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Wahaca – riders of the ‘crunch’ storm?

With fun and creative food, buzzy cocktails and an ace kids’ men, this innovative restaurant chain looks set to survive the ‘casual dining crunch’

16 August, 2018 — By Tom Moggach

Dazzling on the eye – pea, ricotta and mint tostada

IT’S called the “casual dining crunch” – an ugly phrase to describe tough times for the restaurant trade. Mid-market chains have been hardest hit, with Gaucho, Prezzo, Strada and Jamie’s Italian all axing sites. This begs the million-dollar question: which restaurant chain would you be most upset to lose?

Wahaca is top of my list. They opened their first outlet in Covent Garden more than a decade ago and now operate around 25 branches across the UK.

Their fresh take on Mexican food is fun and creative – a blast of colour and zingy flavours. They are also industry leaders in terms of sustainability. Wahaca was the first restaurant group to go carbon-neutral. They pioneered an innovative approach to recycling food waste and have switched from imported Mexican ingredients to British equivalents.

Their latest innovation is a test kitchen in Shoreditch, where diners can trial new dishes. The winners have just been added to the menus nationwide.

We went for lunch to try them, nabbing a table at the Wahaca in Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia. (Other local branches include Kentish Town, Covent Garden and Soho).

This is a large Wahaca, with a buzzy cocktail bar upstairs specialising in mezcal, a type of tequila, and a mini shop selling ingredients such as smoky salsas and chilli chocolates.

As ever, service was bouncy and swift – a young Spanish waiter bounded over with our margarita and agua fresca, a soft drink of fizzy water infused with hibiscus.

The new dishes include a DIY Taco Board with chargrilled bavette steak, where you assemble your own tortillas.

We opted for smaller dishes, such as the addictive duck croquetas – crisp fried balls of tender duck and sweet potato that we dipped in a chipotle chilli salsa.

The pea, ricotta and mint tostada is dazzling on the eye. It was, however, rather tricky to eat – you crack off bite-sized pieces of the large toasted tortilla while balancing the toppings.

The new Mexican Bowls are squarely aimed at the health-conscious and vegetarian diner. (They are also included in a new lunch deal – an agua fresca and Mexican Bowl or Sonora Salad for just £8).

This dish is a riot of textures from squidgy black beans, crisp coleslaw, green rice, crema and toppings such as tender pork pibil or sweetcorn and broccoli.

Special mention should go their ace kids’ menu.

Wahaca has got this nailed down, with a bowl of simple ingredients that they use to happily roll their own tortillas.

A divine black coconut ice cream is another new dish, which we all shared for pudding.

These new dishes are sprinkled into the classic Wahaca menu. Sadly, one was not available – pickled vegetable tostadas with grasshoppers.

Wahaca deserves credit for not resting on its laurels. This is a chain that is innovative and conscientious – always trying to do the right thing.

Signs are they will ride out this storm and emerge all the stronger.

Wahaca
19-23 Charlotte Street, W1T
020 7323 2342
www.wahaca.co.uk

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