Review: Wahaca, Cardiff

img_5245The Cardiff branch of Wahaca, the first to open in Wales, has been a resident within the city centre for a while now. I was desperate to try out the menu when they originally opened this branch, having never been to a Wahaca before. Yet inevitably, life took over, and my To Do List rapidly increased at a frightening speed.However, today I can write this new post with a somewhat smug facade . . .as I have finally had the Wahaca experience.

With my boyfriend (Mr Chef), having a last minute early finish from the kitchen, a spontaneous date night ensued. After deciding we were in the mood for Mexican cuisine (although, when are we NOT in the mood?), we made the exciting decision to finally tick Wahaca off our food list. We were seated straight away, despite the restaurant being fairly busy, and our waitress carefully explained the menu layout and the specials of the day. Essentially, the menu consists of two choices: the Bigger Food (which is essentially your normal sized, Mexican dishes), and then their iconic Street Food (smaller plates of Mexican Market Food, done in a Tapas style). Like Wagamamas’s, the menu here is made of paper, enabling our waitress to handily circle and explain the eating options, and offering a menu which can be recycled after you inevitably smear it with food in your hunger induced bliss. Having made our choices, with our waitress marking our chosen items on the menu, we sat back to survey our surroundings.

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Wahaca aims to provide exciting Mexican Market Eating, and the decor certainly encapsulates this. With modern, low hanging lighting (definite lighting envy here) and rustically styled tables, this decor is heightened further by the relaxed atmosphere. This would definitely be the perfect place for drinks with friends. Looking up, I was staggered by the sheer size of the place, which was made up of three extremely high floors – one of which I believe houses a cocktail bar for those here for the drinks alone.

Drink wise, I was feeling rather dehydrated, so rather boringly opted for water. Mr Chef likewise followed my choice (somewhat of an oddity for his beer loving tendencies) and we were provided with a glass bottle of water to share. Looking around, I think every table is given the free water, which is certainly understandable after I sampled some of the hotter menu items, and as such is a well thought out addition. Sadly, the water was quite warm, struggling to even achieve room temperature, and as such it was not the nicest addition to our meal. But, the water was after all free, so what can you really expect?

Like many Tapas style restaurants, Wahacca brings each dish out as it is ready, ensuring you get fresh items, and not a lukewarm, often mushy version which has been sitting under the pass keeping warm (one of Mr Chef’s pet hates). Speaking of the pass, Wahaca’s kitchen is quite open plan, allowing diners to see the chef’s as they are working . . . and also drool enviously as the food is sent out.

Thankfully, Mr Chef was excused the sight of my food lust, with our first few items arriving ridiculously quick! This made me so so happy, as I am incapable of conveying to you the grotesque monster which I become when my hungry self kicks in. First to arrive was the Chorizo and Potato Quesadilla, with the menu stating the chorizo is made to their own special recipe. This was definitely a cracking (excuse my pork related pun) start to the meal! I am known for my deathly aversion to vegetables which are under cooked, but the potatoes were an absolute delight. Soft and fluffy, these sauteed potatoes were an excellent complement to the smoky chorizo. The chorizo itself was surprisingly meaty (unlike some of the poorer imitations I have tasted), and extremely flavoursome, with a careful balance of smokiness and warmth.  The tortilla itself provided an excellent, and thankfully stable, home for the fillings, avoiding the dreaded tortilla spillage. My only critique was that I would have liked a bit more filling . . .but alas, this must always be faced when you are as much of a foodie as I am.

Next, we moved onto the Sweet Potato and Feta Taquitos. Dear God, these were life changing!!!! Without a doubt, this humble vegetarian option was the star of the show for me, and I have not stopped thinking about them since!  For those of you who have not yet tried the combination, sweet potato and feta is quite simply a marriage made in culinary heaven! The dish emitted a sweetness from the roasted potato and caramelised onion, yet rapidly hit you with sharper undertones from the feta. The ensuing result was a taste experience which quite literally had me raving to Mr Chef. I have already requested that these be replicated for me at home, just one of the perks of having a Chef for a boyfriend. Presentation wise, I think the salad was a bit much and kept the absolute stars of the dish concealed underneath. Taste wise, the salad was very good, with salsa and chipotle mayo bringing life to an often undervalued side. The corn tortillas, which had been fried, were amazingly crispy, and gave a lovely crunch to the gloriously soft fillings within. Using blue corn tortillas was also a nice touch, giving a different colour to this dish.

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Still dreaming of these Taquitos!

Slightly depressed that our plate had been so efficiently emptied, we made a start on our third item; Smokey Chicken and Avocado Tostadas. This dish consisted of chargrilled chicken, guacamole, chipotle mayo and fresh slaw, served chilled on two crispy corn tortillas. Presentation was good, and I would like to make a point of saying how much easier having two individual portions are when you are sharing with others. The chicken itself, once you got use to the colder temperature, was coated in a lovely creamy sauce, which contributed to the moistness of the chicken. Having said that, I did not get a lot of smokiness from the chicken, although perhaps this was overwhelmed by the sauce. The guacamole was great, although there did not appear to be much on the dish itself, and the salad surprisingly tasty. Once again, the tortilla was delightfully crispy, confirming that Wahaca knows how to handle their way through these Mexican staples.

