Now the Wagamama chain of noodle bars, famous for canteen-style communal tables where diners slurp noodles with strangers at budget prices, has gained recognition as London's most popular restaurant.
The more expensive, Mayfair-based Nobu was shoved down one from the top spot, which it has held for the past three years in the Zagat Restaurant Guide. The Ivy was third.
The chain's success reflects Londoners' growing taste for informal and affordable dining, says Zagat Survey's 2006 London Restaurants guide. Waga-mama was ranked only 35th in the guide when it launched 10 years ago. But this year, 50 per cent of reviewers said they were happy to share a table with strangers and a mere 12 per cent said they would walk away if a restaurant offered only communal seating.
Sholto Douglas-Home, editor of the 2006 guide, said: "After a three-year reign as the capital's favourite, Nobu has been knocked off its perch by an energetic Asian chain with communal tables and reasonably priced eats."
He told the London Evening Standard: "Wagamama's ascendancy is all the more surprising given that it does not take reservations and seats diners at communal tables, hardly the hallmarks of a high-scoring restaurant, yet typical of Londoners' growing desire to eat casually."
London's first Wagamama restaurant opened in Bloomsbury in 1992, founded by the Michelin-starred restaurateur Alan Yau. Since then, 49 more outlets have openedin Britain and around the world. This month, Wagamama will open a second outlet in Manchester, and has an opening planned in Norwich this winter.
Ian Neill, the chief executive or Wagamama Limited, said: "I am absolutely delighted to hear the Zagat guide have rated us London's most popular restaurant. I am particularly pleased in the confirmation this will give to our staff that they are doing a consistently great job, serving 70,000 Londoners a week."
Wagamama scrapped a flotation plan last September, but a majority stake was sold to private equity house Lion Capital in a deal valuing the business at £102m in June this year.
The most popular restaurants
3. The Ivy
4. Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's
5. J Sheekey
6. Gordon Ramsay at 68 Royal Hospital Road
9. The Square
10. Le Gavroche