My best London girl treated me to an afternoon of shopping, eating and drinking this weekend and suggested we try out Wahaca in Covent Garden. The Mexican "market food" restaurant chain, founded by MasterChef champion Thomasina Miers, offers authentic Mexican food, a sustainable ethos, and a quick and easy eating option at various central London locations. In keeping with the idea of market eating, street food is freshly prepared and served to long tables with benches as and when its ready, creating a tapas-style meal. The menu features just enough different dishes to keep everyone happy without laboriously reproducing the Mexican "classics" like other chain restaurants tend to do. Big plates are also on offer, if sharing isn't your style, and an extensive tequila-themed cocktail menu is on hand to whet the appetite along with a tray or two of tortilla chips, salsa and guacamole.
After a refreshing Wahaca Mule cocktail and a twenty minute wait for a table (Wahaca do not take bookings), not bad for 2.30pm on a Saturday afternoon in Covent Garden, we navigated the maze of tables to our places on a long wooden bench, alongside some rather funky back-lit wooden and metal wall hangings, and took a look at the food menu. A very chirpy waitress appeared, as if by magic, with offers of more cocktails and chips and salsa. We chose guacamole and salsa with some lightly salted tortilla chips and a selection of street food and side dishes to share. Food started to arrive almost instantly; each fresh, colourful dish served on attractive white and terracotta plates and bowls.
We were very happy with all of our choices. The slightly smoky chorizo and potato quesidillas were generously filled, flavourful and non-greasy, and a great partner for the light and creamy homemade guacamole. The chicken tinga tortillas were moist and pleasantly spiced, with an after-kick of hot chilli.
We ordered side dishes of green rice - coloured and flavoured by finely chopped coriander, onion and garlic - and frijoles - a rich, almost sweet, twice-cooked black bean dip topped with crumbled cheese. They were so delicious that I could have happily just eaten a bowl of the fragrant rice topped with the thick, oozing black beans. The sauce was of a slightly thinner consistency than refried beans and tasted like it had chocolate melted through it; delicious!
From the selection of tostadas (mini crispy tortillas), we opted for a cold salad of scallops, shrimps and a refreshing, zingy dressing of chilli, lime, cucumber and mint. Two tostadas arrived, overflowing with fresh shredded herbs, flecks of raw chilli and some plump juicy seafood. We agreed it was one of the highlights of the meal and a real palate cleanser after the spicy meat dishes.
In addition to the main menu, we fell for the cute pink sticky note advertising the street food special and shared the summer dish of crispy fried breaded squid with Wahaca chipotle mayonnaise. The fried squid was not crispy enough for our tastes, although it was far from soggy, but the smoky mayonnaise dip was delicious and well worth recreating at home.
For authentic Mexican cuisine, a quick bite or a good value lunchtime treat, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Wahaca. And on your way out, don't forget to help yourself to a match book of seeds to take home, plant and grow your own Mexican chilli plant.
66 Chandos Place
Tel: 0207 240 1883
Wahaca also has restaurants in Canary Wharf, Soho, Stratford and White City. There is also a mobile Street Kitchen parked at Canary Wharf and a restaurant at Bluewater shopping centre.