I’d heard so many mixed opinions about Wahaca. Back in March, it won ‘Best Cheap Place to Eat‘ award in the OFM but then I read mixed reviews and heard negative comments from friends and bloggers. Wahaca was opened by the 2005 Masterchef winner, Thomasina Myers dishing up Mexican market food – not up-market mexican food, which is what I keep writing. I took a long time to get there, but a few weeks ago a friend and I met at the market for a mid-week dinner.
First of all, I must mention that Wahaca has the strangest and most convoluted approach to people getting fed that I have ever come across. When you arrive, there will most likely be a queue, out the door and then down the stairs and into the restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind queueing (I am British after all) and I realise that often these queues move fast and are a good sign (think Tayyabs). When we get to the stairs stage however, a gentleman with a clipboard arrives and asks how many would like to eat. I (obviously), say two and he writes my name down on a list, telling me to come back in half an hour.
My friend arrives to meet me at this point, fresh from work and wet with rain, i.e. in need of a drink and some grub. I bring her up to speed and so we go for a drink nearby. When we return to the restaurant, the clipboard informs me we can now queue jump and so we do. This is a bit uncomfortable however, as the other people in the queue haven’t yet had their briefing and so are shooting us suspicious and disapproving glances.
I am glad to have my name located on the clipboard and we are ushered to sit down. Hurrah! Not at a table though (don’t be silly), it’s the waiting area! OK, so we sit and we talk and my friend gives me at least another three restaurants to add to the the list*. We are waiting for so long that we start getting twitchy and the clipboard notices and checks to confirm we want a table for 4/6/8 (I can’t remember), ‘no! (in unison), ‘just two!’ and with this, he finally beckons us in, much to the dismay of the two ladies behind us, whom he shoos back so that we can take their place.
Once inside, Wahaca has a good buzz about it. The mixture of music and voices is loud but creates a great atmosphere, the interior is modern, a bit canteeny but in a a colourful and happy kind of way. We sit down and are joined by a waitress who tell us that the dishes we order will arrive ‘as and when’ – we will not be getting everything we order at the same time, we will get it whenever each individual dish is ready. I start to think about the production line system they have going on here – I can visualise the Wahaca employees, whipping up batches of tostadas and burritos, passing them down to a holding area, where they sit, expectantly, waiting to be ordered. Numbed from the hassle of getting in, we smile and order margaritas.
I’d already looked at the menu (during the day, natch) and had clocked the hibiscus margarita, so I ordered that and my friend the tamarind. These margaritas are really very good actually. In the end I preferred the tamarind and my friend the hibiscus so for the next round we swap orders. The waitress gives us the wrong ones, so we swap again.
So, the food? Well, it depends – on what you order. If you opt for the dishes that are most ubiquitous at a Mexican restaurant, such as burritos, enchiladas – hell, anything beef based then you are in for an oily experience. I find this odd and wonder if this is my ignorance of Mexican food. Is it really supposed to be that oily? But then that is of no consequence really, bottom line is – not pleasant to eat. If you order the ‘lighter’ dishes, such as the fish tostadas, then I think it makes some good eatin. Is it really good enough though, to justify the hassle?
I ordered the cactus tostadas (great texture but a bit flavourless, still really enjoyable), the chorizo and potato quesadilla (delicious) and something beefy (oily as hell). My friend also found her cow-based dish swimming in the stuff. A green side salad was fine, it came with seeds, which I like and everything is accompanied by red and green salsas, which are really good actually, subtly punchy. We are too full for churros (I still wonder if this is possible?).
Throughout the night, I occasionally notice the apparently declining mental state of the clipboard, as he darts frantically from table to queue, to waiting area, to table, to queue etc. The rest of the staff seem busy and move around quickly, but they actually seem truly relaxed, like they are all enjoying some sort of holiday camp. The clipboard seems to be stressed enough for all of them. I wonder how long he’ll last?
So I’m mixed about Wahaca. On the one hand, the things I liked, I really liked. On the other, the staples are way too oily – imagine having to brief your dining partner/s on the oil problem beforehand – this would make for some tedious conversation I’m sure. Mostly though, it’s the entrance fiasco, which might be alright on a relaxed summer evening when the sun is shining and all is right with the world, but not so much on a rainy night in October when you’re aching for things to be easy and want to spend maximum time catching up with a friend (with whom you recently re-connected after, what, 10 years?! and she didn’t mind my taking photos). The way I’m feeling right now about Wahaca though, next summer will probably be about the time I can face going back….
66 Chandos Place
0207 240 1883
*I keep an ever growing list of restaurants, shops and other food related destinations as long as my arm, probably longer.
**This weeks Fast Food Stories is delayed, by a week! Largely due to me forgetting my camera and iphone pictures being rubbish.
***Wahaca have just opened a new branch at the Westfield shopping centre and, when I passed by a couple of weeks ago, it was completely empty. If you want an opportunity to judge the food independently of the entrance hassle, then this could be it.