Dish With A Difference

We’re talking about: Japanese pub grub

Finger food from izakayas are creeping into major chain menus, with Wagamama the latest to jump on the trend.

7 October 2019
chainsjapanesepubsstreet foodvegan
  • The Dish: Vegan mixed mushroom, panko and aubergine hirata buns 
  • The Place: Wagamama
  • The Chef: Steve Mangleshot

What? A trip to Tokyo has inspired Wagamama’s latest menu additions, which focus on hand-held street food.

Executive chef Steve Mangleshot and his team travelled to the Japanese capital to sup on hand-held food served in their after-work watering holes, called izakayas.

The experience has led to the introduction of a number of new items, including chicken yakitori (£6.96), served on skewers with a spicy teriyaki sauce, shichimi and spring onions, cooked on a teppanyaki (Japanese iron griddle).

A new vegan vegetable tempura (£5.25) has also been developed made up of crispy fried tender stem broccoli, red pepper, sweet potato, asparagus and wakame (seaweed) with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.

Hirata buns have been given a vegan makeover, too, with the creation of mixed mushroom, panko and aubergine buns (£5.95) that come with a vegan sriracha mayonnaise.

“Visiting the suburbs of Tokyo gave us the inspiration for the hand-held food. The busy bars had stand-up tables and guests ate yakitori and crispy tempura whilst enjoying a drink,” explained Mangleshot. “The simplicity and speed of the dishes was impressive and the wood barbecue smokey flavouring coupled with the caramelised sauce was delicious.”

In a step change, a new curry has also been added called Nikko. It contains coconut, lemongrass and turmeric soup with roasted butternut squash, tenderstem broccoli, mangetout, bok choi, bean sprouts, chilli, coriander, ginger, chilli oil and fresh lime. The curry is inspired by flavours of southern India and is served with a side of white rice and sesame seeds – though customers can also opt for glass noodles or brown rice instead. 


Where? The new dishes have been rolled out nationally to Wagamama’s UK restaurants.


Why? It was predicted that Japanese-style pub grub would start gracing UK shores a couple of years ago and now this trend is coming home to roost. Think pints and peanuts being swapped for sake and skewers.

While smaller restaurants have been riding this trend for a while now – like Shackfuyu and Kanada-Ya – larger chains are now getting in on the izakaya action, serving up affordable snacks, usually in the form of yakitori (meat skewers) or other small plates.

While Wagamama is just dipping its toe in the water for now, last Yo! launched its first full-service restaurant with 40 new menu items, including a robata-grilled deep-fried sticks menu and gastro bites like katsu curry arancini.

Robata, the Japanese-style barbecue, has also been appearing in the likes of Gordon Ramsay’s Lucky Cat, the Asian tapas-style outfit Freak Scene and even Greek concept Pittabun.

But it’s not just a trend playing out in the capital either. Harajuku Kitchen in Edinburgh dishes up finger food like finely minced octopus combined with dough dumplings that are fried and served with a fish sauce on top, while Izakaya in Liverpool does a range of buns, including one stuffed with pork belly, pickled red cabbage, crispy shallots and a spicy mayonnaise.

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