispy panko breadcrumbs that tasted not too dissimilar to the pork or chicken variety. One can only suspect, a versatile ingredient like seitan will be appearing on more menus in the years to come.
The other highlight was the cookmama dish which was created in collaboration with king cook daily. It’s packed with punchy, powerful flavours from the shichimi-coated tofu to the crispy coconut bacon and the bed of curried noodles served with yuzu dressing. It really highlights the point that vegan dishes can also be thrilling, exciting creations.
The best part of Noodle Lab? The trial dishes are offered at a reduced rate to get your feedback so the main courses are only around the £7-8 mark, so it was unsurprising to find the restaurant packed out on an unassuming, wet Tuesday evening.