Chain Alternative: MinMin noodle bar vs Wagamama

Like most people, I have grown to love East Asian food. Within the last couple of years the chain giant Wagamama has taken the world by storm, introducing us all to the delights of comforting Ramen and delectable Donburi; of moreish Edamame and vibrantly flavourful Pad-Thai. However, whenever I take my place in the line of fellow orient-loving diners, I always feel slightly depressed. Yes the food is good, but it is none the less a chain restaurant; a faceless institution focused around raking in the big bucks. Maybe it’s the lefty in me, but I’d just rather eat at an independent restaurant; somewhere more authentic that has a passion for serving delicious food, rather than a commercialised chain interested solely in making big profit (last year Wagamama’s pre-tax profit was £17.6 million).

So I was delighted when I came across MinMin Noodle Bar. Located in the Chinese Quarter on Bromsgrove street, Birmingham, this small independent restaurant offers a wide range of traditional Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes.

I was highly excited to pay it a visit and compare it to the dining experience at Wagamama. Would I be able to find the authentic taste of the East Asia, rather than the toned down version Wagamama offers for the more delicate Western palate? When we arrived at MinMin I found myself pleasantly surprised by the interior. After reading up about the place I foolishly expected the restaurant to be decked with light wooden benches, and dimly lit with soft Oriental music playing. Maybe there would be an old lady wearing a kimono in the corner lighting incense sticks and cutting noodles by hand. But I encountered the complete opposite. The place is decorated in bright white and electric green, giving it a super modern feel.

Unlike at Wagamama where us Brits are forced to confront our innate social awkwardness by sitting next to strangers on the long benches, MinMin allows you to enjoy your meal with the comfort of having your own table. Once seated we were left to peruse the menu. Immediately the authenticity of the food was evident; there were definitely some very adventurous options including pork ear, duck tongue and jelly fish. On this occasion, however, I plumped for the grilled chicken teriyaki ramen. The noodles are imported from Hong Kong, and you can choose which ones you want to absorb all that ramen goodness.

The broth was incredibly rich, with a real depth of flavour and the perfect balance of heat, sourness, sweetness and saltiness. There are perfectly cooked vibrant greens and a rich soft boiled egg marinated in soy. The chicken was moist on the inside and delightfully sticky on the outside from the Teriyaki glaze. To conclude, this is the best ramen I have tasted in the UK. The chicken ramen in Wagamama is good, but MinMin’s is far punchier and fuller in flavour. My friend ordered the beef massaman curry; tender strips of beef in a rich coconut cream sauce, subtly spiced and served complemented well with perfectly sticky rice. We also shared fried wontons and the mango and prawn salad. The salad was deliciously sweet and refreshing, and the addition of peanuts created a pleasant crunch.

However, I found the wontons to be slightly greasy. The alternative at Wagamama, the gyoza, are lighter and more crisp in texture. And while we’re on the subject of sides, I was very disappointed my beloved Edamame was not to be found on MinMin’s menu. It would have been nice to enjoy my favourite salty savoury snack while we waited for the food.

Unfortunately the food did take a long time to come. We dined on a quiet Wednesday evening, yet the food took around 30 minutes to arrive. But at least our meals came at the same time, unlike at Wagamama where one of you will inevitably be left waiting for your food once everyone has been served.

In terms of price MinMin is kinder to your wallet. The chicken ramen cost £7.50 whereas Wagamama’s version costs £8.95 for the same sized portion. A small difference, but that extra £1.45 will go a long way in the pock of a student/ recent graduate. On average all of MinMin’s dishes are slightly cheaper. Only three of their dishes break the £10 mark, whereas Wagamama has twenty-one dishes that are over £10.

In summary, MinMin Noodle Bar is the perfect independent alternative to the chain giant Wagamama. The portions are equally generous in size yet are packed with more flavour and cost you less. If you can’t live without the classic chicken katsu curry or a side of edamame beans then I suggest you stick to Wagamama. If you want to be more adventurous and experience an authentic taste of the Orient, whilst simultaneously supporting your local independent food scene, MinMin is a must to visit.

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