The first memory that springs to my mind as I write this post has nothing to do with London; it dates back to the six months I spent on a student exchange in France, long before moving to the UK. Back then, I had a Mexican friend, whom I remember as one of the quietest, sweetest people I ever met. When it came to Mexican cuisine, however, she was as opinionated as I am when pizza or ice cream are at issue. The food we know as Mexican, she claimed, is what Europeans and Americans believe to be Mexican fare: you’re as likely to see a Mexican cook burritos at home, than to catch an Italian add cream to their carbonara. I wonder what she would think of Wahaca, then. Would she enjoy eating there at all?
My very first visit, around three years ago, wasn’t a dazzling love at first sight. The Covent Garden branch, with its spacious basement turned dining area, had me wonder if time had turned back, and I had just stepped in the depths of my former school canteen. Sure, I liked the food – but there was something uncanny to eating it in a windowless room, watching waiters hurry from table to table as the Saturday night hullabaloo unfolded. Since then, I tried the glitzier and more sophisticated Soho branch, and recently visited the Islington restaurant. I loved its relaxed atmosphere and funky decor, and enjoyed perusing Wahaca’s wide ranging menu once again, in search of new dishes and flavours.
Quite cleverly, Wahaca recommends making a meal out of two or three dishes from its Street Food list. This option yields good value for money and a touch of diversity, as you can share your picks with your mates. I’d normally jump at the chance of trying six different recipes in the space of one dinner; however, I was extraordinarily hungry that evening, and so was my partner – and this called for an extraordinary dinner: one street food dish each, followed by a main course.
As my partner enjoyed his plantain tacos with black beans and feta, I discovered the highlight of my evening: a quesadilla filled with soft steamed potato, oozing melted cheese and fiery chorizo, all seasoned with a generous sprinkle of thyme. The flavour was so delightfully rich, I could have gone for seconds – but the time to taste our main was fast approaching. We both went for pork pibil: marinated pork served in a parcel, flavoured with Mayan spices, orange juice and hot chilli. The meat (soft, juicy, loaded with spice) fully met our rosiest expectations. Sides of green rice and black beans complemented it quite well, although I found them slightly too cold for my taste. I put this down to to a busy night’s mishap, which didn’t in the least spoil my experience: I would reorder and recommend the pork pibil without hesitation.
We rarely cook homemade Mexican food, and given how much we both like it, I’m not entirely sure why that is. Still, Wahaca’s chorizo and potato quesadilla was too good to bury in my memory until the next visit: I felt compelled to make it at home, and my partner happily pandered to my craving. We found that the recipe is very simple; the real challenge is striking the right balance between the ingredients in the filling. My first quesadilla tasted too bland, owing to a potato overload that smothered the taste of chorizo. I wanted more spice, more flavour – and luckily enough, I had a quick fix right at my fingertips.
Back at the restaurant, we had barely noticed the sauces on our table: our food already tasted great on its own. When it came to our homemade quesadilla, though, Wahaca’s Smoky Chipotle sauce came in very handy. Its flavour, a combination of smoky and spicy, gives a fiery twist to the delicate potato filling. Better still, it works a treat with a much wider range of dishes, beyond Mexican cuisine: I recommend mixing it with tomato passata, to spice up the classic seasoning for Italian meatballs. First of all, though, here’s my quesadilla recipe, with a few tweaks to correct my initial mistakes.
Chorizo and potato quesadilla
- 4 large tortilla wraps
- 300g white potatoes (I used 450g, which felt like too much)
- 150g smoked chorizo, diced or sliced
- 150g mozzarella, diced
- Thyme, salt and pepper, to your taste
- A helping of Wahaca’s Smoky Chipotle sauce (on the side)
- Cook the potatoes in boiling water, skin on, until soft (around 45 minutes – 1 hour)
- Drain the potatoes, peel the skin away, and mash them slightly with a fork or potato masher.
- Season with thyme, salt and pepper, and mix well.
Cook’s tip: If the mixture is too firm, and you find it hard to work it, add one tablespoon of oil.
- Spread one quarter of the potato mixture on one half of a tortilla, then top with one quarter of the chorizo and mozzarella.
Cook’s tip: Cook the chorizo in a non-stick pan for for a few minutes before adding it in, to bring out its flavour. If you want to speed up the process, feel free to skip this step.
- Fold each tortilla in two, covering the garnished half with the “empty” half.
- Repeat the previous two steps with the other wraps.
- Cook each quesadillas in a non-stick pan or grill pan, on medium heat. Depending on the size of your pan, you may be able to fit two tortillas at a time.
- Turn every 3 – 4 minutes. Cook until your quesadilla is golden on both sides, and the cheese has melted.
- Serve with Wahaca’s Smoky Chipotle sauce as a dip, to enhance the flavour of your quesadillas.
68 – 69 Upper Street
London, N1 0NY
(nearest tube station: Angel)
Open 12pm – 11pm Monday to Friday, 11am – 11pm Saturdays, 11am – 10.30pm Sundays
020 3697 7990