“ Address: 66 Chandos Place / Covent Garden / London WC2N 4HG „
We visited Wahaca with my daughter as she has been and liked it. She knows we always like to try new places to eat.
Unfortunately they don't take bookings so when it is very busy you can sometimes have to wait for quite long periods which can be annoying.
The place is pretty big and we were shown to a table deep in the heart of the restaurant right at the back. From the street it doesn't look that big and when you walk down th steps the small bar areas is where you can wait and enjoy a drink if you have to wait for a table. The bar was rammed when we went to we left and came back a bit later.
The restaurant was started by one of the winners of Masterchef some years back and she was inspired by her time in Mexico to start this restaurant. Since then there have been several others open in London. We went to the Covent garden place but you can have the same food in these locations Bluewater, Canary Wharf, Charlotte St, Covent Garden, Islington, Soho, Southbank, St. Paul's, Stratford, Waterloo, White City, Mexican Street Kitchen.
The menu is huge and had plenty of choice of freshly cooked small taster type plates. We must have ordered about ten of the little taster dishes between us. Every single one was delicious and on each plate was just enough for us each to have a bit of a taste. These are from the Street food section and it is a great way to try lots of tastes. It also means that if you don't like one so much you don't end up with a whole plate of something you are not so keen on. They also do larger main meals but this gave us the chance to sample more different dishes. The dishes vary in price but are around £4 each on average . They say that two to three per person is plenty and we found that we had more than enough with ten between the four of us.
The servers were busy and yet managed to keep stuff coming as well as checking if we wanted more drinks and so on. The décor was Mexican, it looked chunky and typically Mexican with heavy chairs and tiled floors. Although the place is huge it is not all one large room, there ar different levels and dividing walls so that you don't feel you are eating in a barn.
This is not a place you would go for a quiet romantic dinner but if you like a busy atmosphere and Mexican food that is a bit different from the usual Tex Mex offerings we have become used to then this is a great place to eat.
I can't remember precicelty what we ate but I do remember it was all good and not a crumb was left on our dishes when they came to clear them away.
The drinks served do include Mexican beer which is a plus and of course you can enjoy a number of different tequila based cocktails amongst others. We stuck with beer as we were heading homewards and had to negotiate buses and I can't handle too much excitement (alcohol) any more.
I did have to try a dessert though as I have a sweet tooth, my daughter joined me while the men folk had another beer each. I was tempted by the churros or the Chocolate tart but opted in the end for the salted caramel ice cream as I do love ice cream and this was not a disappointment 0 really yummy. My daughter had the churros which were also nice but I am glad I went for the icecream as it was tasty and refreshing.
I would go back again but wish they would take bookings. Next time we will go on an evening that is not Saturday or Friday night and we will maybe not have to wait so long. I am sure they have thought out the lack of booking but it does rather put me off. I would have thought if they said they would hold a table for a maximum of five minutes they wouldn't lose any custom by booking.
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I'm a big fan of Thomasina Miers: for those who don't know, she's a former Masterchef winner who went on to present a couple of her own television series (including the recent 'Mexican Made Simple' which is a really good show and sadly lost in the murk of Channel 5) and to open a small chain of restaurants in London serving predominantly street food from Mexico; I say predominantly because Wahaca serves a selection of more substantial main course dishes in addition to the smaller, tapas style dishes which form the mainstay of the offering. It's taken me a while to get there but I've finally been to Wahaca; pronounced 'Wa-haka' the name is an Anglicisation, or an easy to pronounce version, of Oaxaca, a province of Mexico.
I was a little sceptical when I learned that there are now a few branches of Wahaca, especially when I found out that some of them are in glorified shopping centres (I despise these places with a passion). However, I've always admired in Thomasina her passion for good fresh, seasonal ingredients and an almost unrivalled knowledge - at least in the UK - of Mexican cooking and its key ingredients so I was willing to keep an open mind.
We visited the branch on Chandos Place at Covent Garden, arriving just after the opening time of noon on a January Sunday. There's no reservations system which I think is great as we had only decided on Wahaca two days earlier and might well have been disappointed had we had to book if the busy-ness of the restaurant on the day of our visit is anything to go by. The entrance is on street level but the restaurant itself is one floor down. It's a big place but the space is broken quite nicely so it doesn't feel too vast and impersonal. The tables are on different levels too which also helps create a more friendly atmosphere and prevents the place looking like a giant works canteen.
The furniture is simple; a mixture of plain wooden tables and some wooden chairs, as well as stone benches with inlaid cushions. Our table was wobbly but we hardly noticed such was our delight with the food.
We were greeted by the Wahaca equivalent of the maitre'd who asked us to wait a couple of minutes then led us to a table. The kitchen is semi open and you can see the chefs placing food at the pass above which are several screens; I presume that each screen was a diagram of an area of the restaurant, covered by one waiter or waitress and the diagram could show where there were free tables. By checking the screens before seating new diners, the 'modern maitre d'' could be sure to be spreading diners around fairly among the waiters. The staff are all youthful (but not really young, old enough to have waiting experience and common sense), enthusiastic and really friendly. Our waiter asked if we'd been to Wahaca before then quickly outlined how to choose from the menu. We'd decided we wanted to try as much as possible so choose only from the smaller dishes; 2-3 dishes per person are recommended and all the dishes are perfect for sharing so it's easy to try a bit of everything without having to carve things up. The tapas style dishes are priced around £3.60 to £3.95.
