The £200m plus auction for Wagamama, the international pan-asian noodle restaurant chain, has reportedly been placed on hold after bids fell short of the asking price. It is understood that the highest offer was from Morgan Stanley’s private equity unit of around £200m, and Investcorp is said to have bid just underneath this figure. India Hospitality Corporation (IHC) is said to have initially offered £250m – however the AIM-listed leisure group did not submit a final bid after it failed in its bid to raise funding. The group’s private equity backers, Lion Capital, has now put the process on hold, not wanting to dispose of its prime asset on the cheap in the light of its performance and potential for growth abroad, particularly in the USA. Wagamama has recently seen an 8.6% increase in sales from £100.9m to £109.6m and a 24% growth in underlying like-for-like sales. Its ebitda has also improved by 22% to £20.9m and it has £80m worth of net debt. One analyst told The Times newspaper this morning: “If there is a company deserving of a premium it is Wagamama. But it may have to push ahead with the US rollout for another 12 – 18 months to prove the brand can cut the mustard over there.” At M&C Report’s recent Restaurant Conference, Steve Hill, Wagamama’s chief executive, told delegates he thought there was scope for 650 sites on the US East Coast. He said the group was expanding using a “hub and spoke” plan and that it had opened in Boston first because it had wanted to make changes to its US offer “under the radar” before rolling out.