Wahaca

Wahaca Table

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.

Wahaca Menu

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.

Margarita

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.

Tostados

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.

Quesadilla

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?).

Wahaca

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….

Wahaca

Wahaca
66 Chandos Place
Covent Garden
London
WC2N 4HG
coventgarden@wahaca.co.uk
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.

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Category: Restaurant Reviews 19 comments »

19 Responses to “Wahaca”

  1. Y

    Sounds like a disappinting experience. I wonder why it’s so full?

    Ys last blog post..P is for Pastry

  2. Bellini Valli

    Is it reasonably priced…maybe that is why people flock there to get a good bang for their buck. Montana’s is always full here and I can’t eat their food myself…I’d rather have small portions of excellent food.

    Bellini Vallis last blog post..Salsa Meatloaf

  3. Helen

    Yes, it is reasonably priced, although Mexican food is always fairly reasonable isn’t it? I don’t have much experience with it I’m afraid. Top marks Bellini valli for introducing me to the phrase, ‘good bang for their buck’ – fantastic!!

  4. Lizzie

    I’d agree with you; I didn’t have to queue as we got there at 6:30pm, but I found the food to be a bit… flacid. My arteries were unimpressed with me. I also expected their salsas to be a bit more fiery, but as I haven’t been to Mexico maybe I have a wrong idea of how it should be.

    Lizzies last blog post..Vietnamese Spicy Pork & Aubergine

  5. Helen

    Yeah, I never expect these things to be as spicy as I want them to be – I guess they are appealing to the masses. Flacid is definitely the right word for most of the food though, where were you when I was writing that post?!

  6. Gourmet Chick

    Interesting write up. I haven’t been there yet, but have to admit that when I was in Mexico I did find Mexican food a bit unhealthy – I may have been ordering the wrong things though as you say.

    Gourmet Chicks last blog post..The Oak

  7. Ginger

    I can’t believe the queing and disorganisation is still so bad. We attempted to go a couple of times when it first opened but gave up. We did succeed in the end but were really disappointed with the food, we all thought it was oily, bland and lacking in any heat. I thought it might have improved by now though.

    Gingers last blog post..Crunchy Chicken Breasts

  8. amanda

    i don’t think i would trust a mexican restaurant that phonetically spells it’s name! too funny that the place is named wahaca rather than oaxaca.

    amandas last blog post..Leftover Turkey Recipes: Turkey and Roasted Poblano Enchiladas Verdes

  9. Antonia

    Sounds like a disappointing experience – I think I’ll save myself the the trouble of the queue. Thanks for the interesting write-up!

    Antonias last blog post..Sticky sausage casserole

  10. Food Network Shows

    An interesting review on Wahaca. Thank for posting.

    Julia

  11. Helen

    Gourmet Chick – Yes, I just don’t knopw that much about it I’m afraid. If it is meant to be that oily then I guess it’s just not for me.
    Ginger – Oh yes, still exactly the same. It really doesn’t seem worth the hassle of getting in does it?
    Amanda – I know, perhaps they thought we couldn’t cope? I’ve seen a Quinoa stall called ‘keenwah’ too.
    Antonia – Don’t bother, it’s not worth it. Unless you like really oil food, of course..

  12. Flynn

    Mexican food is always oily. Don’t know why but it is.

    I grew up in San Francisco in the Mission, a neighborhood well known for its Mexican immigrants and its taquerias, and this is the best place in London by a mile for that experience. It’s not perfect, mind. I applaud locally sourcing food but the Devon chilies were pathetically weak. Back home a dab of hot sauce on anything will make my eyes water, while I could have drank this hot sauce from the bottle with no ill effects. That comparative lack of spice hurt the overall meal – Mexican food is bloody spicy on principle. And it is kind of an oxymoron to claim to present Mexican street food in elegant little plates painstakingly arranged for maximum aesthetic pleasure.

    But…

    The price was right – it’s Mexican street food and Mexico is a poor country. I like this, both as a student and as someone familiar with Mexican food. This place is basically a taqueria, and taquerias are basically Mexican chippies. I’ve heard La Taqueria might be more authentic, but at six pounds for two tacos I’m not willing to try.

    The tortilla chips were excellent and my burrito was expertly made – cheese melted just right, a good distribution of black beans and rice, and this delicious slow roasted pork. This place may need some help with the spices but they sure do slow-roast meats like a proper Mexican taqueria.

    I suppose the best way to put it is I’m going home for Chrimbo in a few days, and I’m still thinking about how can I go back and have some more..

    Lastly, skip the queues and go to Westfield. Much easier.