We ordered chips and salsa to nibble while we perused the menu. The big tortilla chips were freshly made and very, very good. The tomato salsa looked brilliantly colourful and tasted fresh and zingy with a decent kick. The presentation was excellent: the chips were served in a small metal bucket while the coriander flecked salsa was served in a small stone bowl.
Our drinks came with the chips and salsa. Himself ordered a Pacifico Clara, a Mexican beer that we've had before and that is becoming more common in the UK, and I ordered a tamarind margarita. My cocktail was excellent. The sweet tamarind was not lost among the tequila and lime but neither did it spoil the kick a good margarita should have. The glass had been given a chilli and sugar rim and this was very fiery making the drink a real winner for me. Water was offered and we could choose between bottled or tap water.
In a Countdown style we chose two from the first section and three other dishes. They do offer a set selection of five dishes for £19.95 but they are interchangeable so we made our own selection. The food was brought as it was ready which meant that none of our food had a chance to get cold. First up were the tacos; we'd ordered two kinds, one with pork pibil and pickled red onions, the other with savoy cabbage and borlotti beans and sprinkled with a crumbly white cheese. Both were excellent and each dish comprised three soft corn tortillas. The pork was slow cooked and shredded, dripping with paprika tinted oil which I managed to get all over my chin. The strips of pickled red onion, now a lovely shade of pink were wonderful: in the pickling the onion had lost its harshness but still had plenty of flavour. The other taco was a seasonal variation; I was unsure about the use of savoy cabbage in this dish but decided to try it anyway out of curiosity: it was certainly worth it. It had been stewed so that it was soft but still had some texture and the creamy borlotti beans were fabulous. The crumbled cheese over the top was a good contrast for the beans and cabbage, giving a sharp element to the dish.
Next up were the cheese and black bean quesadillas. A quesadilla is a sandwich of two tortillas with a filling, in this case cheese and frijoles or refried beans. While this was tasty enough I would have liked it a bit hotter. The quesadillas were good but not great.
Our final two choices arrived at the same time. There were two chicken filled tacquitos served with a lively tomato salsa and Mexican 'crema', and two colourful herring tostadas. The taquitos were rolled into a narrow cigar shape and broke with a satisfying crunch. I really liked this one but Himself found it a bit dry. The taquitos were served with crisp shredded lettuce and sprinkled with grated Lancashire cheese. I do think the use of British ingredients in the dishes at Wahaca is great, proving that you don't necessarily need to traipase around sourcing authentic ingredients to make really good Mexican food at home.
A tostada is a dry fried tortilla and these ones were perfectly crisp as a tostada should be. They were topped with shredded lettuce and then the smoked herring mixture in which the fish had been mixed with a red salsa. With the addition of a quick squeeze of lime these were really delicious.
There are two Wahaca branded sauces available on the table and if you feel inclined you can buy your own to take away with you (I overheard a waiter tell someone that they are both priced at £4.00). I didn't much feel the need to add extra sauces to my plates but Himself is a chilli fiend and can't see a chilli sauce without trying it and added copious amounts to several of his plates. As it happens neither sauce was outrageously hot but both we very flavoursome.
The waiter made one checkback during the meal but I noticed that all of the waiting staff were alert to the needs of customers. There was minimal chatting among the staff and the emphasis was very much on good service. Our plates were cleared regularly as we finished each dish which was appreciated as the tables are not large.
I couldn't come away without trying a pudding and there were several I really fancied. In the end I plumped for the dulce de leche ice cream which is a salted caramel ice cream (dulce de leche is similar to what you get when you boil a tin of condensed milk when making a banoffee pie). It was served with generous shaving of bitter Valrhona chocolate. It was a nice touch that when it came it was with two spoons. (I really wanted to take home one of these cute and chunky little Wahaca branded orange plastic spoons!) This was among the best ice cream I've ever eaten; full of deep caramel flavour but also just salty enough to give it a grown up edge. When the waiter asked if we'd enjoyed it I asked if I could get some more to take home.
I can say very little to criticise Wahaca. If I was going to complain it would be that the tables are quite close together and warn that if you're going on a weekend lunch time you're very likely to find the place rammed with kids. (The positive spin is that of the two families that we seated beside us while we were there, the American one was wonderful entertainment. "Can you say guacamole, Alxander? Can you say oesophagus, Alexander?" "No to both, I'm two years old at the very most") For those people who do want to spoil the experience for others and flaunt their fertility, you might be interested to know that while Wahaca don't do dishes specifically for children, there are a few dishes they are happy to make less spicy if your offspring prefers that. Although Alexander is not yet able to express it verbally, he did appear to enjoy his chicken.
The bill for all those lovely food, a cocktail and a beer came to £35 which we thought was more than reasonable, more so considering our location. Even a baguette in a London pub can be pricy so getting such great food for what we paid is really quite a bargain.
If it wasn't for the fact that London is full of great restaurants to try I'd go back to Wahaca like a shot. Please Thomasina, open one somewhere in northern England!