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As we were finishing our second item, the next three had been brought to our table. This resulted in a slightly awkward squeeze, although our waitress efficiently maneuvered her way around the first dishes, removing the empty ones very quickly. Feeling refreshed from the chilled chicken dish, we moved onto one of the more adventurous items on the Wahaca menu. Coming under the sub title of Market Treats, we had opted for the Smokey Tomato Fideus. Now, I have never heard or seen this dish before, and I am really pleased that Wahaca is able to offer such new and exciting dishes within their menu. For those of you, like me, who did not know what this dish is, the menu described it as East coast Mexican Angel Hair Noodles in a Chipotle Tomato Sauce, with Sliced Fresh Avocado, Capers and Crumbled Lancashire Cheese. We  paid the extra 45p to add White Devon Crab Meat, with both of us extremely curious as to how that would work.

My initial reaction was that this dish was hot! And I don’t mean that in the modern colloquial term, but in the literal, ‘my mouth is on fire’, hot. Neither of us were expecting this dish to be such a scorcher, with the chipotle tomato sauce certainly turning our expectations on their head. Thank god the restaurant provide you with free water to extinguish the blaze! Sadly, because of the heat from the sauce, the crab was completely lost. Mr Chef agreed that crab is a very delicate meat, and whilst the few pieces which were not covered in sauce tasted extremely fresh, the majority of the dish tasted as if it were entirely absent of crab. The noodles, however, were lovely! Living up to their name sake, the noodles were extremely fine, yet provided a lovely texture against the smooth, fiery sauce.  I must confess, I felt rather strange being in a Mexican restaurant yet eating a dish that resembled Italian pasta . . . yet it worked, and I really enjoyed experience such an unusual Mexican dish! I am not a fan of capers, so did not eat mine, but I was assured by Mr Chef that  they tasted good. Whilst this dish is not sweaty hot, it is most definitely ‘my mouth and lips will not stop tingling’ hot, so please be prepared!

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As you can see, we wasted no time in dividing this dish between ourselves!

Still needing something to douse the fire burning away on my tongue, we quickly delved into the Chicken Tinga Tacos. I really liked how these were presented, with a clear uniformity which was aesthetically pleasing. Additionally, as this dish compromised of three toasted, but soft, corn tortillas, the way they were presented kept their shape very well. The filling itself was grilled chicken thigh in a sweet and smokey chipotle and tomato sauce. Thankfully, this was nowhere near as hot as the previous dish, and we could still taste the juicy meat underneath the sauce, which provided both a sweet and a smokey edge. Mr Chef in particular liked this marinade, and felt it was well balanced. Admittedly, this was not my favourite dish, and I did have to pick off the coriander (personal preference – Coriander is the devil!). Even so, this remained a well produced dish, and I would eat it again.

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We rounded our meal off with our last dish, the Ancho Chicken Baja Taco. Originally we had requested the MSC Battered Cod variation, but having sold out, we opted for this instead (although I will definitely be coming back to try the Cod!) Once again, this dish consisted of grilled chicken thighs, here marinated in sweet and smokey ancho chilli marinade, topped with habanero mayo and jalapeno-pickled carrots. I did find this meat chewier in comparison to those previously tasted, but this is often the case with grilled chicken. The marinade was nice, although I did not feel that it differed greatly from that used in the Chicken Tinga tacos. What really pulled this dish together was the mayo! I don’t know how they made it, but it was incredible. It was such a contrast to the rest of the dish, and really shone out both flavour and texture wise. The corn and flour tortilla felt slightly rubbery, although I believe this was due to it having sat patiently whilst we ate our previous dishes. The carrots helped to disguise this, adding their crunchy texture, and once again working brilliantly with that delicious mayo.

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Despite having eaten six different dishes, there was still room for dessert, as if often the case. We opted for a Mexican classic, the Churros, although I must admit it was a near miss between that and the Fresh Pineapple and Spiced Caramel! I am caramel crazy, so my boyfriend allowed me to opt for the caramel dipping sauce over the chocolate one. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is! The churros were perfectly piped, showcasing that classic ribbed design. They were warm and crisp, with an ever so slightly dough interior, which I love! The cinnamon on top added that tiny edge of warmth, and the pot of creamy caramel sauce was quite literally licked clean by me. As you can tell, I have no shame where caramel is concerned. I do think that Wahaca are missing out by not offering a sharing option for churros, as they are so popular! Not wanting a dessert to yourself, yet having only three churros between two people is certainly a dilemma a sharing plate would have sorted.

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Having eaten six of the smaller items, plus shared a dessert, both myself and Mr Chef were feeling very satisfied. We were not bloated, groaning aloud at our uncomfortably protruding bellies, but neither were we left still needed food. As such, I would highly recommend coming here for food before hitting the town.  With the bill coming in at £31.85, and most of our dishes being priced between the £4-5 mark, this was a reasonable priced dining experience. Wahaca is very much what it aims to be; a fun, vibrant restaurant bringing the Mexican Market Place into the city of Cardiff. I already want to come back to sample the larger plates, as well as their cocktail list, and I am already looking for the smallest excuse to do so. I also noticed they have a Wahaca Recipe book for food at home . . . (Hint hint if you are reading this, Mr Chef!).

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