It's an odd place, Croydon. I left the train to find the strange juxtaposition of an old women walking with bags of Christmas shopping alongside a man who was threatening someone so loudly down the phone it would have shocked a Toronto mayor.
Fortunately, Croydon has a Wagamama - although given the number of empty tables, I'm not sure for how much longer - and Wagamama is a beacon of stability, even in a place as seemingly unhinged as Croydon. Be it Reading, Liverpool, Westfield, or Embankment, as with Wetherspoon and Waterstones, entering one Wagamama is much the same as any other. You know exactly what you're going to get.
Croydon branch aside, it's a popular place, spawning countless ripoffs with similar wooden benches, menu-cum-place-mats, and logos - their legal team must have given up a long long time ago. The formula works. Build it and those looking for Anglicised versions of South-East Asian cuisine will come. And this is where the problems lie for me. Wagamama is warm and welcoming, but the food is mainly bland and boring. The pulled pork gyoza packs no kick - as far removed from the legendary Holy F*ck Hot Sauce as you can possibly image - and while the fish of the mahi mahi curry was well cooked, the mountain of rice and handful of sweet potato took on none of the spice from the curry sauce. Plain food sat in a spiced puddle.
Pudding was a sharing plate of three small cakes - passion fruit, ginger, and chocolate fudge. Some interesting flavours here that finally sparked conversation about the food - exactly what South-East Asian cuisine should do (squid flaps anyone?). If they could only work that same philosophy back through the rest of the menu...
Disclaimer: I had a couple of Wagamama vouchers for this meal provided by those good people at Kazoo.