ABOUT THE RESTAURANT
Wahaca is a chain of London restaurants that serve Mexican 'street food'. They offer a range of different mini dishes, where you can order 2 or 3 each and share them amongst your group or have them to yourself! And some main courses where you don't need to worry about sharing! (I love my food and don't like to share!).
MY INTRODUCTION TO WAHACA
The Covent Garden branch of Wahaca is nearest to my work, which is why I come here the most (even though the Soho branch has a Mojito bar!). I was introduced to the chain by my previous boss, who took me here one lunch and ordered half the menu!
If any friends say they fancy a Mexican meal, I'll always try and steer them here rather than anywhere else. I'll go into detail as to why in my own thoughts section of the review!
The Covent Garden branch of Wahaca is very accessible for anyone in Central London. Your best option would be a tube to either Covent Garden tube station, or Charing Cross tube station. It's about a 5 minute walk from either of those, and a 2 minute walk from the main 'market' section of Covent Garden.
If that location isn't convenient enough, check Wahaca's website since there are 3 or 4 more branches in London.
A meal at Wahaca can work out quite cheaply. If you go for the street food option of ordering 2 to 3 small dishes per person, you'd be spending about £10 per head on food. The small dishes are £3 to £4 each.
A cheaper option is to stick to a main course as these vary between £6 and £9.
You can of course order a variety of side dishes (rice, coleslaw, potatoes) costing between £2 and £3 each.
Drinks are pretty standard in price and a soft drink such as a fresh fruit juice will cost you a couple of pounds. You can have a Mexican beer for around £4, or a cocktail for £5 something.
Last but not least, desserts are around £3 something each, and coffees around £2 each!
So you're looking at around £10 to £15 per head, depending on what you order. Not too bad for Central London, although obviously not the cheapest around.
A SUMMARY OF MY MOST RECENT WAHACA VISIT
I came to this branch of Wahaca around two weeks ago. It was a friend's birthday and I know she loves Mexican food. I was pleased to be able to show off my inside knowledge of where's good to eat, and knew that if you like Mexican food in general, you'd find it very difficult not to like Wahaca!
As I suspected, everyone loved their meal!
We arrived at the Covent Garden branch around 6pm on a Friday. Booking isn't necessary and we were shown to a table immediately. The waiter was a little confused about a 4th guest joining our table who was running a bit late. He did try and get us to wait at the bar, but we assured him he wouldn't be long! We were then shown to a 4 seat table without any fuss.
The table formations are quite well thought out, not too near the next group, which I find is a common issue in busy Central London restaurants. We were seated on a table with chairs one side, and a comfy looking bench the other. As a pregnant lady I can get a bit achey sitting in a hard chair for a while, so I headed straight for the cushioned bench seating! The other chairs looked a bit uncomfortable, although my friends that sat there had no complaints!
We were sat quite near the kitchen, which is open plan, so you can see the food being prepared and get to eye up all the dishes going onto the serving hatch while you wait for your own!
Before we ordered, our waiter explained how the Wahaca dining experience worked, and gave us all a briefing on the street food menu and how you could order a couple of little dishes, or one main course. He then left us the menus and put some pots of chili sauces on our table.
We chose our drinks next as our 4th guest had arrived. My friends had Coronas which were £3.60 each, and I had a Citrus Fizz at £1.55. It's pretty much a mojito without the rum. Still very yummy!
Next was the all important main course chosing! From my previous visits, I knew that my favourite dish was the pork pilpil - slow cooked pork all chopped up into little bits in a delicious (but hard to describe!) marinade! For this reason I chose a main course to myself, the Pork Torta at £6.50, which is as great big Mexican style sandwich with guacamole, beans and salad.
My friends opted for 2 dishes each from the street food menu, and chose a selection of tortillas, tacos, quesadillas with fillings such as slow cooked pork, chicken and refried beans. They also had a few sides such as little fried potato cubes and Mexican green rice.
The waiter took our orders, and helpfully explained what each chili sauce was like in terms of hotness and what sort of meat it complimented.
When our food arrived I was very excited with my Pork Torta! It was piled heavily with yummy slow cooked pork! And the size of the bun it was in was impressive too! I wasn't worried that I hadn't ordered any sides! The flavour is amazing - some sort of delicious barbeque taste that I could never recreate at home! The guacamole and beans weren't overpowering or noticeable really, which was a relief for me because I'm not a great fan of either!
My friends loved their dishes too, and were impressed with the sizes. They all agreed that 2 street food dishes each was more than enough. We love to eat, so I think they expected the sizes to be on the small side. They really weren't! The tacos for example, you get 3 good sized ones in your one portion. The portions of rice appeared to be small, in ramekin dishes, but you didn't seem to need a lot as my friends couldn't eat it all.
We didn't have dessert on this occasion, and I was sad to see that the chili chocolate icecream that I had adored in the past had been taken off the menu! If the standard of it is anything to go by, the other desserts should be equally good though!
Wahaca is a great place to pop into if you're looking for a quick bite to eat in London. We were in and out within an hour or so, not that we were rushed in the slightest.
If you enjoy Mexican food, I really can't see you not enjoying this restaurant!
