Hot on the heels of their new environmental campaign featuring a dinosaur (Vegamama) on a mission to save the planet, Wagamama has announced more additions to their menu and released multiple adverts encouraging consumers to choose their veggie dishes over traditional meat options. In doing so, it has become the first major UK restaurant chain to make half of its menu entirely plant-based. Long known for its extensive vegan menu, this doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but given that other major chains (think Pizza Express, Zizzi) have continued to adjust their own veggie options over the past few years, this ground-breaking move might well prove hugely influential in the food sector going forwards.
In line with the general public’s altered mindset regarding the urgency of the climate crisis, mainstream brands of all varieties continue to make changes to their packaging, production, and products. Italian cooking brand Napolina now packages its pasta in cardboard boxes, Pizza Express recently followed in the footsteps of Pret and launched its first vegan restaurant in London, and supermarket Asda has unveiled its first ‘refill supermarket’ in Scotland, where shoppers can fill their own containers and pay by weight. Whether fuelled by a desire to please consumers or a desire to save the planet, these moves will likely have a hugely positive influence on the rest of society, as other brands and stores may follow suit or make unique moves of their own. Wagamama’s announcement may inspire a rapid response from similar high-street brands.
Actively encouraging restaurant-goers to select plant-based options might seem a controversial choice to some, but this may well be the way forwards: perhaps veganism will be no longer exclusive to excessively expensive cafes such as Pret, seen as a sign of unnecessary privilege or whininess, but may now continue to seep its way into the mainstream. Given that shoppers who, ten years ago, would never have considered anything other than the pepperoni pizza at their local store, now regularly veggie alternatives without giving it a second thought, it certainly seems that way.
But naturally, the future remains to be seen, so for now, let’s adopt a lighter tone and evaluate what makes the Wagamama vegan menu so successful: their delicious dishes.
For starters, it must be said that the care that Wagamama put into their starter and side dishes is a marvel, although the painfully steep prices (think up to £7 for a single side) might be a sad side-effect of this. The hirata steamed buns are a particular favourite – the mixed mushrooms buns are an established classic, and last month they added spicy teriyaki vegan ‘chicken’ buns to give a little extra choice. Last year’s introduction of the Sticky Vegan Ribs side was a notable one, too, and it’s continued to gain in popularity.
Their ‘vegatsu’, or vegan katsu curry, an immediate cult classic upon its release, has recently been updated with an alternative soya protein. The yasai katsu curry is always reliable, although not quite as interesting as their delicious Raisukaree or Firecracker Tofu curries, both of which pack a good punch.
You can never go wrong with a classic ramen here, and the kare burosu is always excellent, although I’d warn that if you’re going for a takeout instead of sitting in, the ramens are perhaps not the best choice – if they spill or go cold it might well be slightly disastrous. I’m not sure if the rice bowl ‘avant gard’n’ still holds its place on the updated menu this year, but if it does, it’s always a firm favourite, and I can’t wait to try their new additions ‘shu’s shiok jackfruit’ or ‘no duck’ donburi, both of which sound delicious.
What makes Wagamama’s dedication to seeking more environmentally-conscious alternatives so effective, then, is the care they put into making their plant-based dishes as complex and perfect as their meat-heavy mains, and that’s something other chains might end up looking to as inspiration. To encourage people to choose a quote-unquote ‘healthier’ option, it needs to be every bit as good as the alternative, or people won’t be interested. But it seems that Wagamama has hit the nail on the head with this campaign, and I’m waiting with anticipation for the rest of the country’s response in the years to come.