66 Chandos Place, Covent Garden WC2N 4HG
tel: +44 (0)20 7240 1883
I first heard the delicious term from my hairdressers. "Oh, her," one snarled one afternoon while gossiping about a particular client. "She's all fur coat, no knickers." I asked what on earth he meant. "It means she's all superficial with no real substance underneath." I fell in love with the saying and subsequently tried to weave it into conversation whenever possible. It also seemed an apt catchphrase for this review. Since opening in August 2007, Wahaca has been feted by food reviewers and bloggers. It was opened by the affable and media-friendly ex-Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers. It was touted as being fun and funky, with delicious and affordable Mexican street food. Because of its no-bookings policy, I had heard stories of queues around the block. So I waited three years. What a trick. It worked. Zero line at 1pm on a weekday and an entire restaurant of seats to take our pick from.
My first impression was that it was a little Disney-fied. An over-enthusiastic waiter greeted us and weaved us through a maze of fluorescent decor to our table. "Happy Wednesday!" he exclaimed gaily. It was very un-London-like. We weren't even in our seats before another waiter was asking what we'd like to drink. Luckily, I'd done my research. I'd heard nothing but good things about the margaritas made with the purest tequila. I ordered one and it arrived six nanoseconds later to my surprise. To Wahaca's credit: it was brilliant. Strong and perfectly salted. Definitely not Disney.
My dining companion and I were both ravenous, so we ordered some tortilla chips and "secret recipe" guacamole (£3.95) to start. Whatever the secret was, it didn't include much garlic. While the chips were decent, the guacamole was pretty bland and reminded me of a chunkier version than what you can get in a plastic container at Sainsbury's. I ordered another margarita to cheer myself up. Mickey Mouse then asked us what we'd like to have for our main courses. I asked for a recommendation. "EVERYTHING!" he yelled. Taking a big sip of my margarita and wondering if I'd need to mix it with a paracetamol, I ordered the classic enchilada with shredded free-range chicken, "bathed in a house tomato sauce" (£8.95). My companion ordered a char-grilled steak salad which came in a tortilla bowl (£7.60).
My companion had eaten at Wahaca once before, but at the Canary Wharf branch (there are three altogether now including one at Westfield Shopping Centre). "I loved this when I had it last time," she said smiling as her she dug her fork into her salad. Then she frowned. "Oh. This tastes different. The steak is really tough and overcooked," she said disappointedly. "Oh what I shame," I said. "You can have some of mine - it smells divine." But smell and taste don't always equate. I took a mouthful of enchilada expecting a spicy, cheesy chicken dish. What I got was a bland, soupy tomato, overcooked chicken mess with hard green rice. Bland. Super bland. Blanderific. Blindingly bland. I ordered another margarita. Then I dumped a quarter bottle of hot sauce on top. Fire hot! But...still bland. Disneyland bland. Very, very average and hardly the exciting taste of Mexico I had been promised. Mickey arrived to clear our plates and shouted: "CHURROS FOR PUDDING?" I put on my sunglasses and declined. At this point I wanted off this ride. Granted, the margaritas were good - but the rest was all fur coat, no knickers.