In the midst of the Chestnut Street plateau atop the glassy edifice of the new Westfield shopping centre resides Wahaca - the fifth in a chain of Mexican market food restaurants opened by Mark Selby and former Master Chef winner Thomasina Miers. With good views of the Olympic stadium and a variety of Mexican market food on offer, this eatery might be enthusiastic about giving the British public a little taste of South America but ultimately it fails to deliver.
Located in the food court on the first floor of the Westfield precinct, Wahaca resembles a busy Mexican marketplace. Corrugated metal sheets cover the bar and the front of the open kitchen, chicken wire boxes are in plentiful supply and lively Latino music also helps to set the scene. Split into interior and heated terraced seating, Wahaca offers a broad menu of traditional Mexican favourites ranging from quesadillas, tacos, taquitos, burritos and tostadas, to soups and salads.
The warm terracotta and turquoise tones used to paint Wahaca’s large premises make it an inviting space and the marketing team have clearly put a lot of thought into the organization of the restaurant’s decor. Wooden tables combined with metal chairs, chunky tumbler type glasses and artistic graffiti on the walls make the place appear vibrant and upbeat. However, despite the lively décor and the good mix of clientele (families, friends and tourists) a 7pm visit on the cusp of a bank holiday weekend still sees the place to be curiously subdued and distinctly lacking in buzz.
Upon arrival each table is set with tortilla chips and generous portions of salsa and avocado dip – which perhaps worryingly turns out to be one of the real highlights of the meal. The guacamole has a good mix of red onion, tomato and coriander, and has a very pleasing texture. Likewise, the salsa is fresh and flavoursome.
The very helpful and knowledgeable waiting staff recommend several light dishes and explain that in keeping with the desire to achieve a candid feel during the dining experience, Wahaca serves all food as soon as it’s ready - sadly this does not seem to mean that the dishes will arrive hot. The grilled cactus and courgette open taco - though appealingly presented as a trio - is watery, with the two central components being more or less indistinguishable. The soft flat doughy tortillas that form the base of each serving are coated with a thin layer of refried beans that add too many salty notes to the intense heat of the dish, as well as exaggerating the mushy texture of the cuisine further.
Unfortunately the meat dishes prove little better, as the shredded pork pibil taco (again presented on a trio of mini flour tortillas with red onions, refried beans and parsley) has an unpleasant texture and leaves a salty aftertaste. Similarly, the chicken taquito (a crunchy cylindrical tortilla filled with meat and topped somewhat incongruously with Lancaster cheese) turns out to be very dry despite the chicken apparently being marinated. The chorizo and potato quesadilla fares better, with more subtle notes of flavour (namely thyme) to be found in the dish. The main issue with the food on offer is that everything is either extremely spicy or too salty, and there are too many strong flavours competing to be able to find harmony.
Given the broad range of alcoholic beverages on offer and the addition of a bar, Wahaca is undoubtedly a fun watering hole. There are several red and white wines on offer and the house recommended Rey Viejo cuts through the concentrated flavours at work in the food ably. In addition to offering prosecco and rosé wine, Wahaca has an extensive drinks list that offers classic long cocktails as well as some original creations of their own. Running with the Mexican theme, there is also an impressive tequila list that might catch the eye later in the working week.
The Last Word
Although the surroundings are colourful and the service is excellent, as things stand, in answer to the iconic line 'are you a Mexican or a Mexi-can’t?' Wahaca would sadly have to concede to being the latter. A good choice for a fun night out, Wahaca sadly lacks the culinary credentials necessary to make it a regular dining staple.