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Wahaca

Since the authenticity of Mexican food in London seems to be a hot topic amongst food bloggers, I’ve heard a lot about Wahaca and since it has opened a new branch in Wardour Street and I’ve recently sampled the food at their competitor Lupita, how could I say no when Mister North suggested eating there this week?

We arrived about six o’clock, absolutely starving and in no mood to queue. Luckily we were early enough to beat the dinner rush and found ourselves seated almost immediately by a very friendly waitress. On first glance the menu was so immense I could hardly focus on it to start choosing and was happy to have Mister North take charge and order two Modelo Especial and some scratchings and guacamole to take the edge of our hunger and help us focus.

The scratchings describe themselves as lighter and healthier and they look quite different to our pork scratchings in their pillowy vastness. They were delicious, somewhat like a porky flavoured Crackerbread (trust me, this is an excellent thing) and they scooped up the guacamole nicely. I found the guacamole enjoyable at the time, but can’t remember anything about it now.

Sure that our eyes weren’t bigger than our bellies, we ordered heartily, choosing the Wahaca selection for two as a way to sample as many dishes as possible as it includes tacos, quesadillas, taquitos and tostadas. We also went for the special of queso fundido, unable to resist the combination of mushrooms and cheese, and added in some of our five a day with the sweet potato and the spicy slaw on the side.

Plates started arriving almost immediately and while it was nice to have to wait too long, it seemed a tad canteen-esque to me. Everything was pretty much tepid apart from the bubbling cheese of the queso fundido, but it all looked fresh and appealing and I was keen to get stuck in, if I could decide where to start?

Figuring that pork never goes amiss, we both went for the pork pibil tacos first. These were incredibly rich with soft, pulled style pork and were very tasty, but something about the flakiness of the meat didn’t really appeal to me, feeling a bit claggy in my mouth. The incredibly tasty softness of the black beans on the tostadas were the perfect counterbalance for me and I was more than happy to have the second one of these, leaving the pork pibil to Mister North. In fact the black beans were so good on the tostadas, I heaped some of the extra side portion onto them and bemoaned the fact I cannot get pulses to taste this good at home.

The queso fundido had cooled down enough to prevent taking the top of the roof of our mouths and was well worth waiting for. I am a recent convert to mushrooms and these made me very happy about that. Juicy and tasty with a nice tang from the cheese, I had to be careful not to shovel the entire dishful onto my warm tortilla and leave Mister North without any. The last scraps of this one were hotly contested, but I’m pleased to say my big brother let me scrape the bowl clean…

We also made short work of the nicely spiced sweet potato, with Mister North dipping into the hot mango sauce and devouring the chipotle dip while I didn’t dare risk it as I don’t really like particularly spicy food. I did adore the spicy slaw though and thought the green rice was great. I am always impressed when side dishes are as good if not better than the main dishes and I thought Wahaca was great for this, especially since so many of these dishes are meat free.

I was slightly disappointed by the seasonal vegetable tacos. The veg selection just felt a bit like tinned veggies, thanks to the sweetcorn, with some highly unseasonal cubes of tomato and a bit of lettuce to bulk it out. They weren’t particularly flavoursome and were a direct contrast to all the other tasty meat free offerings. I much preferred the huitlacoche quesadilla with its mushroom infused flavour and almost buttery filling.

We finished up with the taquitos and these were an excellent end to meal. Fried til crispy but filled with soft creamy chicken, these were my favourite of any of the meat dishes we had. Small and perfectly formed, despite being very full, I could have happily had a second taquito, possibly even a third. Despite our waitress warning us that we had probably ordered too much, we cleared all the plates bar about one mouthful of the rice and decided we could make room to try the mango sorbet, along with another beer.

The place was absolutely hiving at this point with a queue nearly to the door and even thought we only ordered one sorbet between us, there was no sense of being rushed or coaxed into ordering anything more to keep our spot. The sorbet arrived quickly with two spoons and we tucked in. It was deliciously mango-y and a lovely refreshing end to the meal, and although quite a large portion, it seemed expensive to me. Probably because secretly I wanted churros, but couldn’t have fitted them in!

Our bill came to just over £50, including 4 beers at £4 each, which I thought was pretty good value aside from the vegetable tacos and the sorbet. I liked Wahaca. The food was pretty good, the service was excellent, but I didn’t get a huge sense of atmosphere from the place, pretty as it was. I’d go back for the black beans, taquitos and the queso fundido*, but I’d prefer it to feel a little bit less like a chain next time. Maybe Wednesday isn’t the best night to try them or maybe I need to get over my dislike of tequila?

* And I am totally sold on the idea of the matchbooks of chilli seeds to grow at home!

Chorizo Colombiano

After our epic Colombian lunch the other day, Mister North and I did eventually manage to work up an appetite again and turned our attention to the stunning chorizo Colombiano we had already picked up from Carniceria butcher in Brixton Village.

Chorizo Colombiano is less like the cured Spanish product and more like the great British banger, featuring raw chopped pork, garlic and coriander in a casing. It varies from our sausage in size, looking big and plump enough to use as a draught excluder in a pinch! Slightly greedily we bought 4 of these meaty beauties for a mere £3.60 and decided to make a slow cooked stew with them.

Having been reading the extremely comprehensive The Art of South American Cooking by Felipe Rojas-Lombardi earlier in the week, we agreed that the stew needed long slow cooking, robust flavours and some heat behind it. We bought some black beans and scotch bonnet peppers at the market and decided to make the rest of it up as we went along!

This primarily involved sauteeing a red onion and some scallions over a high heat before adding two of the sausages chopped into chunks along with some chopped carrots and potatoes to brown slightly. Meanwhile we blitzed two scotch bonnets, 3 or 4 cloves or garlic and a good dollop of green seasoning in the hand blender to make a piquant paste which was then used to coat the meat and vegetables as they softened.

Once everything was gently softened, we added a tin of black beans and some liquid with a portion of my homemade home grown slow roasted tomato sauce and a glass or two of water before popping the Le Cresuet in the oven at 140˚C and going out to drink mojitos for an hour or two…

When we came back, the whole flat smelled amazing. On closer inspection the stew had thickened up beautifully as the sauce had reduced and the sausages had broken down to a texture similar to coarse mince rather than remained in chunks. We took the lid off the casserole pot and popped the stew back in for another hour or so to allow the flavours to mingle and mellow nicely.

Kicking ourselves that we hadn’t gone the whole hog and got some quinoa to go with the stew, we opted to serve the stew as it as was without a carb on the side to get the full flavours. And what flavours they were! The sausages were rich and toothsome with a good flavour of garlic throughout while the sauce had a sweet fruity undertone from the tomatoes and the scotch bonnet peppers coming together in a tantalisingly tingle of heat in the mouth. The whole dish was just packed with flavour and texture and was the perfect one pot dish.

We used two of the sausages and got two good portions of the stew each from it, albeit bulked out slightly with rice or couscous on the second night, making this one of the best value meals I’ve had in a while! Despite this frugality, this was a stew that you could serve to anyone for dinner with pride. Simple, hearty and flavoursome; when stew is this good it almost makes me glad the weather is still so miserable so I can indulge in a warming bowful for longer!