And be sure to help yourself to what look like books of matches by the entrance! They're actually little packs of chili seeds that you can grow at home! :)
My favourite Mexican food place in London, and probably one of my favourite chain restaurants too. 5 out of 5 from me! Although I considered deducting a star for the removal of the lovely chili chocolate icecream from the menu! :)
I visited this restaurant last week with a mate and have to say it was not as bad as some reviews i've had from family but not as good as some of the reviews i've read also.
Located on Chandos Place, just off of Covent Garden main square its a great location for transport within an easy 5 minute walk of Charing Cross tube and mainline, as well as Embankment, Leicester Square and Covent Garden Tubes, the place is in a basement and down a flight of stairs but is well signposted and generally has a myriad of people hanging about outside.
This was fine, we had gone in their as my mate said he had a crush on one of the waitresses but she wasn't there, our waiter was helpful and efficient although I did find it offputting that staff were milling around chatting and playfighting, this isn't what I want to see while eating, but the service itself was fine and that incident didn't involve our waiter who was exemplary.
The place looks nice with a good selection of Cantina style tables, it is stylish in a minimalist way and very colourful, much like the food, the place is buzzing and its the second time i've visited and this time we didn't have to book which was good.
The food has been sold as Mexican Street Food and it does have a wide array of Tacos, Burritos and Mexican fare with wildly exotic ingredients, my one issue with the food is that in Mexico when you eat, you really eat, the food is heavy and filling and in big portions, this was nicely flavoured with a reasonable selection, but didn't fill me up and was a tad dainty for my liking, I prefer real cuisine from the country where they fill you till you'll burst.
We had the Wahaca selection for 2 for £19.99 which consisted of:
3 pork pibil tacos
2 broad bean quesadillas
3 chicken mole tacos
2 black bean tostadas
2 new potato taquitos
with green rice and black beans
This sounds a lot but the portions were tiny and I still wanted more afterwards, the food tasted good, was nicely spiced and felt authentic but I think the need for more says more about me being a pig than about the restauant itself.
Overall a decent experience at a fairly good price, but it was missing something real and authentic that a few other Mexican restaurants in the area have, they have the chaotic authentic feel, while this does feel a tad clinical.
There was a good selection of dishes for vegetarians and a nice selection of mexican beers and local speciality drinks, I had a sweet milk which helped take the edge off a few beers earlier in the evening.
Overall I would say the food has a lot of style and taste but just lacks on quantity.
I arranged to meet a friend here for dinner a couple of Friday nights ago - I had been previously to the one in Canary Wharf, and we had made plans to go out in Covent Garden afterwards, so I thought this was worth a shot. I had called beforehand to make reservations, but they don't take them.
We arrived at 7.00pm, thinking it was well before the dinner rush hour (or after, if we were going to compete with those going to the theater). We were told that it would be a 2.5 hour wait for a table (for 2). We had not seen each other for a while, so we took up their offer to get a bottle of wine at the bar and catch up while we waited for our table.
They did not disappoint with the 2.5 hour wait! We ended up being seated by 9.30pm. The bottle of wine lasted us that long, though, and curiously, our dinner seemed much improved for it! Luckily, neither of us were very hungry, so we were able to sustain the wait, but don't even try it if you're hoping to be in and out within an hour or so.
We had no trouble getting drinks at the bar, and even when busy, there was a lot of place to sit and talk. So, despite the wait, I'd go back - especially as the entire meal (drinks and everything) only set us back about 15 quid each!
First things first, this place gets very busy indeed. So be prepared to come along, give your names and then have to come back in around 1 - 2 hours - and that's just fitting in a table for 2 of us. You'll also often be sat right next to others, so if you want space, this won't be the place for you. I have been told they don't take bookings over the phone so you will need to turf up in person to get a table.
We've (my wife and I) been a couple of times, which I guess is a good sign in that we came back, and we would go again.
The first occasion we didn't quite realise how things worked, so tried to order starter then main, but they make it clear that food is brought out as it's cooked, which is fine once you're used to that.
On the first occasion we had a selection of quesadillas as "starters" and then a chicken and a steak burrito each for a "main". The food was fresh, the level of spicing just right - I prefer food spicier than my wife but we were both happy and the bottles of hot pepper sauce on the tables give some more kick if required. Both the chicken and the beef were well cooked and not overdone. Side salads were fresh and the guacamole nice and limey.
On the second visit, we opted for a selction of "street foods" to share, 3 dishes each, although I probably had about 4 to my wife's 2 in the end. Best were the pork pibil tacos and the chicken taquito, although we weren't hugely keen on the beef tostada (intentionally served cold). The green rice didn't add much either. Again, the level of hotness was just right for us.
We've not made it to desserts so can't comment on those.
There's a good selection of Mexican beers. We've not tried the wine as we don't generally go for wine when having spicy food. There's also a decent selection of cocktails in the bar area, although the bar is quite small and gets very full with people waiting for their tables.
Both meals came to between £30 - 40 for 2 with a couple of beers. I can't recall if service was included as standard or not - it was quick but friendly despite how busy the place was.
Wahaca is one of my favourite restaurants and I often visit the Covent Garden branch, and it's sister in Canary Wharf.
Wahaca is a Mexican restaurant, particularly specialising in 'Mexican Market Eating,' which is essentially Mexican food, served tapas-style. It also does main courses, but the street food is what it is famous for.
