Wahaca joins the ever-growing list of restaurants cropping up in Canary Wharf, bringing Mexican street food to the businesspeople of London.
Wahaca’s third venue is located in a top floor space in the Canada Square building, right by Canary Wharf tube. It’s part of a quartet of new venues that have recently opened in the space, including The Parlour, Canteen and Roka, and in keeping with the style of their previous locations it’s a riot of colour, the most attractive part being a huge curtain made up of colourful chain links that shimmer over the large windows overlooking the road below. Step back a bit and you can see that it’s a huge mural, depicting everything from a butterfly to a taxi to a pair of fish for sale. Other features include mirrored columns, wooden beams and the occasional splash of graffiti.
Wahaca has recently been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, meaning that they serve sustainable and ethically caught fish and seafood. Meat is British, locally sourced and free range and the rustic-looking glasses are made from recycled glass – very environmentally conscious for an area traditionally associated with making money.
Even early on in the week, it’s packed – so be prepared to wriggle into a table and get close to your neighbours. As can be expected there’s a preponderance of suits but there’s also the occasional couple or small family group. The atmosphere is vibrant and bustling, and staff are casual, quick and friendly. If you’re not familiar with Mexican food – or even Mexican culture – there’s a foldout magazine on each table that features information about the cuisine, Mexican holidays and traditions and even events taking place in the capital.
Wahaca wins points for serving real Mexican food – that is, the street food of Mexico, not crisps with ketchup-y salsa, gluey quesadillas or any of the usual fare often found at Mexican restaurants. Everything tastes fresh, prices are low and the menu is varied enough so that you can have a feast or just a quick lunch. Food is served as and when it’s ready so it’s not really a traditional three course place – best to pick what you fancy and have some chips and salsa whilst you wait.
The street food section of the menu features tacos (soft corn tortillas), taquitos (deep fried corn tortillas), tostadas (a salad on top of a bowl-like fried tortilla), quesadillas (toasted flour tortillas with melted cheese) and sides. The suggestion is to pick two to three dishes for each person, or just a bunch to share. There’s also a fixed menu with a selection of street food options for £19.75. The smoked herring tostada (£3.75) is slightly surprising at first as the herring is cold – but the smoky flavour of the fish and the tangy dressing soon stands out, working well with the crisp tortilla. Chicken tinga tacos (£3.75), however, are not as successful as the juices from the filling have escaped the tortillas and run onto the plate, making the corn tortillas seem soggy, like wet paper. The filling of chicken, chipotle chillies and an avocado salsa is a good combination, though, with a well balanced blend of spicy and creamy flavours – scoop it up with a fork to avoid the tortillas.
Soups and salads (priced from about £6 to £7) also feature, along with platos fuertes – bigger plates – which include a fish, steak and chicken dish, plus enchiladas, burritos and special dishes. Wahaca’s burritos are massive, accompanied by tortilla chips and a fresh, zesty salsa, and they’re an absolute bargain for about £6 each. Slow cooked pork is a popular burrito filling and they do it well here, combining it with pink pickled onions, habanero chillies and black beans, shredded cabbage and rice. It’s a pleasure to eat and each bite brings a different mix of flavours, and the pork itself pretty much falls to pieces when you bite it. Unfortunately the dish seems to suffer from the same leaking issue as the tacos, even though it doesn’t affect the way the dish tastes – a tin foil wrap, although not really aesthetically pleasing, would sort this out nicely. Baja California fish tacos (£7.75) are one of the new dishes on the menu and they’re a good option for fans of fish –filled with goujons of crisp fried plaice (sustainable, of course), it tastes light and fresh, with a subtle spicy kick.
There are about five desserts on the menu, of which churros and chocolate (£3.40) is one of the most popular. Churros are almost like doughnuts, in that they’re basically fried dough, but they’re much lighter and crisper. Sadly Wahaca in Canary Wharf doesn’t seem to quite have a handle on them yet, as they’re served cold, which makes them taste greasy and stodgy. The accompanying dark chocolate sauce, served in a little mug, tastes thinner than it should be and there could be more of it. When they’re done well, though, they’re one of the best parts of the meal. Vanilla ice cream (£3.40) is served with toasted pumpkin seeds and either a caramel or hibiscus sauce. It tastes perfectly fine, with a nice crunch from the pumpkin seeds, although the chunky, bright pink plastic spoon kind of makes you feel like you’re eating baby food.
Wahaca’s drinks list is short and two the point, with several cocktails priced between £5.50 and £6 and featuring choices like a Wahaca mule (a sharp mix of ginger beer, lime juice and tequila) and a hibiscus margarita, which is sweet and refreshing and would be a perfect choice for warm weather. Four whites, four reds and one rose make up the list, representing countries like Spain, Chile and Argentina and priced from £3.50 to £4.75 a glass, £9 to £12.85 a carafe and £12.75 to £17.75 a bottle. A Cabernet Sauvignon also features at £32 along with a bottle of prosecco for £25. Beers are about £3 to £4 and for 50p extra you can have it served in a glass with a lime and a salted rim.
Wahaca are quite proud of their list of tequilas, and the menu explains that in order for a tequila to officially be called tequila, it must contain at least 51% blue agave, a Mexican plant used in making the drink – Wahaca’s tequila contains 100%. They cost from £3 to £4.50 per 25ml (meant to be sipped, not thrown down the back of your throat in a shot) and are divided up into categories of white, rested and aged.
The Last Word
It’s hard to imagine suited and booted bankers getting their hands messy with a burrito but Wahaca is already proving popular with the locals. One of the better options for a cheap sit-down meal in Canary Wharf.