- The Dish: Naked katsu curry
- The Place: Wagamama
- The Chef: Steven Mangleshot
What? Things are lightening up at Wagamama. The pan-Asian chain has launched a lower-calorie version of its most popular dish, the katsu curry, slashing the kilojoules by almost half.
The regular chicken katsu curry – chicken coated in panko breadcrumbs covered in an curry sauce, served with sticky rice and a side salad – contains 1,134 calories per serving.
The ‘naked’ version consists of a grilled curried chicken on a bed of brown rice, with edamame beans, shredded carrots, dressed mixed leaves and Japanese pickles served with a side of katsu curry sauce – coming in at 607 calories.
Last year, Wagamama sold 815 tonnes of katsu curry sauce and 3.5m dishes – equivalent to 10,000 every day. The katsu curry has been on the Wagamama menu with the same recipe since the brand launched in 1992.
The Naked Katsu has been designed to complement the summer menu and is part of the Kokoro Bowls range, alongside Nuoc Cham Tuna and Avant Gard’n, complete with vegan ‘egg.’ Each dish in the range comes in at under 650 calories.
“Not only does the new Naked Katsu contain over 40% less calories, it’s also packed with healthy ingredients – brown rice for a slow release of energy, edamame which is a great source of fibre and grilled chicken for lean protein, overall leaving you feeling fuller for longer,” said the nutritionist behind the dish, Caroline Cromar.
Where? Due to its sell-out success at Wagamama’s Noodle Lab test kitchen, the Naked Katsu has been rolled out nationally to all restaurants in the UK.
“The chicken katsu curry is our most iconic dish, enjoyed by a huge number of guests all year round,” said Ross Farquhar, Wagamama’s chief marketing officer. “As we get into summer many of us are looking for lighter options, but that shouldn’t always mean skipping our favourites. We developed the Naked Katsu curry to satisfy both – the lighter version of a classic.”
Why? Sometimes healthy eating seems to get lost among the plant-based trend, yet one in four young diners say they always take the availability of healthy options into consideration when choosing where to eat, according to CGA figures.
Plus, the calories in restaurant meals is coming under further scrutiny. Public Health England (PHE) signalled plans to make it obligatory for restaurants chains to label calories on their menu, so Wagamama might be getting the jump on its competitors by rolling out lighter options.
But Wagamama isn’t going it alone when it comes to low-calorie territory.
In May, Bella Italia launched their biggest ever menu with 20 new dishes, some of which reflected the growing consumer trend for healthier alternatives. It included, for example, Gamberoni Spirali, a dish under 300 calories with spiralised carrot, golden beetroot and courgette with king prawns in a spicy garlic and tomato sauce, and three new salads, all under 600 calories, called Giardiniera, di Verona and Parma Bufala.
“Ethical and healthy dishes are becoming increasingly important factors in where consumers decide to eat, which has been an important influence in our latest menu innovation,” Marc Saunders, head of brand at Bella Italia, said at the time. “In a highly competitive market, you have to continually move forward and evolve as a brand in order to stand out on the high street.”
Japanese chain Itsu added hoisin duck bao buns with braised leeks in March, coming in at 382 calories.
Even fast food have their eyes on calories. Last year, KFC UK & Ireland pledged to reduce the amount of calories per serving in its meals by 20% by 2025, including a focus on creating lighter meals under 600 calories in line with PHE recommendations and trialling reduced-fat, thicker-cut fries.
Actions like these should counteract the bad rap chains have been getting for their bulky meals. Research from the University of Liverpool last year looked at more than 13,500 meals on the menus of 21 sit-down restaurants and six fast-food chains and found nearly half of them contained 1,000 calories. Surprisingly, sit-down restaurants were five times more likely to offer high-calorie meals of 1,000kcal or more than fast-food restaurants, the research found.