The restaurant itself is not unlike Wagamamas, indeed they have modelled their approach on forementioned. The food is brought out to you when it is ready, so you may receive dishes at different times, they do not take bookings and during very busy periods, you may end up sharing a large table with another party - although they do seat you at opposite ends.
I find the staff to be friendly, up for a bit of a joke, helpful and attentive. I have been to both branches on a few occasions and some of the waiters have even remembered me - which goes a long way!
Most importantly now, onto the review of the food. I have said previously that although they do main courses, the street food is what they are really famous for, and indeed, this is what I would recommend. They also have a selection of sides, nibbles to begin with and desserts. The drinks menu has a selection of beers, a good selection of various tequilla drinks, cocktails and softdrinks. I highly recommend their Magheritas - absolutely delicious, although you have to request a straw, if you want one. Perhaps part of the money saving?
Whenever I visit, I always order guacamole and tortilla chips. Both are made fresh - not sure how true this is for the tortilla chips, but they are extremely more-ish. The guacamole is absolutely delicious, well seasoned with chunks of tomato. If you are going with a friend, I guarantee that one portion will not be enough - you will need at least two. The salsa is too tangy for my tastes, however I am not a big fan of spicy food, ironic when you think how much I like Mexican food. Dishes of salsa for dipping are provided anyway, if you order tortilla chips, so I would shy away from ordering this and order the guacamole for the variation. I am yet to try the pork scratchings, but they are on my list!
When you come to make your selection for street food, I would choose two dishes and a side, or three dishes per person, although if you're like me, it's entirely possible to polish off far more! The tacos are of the 'soft type' as opposed to the American-style hard shells, which I was pleased with. You won't be disapointed with the grilled British-steak, salsa and cheese variation on this. I'm not convinced the steak is grilled - I think it is fried, so this is misleading, but it is very tasty, the cheese taking away some of the 'tang' of the salsa, leaving a lovely blend of flavours. I also strongly recommend the cheese and black bean quesadillas - my favourite Wahaca dish. You will receive two of these toasted flour tortillas, folded up on a plate. They are loaded down with melted cheese, which complements the black beans so beautifully. These are very filling and warming - and also easy to eat without making a mess!
I am still working my way through the street-foods, but these are the two I would recommend the most. The chicken taquito, though occasionally chewy, is another tasty, crunchy contender. Please be advised though that although Wahaca do indicate if something is spicey - please ask if you are not sure by the strengths. I had a nasty shock when I ordered the Pork Pibil taco - I thought my head had been blown off! Serves me right for not checking, but be aware!
The side dishes are very small, so these are not suitable for sharing. The frijoles (refried black beans) with chorizo are fantastic - the chorizo diced up finely and surprising you every now and then when you take a bite.
With regards to the main dishes, I have only chosen from this once as I love the variation of the street food. The classic enchilada is very tasty, however I would order a side, or some street food to go with it. The smell is divine and the chicken delicious, but be advised it has got a kick to it!
The pudding menu is small, with most people ranting about the churros y chocolate - mexican style doughnuts with chocolate to dip in. I have tried this and I'm sorry to say this is one of the things on the menu I really don't like. I know the churros are deep fried, but to me, it's like eating pure batter dipped into chocolate. They are greasy and I swear I could feel my skin breaking out immediately! Instead, I recommend the chilli chocolate ice-cream. Although I'm not a fan of hot food, I love ice-cream and I love chilli-chocolate and the warmness of the chilli was an interesting contrast to the coldness of the ice-cream. The chocolate flavour was rich and the tingling of the tongue from the chilli was not unpleasant.
I always follow up with their Chilli Chocolate Tequilla Toddy - a real treat! Once again, the chocolate is flavoured with chilli and it is a very rich and creamy shot of hot chocolate, with tequilla - destined to completely clear any sinuses and warm you up on a cold day. It's just like drinking rich, melted chocolate with a kick of chilli and the tequilla taste flowing through as you swallow. Absolutely delicious.
Wahaca does have it's bad points, for example it can get very busy and it sometimes feels like you're sitting on top of people and sometimes the food isn't piping hot. But at £3-4 per item of street food and £2-3 per side, it's not going to break the bank and the food is delicious. Definately a sociable place to go with friends before going on for some drinks - but try to get there at opening times to avoid a queue.
Covent Garden: 66, Chandos Place, WC2N 4HG. 020 7240 1883
Canary Wharf: Park Pavillion, 40 Canada Square, E14 5FW. 020 7516 9145
We went here based on the solid reviews in Time Out and other local magazines and the promise that this was something new for Mexican food in London, unfortunately I wish we'd contacted them in advance as their website advised that their chef would deal with individual eater requirements and take these into account, perhaps we misread it but having travelled up to London on a 3 hour journey for a day trip, we found the place disappointing.
Where is it?
Its based on Chandos Place, its about a minutes walk from the Covent Garden main square and is around 4 minutes walk from Embankment and Charing Cross tube and railway stations, its brightly coloured and you enter and walk down stairs to the main eating area.
The main eating area is fine its not as funky as the website or design outside would have you believe though.
