Thomasina Miers, Masterchef winner and lover of all things Mexican, has boldly imported a slice of Mexican market life to London’s West End.
Wahaca is the onomatopoeic spelling of Oaxaca, a southern Mexican state and city renowned for its prominent food culture. This underground space just south of Covent Garden piazza is a long way from home, but the L-shaped room's modern Mexican decor, with a bustling open-plan kitchen at one end, does a decent job of transporting diners across the Atlantic; think early noughties industrial-chic injected with the vibrancy of the country’s colour palette and you are halfway there.
An upbeat Latino soundtrack keeps energy levels high, creating a youthful ambiance that is duly reflected in the mostly under-35 clientele. It’s a shame there’s no bar area however, and a few more Mexican waiters and waitresses would seem an obvious way of adding to the authenticity levels too.
The extensive menu is divided into nibbles, street food, soup and salads and platos fuertes (bigger plates). Mexican market food involves eating several small snack-sized servings on the run, typically in between main meals, so Miers has also introduced a selection of larger, more substantial fish and meat dishes into the sit-down restaurant concept to beef up the menu a little. In keeping with Wahaca's green-friendly approach, many of the ingredients are sourced from within the UK - even the Habanero chillies come from Devonshire.
Fiendishly moreish tortilla chips and fresh guacamole break the interlude between ordering and the street food starters are all priced between around £3.00 - £4.00 with fillings including flaked mackerel, marinated pork and frijoles (smoky black beans). Mains such as chicken or steak burritos come generously stuffed with more of those frijoles, a light salsa and plenty of shredded, succulent meat; all cost around £6.00. The churros y chocolate are immensely popular and deservedly so - the lightly-fried doughnuts are crisp, perfectly cooked and paired with a sinfully sweet chocolate sauce. Ingredients are undoubtedly fresh but, despite the sprinkling of sauces offered on the table, the kitchen appears reluctant to employ the spicy and intense flavours normally associated with the very market stalls that inspired Wahaca in the first place.
A selection of four Mexican beers is on offer, with the welcome option of upgrading to a chelada, beer served in a glass with freshly squeezed limejuice and a salt rim. A concise selection of South American wines all come in at around £12.00 - £17.00 while the separate cocktail and tequila list should go some way to educating local palettes on the delights of genuine drinking (as opposed to slamming) tequila.
The Last Word
Wahaca is a fun, reasonably priced introduction to Mexico’s food culture from a passionate and dedicated chef. Covent Garden’s Tex-Mex restaurants should be quaking in their fake cowhide boots.