Andale, andale, arriba, arriba, arriba!
Having spent my formative years in Mexico, I was delighted beyond belief to find that not only was a shopping mecca opening down the road, but that it included a branch of Wahaca, a restaurant modelled on Mexican market eating.
As rather feeble European immigrants in Mexico in the 1970s, we were constantly warned of the perils of the local water and of the dreadful gut-rot, Moctezuma's revenge, that would occur if we didn't exercise due viligence. So our first few years in Mexico were spent avoiding the water (although we never descended to the depths of some of ex-pats who used Coca Cola to brush their teeth), soaking salad vegetables in some solution that promised to zap any nasties and suffering annual bouts of week-long illnesses that went by the name 'Amoebas'.
Gradually our cleaning standards relaxed and became less Howard Hughes and more Kim and Aggie, our constitutions toughened and we learnt to embrace the fantastic foods Mexico had to offer. Towards the end of my days in Mexico I was scoffing avocados, chillies, tortillas, limes and coriander with the best of them although I never quite took to cactus.
And then I came to the UK in the 1980s only to discover that there were no avocados, chillies, tortillas, limes and coriander and I was back to square one.
Thankfully, over the last 20 years tastes and imports have broadened and it is possible to eat like a Mexican in the UK. Many restaurants purporting to be Mexican really offer more of a Tex-Mex cuisine, but Wahaca struck me as being the most authentically Mexican restaurant I have been to.
I made it to Wahaca on a Friday lunchtime. Although we were the only visitors at 12:15, by 12:30 the restaurant was almost full which was a promising sign.
As we had to slink back to work, we stuck to Diet Coke but let rip with the food. We started with Scratchings and Guacamole to nibble on. The Guacamole was fantastic: rather than the common thick, green goo that is often served, this comprised large chunks of avocado, coriander, tomato and chilli. The pork scratchings boasted they were lighter, healthier pork scratchings and proved great conveyors for the guacamole but perhaps stripping out some of the artery blocking elements had also stripped out some of their flavour.
For our main course, as there were so many dishes we wanted to try, we took the easy option of having the Wahaca selection. This was a very generous selection of 3 pork pibil tacos (fantastic), 3 spinach and feta tacos (6/10), 2 huitlacoche quesadillos (if I were Michael Winner I would say 'historic'), 2 mackerel tostadas (not my fave), 2 chicken taquitos (more Michael Winner 'historic') accompanied by green rice and beans. The beans were sublime: I would happily eat a huge bowl on their own.
I made a slight error when I underestimated the heat of the Habanero sauce and splashed a generous portion over my tacos. Its label boasted it was the food of the devil and it certainly burnt like hell.
The service was very attentive and quick which exactly suited the lunch time rush. I rather liked the trick whereby the placemat doubled as the menu and the waitress circled our choices on my menu in front of me. With our bill (a very reasonable £31.00 which included 2 capuccinos) came a book of matches. Rather retro in these anti-smoking times and the matches didn't look particularly good quality. Until the glasses went back on and we realised it was in fact a rather natty book of Habanero chilli seeds for us to plant at home.
I loved Wahaca. I would like to try visiting in the evening: I should imagine it would be a lively venue with all the Tequilas on offer and the buzzy music. And I might have another go at cactus, seeing as it is on the menu.
Caroline VilliersNovember 27, 2008