The casual dining sector is undergoing a ‘fascinating transformation’ driven by innovation and changing consumer preferences, Wagamama’s global executive chef Steve Mangleshot tells MCA, as the brand launches its new summer menu.

“Diners are expecting more from their dining experiences,” he explains. “Freshness and innovation is key, whether it’s through introducing unique ingredients, exploring new cooking techniques, or creating immersive dining environments.

“That’s why we continually strive to push the boundaries and stay ahead of trends by listening to our guests and being willing to experiment and evolve.”

The menu is inspired by fresh summer eating, as well as vibrant street food from the team’s recent trips to Asia, according to Mangleshot.

“Research for any menu launch is the best bit – we’ll look at trending flavours, travel around the world, and then come together as a food team to present all the best flavours and textures we’ve been experimenting with, tasting and borrowing flavours and techniques from each other to come up with a truly unique new menu.”

MCA visited the Wagamama restaurant in London’s Hammersmith – housed in an old fire station with an industrial chic makeover – to check out the experience for ourselves.

The premiumisation trend

Wagamama small plates

Mangleshot empahises that the brand’s founding mission to make fresh, high quality food accessible to as many as possible.

“A huge focus for us has always been working with our supply and menu team to choose fresh ingredients that sing – after all, a dish is only as good as it’s ingredients. Our ingredients are chosen carefully and prepared fresh by our chefs every day in our open kitchens – a consumer move to prioritising quality ingredients is a welcome trend, and one that our food strategy has naturally always aligned.”

The new otsumami – squares of crispy fried rice soaked in soy and yuzu dressing – is stacked with sushi-grade salmon, while the Thai beef salad offers tender strips of marinated premium cut steak.

With a range of toppings also including smashed avocado and edamame, the otsumami has a variety of textures, with a single flavour-packed bite boasting punchy soy and yuzu, crispy rice and creamy avocado.

Wagamama also has new takes on its core menu, with the edamame, truffle, and shiitake gyoza elevating dumplings with trending ingredients, while the pork apple bao came encased in a fluffy bun and generous filling.

The crunch factor

Wagamama saku saku soba

The play on textures features across the menu, particularly in the saku saku soba – noodles with a choice of toppings, including crispy duck.

“Texture is one of our favourite dish components to play with – take our most iconic dish, Katsu, a dish with a symphony of textures on the plate,” Mangleshot says. “We believe no other continent does crisp and crunch better than Asia.”

Saku saku – Japanese for the satisfying crunch when biting into something crispy – was the ideal way to describe the new soba dish.

“We wanted to get creative in our teppanyaki section,” Mangleshot explains. “We love crispy duck, and when paired with wok-fried soba noodles and fresh vegetables this makes a dish set to come after even avid katsu lovers.”

While more calorie-dense than the majority of the menu, the fried duck is still light enough for summer eating, and pairs with wok-tossed noodles and veg, mainstays of the Wagamama menu.

Meanwhile ingredients like hoki fish and butternut squash have been added to curry options. 

“Our fragrant summer curries are stand-outs for summer – with the comfort only a curry can give and the brightness of coconut to cut through the warmth of chilli,” adds Mangleshot. “In summer, we often play more with our crispy sections like teppanyaki, sides and salads – innovating where people are more likely to be gravitating. Versus winter, where warming ramens and curries take centre stage.”

Fresh summer eating

Wagamama yuzu cheesecake

Across the new range of small plates, mains, desserts, and cocktails, Wagamama spotlights the bright, punchy flavour of yuzu. The citrus fruit has the sharpness of lemon and the sweet, rounded notes of orange, and is repeatedly used throughout the menu.

It’s also one of the top food trends of the year, and offers lots of flavour opportunity, according to Mangleshot.

“We have always loved yuzu as an ingredient – when added to marinades, drinks, dressings, or soaked into crispy rice like our Otsumami, it brings a distinctly tangy flavour that lifts any dish for summer.”

The Basque cheesecake – drizzled with yuzu syrup – added an Asian twist to a Spanish dessert, grounding the brand in its Japanese roots while showing it can experiment with flavours and fusion dishes.

Starters also feature yuzu dressing and cocktails are rounded off with yuzu sherbet – boosting Wagamama’s sustainability credentials.

“Using a clever mix of ingredients which prioritise flavour and innovation while keeping food waste to an absolute minimum is always our priority,” Mangleshot emphasises. “But it is a fine balance.

“We carefully select ingredients to ensure they are versatile and can take on new dimensions depending on what they are paired with. Everything it is a well-honed balancing act, and we want to ensure that with every application, we are showing off the ingredient off to its maximum potential.”

Looking ahead

Wagamama thai beef salad

Past years have seen much innovation around sustainability, but the growing interest in ‘conscious eating’ aligns planet-friendly options with trends towards health and wellness.

Wagamama is proud to provide a 50% plant-based menu and prioritise innovation that’s “not only delicious but also environmentally friendly,” according to Mangleshot.

The group also has its eye on the rise of experience-led dining.

“Another trend is the fusion of traditional techniques with modern flavours – something we’ve embraced not only in our new menu but as a brand approach in general,” he says. “From a dining perspective, the rise in experiential dining is one we’re really excited to get behind, with exciting plans between now and Christmas.”