Tastes of the markets of Mexico have arrived in style to Bristol – yes, the hotly anticipated Wahaca has landed on the Clifton Triangle in the premises occupied by Butler’s home store. This is only the second branch to open outside of London (the other is in Cardiff).
Co-founded by MasterChef 2005 winner Thomasina Miers, this successful string of restaurants developed out of a love for ‘fresh, honest, Mexican market food’ that is at once healthy and hearty – after all, there’s so much more to Mexican food than greasy tortilla chips and stuff loaded with cheese – and surely it must taste all the better when it’s made with locally-sourced, seasonal produce as it is at Wahaca.
The 160-seat restaurant stretches far back, and the space is filled with picnic-style tables and booths, plus a couple of hanging birdcage seats right at the front. On this week night evening, virtually every table in the house was full, and the lively sound of chatter created a nice buzz.
With Latino music playing in the background and a busy team dashing around, the restaurant felt vibrant and dynamic as we took our seats in the ‘jungle’ area. We hoped the food would be every bit as exciting as the atmosphere.
As for the menu, it features a mix of tapas-style street food plates for sharing – think tacos, tostadas, quesadillas and enchiladas – plus ‘bigger’ main courses for one. Prices were surprisingly reasonable, and you can eat exceptionally well for around £20 per head.
We kicked off by sipping a couple of margheritas – one hibiscus and one passion-fruit – which were definitely delicious, and definitely lethal. We also dived into some crunchy tortilla chips. These were served with Wahaca’s daily-made Hass avocado guacamole with coriander and lime juice, which tasted really fresh, and the small slices of red onion gave it a little something extra.
So far, so good, but we were most excited about our smaller street food plates…
Our waitress, who was really excellent, sugested we had three plates each, so we did (plus a pot of frijoles with chorizo from Trealy Farm in Monmouthshire, which was rich, hearty, and jam-packed with flavour).Our dishes arrived bit by bit rather than all at once, which was just as well as our table was too small for such a spread.
First, we tucked into a basket of chipotle chicken quesadillas each. The soft corn tortillas were filled with tender shredded poached chicken in a rich, smoky chipotle-tomato sauce. Mmm… When it comes to Mexican food, I don’t think you can beat a good quesadilla, and we both agreed that this was the best dish of the night.
Next up was the grilled British steak tacos, loaded with succulent flash-grilled skirt steak, meco salsa and tomatillo guac – plus added grilled cheese and salsa. Flavours were bold and punchy but well balanced, while the spices were just powerful enough to provide a gentle kick.
We also sampled the crab and avocado tostatas, filled with MSC-certified British crab with chipotle mayo and sliced avocado; marinated chicken taquitos with tender meat seasoned with lime and black pepper, plus Lancashire cheese and smoky meco salsa on top; and the pea and mint empanadas – crisp pastry parcels stuffed with mint-spiked garden peas, crushed with new potatoes and feta. Just, yum…
We’d already devoured a veritable feast, but who could resist the allure of churros y chocolate? Not us.
We shared a portion of three between us – the cinammon-dusted donut strips with a dark, bitter-sweet chocolate dipping sauce were divine and incredibly moreish.
Before leaving, we finished off at the bar with tequila – but this wasn’t just any old tequila.
Since launching in 2007, Wahaca has been serving proper tequila – meaning tequila made from 100% blue agave. As it says on the drinks menu, ‘to earn its name a real tequila must contain at least 51% blue agave.’ No shotting, salt or lemon is required, but instead this spirit should be sipped like a good whisky, our barman told us as he poured all-too generous servings of Don Julio…
It was a school night, but we couldn’t refuse a sample of Don Maguey Mezcal, a spirit that is considered a superior 100% agave spirit to tequila. I’d never tried it before, but it reminded me of whisky, and was spicy, smoky and smooth with a touch of fruitiness.
Bristol isn’t short of a Mexican restaurant or two, but this is a cut above the rest. I find that it’s rare for a venue to recreate the same fun and energy that surrounds the street food scene, but Wahaca certainly goes a long way towards doing this. As for the food, the emphasis here is on being authentic and fresh, and it really pays dividends.
If you haven’t ventured to Wahaca yet and Mexican fare appeals, then go. GO NOW. Your taste buds will thank you.
Wahaca Bristol, 70-78 Queens Road, Bristol, BS8 1QU
We were guests of Wahaca, but we were under no obligation to write a positive review. They did not see this review before it was published.