The Student
Restaurant review: Wahaca – putting a little Mexico into Edinburgh
by Leda Olia, 25/10/16

There’s no need to make a 5,000 mile journey across the pond to taste the authentic flavours of Mexico. In fact, the answer to your guac-fueled prayers is right on your doorstep. Recently making its debut North of the border (that is, the one between Scotland and England), the popular London-based Wahaca has already made quite the impression on the Edinburgh restaurant scene.

In a time where local eateries are lauded for their hipster allure, “chain restaurant” has become somewhat of a dirty word, conjuring up images of indistinguishable High Street eateries. But Wahaca aims to break the mould that traditional chain restaurants typically adhere to, promising freshly sourced produce, personable service, and a menu that is far more bright than bland.

Wahaca is the brain-child of Master Chef’s 2005 winner Thomasina Miers who spent her younger years traveling around Mexico, witnessing the country’s distinctive cuisine firsthand. The street-food driven menu is perhaps as fiery as the chef herself, paying tribute to her extraordinary passion for the flavours of Mexico. Upon first glance, the wide-ranging menu is as overwhelming to the senses as the surrounding fluorescent decor. Fortunately, the waitstaff are quick to notice a puzzled face, immediately stepping in to make suggestions by circling their favorites on the paper menu.

While mulling over the extensive food menu, take your pick of the four far-from-ordinary margaritas Wahaca offers on a daily basis. If you fancy a sweet drink, then try the refreshing hibiscus margarita; but if sweet and sour is more your style, order the exotic tamarind version. Wahaca takes great pride in its tequila selection- so do not be surprised when you find their margaritas to be at once stronger, and notably more pleasant, than ones you have had in the past. This is no nightclub tequila- this is the good stuff.

Wahaca has plenty of nibbles (namely, salty tortilla chips and zingy guacamole) to keep your hunger at bay while you and your table debate whether to go big or small- that is, stick to a more conventional starter and entree combo or venture into street-food territory. Always keen to choose the more adventurous route, my date and I went all-in, ordering an array of small-plates to share. First to arrive was the smoky chipotle chicken quesadilla- a safer choice on the fairly quirky menu, but highly recommended by our waitress. Oozing with melted cheese and bursting with chipotle marinated chicken, this quesadilla was the best of comfort food all wrapped up in a tortilla.

Innovative tacos are Wahaca’s strongpoint. Their selection covers all the bases, from old favourites like grilled skirt steak with smoky salsa, to unexpected pairings like sweet plantains and tangy feta. Small but mighty, these bite-sized tacos really pack a punch. But if a heftier plate is what you are after, the baja-style cod tacos will certainly do the trick. Generously battered and fried, these cod pieces are paired with a bright shredded slaw and sharp pickled cucumber.

While tacos are a mainstay in any Mexican restaurant, Wahaca tempts its customers with “Market Treats” that certainly live up to their name. A standout on the menu, the toasted cornbread with chipotle honey butter combines the best of sweet and savoury to create a one-of-a-kind dish. Spread the whipped goats cheese onto the thick slice of cornbread before dunking it in the sweet and spicy butter, and I promise you will be in culinary heaven.

Save room for dessert- especially for Wahaca’s signature salted caramel ice cream. Rich and creamy and dotted with chocolate shavings, this dessert is the perfect ending to your Mexican adventure. But if, like me, you prefer to try out more than one dessert (why not?), the churros y chocolate are not to be missed.

With the brains of a Master Chef behind the scenes and the heart of Mexico at its forefront, Wahaca gives Mexican cuisine the type of finesse and exuberance it deserves. Forget the poor reputation of “chain restaurants,” Wahaca is a cut above the rest.

Image: Leda Olia