Wahaca is a phonetic spelling of Oaxaca, a region of Mexico, and all the PR for this place implies authentic Mexican market food rather than the usual Tex Mex that Londoners are used to. It is a clever angle, and seems to be working as the place was packed on this Tuesday evening. It is a basement, with tables surprisingly generously spaced apart and bright, modern decor. The paper menus double as place mats. Service is friendly and the place is clearly aimed at a 20 something crowd; I felt a fuddy duddy for asking for a glass for my beer.
For all the slick PR, though, the menu is very familiar. There are quesadillas, tacos, burritos and little else in the way of unusual Mexican dishes. Salsa with tortilla chips was a worrying start; both the tomato salsa and the salsa verde are "made fresh every day" yet were utterly bland and tasted no better than something from a supermarket jar (10/20). Chicken tostados had cheap chicken pieces and little chilli flavour, though the flour tortilla was at least soft (11/20). The chorizo quesadilla was similar, with a decent if slightly over-hard flour tortilla but with a tasteless filling. A tiny dish of token, horribly overcooked, vegetables did nothing to add to the experience. The blurb or the restaurant talks about the careful sourcing of ingredients, yet the ones I tasted were very ordinary.
A steak burrito could have had just about any filling in it, so little did the taste come across (10/20). Pork pibal was one of the few dishes that you can’t find in a Taco Bell, pieces of pork marinated in spices which again had little real taste and wrapped in paper, served with dismal green rice that was hard and simply not cooked through, along with a few black beans. An unidentified fish with more salsa verde was cooked through acceptably but was a cheap cut of fish (10/20).
On the positive side the prices are low, and the service zipped along with dishes appearing when they were ready. However this is nothing like the more authentic Mexican restaurants that you can find in the southern US. The lack of any real punch to the flavours is particularly inauthentic, and ingredients used here are very basic. A clever marketing idea, but this is a long way from the authentic Mexican food promised, and which London never seems to get. The owner Tomasina Miles won Masterchef and has a cookery series on Channel 4, and I really had hoped for a lot more than this. Still, it certainly seems to be prospering.