The £200m-plus auction of Wagamama has been thrown into doubt after India Hospitality Corp, an Aim-quoted leisure company, failed to submit a bid, leaving two private equity groups competing for the noodle chain.

Lion Capital, the private equity group that bought Wagamama for £100m five years ago, has received only two bids, from Morgan Stanley Private Equity and Investcorp, the Bahrain-based investment group that is listed in London.

Both bids value Wagamama at less than the £250m asking price set by Lion, according to people familiar with the auction. Rothschild, which is running the sale process, had asked both bidders to “sharpen their pencils” and sweeten their offers to seal a deal, said one of the people. All parties declined to comment.

Neither of the remaining bidders agrees with Lion’s assertion that Wagamama has great potential to expand in the US, where it has opened three outlets in Boston.

Lion is under pressure to agree a sale having abandoned a planned initial public offering of the company after the financial crisis started in 2007. It then pulled a subsequent auction.

The noodle chain’s owner is also raising a €2bn (£1.7bn) fund, at a time when many buy-out groups are trying to return cash to investors by selling assets.

Other private equity owners of restaurants are watching the Wagamama auction closely, including Blackstone, which owns the Café Rouge and Strada chains, and Cinven, which owns the PizzaExpress and Zizzi eateries.

India Hospitality Group, which raised $103m by listing on London’s junior stock market in 2006 but is now worth only $20m, approached at least one other bidder about teaming up before dropping out of the auction.

Wagamama already has a presence in 16 countries, including Turkey, Egypt and Kuwait. Most of the international restaurants are franchises. It plans to triple its US stores in the next three years.

It has also restarted domestic expansion in the UK after an 18-month pause during the recession, with ambitions to treble the current estate of almost 70 restaurants.

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