There is a decent selection of regional Mexican market foods, when we visited we ordered a selection of tacos which looked interesting as well as a Mole and some Quesadilla's. Unfortunately one of our party has an allergy to Olive Oil, so we asked if her food could be cooked in Corn Oil or something similar just to avoid her getting sick, hearing the hype we presumed they would be able to do this, but they were totally inflexible and in the end as they said everything on the menu was cooked with Olive Oil, we decided to go elsewhere, it was disappointing as we'd sat at a table for over 7 minutes waiting for a waiter, we headed off to Cafe Pacifico a Mexican restaurant nearby without the hype and they were more than happy to meet our request.
The menu at Wahaca looked interesting, the meals did look small on other diners plates and the drinks menu wasn't overwhelming, its nicely designed but service wasn't fast and we were disappointed by the attitude following good reports on websites.
I would love to say my experience had been better, but we're going to try Green and Red next time as they've confirmed they can cater for an allergy too. Overall it seemed to me to be a nice little restaurant let down by a bit of inflexibility.
Last night I went to Wahaca with three of my friends, as two of them had eaten there before and raved about the place.
About the restaurant:
Wahaca is a Mexican restaurant opened by Tomasina/Tommi Miers, winner of Masterchef in 2005. I didn't actually watch that series of Masterchef, but I saw her TV series "The Wild Gourmets" and "A Cook's Tour of Spain". I was really impressed by her passion for food and cooking so I was really excited at the prospect of eating at Wahaca, where she is the executive chef and co-owner.
Wahaca opened in Covent Garden in July 2007 and sells itself as a place to eat authentic Mexican food. It is a funky 140-seat basement restaurant with a canteen style and the décor is colourful and unpretentious.
Getting in the door
My friends who had dined there before said it wasn't possible to book a table, so as it was a Friday night we arrived quite early at 6.15pm hoping to get a table quite quickly. I noticed a sandwich board placed outside the restaurant with the boast of Winner, Best Cheap Eat The Observer Food Monthly Awards 2008, which is possibly one of the reasons for the long queue as we dived in through the front door to escape the rain.
The queue seemed to move quite quickly down the stairs towards the Front of House person, who looked like he'd been sucking on a lemon for a week and had the surly attitude to match his sour face. We told him we wanted a table for 4 and he asked us if all of our party were actually in the restaurant and we said yes. So he begrudgingly took our name and added us to the long list of people waiting for tables on his clipboard and he told us it would be about a 20-25 minute wait. My friend had warned me that they have a policy of not adding groups to the list if not everyone in your group is actually on the premises.
The long wait:
We were given a table pager and waited by the bar with about 30-40 other people who were waiting for a table. Luckily there were some seats so my friends and I chatted away and as I hadn't seen one of them for years, we had a lot to catch up on and I didn't notice that 45 minutes had gone by. We then went to see how much longer we'd have to wait and luckily this prompted them to get us a table, however it was table for 10 people and we would have to share it with a group of 4 other girls. This didn't bother us in the slightest as it was a big table in the corner and there was plenty of room.
Time to order:
Our waitress came over almost as soon as we were seated and asked us if we were ready to order. We'd hardly looked at the vast menu, so we asked for more time but we did order some drinks. These came quickly but then again we didn't order anything complicated like cocktails, just tap water and a couple of fruit juices. The juices were £2.75 each and for that price I expected a freshly squeezed Apple and Raspberry Juice, but to my disappointment it was out of a glass bottle. It wasn't bad, just nothing spectacular.
The menu is written on a paper place mat and just like at Wagamamas the waiter/waitress note down what you order, which is handy as sometimes it's difficult to remember what you ordered by the time they bring the food!
The Menu & what we ate:
The menu is split into the following sections:
* Drinks and Nibbles
* Street Food, small plates of Tachos, Tostadas, Quesadillas or Taquitos
* Soup and Salads
* Platos fuertes, which are bigger plates of food
The Street Food dishes cost between £3-£4 and are designed to be eaten like Tapas, where you order a few dishes and share between friends (or gorge on them all yourself!).
The Platos fuertes cost no more than £10, but the portions aren't very big so my friends advised ordering a main meal plus a plate of Street Food. So I ordered a Char-grilled Steak Burrito (£6.25) and I was given the option to add cheese, which I did for an extra 40p. However, when I tasted it I regretted adding the cheese as it had such an overpowering flavour that I couldn't taste the Chipotle salsa & grilled spring onions that were supposed to be in the burrito. The steak was nicely cooked medium-rare and seasoned with lots of black pepper, but there wasn't much evidence of it being char-grilled. This main meal came with tortilla chips, which they claim are freshly-made but they're really nothing to write home about.
The Chipotle Chicken Quesadilla (£3.75) was a huge disappointment, as I expected it to be spicy from the chipotle (smoked jalapeno pepper), but instead it just tasted of cheese and there was hardly any chicken in it. The horribly sweet tomato marinade was an insipid pink colour and it looked like someone had thrown-up into a tortilla, it was so unappetising!
Such a shame:
My biggest grievance with the food was that everything arrived luke-warm, which I hate as I like my food to be piping hot. Judging by the speed at which it came to the table, I suspect hardly anything is freshly cooked and I can just imagine a big fast-food production line in the kitchen.
