Wagas, Beijing Welcomes You to Sanlitun Village
It was a sad story when Wagas came and quickly left Beijing back when it tried to first open in Xidan a few years back, but now that they’re perched in prime real estate in the third floor of Sanlitun Village surrounded by popular dining destinations Modo, Hatsune, Karaiya Spice House and Element Fresh, Wagas should have a different story to tell this second time around.
A popular chain of over a decade in Shanghai, Wagas is an award winning cafe chain that has earned a strong reputation down there serving happy customers a range of “everyday food – gourmet sandwiches, pasta, salad, cake, fresh juice, smoothie and coffee”. They now have 25 branches in Shanghai and their plans of expansion are only growing with their second try at a first successful branch in Beijing.
And they are off to a seriously strong start.
Barely open a few weeks, this place is already buzzing with great vibes and energy day in and day out. With it’s no-fuss menu highlighting simple sandwiches, paninis, spinach wraps and salads, you can expect them to be jam-packed during lunches but the real test is how Wagas fares after the initial “new opening in Beijing” excitement wares off (after about 6 months). Beijingers are known to be fickle and much more picky, judgmental and price-sensitive than many other foodie markets, including (dare I say it), our Shanghainese rivals. But it’s understandable considering how spoiled for choice we are with new restaurants and bars opening on a daily basis.
I wasn’t surprised to see Wagas packed all lunch and all afternoon mid-week (on a Wednesday to be precise), but the true test they passed was that they stayed packed even on a quiet Monday evening (literally last night).
That being said, I was also flabbergasted to find that it’s neighbor and potential rival, Element Fresh is closed! After a bit of poking around (serious investigative spywork), it turns out Element Fresh is “closed for renovations” until September 2012. My trusted source (who prefers to stay anonymous) says it could be about 6 weeks.
Goodbye for the next 6 months, Element Fresh
What’s even more surprising is that Union Bar & Grille is now only operating as a bar for the next few months as its kitchen is also closed down for the time being, though it should be back in full operations in a week or so.
Can Union Bar & Grill Survive Much Longer Only as a Bar?
The reasons behind these recent “renovations” and changes are yet to be revealed, but I’d be curious to know whether the Wagas’ recent opening has had any immediate effect on the business of Element Fresh and Union Bar & Grille.
I would be quick to presume that easy-to-spread rumor to be true, but it is suspicious to see Element Fresh close it’s doors for most of summer (it’s busiest part of the year) for “renovations” just a few weeks after a fellow Shanghai chain moves in as its new neighbor.
If you haven’t seen the stylish, bright and open space of Wagas yourself, here are a few LDS snapshots to give you a glimpse of space and it’s vibe. Although the space isn’t massively large and they don’t take reservations in advance and there aren’t any toilets inside, somehow it all works. There’s never a line of people waiting for a table with people coming and going all day with a balance of people either popping in for a quick bite, meeting with friends or business associates or spending the entire afternoon here on free wifi.
LumDimSum Snapshots of Wagas in Sanlitun Village:
Wagas is Proving it’s Popularity: It’s Even Busy on a Monday night at 9PM
With Wagas’ undeniably positive vibes and ambiance established, what’s the fuss about? How are people this excited over basic, every day sandwiches and salads? It’s not like this is the first restaurant in Beijing to offer this kind of menu and service. And it’s certainly not cheap.
So if there are other options that are just as good and priced much lower than Wagas, it begs to question what Wagas is doing differently than every other sandwich cafes in town.
I was only able to snap up a handful of photos before the manager jumped in front of my camera and told me that photos are “forbidden” here. If only they knew that I was taking photos for their benefit…oh well. You get the idea.
LumDimSum Snapshots of Food at Wagas:
Wagas’ Sandwiches and Spinach Wraps
Wagas’ Salad Counter
Wagas’ Cake and Cupcake Display
Wagas’ Muffin and Pastry Display
Wagas Doesn’t Like Me Taking Photos
And after dining here on two separate occasions, once for lunch and once for dinner, I have reached an unexpected conclusion. Initially, before I had actually enjoyed a meal here myself, I was just as excited about Wagas’ opening. They have a reputation that proceeds them and everyone who has ever lived in Shanghai or has been to a Wagas in Shanghai raves about it being the best thing ever. Exaggeration aside, expectations were implanted and after my first lunch at Wagas, I was slightly disappointed.
Nothing was terrible, but nothing was mind-blowing either. I tasted my friend’s Turkish Vegetarian Panini, which was, to our disappointment, much smaller than we had imagined and although my Spinach Chicken Salad Wrap was bigger portioned than her Panini, it also wasn’t a dish I’d be rushing back to have. The smoothies we ordered were both tasty, but also pricey at RMB 40 each.
And although every single dessert made me want to salivate all over myself, I thought it all looked better than it tasted (after tasting both the blueberry cheesecake and carrot & zucchini cupcake).