  13. jonny-boy

    Agree with Flynn, Wahaca is an excellent idea and a great place to eat, Actual Mexican “Market” food is on the greasy side, but I feel this adds to the authenticity of the dishes here. If you want healthy, don’t chose Authentic Mexican!
    They also are one of the very few places in London that do a really good (In Winter) Chicken Mole, plus the menus change with the seasons.
    OK spices aren’t Firey-hot as good Mexican habanero based sauces are, but this is London, and the Brit palate is mild… Yes queuing is a hassle, but get there early and no probs.
    I personally would not hesitate to recommend to any-one who’s looking for an (almost) authenic Mexcian experience, and we try to go everytime we’re in Covent-Garden! And really Amanda if how the name’s spelt is how you critique somewhere, shame…

  14. Helen

    Well it seems that it is my ignorance of Mexican food then – I didn’t realise the beef dishes were supposed to be so oily. Don’t get me wrong though, I am not concerned about eating fat – just look at the recipes on my blog. I just found the oilyness a bit unpleasant but I am willing to give Wahaca another go. I really enjoyed the other dishes I ordered and I may try the Westfield one next time instead – anyone been?

  15. Jennie

    If you want really good food go to the real Oaxaca city, and search for el teatro culinario restaurant, tiny portions but it may be the best restaurant in mexico and real oaxacan ingredients! http://www.elteatroculinario.com check their gallery!

  16. Kbm

    I’ve been to wahaca. I’m a vegetarian and a big fan of Mexico and Mexican food. Their totilla soup was really good — excellent. Hoever I did find their tortillas and fried taquitos reallllly oily. I’ve had food in Mexico several and it’s never been oily. It is fatty and cheesy yes but never coated with oil!! (I don’t know about beef/non vegetarian though) I did not like the ambience it’s like a canteeny bland setup trying to be wagamama. Lacks colour and a buzz!

  17. SS

    Just order the tasting platter for two, everything is great, very fresh tastes (not oily and stogdy) and for 20 quid easy on the budget. Also go to the canary wharf one instead, about 6 times the size – no queue (on a week night anyway) and great atmosphere. Some of the best mexican I’ve eaten – have tried a lot.

  18. Gaurav

    hey, i was at Wahaca on one of my trips to London.. had an amazing evening where pretty much everyone i knew in London ended up dining with us. the food was okay. little write up is http://eatingoutinbombay.blogspot.in/2009/04/london-eats-part-1.html

  19. Flor

    Hi, thank you for the review. I would just like to add a bit to the discussion. First, I think there’s a misunderstanding about Mexican food and Mexico in general. First, Mexico is not a poor country. 60% of the population is poor… I grant that but the country is the 13th largest economy in the world. Anyway, being a “poor country” does not necessarily mean that your food is “cheap” or for “poor people”. Some of the basic ingredients of Mexican food like corn or chilli are quite affordable. However, as every cuisine, Mexican food can be quite sophisticated and very expensive indeed.
    Another misunderstanding is that Mexican places in the US are “authentic”. Like everything else, you can find amazing places (if you are in NY visit Rosa Mexicano) or very crappy places of greasy fast food full of beans and sour cream.
    I’m not a Mexican food connoisseur but I can tell you that although many of the traditional food is high in fat as frying is one of the preferred techniques, if your food is oily, it just wasn’t properly cooked. Think about a good platter of fish and chips: you know the cod and the chips are fried and therefore are fatty, but they can be delicious and crispy or oily and soggy… with Mexican food is the same.
    There are however many very healthy Mexican dishes. For instance one of the preferred Mexican street food is veggies and fruit with lime and chilli. As simple and as healthy as that!
    About Wahaca… I must say is one of my preferred places in London. So far is one of the most authentic places I’d found outside Mexico and the US. This is not to say however, that the food is exactly served as it would in Mexico. Servings are small and everything is less spicy than it normally would, adapted to British taste.
    Personally, I always enjoy the pork pibil tacos and a glass of horchata. Both taste exactly like the stuff you would find in a good Mexican restaurant, however I agree that the taquitos are a bit greasy and not particularly good and the quesadillas are bland.
    I’ve been to the Covent Garden branch a few times, most of them have been great. I’ve only had a not so good experience when I went with a party of around 30 people. Service was a mess, they mixed up the orders, wanted us to charge for stuff we didn’t order and they charged us for the water!! Yes, still water for around £1.50 a jug…
    However, my new favourite is the place in Charlotte Street. You’ll find the same menu but now they have a torta and taco place. I’d tried the chorizo torta last week and it was good but tiny and in the end wasn’t good value for money. They also seem to have the same problem of communication between the waitresses and the kitchen because they brought us one order twice.


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