Laura Cartledge heads to Wahaca and finds herself transported to Mexico.
In Chichester it is fair to say there is an abundance of places you could eat but ask people where you should eat and the list is somewhat shorter.
The number of cafes and chain eateries often makes the headlines as locals bemoan the fact the city is bursting at the seams with eateries.
However, this strength of feeling also applies in reverse with a passionate welcome awaiting any newcomer that is seen to break the mould.
A petition was created urging for Wagamama to set up in the city and now Wahaca has joined it to help spice up South Street.
Founded by MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers, the Mexican street food it serves has an almost cult-like following – and after just one visit you can understand why.
I’ll admit I felt a bit overwhelmed, even before I turned to the extensive menu, being dazzled by the colourful murals, funky lighting and mismatched furniture.
All in a good way you understand.
My senses seemed to clock that we were in for a bit of an adventure – and thankfully my friend, a seasoned expert, along with the brilliant staff were on hand to play tour guide.
Speaking of which, it might be interesting to note there’s set menu options: An Introduction £22 for two or An Adventure £34 for two.
But sticking on familiar territory, I opted for a Dalston’s ginger beer (£3) to go with our ‘nibbles’, frijoles (creamy twice cooked black beans) and fresh guacamole both with tortilla chips, while my friend opted for the ‘horchata’ a delicious combination of almond milk with cinnamon (£1.95).
“This is so nice for how disgusting it looks,” laughed my friend referring to the black bean mush.
And I couldn’t have put it better. Topped with crumbly Lancashire cheese and crema (£3.45), like yoghurt, it was totally moreish.
While a contrast in flavour, with its squeeze of lime juice and generous chunks, the guacamole (£4.45) made me question why I ever ate shop bought.
Going from slightly wary to wanting to dive in, in less time than it takes to snap a tortilla, I decided to go for the tapas plates for main course.
In my defence it did recommend two to three plates per person, and I had no reason to question a menu that hadn’t let me down yet.
Picking a bit of the unknown – cactus and courgette tacos (£4.10) – the exotic – Yucatecan ceviche of cured fish (£6.95) – and the safe – battered cod (£5.50), the result was nothing short of a feast.
Making me relieved to see the size of the slow-cooked pork burrito (£7.25), ‘pimped’ to include baja cheese, a side of fresh guacamole, warm tortilla chips, salsas and grilled
cheese (+£2) being served across the
The cactus was the opposite of what I expected, thankfully, as it was succulent and subtle in flavour.
This made it a nice contrast to the ceviche which, despite looking delicate, packed a firey punch.
While the cod, described as ‘beach-shack style’ can only be described as a fish finger sandwich that had gone on holiday – giving a nod to what you know but given an exotic twist.
The pork was also receiving high praise, with the labour of slow cooking it in habanero and achiote marinade paying off with tender results.
With shredded cabbage, green rice, salsas and pink pickled onions, the plate offered a riot of flavour and texture.
“It has got a kick but not too much, it is well balanced,” said my friend.
“The salt of the pickles against the sweetness of the avocado,”
Never ones to quit at the final hurdle, we turned to dessert with the classic ‘churros y chocolate’ (£4.25) getting my friend’s vote and the coconut-crumbed plantain (£4.50) spiking my curiosity.
Despite both having had churros before, these were taking it up a level with the just-crisp coating and soft middle showcasing expert cooking, while the rich chocolate dipping sauce gave new meaning to the word ‘rich’.
Also ticking all the boxes was the plantain, nutty, soft and sweetened by the vanilla ice-cream and caramel cajeta sauce, it saw me put the spoon down with a sigh – part content, part sad it was over.
Little did I know, rather than the mints which often come with the bill, Wahaca likes to leave you with something more lasting in the form of match-box book sized seed packets.
Usually they are of the chilli variety, I was told, but with the festive season creeping up we were given the means to grow our own Christmas trees.
Which is another first, leaving me with the feeling this won’t be my last visit here.
Wahaca Chichester, 31 – 33 South Street, Chichester
www.wahaca.co.uk 01243 216144
Wahaca pictures by Adam Scott
Food pictures by Laura Cartledge
October 26, 2016 Food and Drink