Wednesday, 22 August 2007


Oaxaca is a word that stymies many. The name of a region in southern Mexico, I first heard it when my 7th grade Social Studies class was made to watch El Norte to give us an idea of what the Mexican immigrant experience could be like. El Norte in fact introduced two intriguing words to the assembeled 12 year olds: Oaxaca, and changada, the first encounter many of us had with a swear word in a foreign language.

The new Mexican restuarant, Wahaca, circumvents the pronunciation problems of that region in Mexico by chosing a phoenitic spelling. With the debates about how to pronounce the name out of the way, the curiosity to concentrate on becomes the food. The restaurant is new - about a month old at this point - and has been put together by Thomasina Mieirs (her of Master Chef) as an attempt to serve real Mexican street food, about which she's passionate. London does sorely lack for good mexican food (although some burrito places are trying their best to fill that gap) and the word 'authentic' shows Wahaca has its heart in the right place. With the ambition of sourcing British, s
easonal produce as much as possible, you imagine it's hard to pull of strict authenticity given Oaxaca is an equitorial zone (I can firmly attest that Britain, on the other hand, is not).

Reviews for the restaurant imply it is having teething problems, particularly around staff and waiting times for table but also around some food (some mentioned 'greasy' dishes, others balked at non-Mexican combinations of goats cheese and aubergine, and many mention the lack of spiciness in the dishes). I was cautiously optimistic for the evening. The wait for the table was as warned: we arrive at 6.30 and told it would be an hour.
They don't take reservations, but they do take your mobile once you've put your name down, allowing you to wander off and if a table becomes available early, they'll give you a ring.Once seated my trusted eating companion, Amanda, and I headed straight for the street food platter, letting us try a few things together - 2 styles of quesidilla, 2 taco, and 1 taquito, along with gaucamole and nachos on the side. I prefer wheat tortillas to corn since I find the corn can become soggy from food fairly quickly, so I tackled the corn tortillas first to have them at their best. The steak in the chargrilled steak taco was excellent - flavorful and very tender, and for tiny strips, they managed to keep the inside pink. I was less convinced by the fish taco, mainly since the fish was cut up into such small chunks that I wasn't sure what fish I was eating, nor what flavors I was supposed to be getting from it. Both quesidillas were very good, using nice combinations of flavors and small pieces of potato to balance out the strong tastes of the chorizo and goat's cheese. The taquito, though small, once again showed a skill at cooking flavorful and tender meat.Even though we were satisfied, I convinced Amanda to share a dessert of churros with me. Churros were one of the first foods I became obsessed about; at school, they would occasionally sell them during the lunch period. Churros day never took a pattern, and they would sell out quickly, so you would have to have a whole lot of hope and 40 cents in your pocket before you could be gifted with a foot-long stick of fried, greasy, lovingly sugary and cinnamony glory. God, those were good. So yes, the Wahaca churros were requisite, though these were more of an adult version without as much sugar, no cinnamon, and a pot of wonderful rich dunking chocolate on the side. Amanda and I took turns sipping from that chocolate cup with only a little bit of shame.
Wahaca makes very good in-roads into bringing a different sort of mexican food into London. Things in the restaurant aren't yet perfect, and some of the dishes are better than others - but even with those caveats, there was nothing that turned me off to the food in the place, and there was more than enough to make me enjoy my meal and feel things were on the right path.

No comments: