Chandos Place has always seemed an exotic address. Not quite English but nevertheless familiar. This street along with others in Covent Garden takes its name from the Bedford family. The fourth Earl of Bedford married Catherine Brydges of Chandos. It’s a name that dates back to the Norman conquest of 1066 with a host of different spellings. Catherine’s family have also been remembered in Brydges Place and Catherine Street. These days we have Wahaca!
It was a young Charles Dickens that went there to work on that very street in 1823 in a factory where he pasted labels on pots of shoe polish; his boss was a Mr Fagin who was later to give his name to an arch-criminal in Oliver Twist. His factory job gave Dickens the idea for David Copperfield’s first employment. Dickens described his workplace as “A crazy, tumbledown old house literally overrun with rats… and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times.” Chandos Place has shed that derelict air and is now a rather smart thoroughfare.
Thomasina Miers isn’t Mexican but her inspiration and skill with ingredients stems from time spent in Mexico. She opened the first of her Wahaca restaurants on Chandos Place in August 2007. In 2008 the second Wahaca opened at Westfield shopping centre and then followed two other restaurants, one in Canary Wharf and the other in Soho. Wahaca has a menu with its focus on Mexican street food, with the markets of Mexico at its heart.
Wahaca was buzzing. The lower ground floor and bar had standing room only. Many a cocktail was sipped while waiting for a vacant table. It’s a contemporary space with close-packed furniture. No booking here, just a steady flow of diners who might just be popping in for a glass of something and a few nibbles, or who were settled in for the duration with a selection of small plates or more substantial meals. One can graze or gorge on foods that are flavourful and fun.
We wanted to try an array of plates so ordered a couple each. Pork Pibil was a plate of three small soft corn tortillas with slow-cooked and spicy pork in a special Yucatan marinade. These would be a delicious partner to a glass of El Tesoro tequila.
El Tesoro is an award winner and is one of the few types of tequila that keeps both juice and pulp together during fermentation, which takes place in large wooden vats to enhance the agave flavour. The tequila stays in those vats for between 7 and 10 days. It is double distilled in copper stills with no water or sugar added, to 80° proof. This is a tequila to be sipped rather than bolted in one shot. It’s aromatic with distinct flavour.
Quesadillas are large toasted tortillas with a filling of melted cheese, to which is added extra toppings. This is quite a hearty dish and traditional. Black beans with cheddar cheese and mozzarella was comforting. The beans served here are made by Wahaca, but frijoles are a staple in Mexico and ubiquitous on every Mexican menu throughout the world. The chipotle chicken quesadillas are a must-try: the chicken is cooked in a spicy tomato marinade which had a pleasing heat.
MSC Ceviche Salad is light and fresh; the MSC – Marine Stewardship Council – works with partners to encourage sustainable fishing practices. Two crisp tortillas, piled with shrimp and scallops, cured in fresh lime juice and habanero salsa, is a real taste of summer.
The Special was Devon Crab Taquitos – two corn tortillas wrapped around crabmeat and deep-fried till crisp – which should be a signature dish. I love crab but it’s seldom that I find a crab dish that actually has a pronounced taste of, well, crab. These taquitos were exceptional and memorable.
Street food specials at Wahaca are indeed special. There is a list of frequently updated seasonal dishes. 20p from the price of each dish will go to ednica.org.mx, a UNESCO charity. This money will be spent helping to educate street kids in Mexico City. For more details see www.wahaca.co.uk “street project”.
Hotcake and dulce de leche is a take on the Mexican classic. A fluffy American style pancake is topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche (a caramel-like paste prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk). Sprinkled with a garnish of caramelised peanuts, this is rich and bound to be appreciated by anyone with a sweet tooth.
Wahaca offers not only food but a casual and vibrant dining experience. It’s no surprise that it’s a popular spot. The dishes are well-priced and arrive in a timely fashion. You might not go there for a romantic night out, but it fits the bill for the other 364 days of the year.
12 noon – 11pm Mon-Sat
12 noon – 10.30pm Sun
66 Chandos Place, Covent Garden,
London WC2N 4HG
Phone: +44 (0)20 7240 1883
Visit Wahaca here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018