Ever since the flagship restaurant opened in Covent Garden, Wahaca has put sustainability at the centre of its business. It is the first restaurant group in the UK to have been certified as carbon neutral, and won the Sustainable Restaurant Group of the Year award in both 2012 and 2013. As with any restaurant worth its salt these days all produce is from local and sustainable suppliers where possible and sustainability is built in to all of the restaurants.
This is all rather impressive but at the end of the day if the food isn’t any good then what is the point? So let’s get on with the important stuff, is Wahaca actually any good? The short answer is yes. My friend and I walked in at 6pm on a very average Wednesday evening and the place was pretty much full. A member of the team told us it had been like that since opening.
Despite being so busy it had an energetic buzz to it rather than feeling oppressive and annoying. The staff were friendly and attentive, zipping through the tables with, what appeared to be, happy smiles on their faces and the animated kitchen added to the market feel of the restaurant. The general environment is lively and bright without coming across as tacky and like it is trying too hard.
We take our seat and are immediately struggling with the extensive and interesting menu. I order a rather delicious tamarind Margarita (£6.95) to assist with the selection process and we settle on some nibbles to start. We order guacamole served with Chicharron-style puffed pork scratchings (£4.75) and chorizo topped Frijoles (£4.50) which arrive promptly.
The guacamole is zingy and fresh with lime and the rich and perfectly ripe avocado is spot on. The puffed scratchings are surprisingly good and go well with the fresh dip. The frijoles – which are a traditional twice cooked bean dish – are excellent. Deep and rich in flavour I cannot get enough of them and the chorizo oil adds a little heat and paprika sweetness – definitely a must try dish.
For the mains you can either choose a selection of small dishes from the “Street Food” menu or go for one of the larger main dishes. My friend plucks for the street food menu choosing a chipotle chicken quesadilla (£4.25), Mexico City-style Salmon Sashimi tostadas (£4.75), and Huitlacoche empanadas (£4.50).
I opt for one of the larger plates and order pasilla chicken tacos (£9.50) from the classics list.
My friend’s dishes all arrive first which is a little annoying, although they had informed us that as food is cooked to order this can be the case.
The quesadilla is fairly standard with a sweet and slightly fruity chicken filling. The other two dishes are a little more interesting especially the salmon toastadas which combine classic Mexican flavours with an underlying note of raw salmon – it tastes better than that probably sounds. The empanadas are little parcels of earthy mushrooms with cheese and a slight truffle sweetness that adds a little luxury to a traditional concept.
My main dish consists of three soft flour tortillas filled with grilled chicken that has been marinated with Oaxacan chillies. I am surprised, and pleased, with the level of heat in the dish and the chicken has a lovely fresh and smokey charred flavour. The burnt habanero salsa adds further spice and depth to an already pleasurable experience. I try the fruity habanero sauce that is on the table with one and is a great addition and before I know it I’ve eaten the lot.
Wahaca is a good quality fast food option in the city that works equally well for families and groups of friends on a night out.
It is not going to become one of the city’s top restaurants but for a quick and tasty food option it certainly ticks a lot of boxes – although you might have to wait for a table at the moment due to the initial rush.
Compared to similar large scale restaurants I would say the food is up there with the best and the prices are very reasonable. I would certainly have no reservations about returning if I was looking for a simple no fuss place to eat.
160 – 161 North Street, Brighton, BN1 1EZ
This review first appeared in the May 6th Edition of the Brighton and Hove Independent