Wahaca was founded by former MasterChef champion Thomasina Miers. Although it feels like a very long time ago and despite forgetting several of the more recent winners I still clearly remember Thomasina winning back in 2005. Perhaps because her bold style of cooking resonated with me at a time when I was getting more and more into cooking myself and her food excited me. I saw her make a couple of TV series for Channel 4 and then the fantastic ‘Mexican Food Made Simple’ for Channel 5, possibly the only show I’ve ever enjoyed on that channel? Which also spawned one of my favourite cookbooks with the same name. She is more than partly responsible for my love of Mexican food and much of the food I cook myself is based on her recipes.
Whilst planning this London trip I was worried about having to queue at high profile, trendy ‘no reservation’ places such as Koya and MEATliquor who have a reputation for long lines at busy times. I didn’t expect the only queuing to come at the Covent Garden branch of a fairly mainstream Mexican street food restaurant but that’s exactly what happened at Wahaca. We arrived to find a queue all the way up the stairs with the people at the back claiming “it’s around 45 minute wait from here”. I was shocked and am really not a fan of queueing but after looking forward to eating there and having already picked what I wanted we reluctantly joined the back. Luckily it was the best kind of queue, one in which you were allowed to not only buy drinks whilst you waited, but even sit at the bar and be buzzed by the buzzy thing they gave you when it was your turn! It begs the question why everybody else chose to stand on the stairs instead though?
After around 30minutes we were taken from the bar to the incredibly lively dining area and seated a couple of tables away from the hectic open kitchen. The decor is just as bright and loud as the Mexican style music in the background.
We ordered a couple more drinks whilst pretending to browse the menu, not wanting to look like somebody who’d been studying it online for weeks in advance of the visit.
The food at Wahaca is inspired by Mexican street food which is exactly the sort of food I eat at home on a regular basis. Having already eaten at Dishoom & The Square over the past few hours my usual tactic of ‘order everything’ wasn’t going to work. I sensibly ruled out the burritos as the rice would be more filling and instead went for a portion of tacos, tostadas and quesadillas but first one of my favourite things in the whole world!
I couldn’t go to a Mexican place and not order guacamole! The menu claims that it’s ‘freshly made every day’ but it didn’t look fresh as it’s slightly dull colour lacked the usual vibrancy. It’s possible this was due to being under the hot lamps on the pass as it tasted fresh enough. There are countless variations of guacamole from simply smashed avocado and lime to the inclusion of any of the following: onion, tomato, chilli, garlic, cumin, coriander and more. I vary my own recipe, always including onion & chilli and sometimes including all the additional ingredients, this version was the closest I’ve had to how I make it myself. The guacamole is served with either traditional tortilla chips or fennel pork scratchings. As i’m a sucker for pork scratchings anyway and also love fennel it was a pretty easy choice and it was as good as I hoped. Gorgeous crispy pork scratchings with just a hint of fennel work so well with the creamy fresh guacamole.
Quesadillas are also one of my favourite things, so simple yet utterly delicious with almost any filling, as long as it includes loads of melted cheese! These ‘Black beans & Cheese Quesadillas’ were no exception. Soft, earthy black beans with a good kick of chilli and spices and lashings of melted cheddar and stringy mozzarella cheese. The absolute ultimate comfort food.
Next up was ‘Ceviche Tostadas’, tostadas are essentially open tacos but with a crispy deep fried base. These ones came loaded with a generous amount of good quality scallops & shrimp along with a refreshing mix of lime, cucumber and mint salad with a good amount of hot habanero chilli. I loved the freshness, vibrancy and huge flavours.
Finally tacos! ‘Cactus Tacos’ to be precise. They looked a bit messy, one of the tortillas was ripped and the fillings were far from consistent but they tasted fantastic. The only other place I’ve eaten cactus is at the brilliant Panchos Burritos in the Manchester Arndale food hall but I wonder why more places don’t use it as with proper handling it’s delicious. Here it worked so well with the courgette and spicy guajillo chilli salsa.
We didn’t have time or probably enough stomach space for dessert but I saw several people eating the ‘Churros’ which looked excellent. We did sample a couple of cocktails from an exciting list including a ‘Passion Fruit Margarita’ which was devine!
Despite having to queue and it being very busy and a bit too noisy for my liking I really loved Wahaca. It’s my kind of food, simple, fresh and vibrant with huge flavours. I loved that everything that was supposed to be spicy really was, it’s often not the case with mainstream places like this. Service was speedy and very efficient given the restaurant was completely full. It’s also fantastic value for money, the money I spent was probably the best value of anywhere I’ve eaten this year, when you consider that it’s in London’s west end that’s pretty incredible.
Date Of Visit: 01.06.2013Follow @FoodGeekUK