This past autumn, one of our beloved foodie writers regaled you with tales of the “raging oral fire” of Nando’s and the acceptable beer selection of Illegal Jack’s. Since he is unable to continue his sterling work for the second instalment, I will pick up where he left off. On the menu this week are Wagamama on Lothian Road and Yo! Sushi, secreted away in Harvey Nichols.
Northeastern Asian food - Chinese, Japanese, Korean - and quality northeastern Asian food at that, is thin on the ground in the Athens of the North. Wagamama and Yo! Sushi, both serving Japanese fare, palliate the pangs for sushi and teriyaki chicken in the same way the Nando’s and Illegal Jack’s do for their respective regions: all with middling to good success. Fast food, after all, is fast. Where places like McDonald’s utterly fail in atmosphere, upmarket fast food attempts to amp up the atmosphere with the aim to detract from the meal itself.
Wagamama (1 Castle Terrace) is the new kid on the block on Lothian Road. Like all new things, it sticks out because of its shiny looks and eager-beaver attitude, and we hope this will never change. The Japanese influence means that the atmosphere is pared down - austere, but not clinical. It’s not even fast food, strictly speaking, but the informal ambiance and banquet-style dining room recall the ease and sociability of eating which fast food aims to provide. Wagamama’s tangible strength is the staff. They are absurdly well-versed in the complicated ordering system which prompted this reviewer to ask, “What in the world is going on?” Since customer service in the United Kingdom is ranked the lowest in Europe, it’s refreshing to see the staff of Wagamama pick up the slack. The food is quite good if you aren’t too picky about the crispiness of your katsu or the delicacy of your udon, and at an average of £7 a meal, you can’t go wrong. It’s a swell addition to Edinburgh’s food scene, franchise though it is.
Yo! Sushi is (inexplicably) on the fourth floor of posh shopping behemoth Harvey Nichols, in St. Andrew’s Square off Princes Street. Like Wagamama, there is a unique system of ordering: the differently coloured bowls on the conveyor belt (called kuru kuru in Japanese) correspond to different prices. The conveyor belt is the very essence of fast food - though it was developed almost twenty years after the first McDonald’s restaurant was opened in San Bernardino, California. This time, the Japanese influence is more twenty-first century - the colourful seats and flashing lights evoke a scene from Lost in Translation, or possibly even a reflection of how Japan has refashioned Western culture into a totally unique experience. With over 80 dishes, from nigiri to sashimi, from maki to California rolls, the choice is staggering, but make sure that your wallet can take it. Sushi in Britain is not the cheapest, so choose wisely. (And maybe pick up a cheeky sandwich afterward.) Novelty is Yo! Sushi’s calling card, so pick up the phone as soon as possible.
Is there a winner in the upmarket fast food scene? It would be unfair to turn this into an East versus West competition, because both approaches have their merits and demerits. That said, Wagamama and Yo! Sushi achieve what Western fast food as we know it cannot hope to: your continued health and well-being. Sure, chopsticks are fun and sake is tasty as all get out, but this stuff is actually good for you. (The rice, not the chopsticks. Then we would suggest a doctor.) Breaking out of bad food habits is important as a student, and even more important as you age, so try some upmarket fast food with a difference next time.
Wagamama 1 Castle Terrace EH1 2DP Yo! Sushi 30-34 St Andrew Square EH2 2AD