Pity poor Monsieur: he’s the one responsible for my love of Mexican food, the complex moles, the cactus salads (hold the spines) and the juicy ceviches. Yet Monsieur wasn’t with me at Wahaca last Thursday, for a much looked-forward to evening with Thomasina Miers, the Executive Chef and co-owner of London’s Mexican street food sensation, Wahaca.
Along with a couple of dozen perpetually-hungry fellow-Qypers, I was invited to Wahaca in the mammoth Westfield shopping centre to test the new season’s ‘Cold Months’ menu. With sharpened teeth and notebook at the ready (but no camera, where on earth was my camera?) we listened as Tommi explained the dishes we were about to try. Then I had the great good fortune of sitting next to her. Tommi was nothing less than the perfect hostess, juggling gastronomic inquisition from guests with managing the event and staff. It looked effortless, but I’m sure it wasn’t. This is a woman with (invisible) nerves of steel. She won Masterchef after all, something Tommi admits was scary, propelling her into the world of professional cooking. Then, two years ago, the first Wahaca was born in Covent Garden, a new take on Mexican street food with reasonable prices and a no reservations policy.
Tommi’s Wahaca business partner, Mark Selby, also joined us last night. Equally affable, he welcomed us all as we arrived, work-weary but excited to spend an evening with he and Tommi and a kitchen doling out delicious Mexican food. It’s evident that in business, Mark and Tommi are well-matched.
The Westfield Wahaca opened with the mammoth London shopping centre last year, but once through its doors you’d never know it had neighbours like Debenhams and other high street stores. Its atmosphere is slightly sultry with dimmed lighting, functional wooden furniture and bursts of colour. The patrons themselves add splash and vibrance to the space, each bottle of tabasco or plate of taquitos or stack of Mexican bean cans or chunky hand-blown glass of margarita with salted rim enhancing the overall vibe of originality. Yes, I like it here.
Now onto the important part – eating. Tommi asked us for honest feedback, to find out whether or not the new menu would work. Would it be good enough to serve to her public?
First up were smoked herring tostadas served with a squeeze of fresh lime. The smokiness stayed in my mouth for a minute or so afterward, which is a very good thing because I love smoky flavours, especially with fish.
We looked on, bemused, as bowls of feta, tortillas, coriander and avocado were smothered by jugfuls of black bean soup. Then, taking our Tommy Tippee-style plastic spoons, dipped into the muddy mix, we sucked our spoons clean of the dark and spicy creaminess. It looked so wrong but tasted surprisingly good, if a little heavy on the heat at our end of the table. Usually I’d never order such a pond of bubbling mud with mystery ingredients concealed within its depths so this was a surprise for me. Yes, it was good but no, I probably wouldn’t order it again, at least, not unless I was sharing my slurps with a rugby team. It was served in bowls of a size that even sharing between four of us, we barely dented the surface. Perhaps if the bowls were smaller I’d be keener? No, there are plenty of other options at Wahaca to delight me so I’ll pass on the black bean soup for now, but it did create some interesting debate about coriander (like it or loathe it?) and spoons.
“I like the spoons,” said one Qyper.
“Yes, everyone likes them.” Tommi agreed, “so much so that we’ve had to put a spoon amnesty on our blog.”
“A spoon what?”
“A spoon amnesty. So many people take them home in their handbags that we’ve had to offer an amnesty so people can bring them back.”
I can see why. They were dotted about our tables – sturdy, and ergonomically comfortable to hold in their pretty baby colours of lime, raspberry and sky blue, but no, I did not take home my spoon, although I’d be interested to know where to buy my own set, just to add a touch of fun to the dining table at home.
The huitacoche (corn fungus), field mushroom and cheese quesadillas, folded into warm triangles, were winter-warming and delicious. With a dab or two of red salsa, I thought “I’ve just found my new comfort food!” Yes, this time I had seconds, but that was silly, really, because there was so much more yet to taste.
There were soft corn tortillas topped with shredded slaw, goujons of Baja California fish and a zingy drizzle of chipotle mayo. As an A-FISH-ionado, myself, I can smile and say these were good. Very, very good. I enjoyed the winter salad of butternut squash and spelt, with pickled hibiscus flowers and orange to sweeten the combination and chilli and radish to warm it. The baked pollock was also tasty, flaking into tender tomato-infused morsels; this would certainly take the bite out of a chill winter’s day, although by this point I was slowing down my intake so that by the time we got to the burritos, I didn’t have stomach enough remaining to comment on whether the cabbage in it detracted from the overall texture or flavour, one of the debates taking place amongst this avid crowd of food lovers.
Concerning the bar contents at Wahaca, usually I’d jump right in and order one of their delicious margaritas, but tonight I accepted the offer of a Modelo Especial beer with fresh lime. It was a very pleasant lager indeed. Then, as the food arrived, the wine was poured – red or white. I chose white, but couldn’t tell you more than that, apart from the fact that somehow, when my back was turned or perhaps when I was paying more attention to something that was about to enter my stomach, my water glass was filled with wine, too. So when I went to have a gulp of water after a particularly spicy bite of something, I managed to down half a glass of wine before I realised what it was. That was a truly dumb Epicurienne moment. I’ll be more cautious in future!
Under Mark’s guidance, we tasted three tequilas from the Wahaca stable: a Blanco (white), served cold, a Reposado (rested) served at room temperature and an Añejo (aged), also served at room temperature, with a lovely, caramelly tang. As many will confide, I, too, have had the occasional clash with tequila, but the selection we enjoyed last night was an utterly different sensory experience to student union layback sessions in a vintage dentist’s chair. This was refined, smooth, flavoursome liquid, to be sipped and savoured, not consumed in one swallow. This was tequila for grown ups and it was better than good. Click here to find out more.
But now I was flagging. The past few weeks have been hell at work, the stress of it strangely absorbing all appetite along the way and causing sleep to be elusive. Last night it picked its time to catch up with me and I had to leave the party early in order to catch some much needed zzzzs. But first, churros. What a delightful end to this tasty respite of an evening – dipping doughnut fingers into molten chocolate. How very Willy-Wonka-Does-Mexico it was. After a few wicked bites of churro and a quick word to TikiChris and Mel Seasons, I left Domestic Sluttery table-mate, Alex and Qyper Jessica to enjoy my espresso because I had to leave, lest I face-planted into my salsas, which would have been very poor form indeed.
**Huge thanks must go to Tommi and Mark, and all the Wahaca staff who helped this week’s event to be such a success, including those hardworking, unseen folk in the kitchen. Everyone was kind, patient with our neverending questions, and generous to the hilt. Thank you, thank you, thank you all.
***And because I was a complete doofus, not being able to find my camera, which was all the time hiding in the bottom of my idiotically-deep handbag, TikiChris has kindly allowed me to use his photos for Qype of the Wahaca event. Chris is a talented photographer, second to none. To see the rest of his Wahaca pics, click here. And to offer Chris a fabulous photographic assignment (because he’s so worth it) you can tweet him @tikichris
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