They have adopted the Wagamama style of saying that "the food will be brought to the table as and when it is ready". I don't mind this at Wagamamas, because at least the food is served piping hot and I've never had to wait too long for everyone in my group to receive their food. Unfortunately Wahaca haven't managed to get this to work as my friend had to wait ages for her meal, which was a vegetarian salad! How they managed to make putting together a salad such a long drawn out process I will never know!
I will say that I was impressed with the main meal my friend ordered. It was Pork Pibil (£8.25), which is marinated pork served in a parcel. The meat was incredibly tender and full of flavour, but yet again it was luke-warm and you can just imagine it had been sitting around for a while. It came with black beans and green rice, but the portion of rice was about the size of a petri dish and wouldn't satisfy a sparrow. My friend had eaten here before, so she knew what to expect portion-wise and she also ordered 2 street food dishes to appease her stomach.
At first glance, the prices might seem very reasonable, but if you've got even the most average of appetites, you will need to order a few things to satisfy it, so the cost will soon add up.
Conveyor belt establishment:
Not being too impressed with the food, we declined the offer of coffee or desserts by the waitress and just asked for the bill. Once we'd paid, the waitress proceeded to try and rush us out of the restaurant by clearing our glasses, even when my friend still had some in her glass and hadn't finished drinking it, which we thought was a bit rude. The waitress then cleared the placemats and we'd had enough of these blatant hints so we left. I know they were busy and desperate for tables, but I would have preferred her to say, "Excuse me ladies, there's a long wait for tables, so would you mind leaving?" But the service had been pretty poor all evening, so it wasn't surprising our meal had ended this way. Suffice to say we didn't leave a tip.
As were leaving the massive queue was snaking out the door and my friend overheard there was a 2 hour wait for a table. I felt like saying to those people waiting that it wasn't worth the wait and they should check out some of the great Thai restaurants in the area instead!
Word gets around:
I think the problem with Wahaca is its popularity has made it a victim of its own success. What probably started off as a great place to eat fabulous Mexican food when nobody knew about it; has now become more akin to a fast-food joint and the authentic Mexican food has slipped into Tex Mex territory. Maybe it's a different story when it's not a crazy Friday dinnertime, but I won't be rushing back to find out anytime soon.
The only thing I did love about the place is the free Chilli seeds you can grow, that come in packets that look like matches!
- The corn tortillas are gluten-free
- They apparently use fresh ingredients from English producers, e.g. Lancashire cheese, peppers from West Dorset, chillis from Devon.
Wahaca, 66 Chandos Place, WC2
020 7240 1883
It was a sparklingly cold after work evening in Covent Garden and Best Friend and I were making our way through the shoppers in the Apple Market. Having seen the Christmas light installation, we decided to head off for dinner at the Mexican restaurant, Wahaca, in Chandos Street.
The last commercial Mexican meal I'd had (not at Wahaca!) had been a revolting stir of slop and black beans, but I'm not ready to give up on a food I love. Plus, she'd been before and really enjoyed it. The restaurant is freshly molten, a huge cavern of a basement, all hot and shiny and new. We washed our hands at the thoughtfully provided sink in the entrance and after around fifteen minutes got far enough up the queue to merit a table. Looking behind us up the stairs, our early entrance had been worthwhile, with a massive snake of diners stretching out into the street.
So, why is Wahaca so popular? When you win Masterchef these days, you get a restaurant. And when that restaurant sells popular food, at a good price, in a central London location, it's a winning formula. Wahaca is the phonetic pronunciation of the Mexican region of Oaxaca and I have to hand it to AA Gill when he says "I suppose it is indeed possible that Wahaca/Oaxaca might risk losing repeat business when satisfied customers phoned up friends to say that they had just eaten a delicious meal at a new restaurant called... and then made a noise like someone vomiting into a tin bucket."
They have a mixed up menu of 'street food', soups and salads and a section of 'from the grill'. All the usual Tacos, Tostadas, Quesadillas, with a few offbeat additions. It's not extensive and there is by no means a good vegetarian choice, I struggled to find anything that wasn't just the dreaded black beans and cheese. There's the unusual hibiscus juice to drink and a selection of Apple and Something, but after a long day at work Best Friend ordered a glass of wine and I had a bottle of Coke.
Eventually I settled on two items; Tostadas with a topping of Cactus and the Winter Warmer salad. Two meals might seem greedy, but I always have a vague fear of ordering salad in restaurants in case of starvation and the menu said quite clearly that the Street Food could be ordered alongside other dishes. Best Friend picked the simple sounding Steak Burrito which came with a few tortilla chips on the side. Much like Wagamama, they enter your order into a handheld PDA, circle it on your paper placemat and inform you that they 'bring each dish as soon as it's ready'. Just for the record, I hate this kind of service - what's wrong with timing two meals to arrive together? However, this is fast food, so the waiting time is never that long.
From our table we had a good view of the chefs preparing sizzling and spicy smelling dishes in the open kitchen and it was only a short wait for the tostadas to be swept from the bar to the table. The portion was not generous, more like two crisps with topping and the ubiquitous black beans (despite gaining no mention on the menu)were around 90% of that. Two kinds of salsa, green and red, arrived along with a bottle of 'hot Mexican sauce, made in Devon.'
The tostada itself was soggy and the salsa's so mild that they tasted of very little; the cactus however, was the star of the piece with a spicy kick.
