Wahaca. For those who didn’t do so well in Leaving Cert geography, it’s the phonetic spelling of Oaxaca. It’s also the name of a restaurant owned by Thomasina Miers, winner of BBC’s Masterchef competition in 2005. Wahaca’s concept is to take Mexican “market” food indoors.
In fairness, Mexican food does have a bad reputation (at least, outside of Mexico). I remember seeing a Billy Connolly routine where he offered the theory that every Mexican dish is the same, they’re just folded differently. Fold it this way, it’s a burrito! Fold it that way, it’s an enchilada! And I suppose he has a point, most Mexican restaurant food outside of Mexico tends to be the same spicy concoction of minced beef and kidney beans. Wahaca is a little different, offering Mexican “market” specialities. I think Ms Miers is always going to have to listen to whingers banging on about Wahaca’s lack of “authenticity”, but sod them. For my money, Wahaca is a very funky place and the food is a mile away from “kidney bean” joints I just mentioned.
We arrived without a reservation on a Saturday evening, post-theatre. The waitress happily told us Wahaca don’t accept reservations anyway, and that we’d only have to wait about 10 minutes for a table. No argument from me, I had spotted the bar and instantly thought longingly of a spiky, salty margarita. We’d barely taken a sip out of our cocktails when the waitress informed us that our table was ready.
The large menu is designed for sharing. We contemplated ordering the “Wahaca Selection”, a sharing platter of tacos, taquitos and tostadas (nice alliteration there), but decided to go “á la carte”. We started off with a couple of beers and some tortilla chips served with a fiery, fresh tomato salsa. For something different, we also ordered pork scratchings & guacamole, which were tasty and curiously light in texture – not at all like a regular “scratching”.
For the main event we ordered a broad selection of dishes from the menu. Highlights included the “Beef Salpicon Tostada” (fiery slivers of beef and fresh salad on a crispy tortilla) and the “Mexican chorizo & potato quesadilla” (think Mexican toasted sandwich). Also worthy of a mention are the “red” and “green” salsas that are placed on every table. The “red” variety is made from fresh, dried and smoked chillies while the fresher tasting “green” is made from tomatillos, chillies and coriander. The bottle of “Wahaca Habanero” hot sauce on every table should have a health warning on it: Lucifer himself preps it. Delicious, but it racks up quite a few points on the Scoville-ometer.
For an informal, late-night meal I think Wahaca is an excellent choice; I will definitely return. The only low point of the meal was the “Lemon Margarita Sorbet” my wife ordered. To me, it tasted like what I imagine lemon toilet cleaner tastes like. Still, she seemed happy enough with it. No accounting for taste… ;)
Wahaca, 66 Chandos Place, Covent Garden, London WC2N 4HG