The arrival in Cardiff of Wahaca, the first time this well established but previously London centric Mexican restaurant chain has ventured out of the big smoke, is to me a bit of a coup for the city.
It has made me quite a happy bunny, as not only do I like the place (from visits to their London branches), but also when one comes more are bound to follow (case in point is fact that Burger and Lobster has just opened here and Five Guys is on the way ). Come on Meat Liquor – how about calling it Meat Cwtch – and Hawksmoor make me really happy.
I have been itching to visit since Wahaca opened back in November, but work and other pesky things have got in the way up until now, when it was suggested as a venue for a catch up with some friends.
So five (four adult and one child) of us rocked up to the very nice looking unit opposite John Lewis (after some traumatic Christmas shopping – shopping other than for food or wine is alway traumatic for me) for a late and somewhat unconventional Sunday afternoon lunch.
The bar upstairs is a particularly nice area. I love the tequilas on the wall behind the bar,
the ceiling hanging bird cage seats, the foosball tables and the sun on the wall (presumed to be intended as a tequila sunrise).
I, giving no quarter at all, thrashed my friend’s 11 year old daugher on one of the foosball tables in the bar (no spinning allowed) after the meal (partly to assuage the shame of being annihilated, by another friend’s 5 year old son , at F1 on the PS3 a while back). Yes, I am that petty and shallow.
My only slight qualm in terms of the space, is they seem to cram you in (especially downstairs) and as a result you need to know your dining companions quite well. I (clumsy oaf that I am) knocked over Mrs SF’s bottle of beer once and very nearly twice.
Food wise the menu is based on what Wahaca refers to as Mexican market eating, with tacos, tostadas, taquitos and quesadillas forming the back bone of the menu.
If you fancy a more substantial single dish, they also do a selection of Platos Fuertes.
Be aware the menu in the restaurant is slightly different to that on line. Some stuff in one but not the other and vice versa.
I went for dishes from the street food section of the menu, whereas the rest of our party went for a Platos Fuerte each.
We all started off with some stuff (well all of it actually) from the nibbles section of the menu.
These were all good with a nice punchy guacamole (£3.95 )
a lovely fresh tomato salsa (£3.10)
They all came, as standard, with tortilla chips (not enough mind as we ran out with a fair bit of all three left), although we substituted them for fennel pork scratching with the guacamole (an extra 50p on top of the £3.95 price). These were pork puffs rather than what I would regard as scratching and I didn’t get any fennel from them at all. They were OK, but not worth the extra, over the plan tortilla chips in my view.
These nibbles can also be had with drinks in the bar upstairs.
On to main event, the menu suggests two or three dishes per person from the street food menu as being enough (without the nibbles I could easily have eaten four plus, but I am a pig), so I ordered two from the menu and one of the specials.
These all arrived at roughly the same time, but a good 5 minutes before any of the Platos Fuertes. I didn’t wait to tuck in.
The pork pibil tacos were three small soft tacos on which piles of tender, flavoursome slow cooked and shredded pork (tangy from the citrus based Yucatecan marinade), together with sharp zingy pink pickled onions slices, sat.
Whilst not hot (you could add some heat via sauces on the table, but this is not a place to excite real chilli heat junkies I suspect), these were three dainty, tasty, little mouthfuls. I can see why pork pibil is Wahaca’s most popular dish.
Next up for me was a huitlacoche quesadilla (£3.95). This consisted of sauted mushrooms, lovely earthy truffley corn and gooey cheese sandwiched by crisp tortilla. I liked this Mexican version of the toasted sarnie, which had a decent amount of filling.
Whilst this was pretty as a picture, with a nice crispy shell, I found the duck filling a bit on the bland side. Surprising really as the duck was said to be confit leg meat and mole sauce is usually full of flavour. Bit disappointed with this dish, especially for the price.
Mrs. SF had the pulled pork burrito (£6.95). This was a decent size and got a thumbs up taste wise from Mrs. SF. Good value for the very reasonable price tag was her view.
Others had the Mexican City boards, one based on the pork pibil (£10.25) and the other chicken and bacon (£10.25). Both consisted of a decent sized skillet of the meat together with soft tortillas , tortilla chips, guacamole, lettuce and sauce. I didn’t taste either, but they were both pronounced as very nice.
Sides of sweet potato chunks (£3.10) and Mexican slaw (£2.30) were also ordered but I didn’t managed get around to trying either. Those that did particularly liked the sweet potatoes. Can’t recall anyone commenting on the slaw.
My friends’ daughter seemed happy enough with her cheese tacos and tortilla chips (£5.00) from the children’s menu, but it looked all a bit “beige” to me (probably perfect for kids then!!!). Perhaps unsurprisingly, she turned her nose up at the only bit of colour on the plate in the form of guacamole. I was very pleased that the request for tomato ketchup was met with a polite “we don’t have any I am afraid”.
On the pudding front, the churros and hot chocolate (£3.95) consisted of crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, non greasy churros and a rich dark hot chocolate sauce.
I shared it with Mr.SF which was a good thing as neither of us felt we could have managed it on my own as it really was very rich.
The other desert tried was an interesting fried plantain dish (£4.50). I had a taste and really liked it, the plantain being much sweeter than I expected.
Forgot to take picture of either, am afraid.
Drinks wise they have Mexican beers, a short (slightly boring ) wine list,
a tequila dominated cocktail list and some interesting soft drink options (good for drivers/non drinkers) that go beyond the usual boring fizzy drink choices.
On the beer front, I know their restaurants in London serve up local beer options and it would be nice if they did that here going forward. Plenty of good local beers in Cardiff and the surrounding areas, to choose from, that would match Mexican food.
Service was friendly and efficient (a service charge is included automatically on tables of 5 or more which with one of our 5 being a child I found a bit annoying and nearly caught us out in terms of leaving a further sum as a tip) so no real complaints on that front..
A nice touch with the bill was a match book that contained chilli seeds you can plant.
They have an app type thingee that allows you to pay your bill by scanning some sort of disc embedded in the table. Our waitress vainly tried to explain how it worked but on seeing our blank middle aged faces wisely gave up. Worth finding out about this, for the technology minded, as getting the bill the conventional way took a while.
We all thoroughly enjoyed our late lunch at Wahaca, which is a very welcome addition to the burgeoning dining scene in Cardiff.
The food was good, with only the duck disappointing, getting a thumbs up from all concerned..
Would I go back? Definitely both to the bar upstairs and for food in the restaurant. All in all a nice spot for lunch or dinner or for cocktails and nibbles, especially after some shopping town.
51-53 The Hayes
St David’s Dewi Sant
Cardiff CF10 1GA
+44 (0) 29 2167 0414
Email : Cardiff@Wahaca.co.uk
Mon – Sat: 12pm – 11pm
Sun: 12pm – 10.30pm