A few minutes later, the Steak Burrito and the Salad arrived together as if by magic. The salad, which was thankfully devoid of the beans was delicious. It had roasted butternut squash, feta cheese, avocado, quinoa and cos lettuce among other ingredients and weirdly, quite a few bits of orange. This salad was truthfully one of the best meals I've ever had in a restaurant, more than living up to the hype of good ingredients and so moist and flilling that I would go back for this dish alone. Best Friend's steak burrito was soft and floury, folded with a flag in it and the nachos on the side. It looked good and I'll take her word for it that it was, but possibly not that filling as she picked through the remaining cactus afterwards.
It took us a while to get the attention of the waiter and our bill, but the restaurant was so warm and steaamy and the night was so cold that we were more than content to catch up. The toilets were clean, the service was polite enough to warrant a tip and there was little hanging about once we were seated. For £10 a head including drinks, the price was impressive for Central London and I'd love to go back. The only thing is, if they change the menu there won't be great deal there for me. I found the use of cabbage in the only other vegetarian main dish unappetising and if we'd had to queue any longer I would have gone elsewhere. It's a mixed bag really, for a carnivore on a quiet midweek lunchtime this place would be superb.
The ingredients are fresh, ripe and tasty and the healthy spin on dishes is refreshing considering Mexico has the second highest obesity rate in the world. The restaurant even claims to source food as locally and ethically as possible.
If Wahaca loses points for anything, it's for the odd lack of spicy food, even the sauces on the table didn't do a great deal to pep things up. I'd recommend the restaurant for those on a budget who'd like to try something new and trendy but not too original. In fact it would be perfect for a work do or catching up with friends.
The official website is diabolical and unreadable, (see http://www.wahaca.co.uk) but a full menu and price list appear in pdf format at http://www.london-eating.co.uk/menu/29862.asp
A quick poll here - please leave a comment as to whether or not you like black beans. I'm interested to know!
Wahaca Mexican Restaurant - London
My husband and I love to eat and I mean love to eat, starters, mains and dessert whenever we are out for dinner so when I stumble upon a great restaurant I always have to share my experience with others.
Having lived in Southern California for a while I am a huge fan of Mexican food and am rather disappointed at the choice here in England for good, proper Mexican food. I had read about the Wahaca in the London paper about a year ago now but only just got around to trying it a few weeks ago and I was very very impressed.
The funny thing about this restaurant is that I actually go to a Mexican restaurant called Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca but the correct way to spell it and the name of a region in Mexico know for great cooking) in Arizona, USA which has great food and I thought this was funny that it was spelt the way it actually sounds.
What drew my attention to the restaurant in the first place is that they claim to offer fresh Mexican market food using all the spices, flavours and vibrance from the region direct to your plate. This intrigued me as all the Mexican restaurants I have ever tried here seem to serve up rubbery, microwave food that has no taste whatsoever.
The restaurant is located in Covent Garden, not right in the centre but in one of the side streets, 66 Chandos Place, fairly easy to find if you map it first. They do not take reservations, you just turn up and request a table. We went in and put our names down for an hour later, had a drink round the corner then came back and were shown directly to our table. It is a bit annoying that you can't book though, especially if you have a big group but it seems to work out ok. There is a dedicated person on the door writing down table requests so they seem to have it worked out fairly well. I think the reason that they do this is because the restaurant offers quite a sort of canteen style eating, i.e. you are in and out fairly quickly although I did not feel pressurised to eat quickly which was nice. They also have lots of tables bunched together so you sit fairly near the table next to you but I found to atmosphere to be very lively and upbeat and it did not seem to bother anyone that we were close together. We were all looking at what everyone had ordered and comparing food choices, so that was quite fun.
When we were shown to our table we were given a paper menu that doubled as a place mat where the waiters circled your order once you had placed it. Now my one piece of advice if you visit here is come hungry because you get a lot of food. We firstly ordered chips and guacamole (I love proper guacamole) so I was very pleased to see that I got a huge bowl with fresh avocados mixed with chopped tomatoes and it had a lovely flavour. They we both had quesadillas for starters, two big pieces with lots of cheese and bits in the middle. It was quite quick in between courses but they told us at the beginning that the food is prepared as soon as they get the order and to keep it fresh they serve it when it is ready. I didn't mind this as all the courses go together anyway. I had a lovely burrito stuffed with rice and steak and lots of veggies, I almost couldn't eat all of it as it was so big and I was saving room for dessert. They have various desserts on offer (in fact I recommend checking out their website to see all that they have on offer (http://www.wahaca.co.uk/) but the best by far was the churros. If you have ever been to Disneyland or other theme parks in the US you will have seen these on sale. They are basically donuts with lots and lots of sugar coating them and are slightly crunchy in places. Here you got three served with a pot of warm melted chocolate for dipping, oh my gosh they were divine and definitely worth coming back for.
The best part was, we each had a couple of beers, like I said three courses and including tip the whole thing was just under £50. For a central London restaurant I was extremely shocked but very pleased at this. We had had quality food, lots of it for a very good price. In fact they were the winner of the Observer Food Monthly awards 2008 - Best Cheap Eats UK!
If you are looking for an authentic, good quality Mexican restaurant then look no further than Wahaca!