Veganism is big news. At the time of writing, there are over 16.3 million hashtags for #VeganFood.
Djokovic who’s recent Wimbledon win saw him last four hours and 57 minutes against Federer – also the longest Wimbledon singles final in histoyry – also champions a plant-based diet to helping him be in optimum shape.
Now, I am not jumping on the green bandwagon; I have been a happy passenger on this fast moving, 60mph wagon for the past few years and loving the ride. I continue to increase my vegetable intake in a bid to eat less meat, as I naturally find myself drawn more to verdant veggies.
Case in point – I have just made a chicken and leek pie. I had to throw in liberal handfuls of spinach, because I was missing the veggies. Plus I wasn’t really enamoured with eating a whole load of chicken. There are plenty of people who are digging this versatile vegan approach, who are colloquially known as ‘flexitarians’.
Thinking about the whole veggie movement, I surmise that it has never been easier to “go veggie”, with more restaurants adopting their menus for a vegan diet.
One such restaurant is Wagamama, who have launched a new vegan menu. It is their first vegan menu in the hope of catering for all whilst promoting the magnanimous message that “meat-free shouldn’t mean taste-free.”
It is a good menu consisting of six sides, nine mains and four desserts. That is more than a regular pop-up’s menu. The Wagamama vegan menu also includes a whole host of drinks including vegan beer, wine and sake.
I am a frequent visitor of Wagamama (I knew the entire menu off by heart at one point – more on that in a standalone post). I have seen the Wagamama menu evolve over time and haven’t seen it as adventurous as this, in its current iteration. For one of the vegan main dishes, Wagamama have collaborated with Gaz Oakley a trendy vegan chef and author. This is a savvy marketing move to tap into Oakley’s fan base, who himself enjoys immense social media popularity across YouTube and Instagram.
If you haven’t been to the Wagamama in Derby recently, you’re in for a nice surprise. The interior has been upgraded and updated; I am seeing more sepia browns and more booths, which I prefer in comparison to the canteen-style set-up. The environment feels more grown up and lends itself to a more gastro-dining experience, which is definitely down to the recent refurbishment that the Derby branch underwent a short while ago.
My vegan starter of bang bang cauliflower (crispy cauliflower, firecracker sauce, spring onions) was lightly spiced and punchy, the warming pepper giving heat on the swallow. I loved how the cauliflower was wok-fried, which had caught in small patches to give this humble vegetable even more depth.
Dining partner’s tama squid (fried squid balls, okonomiyaki sauce) were excellent (yes I tasted a half of a ball). Crisp pastry enveloping unctuous squid was a joy to scarf, whilst the okonomiyaki sauce provided the playful push and pull between the sweet and slightly sour. The garnish of aonori and dancing bonito flakes made this a very Instagrammable dish too. Just a note: these squid balls retain a lot of heat, so it is wise to let them cool for a few minutes. Yes I know it’s hard to not scarf immediately, but trust me, you can appreciate the flavours better when they’re a teeny bit cooler. I think these tama squid balls will make an excellent snack too, and I have already decided to sneak some into the cinema for my next film outing.
Avant gard’n vegan hero (barbecue-glazed seitan, ‘vegan egg’, shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, brown rice, edamame beans, carrots, spring onions, amai sauce, fresh lime) was a generous portioned and fine dish to eat.
This is the collaboration dish with Gaz Oakley that had me intrigued the most. I have tried experimenting with a ‘vegan egg’ recipe at home using kala namak and aquafaba – more on that in a separate post – but the look of the Wagamama ‘vegan egg’ was very realistic. White fashioned from coconut with a sriracha yolk looked eggy but didn’t taste egg-like at all – and that is perfectly fine by me. I hate the taste of egg and cannot eat it as a standalone ingredient, which is why I was OK with eating this vegan egg.
A note to those who want this ‘vegan egg’ to taste like an egg – it doesn’t. So, if you want to eat a true egg, and are expecting this ‘vegan egg’ to be eggy, this dish may not be for you.
The avant gard’n vegan hero is a big ol’ bowl of goodness crammed chockfull with vegetables galore. Grilled shitake mushrooms, crisp asparagus tips and salty edamame are just a few to mention, rendered all the more delicious enrobed in sweet amai sauce. I would have liked a stronger flavour with this dish, but that is a personal preference and not a negative.
Dining partner’s cod mokutan soba (black charcoal soba noodles, miso cod, stir-fried vegetables) went down a treat. Tender fish held together by sticky miso glaze was glorious, whilst charcoal noodles were eye-catching with a subtle earthy depth.
My vegan dessert of mango matcha layer cake was a tropical treat. I’m not a fan of matcha, which I think is an acquired taste, but this layer cake was lovely. The powerhouse couple of zingy yuzu cream and tart raspberry compote ratcheted up the tang factor nicely.
Dining partner’s salted caramel cheesecake (wasabi spiked parfait, crunchy biscuit crumb, chocolate buckwheat shards, salted caramel sauce) was a magnificent end to a splendid meal. This dish wouldn’t be out of place in a high end hotel, and I think the development chefs at Wagamama HQ should be proud, not only of this creation but also the vegan menu too.
Wagamama’s vegan menu is inclusive, adventurous (hello, ‘vegan egg’ anyone?) and a triumph. I defy you not to try it and return for seconds. I, for one will definitely be back. Next time I shall try the yasai samla curry, or the vegatsu, or the yasai katsu curry or- I could go on. From attentive service (hat-tip to Mathew Bean for overseeing the evening’s event) to a new-look environment, Wagamama should be your next port of call for a scrumptious bite to eat.
Rating: (1: Hate – 10: Love)
Restaurant name: Wagamama
Address: Intu Derby, Intu Derby, London Rd, Derby DE1 2PQ
How to make reservation: Telephone
Telephone: 01332 347556
How to get there: Housed inside Intu Derby means Wagamama is easy to get to, either by bus (the Intu is directly opposite the Morledge bus station) or train, which has excellent transport links back to the city centre.
Whilst in the area: Duck into Paperchase for your stationery fix. If you want to update your make-up bag, visit Boots on the ground floor, where Dior, Fenty and Nyx offer make-up consultations.