Most restaurant critics follow a similar formula for talking about their dining experience- service, ambiance, food quality and price. Granted these are all important practical bits of information when deciding where to take your new girlfriend to show that you’ve got some idea about where the best Béarnaise sauce in Soho is. The problem is that it doesn’t always leave room for a very important category- how interesting your meal actually is.
Yes your butter may be raw cream, and your duck may be a l’oranged, but that hardly makes for anything to talk about at the pub. What you need is a weird and wacky menu, and for that you generally need a good deal of fusion cooking.
Fusion food has been in for awhile, even permeating the upper gastronomic echelons with expensive French/Asian restaurants serving bok choy with a redcurrant jus. On a more everyday scenario, there’s a little bit of Tex-Mex to be had in pretty much every fast food joint, with my personal favourite (not by taste- purely for its advertising prowess): the Texican Whopper from Burger King.
I seem to have digressed a bit here, but that’s what pink flannel and gimp mask does to a girl.
So, fusion is interesting. But does it make up for lack of quality? I think yes, but it has to be really interesting. It has to be a kind of food that really has no idea what the hell it’s meant to be. It has to be schizophrenia on a plate… and that’s exactly what you get at Wahaca.
I went here with some friends last night, ready to experience tostadas and quesadillas. While there was definitely quite a lot of Mexican going on, (it being billed as a Mexican restaurant and all) there was a noticeable amount of other influences that would have cost the chefs a few airmiles.
Firstly, what country do you think of when you grab a bag of pork scratchings? I know they’re available in convenience stores around the globe, but the number one place to go bag yourself some dried-up pig rind is your local British pub.
Granted Wahaca looked like it made its from scratch (ha ha) instead of ripping open crisp bag after crisp bag, and filling a plastic bowl, as many people do here when spending a sporting night in. In fact, I’ve never seen pork scratchings presented so nicely.
What got me about these scratchings though was the marketing going on in the menu to get you to come around to the idea of eating Babe sans-diet. The menu read, “lighter, healthier pork scratchings”. Lighter and healthier than what, an oreo-stuffed Big Mac coated in sausage meat which is then itself coated in batter and deep fried in partially hydrogenated oil?
Incredulity aside, they tasted ok, but the guacamole was the winner in this dish. Perhaps that’s what justified the word “healthy” and took your attention away from the otherwise hefty fat content of 100%.
As part of our starter dishes, we all opted to share some broad bean, thyme and feta taquitos. What is a taquito you may ask? Well it has one important word that sold its virtues to all of us at the table: “deep-fried”.
Wahaca describe taquitos as: “corn tortillas wrapped around one of our wholesome fillings, deep-fried and served with crema”. Yes, they really did write “wholesome” and “deep-fried” in the same sentence, separated by a word synonymous with “carbs”.
While my photography skills do this meal no justice whatsoever (the yellow filter adds to the Mexican theme, no?) what we actually ended up with was a Mexican take on the Asian spring roll.
Instead of rice paper: tortillas. Instead of pork mince and glass noodles: beans and salsa.
These little bite-sized bits of deep fried stuffed tortillas were really interesting to eat, though taste-wise ended up a bit on the bland side somehow. I didn’t care though as this was my first Mexican spring roll ever!
As if the food itself wasn’t fusion enough, even the condiments were just a bit confused.
Yes, that really does say, “Mexican Hot Sauce Made In Devon”. I’ve never seen a better example of bottled befuddlement. Genius though.
To finish off our meal, we opted for the traditional Mexican churros y chocolate (basically a crunchyish, chewyish Mexican doughnut) and a bowl of vanilla ice cream.
Now you may think I’m going to talk about the churros, but you’d be wrong- it was the plain old vanilla ice cream that was the curiosity contender for dessert.
See it wasn’t just vanilla ice cream by itself. Oh no, you couldn’t expect that from a restaurant with one of its main options being, “British steak, the Mexican way” (which, if you’re interested, is strips of British steak served the Mexican way with coriander rice, charred spring onions and our special house salsas).
The vanilla ice cream came with toasted pumpkin seeds and hibiscus syrup. More normal than a cone really…
The toasted pumpkin seeds were quirky. The hibiscus syrup, meant that this bowl was confusing itself with a garden seed tray. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had juiced flower served with my ice cream, let alone juiced flower and dried seeds that could have otherwise one day grown into something served on the side of a leg of lamb.
The ice cream was not only interesting though, it was really delicious. The churros however, had a bit of a personality crisis as everyone thought it was way too salty for a sweet dessert. Still though, combined with a sugar-rich chocolate sauce, it worked in the end.
So did we get mints at the end of our meal? No, because the name of this restaurant is “Wahaca”. Instead we got some very eccentric Serrano Chilli seeds, lodged in bits of cardboard, ready to plant at home so you can make your own salsa in a couple of years.
Wahaca is not lacking in personality, though the food itself tastes pretty average. To prove this point, one dining companion maintained that food-wise, it paled in comparison to the enchiladas at Dos Amigos in Taringa. This is a restaurant in the western suburbs of Brisbane. No, not even in the centre of the city…
I’ve never been there, but the food must be incredibly good if chef-salary funding was taken from the company’s advertising budget as the company could only afford this:
Apologies for the Australian trying to do a Mexican accent. It won’t happen again.