17 March 2012

Indoor Street Food: Wahaca Review

A few weeks ago, an ill-fated attempt to dine at Pitt Cue Co on a Friday evening left two of my fellow bridge players and I with the prospect of finding somewhere to eat in Soho at 9.30 on a weekend night. Having just queued in vain for 45 minutes, we didn't really fancy more waiting, but we realised we may not have much choice. We figured that at least in Wahaca, on Wardour Street, we would definitely get a table before the place closed. In the end, we still had to wait about 45 minutes but waiting for a table is so much more pleasant when you are indoors and with a strong, sharp hibiscus margarita in your hand.

I had never been to Wahaca before, although I had often walked past both the Soho branch and its Covent Garden cousin and added it to my list of fall-back places to eat in the West End when other trendier places couldn't deliver. Wahaca has the kind of menu that is complicated enough that the wait staff have to ask whether you've eaten there before so that they can explain how things work if you're a n00b. Basically, though, the restaurant offers Mexican "market food" in various sizes and combinations. You can either choose two or three of the "street food" options, each of which yields two or three small tacos, quesadillas, and so on, or you can opt for a larger dish, like the British steak burrito, which comes with rice, beans and other Mexican accoutrements. Most of the small dishes cost between £3.50 and £4.50, while the larger options range from about £5 to £10, so the food is pretty reasonably priced. You are warned, however, that to ensure the freshness of your food, "as in the markets, some plates maybe delivered at slightly different times."
Chicken mole tacos - I was sold as soon as the waitress told me they had a chocolate- (and chili pepper-) based sauce!
We shared some tortilla chips and guacamole to start and then I chose two smaller dishes and a side of green rice for my main course. The rice (£2.30) came in an a tiny portion, so it was lucky that by 10 pm I wasn't overly hungry. I also ordered the chicken mole tacos and the black bean and cheese quesadillas, which both tasted really good; the portions were generous enough that I could donate one of my three tacos to my friend. One of my companions ordered a larger burrito and the other chose similar dishes for me and with one round of margaritas, the tortilla chips and service, the bill worked out at about £18 each. Not quite street food prices, perhaps, but not bad for central London.

As for the ambiance, Wahaca was busy and bustling that night. The restaurant is pretty big with mainly canteen style seating at long, shared tables, but our waitress was friendly and efficient. I've eaten more authentic Mexican food in the US, but, as with the prices, for London, it was pretty good. I wouldn't go out of my way to take friends there but, as I suspected before visiting, I'm sure it will constitute a useful understudy when the queue at other cooler eateries is just too long.

Wahaca. 80 Wardour Street, London, W1F OTF (Tube: Tottenham Court Road or Leicester Square). Website. Twitter.

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