English cook, writer, TV presenter, and MasterChef winner 2005, Thomasina Miers founded her Mexican street food restaurant Wahaca in London’s West End ten years ago. Since then she has grown the chain to over 25 branches nationally, including restaurants in Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool and, of course, right here in Manchester.
Her love of Mexican food came about after she lived and worked there. Keen to bring the vibrancy and freshness of real Mexican street food to these shores, she came up with the Wahaca concept after seeing a gap in the market for this authentic style of cuisine.
Each branch is individually designed. Wahaca Manchester is spread over two floors of the Corn Exchange. The bold interior is reminiscent of the colourful country itself with Mexican graffiti artist Le Super Demon taking inspiration from Mexican mythology, in particular the God of Corn, and putting the corn back into the Corn Exchange with his striking pieces.
When you think of Mexico, you think of tequila, beer, and tapas-style sharing food, all of which is covered here. And then some. The tequila and mescal menu is vast, and they have the proper stuff, double distilled and 100% blue agave.
No cheap shots here. We went for classic margaritas (£7) made with Olmeca Altos tequila which were, quite frankly, superb. There’s also hibiscus, passionfruit, and tamarind varieties for anyone feeling a bit more adventurous.
Although a section of the menu is devoted to main meals, the street food section has a fantastic selection of all the authentic and interesting things you’d come across travelling around Mexico, so we suggest trying these if you can’t decide what to order or if you’ve not eaten much of this type of food.
You definitely can’t go wrong with the Mexican Feast (£40 for 2 to share) as you get a chance to try all of the best bits. The food arrives in stages and in no particular order, just when it’s ready. This is such a relaxed and informal way to share this great food and best enjoyed with fingers.
Tacos are a fine example of the national staple of corn. Dried and ground down they form the soft corn tortillas. We ate the classic Pork Pibil ones (£4.45), abundantly stuffed with slow braised shoulder of pork cooked in Yucatecan spices, and given another dimension by tangy pink pickled onions.
New on the menu are Buttermilk Chicken tacos. These are on a softer base with the addition of flour and inspired by the beaches of Baja. Creamy chicken fried and topped with habanero, white onion relish and spicy mayo. Delicious.
Vegetarians are brilliantly catered for here too. Hibiscus Roasted Aubergine Salad is a roast serrano hummus with mint vinaigrette and salsa macha.
Roast Chilli Quesadilla are roasted serrano chillies and sweet onions sautéed with a crumble of feta in a large toasted flat flour tortilla, folded and grilled with mozzarella and cheddar.
And some of the best Grilled Summer Corn you’re likely to ever eat, served with fresh lime, crema, Lancashire cheese and piquin chilli sugar-salt.
And one of our favourites on the day, the Four Cheese Empanada, two pastry parcels of gringa dairy queso fresco served with a fresh tomatillo salsa.
You can choose any two desserts as part of your feast. Boring we know, but we both had to have the Churros with Chocolate (£4.45). One of their old favourites and still the best, these Mexican doughnuts are light and fluffy on the inside, and crisp and golden on the outside. They come with a perfectly rich chocolate sauce or you can ask for their salted caramel version if you want to spice things up a bit.
Not only did we have a fantastically tasty lunch but a pretty affordable one too. For £20 each the amount of food we ate was beyond good value for money. And it’s good to know Wahaca is ethical too. All branches of Wahaca have sustainability at their heart using local suppliers where possible and recycling at their carbon neutral sites.
That’s definitely something worth toasting. Tequila maybe?