Wahaca, one of my favourite London restaurant brands which specialises in fresh and seasonal Mexican street food, is to open its first non-London restaurant at St. David’s, Cardiff on 13th November. Seeing as I only left the bright lights of the big smoke a few months ago, the timing couldn’t be better! 🙂
Wahaca exploded on to the London restaurant scene in 2007 and was the result of co-founder Thomasina Miers’ travels to Mexico and resulting love of the cuisine. After winning Masterchef in 2005 and cooking in a Michelin-starred restaurant, she teamed up with fellow Mexico enthusiast Mark Selby to open a UK restaurant that would reflect the vibrant colours, flavours and buzz of the country’s markets.
Apparently, Thomasina’s vision was “to overturn the prevailing ‘Tex-Mex’ stereotype of tequila girls and greasy tortilla chips” and as a mission statement, I couldn’t sympathise any more. So much of the ‘mexican inspired’ food on the restaurant scene is just cheap meat, covered in chilli sauce and smothered in cheese. It’s big, but it’s certainly not clever.
Wahaca, by contrast serve freshly prepared seasonal dishes, in small plates (designed for sharing, like tapas) – creating a ‘street food’ style menu that is a million miles away from the cheesy, fatty overload that has become synonymous with Mexican food. Although their meat and fish is not organic, their signature pibil tacos are made with outdoor-reared British pork and their crispy fish tacos are MSC certified. There are also plenty of delicious veggie options, proving that Mexican food can be light, fresh and summery too.
For Wahaca, as important as delicious food is a commitment to sustainability, and all ingredients are sourced as locally as possible to home, or transported with care for the environment. Fish and meat comes from farms operating to higher-than-average welfare standards – they recently won Compassion in World Farming‘s Good Chicken award for sourcing from ‘enriched’ farms with greater respect for the birds’ welfare. Similarly, where specialist ingredients have to be sourced from Mexico, the approach is to buy direct from local co-operatives that support local farming communities. In fact, Wahaca has won numerous awards for quality, sustainability and design; including the Observer Food Monthly Award for Best Cheap Eat in the UK, and the Sustainable Restaurant Group of the Year in 2012 and 2013. Last year, they were also involved in the Pig Idea – a campaign aiming to cut restaurant industry wastage by allowing food scraps to be fed to pigs.
In stark comparison to the somewhat yawnsome wave of super-sized burger and BBQ restaurants that seem to be sweeping Cardiff at the moment (with the exception of the wonderful Hangfire ladies of course), you can imagine how happy I am that Wahaca chose Cardiff for their next location. Their attitude towards sustainability will even extend to the design of the St David’s premises; the 150 cover restaurant will be the most eco-friendly to date, incorporating ultra-sustainable building materials and the latest efficiency technologies.
As Thomasina explained, “This will be the biggest thing we’ve done since first opening in London. It is really exciting that we’ll be bringing our fresh Mexican flavours to Cardiff of all places.
“I’m mad about Wales having spent most of my childhood holidays at my grandmother’s near Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire, many holidays since in North Wales and South. It’s a country full of great ingredients and people who really appreciate good food – it seems the natural place for our next adventure.”
“We want Wahaca Cardiff to be very much a part of the local community, and at the same time give our guests an experience that transports them to the streets of Mexico.”
I for one can’t wait to welcome them to my home city. Roll on November!