New York City has a new spot for ramen and other Japanese food, by way of London: Wagamama, the popular U.K.-based chain, opened the doors of its first city location Wednesday.
“I really do think that, for us, New York has been a long time coming,” the chain’s executive chef and director of food, Steve Mangleshot, said in an interview at the new location, across from Madison Square Park. “I think it’s really been a food capital of the world along, on par with London.”
The chain — its name is Japanese for “naughty child” — is ubiquitous in London, with 125 locations in the United Kingdom and others scattered throughout Europe and in the Middle East. But unless Americans have sampled it on a trip to Boston, where there are three locations, it might be foreign to stateside diners.
“I’d say it’s an eclectic mix of flavors throughout Asia, from Thailand to Japan, China, Korea,” Mangleshot said. “My job is the best job in the world, because I get to play in one of the biggest continents in the world and choose food from absolutely everywhere.”
In talking about his food, Mangleshot repeatedly returns to the word “fresh” — “fresh ingredients,” “fresh steaks,” and, of course, “fresh noodles.”
“We believe in our noodles [so] much that we’ve actually flown them over here while we try to find a supplier in New York to make them for us because we didn’t want to give New York something that we weren’t as proud of as we are back home,” Mangleshot said.
New York is having a bit of a ramen moment — Japanese chain Ichiran recently opened up shop in Brooklyn. Asked what makes Wagamama’s ramen different, Mangleshot said the dishes are lighter: the kind of meal you can have for lunch without wanting to sleep it off at your desk.
“You can still do great ramen with loads of brilliant flavors, but still do it in a light way,” he said.
Here’s a look inside the restaurant and at some of the dishes you can order.