Norwich: Wagamama's

Whether it's in a soup dish, cooked on a teppan grill (a big fat frying pan to the common man), in a spicy sauce or hidden beneath a pile of vegetables, noodles are in at Wagamama's.

Well, we waited long enough for it to open but Wagamama's has quickly become a firm favourite with many. Since opening back in April, most of the office has visited and even me, a tired old mother of two whose idea of a good night out is actually a quiet night in, has paid three visits.

It's not difficult to see why it appeals. The prices are not too bad, you pay about £8-£9 for a main course, and the service is quite nippy so you can pop in before say the cinema or for a quickish lunch.

The food is healthy and obviously that little bit different. There are only so many sun-dried tomatoes with pan-fried tuna dishes that you want as more and more bistros go for the modern British cuisine.

But be warned the menu can be a bit intimidating to those who are not Japanese noodle bar experts. It's quite long to start with, and there are plenty of ingredients that you won't find at Asda, but you will spot the common denominator - a noodle!

Whether it's in a soup dish, cooked on a teppan grill (a big fat frying pan to the common man), in a spicy sauce or hidden beneath a pile of vegetables, noodles are in at Wagamama's.

Don't panic if noodles are not your thing as there are several rice dishes, too, including one that's a bit like a Thai green curry with plenty of coconut, and there are several salad options, too.

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All dishes contain plenty of herbs and spices so the food is packed with flavour and it's all cooked in the long open-plan kitchen that runs down the right hand side of the restaurant so your taste buds start to work as soon as you enter the place.

Wagamama's is quite an institution since the first branch opened in Bloomsbury, London, in 1992 and it was actually set up by a King's Lynn chap Alan Yau, although he's no longer involved.

The concept is relatively simple. You sit at long trestle tables so you do have to sometimes cuddle up to strangers and then simply order what you fancy. There are no starters, rather it's side orders but it's practically the same idea. Dishes come as they are ready so there's no standing on ceremony, you just tuck in and share as you like.

As starters, sorry, side orders eaten as starters, I can reckon the duck gyoza, fat little dumplings stuffed duck and leek, are good and ebi katsu, king prawns in breadcrumbs with a couple of sauces, are great.

For mains, a hot favourite is chilli chicken ramen, noodles in a pork and chicken soup, complete with fresh chillis and other goodies takes some beating while yaki soba, soba (fat) noodles with egg, chicken, shrimps and veggies, is another goodie.

The puddings are good, from a tamarind and chilli pavlova (£4.50) to a mango, curry and coconut parfait (both at £4.50). I like the wild berry sorbet (£2.95) which is nice and sharp and just right to cleanse the palate.

But what's this - chocolate fudge cake? Since when was that a Japanese delicacy? Ah, well - it's a popular choice and naturally I've tried it!

You'll be pleased to know that there's more than sake to drink, with the wine list includes tipples from around the world. Those wanting to stick to the Oriental theme should try the Ashi super dry beer which is apparently a favourite in Japan.

But the freshly squeezed juices - another real favourite in Japan - are a must, especially when the weather's hot. I went for an apple and orange number while others loved the apple and lime one which is rather a scary colour!

After the meal, you can't have a coffee but green tea is served in chunky mugs which is a very refreshing end and means you can linger a while if you have the time.

It's probably more of a place for a night out with friends than a cosy evening with your better half as it is quite a busy, bustling sort of place where you have to shout to be heard at times.

I'd say that it attracts two distinct crowds. The younger “let's be having you” types and the more mature “I'm still trendy even though I'm a 40-sometihing” ones. Both fit in and you can even take your kids, if they're sophisticated enough, as variations on chickens nuggets and fish fingers are served - with noodles, of course!

t Wagamama's, Chapelfield Plain, Chapelfield shopping centre, Norwich; 01603 305985,

t t Where is it? Near Tootsie's and Border's bookshop; enter Chapelfield via the St Stephen's Church entrance.

t Do I need to book? You can't!

t How about parking? Chapelfield has its own underground car park and there's also the little outdoor one near the Assembly House.

t Smoking? No thanks

t Disabled access? Good

t What about the kids? There's separate menu, look out for chicken noodle, mini chicken katsu and ebi rice!