For kids brought up in Britain during the 70s and 80s, the closest they got to experiencing Mexican food was usually supermarket-bought Old El Paso dinner kits
In fact, it’s only been in recent years that the image of Mexican food and drink has been revitalised thanks to the opening of restaurants such as Green & Red in Shoreditch, and to the tireless enthusiasm by Tom Estes, UK Tequila Ambassador and owner of Café Pacifico and La Perla.
The latest to ride the Mexican wave is Thomasina Miers who’s the brains behind Wahaca, a new 120- cover restaurant in Covent Garden.
After winning the BBC’s Masterchef competition in 2005, she spent a year working in Mexico learning about the country’s cuisine.
Traditionally Mexican restaurants in the UK have dished up stodgy American influenced Tex-Mex, but Miers is keen to reflect the vibrancy of Mexico’s street food. The core of Wahaca’s menu focuses on Tacos (corn tortillas), Tostadas (crisp tortillas), Taquitos (corn tortillas wrapped around fillings and deep fried) and Quesadillas (toasted flour tortillas). Customers are recommended to choose two or three dishes, then pick accompanying fillings to go with them. For example, you could fill Tacos with Pork Pibil (£3.50), ‘slow cooked melt in the mouth pork in our special marinade’, or Fish Pastor (£4-5), ‘sustainable fish in our achiote marinade’. Tostadas come with fillings including Flaked Mackerel (£4.25) with ‘chipotle slaw, guacamole and black beans’, and Frijoles (£3.50), ‘smokey black beans, crumbled cheese and fresh salsa.’ For puddings you can indulge in Churros Y Chocolate (£3.40), ‘Mexican doughnuts with a rich chocolate sauce’. Excellent cocktails are chalked up above the bar, including an assortment of Margaritas (£5.50; classic, hibiscus and tamarind), as well as Sangrita (£5.50) and Blanco, Reposado and Añejo tequilas.
For those uninitiated in Mexican cuisine, an in-house magazine contains a step-by-step guide on how to roll and eat tacos, while enthusiastic staff frequently kneel at dining tables to explain the philosophy behind the food.
Design-wise, the restaurant takes its cues from Condesa df, one of Mexico City’s trendiest hotel bar hangouts, with its turquoise walls, low-hanging lights, tropical plants and whitewashed features. Its acoustics are equally funky with perfectly pitched jazzy electronica.
Whether you’re in a couple or a gang of pals or workmates, the restaurant is geared up to cater for a wide range of customers, with large tables for groups to high-stools and seating for two separated into subtle dining zones.
Aluminium shutters throw an urban street feel into the mix, alongside 80s disco-style lighting panels of turquoise and green.
Bang on trend is the restaurant’s philosophy in using ingredients grown on home soil to reduce its carbon footprint, from chillies grown in Devon to Lancashire cheese.
Feedback from critics say the food offering is a tad bland, yet how many Covent Garden punters would really go for authentic dishes of Mexico City, such as Pancita (tripe soup) or headblowing spicy beans?
Where? | 66 Chandos Place, London WC2N, 0207 240 1883 wahaca.co.uk