Wagas’ Fresh Juice: (L) Pineapple, Apple & Mint / (R) Mango, Apple, Banana (RMB 40)
Wagas Smoothie: (Center) Peach, Banana, Passionfruit, Oats, Honey, Yogurt, Low-Fat Milk (RMB 40)
Wagas Turkish Panini with Roast Pumpkin, Almonds, Coriander, Spinach & Gauda (RMB 48)
Wagas’ Spinach Wrap with Pesto Chicken Salad, Bacon Bits, Roast Tomato, Onion and Leaves (RMB 50)
Coming back again for dinner, I ordered entirely different dishes, hoping for a better experience and it worked. Unlike their panini and wraps, their salads are served in a super big bowl and portions seem much bigger for about the same price (RMB 48-56). I tried the Chicken, Mango, Avocado Salad (RMB 56) and it was very tasty and as good as my imagination led me to wish for.
And the pasta dishes were even better. We only started off our dinner with two pastas and a salad, but they were gone in the blink of an eye and we happily went to order a third. Our favorite is the Chorizo pasta, which is the first dish I really think stands out as something exceptional and worth going back again for. I’d also recommend the Chicken Zucchini Pesto Pasta to try, but the Asparagus Pasta-of-the-Day was bland and tasteless.
Wagas’ Salad: Chicken, Mango, Avocado Salad with Lemon Honey Mustard Dressing on the Side (RMB 56)
Wagas’ Pasta: Fusili, Chicken Zucchini, Parmesan, Tomato Pesto (RMB 52)
Wagas’ Pasta: Fusili, Chorizo, Spinach, Chili, Tomato Sauce, Parmesan (RMB 52)
Wagas’ Pasta Daily Special: Fusili, Asparagus, Spinach, Parmesan (RMB 52)
Of all the dishes on the Wagas menu, I guarantee one of their top selling items are all from their dessert counter display showcasing a range of muffins, cakes, danishes, cupcakes, cookies and pastries.
Their farmhouse carrot cake is famously delicious and it lives up to its expectations. It’s incredibly moist and the added chunks of walnut and dried fruit for added consistency is genius. This is quite possible the best carrot cake in town. Anyone strongly disagree?
Wagas Dessert: Farmhouse Carrot Cake (RMB 18)
While the carrot cake is phenomenal, I can’t say the same for the blueberry cheesecake and the carrot & zucchini cupcake. The blueberry cheesecake reminds me exactly of a Blueberry Eggo Waffle. If your’e not American, you may have never had the pleasure of enjoying one of these, but I grew up on them and as much as I like them, it’s not actually a compliment to compare Wagas’ blueberry cheesecake to an Eggo waffle, which basically implies that it tastes artificial and not the way a rich, cheesy cheesecake ought to taste. And I should mention that the slice of cheesecake was disproportionally small compared to the other desserts we’ve tried at Wagas.
And also unlike the slice of delicious farmhouse carrot cake, the carrot & zucchini cupcake was on the opposite side of the moist and fluffy spectrum for a very dry and dense muffin. Photographic proof displayed below (it even looks dry).
Wagas Dessert: Blueberry Cheesecake (RMB 20)
Close-Up: Wagas Blueberry Cheesecake
Wagas Dessert: Carrot & Zucchini Cupcake (RMB 20)
Wagas Dessert: Carrot & Zucchini Cupcake Dissected
Review of Wagas: Sandwiched between Modo and Element Fresh on the 3rd floor of Sanlitun Village, S8-33, 3F Building 8, 19 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District, 朝阳区三里屯路19号院8号楼3层S8－33; Open Daily from 8AM-10PM
Their carrot cake is quite possibly the best carrot cake in Beijing.
Sandwiches and wraps are good, but salads are much bigger portioned and the Chorizo Pasta is my favorite thing on their menu.
Try their fresh smoothies and juices. I recommend the Wagas Smoothie (RMB 32 for small or RMB 40 for large) and Pineapple, Apple & Mint Juice (RMB 34 for small or RMB 40 for large).
They have free WIFI. It wasn’t working last night, but it was pretty smooth and fast the first time I came for lunch. For those who are looking to spend an afternoon in a cafe with free WIFI, Wagas would be a good option if they get their WIFI connection stabilized. There are plenty of hot and iced coffee drinks to choose from and keep you highly caffeinated throughout the day.
The ambiance and vibe is what sets Wagas apart from its competition. The food itself is decent, but aside from a few stand-out dishes and their fresh juice and smoothie selection, it’s not better than every other sandwich cafe in Beijing. That being said, they have a winning formula and I am confident that Wagas will be very successful in its new location in Sanlitun Village.
Unlike many of the dining establishments in the Village, there is no toilet here so you’ll have to find a public one outside if you need to find a loo.
Lucky for Wagas, it’s competitive neighbor Element Fresh has just closed down for at least a few months for “renovations” and Union Bar & Grill is also now operating solely as a sports bar, without a kitchen.
It’s bound to be a very popular, if not the most popular sandwich cafe in Beijing. Jam-packed for lunch, they have a take-away option and lucky for those who want to dine in, there’s always a smooth flow of customers coming and leaving (quick turn-around for table seating).
Rating: (on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being best)
Overall Experience: 7