You know how the old saying goes…
MasterChef contestants are like buses – you wait ages for one and then they all come along at once.
In the space of just three weeks, MasterChef 2013 finalists Dale and Larkin have opened their high-end Chinese takeaway Hokkei on Crwys Road; MasterChef 2010 winner Dhruv Baker rocked up for a one-off supper club at Cafe Malaysia; and arguably the biggest news of all, MasterChef 2005 winner Thomasina Miers opened the first branch outside of London of her much-lauded Mexican street food chain, Wahaca.
Located in the heart of Cardiff city centre, Wahaca’s eclectically furnished multi-floor dining space has a great buzz. Murals, multi-coloured tiles and pot plants are all part of the décor mix whilst an evening no-reservation policy (snooze) means there’s a constant turnover of tables (there was a hefty queue by the time we left).
The menu comprises of two main sections – street food i.e. sharing plates where it’s suggested you order 2-3 per person and platos fuertes i.e. bigger plates which serve one or can be shared.
Both options are surprisingly good value with the smaller plates weighing in around £4 and the large plates £10.
Nibbles of light and airy quaver-like pork scratchings (£4.45) were served with a chunky and zingy guacamole. They’re arguably the best scratchings in Cardiff – except of course for JA pork crunch.
The scrumptious scratchings were washed down with a selection of tequila-loaded drinks from the cocktail menu (well-priced with most around £6).
A pure classic margarita (£6.40) deftly balanced sweet, sour and booziness.
Whilst a mojito (£6.25) with tequila substituted as the main ingredient (it was no worse for it) contained a generous kick of mint and a twist of lime.
As is typical in small plate restaurants, dishes in Wahaca are brought out as and when they’re ready. Like our Masterchef contestants, they all arrived at once.
In the main, most of the dishes were very good – there were however a couple of standouts.
Alambres steak (£11.95) from the big plate section was the night’s big winner. Tender strips of steak, onions and peppers were deeply spiced with oregano and thyme whilst the addition of cheese, which had melted into the sauce, added velvetiness and richness. A solid selection of accompaniments – punchy chipotle salsa, sour cream, guacamole, warm soft tortillas, tortilla chips and shredded leaves - meant you could combine the different elements according to preference.
The best of two taquito dishes (finely rolled and filled deep fried tacos) we ordered was a sweet potato and feta variety (£3.95) crammed full of earthy sweet potato and topped with tangy cheese, warming chipotle mayo and sour cream.
Less remarkable but still delicious were a special of duck taquitos (£5.25) stuffed with an indulgently rich combination of confit duck and covered in a subtly chocolatey mole sauce and sour cream.
Other tidy plates included herring tostadas (£4.20) which comprised of a pair of crisp deep-fried tacos topped with light tasting finely flaked smoked herring, shredded lettuce, sour cream and a delicately pickled cucumber.
Pork pibil tacos (£4.10) saw soft corn tortillas topped with juicy, deeply flavoured shredded pork and potent purple pickled onions.
A side of frijoles, twice-cooked soft and buttery black beans (£2.50), were topped with crema (a runnier, milder relation to sour cream) and crumbled cheese.
The only disappointment was quesadillas stuffed with sautéed mushrooms, melted cheese and truffled corn (£3.95) which lacked the vibrancy and texture contrasts of the other sharing plates.
Desserts were the least successful course of the night.
A chocalate tres leches cake (£4.95) was apparently soaked in three types of milk but tasted like a run of the mill warm chocolate sponge. However, the peanut butter ice cream it was topped with was cracking.
Equally, plantain fritters (£4.50) were enjoyable but were nothing more than a slightly less sweet banana fritter.
However, churros (£3.95) more than made up for the other two desserts. Warm, crisp, light and dusted in cinnamon they were served with an off-menu option of caramel sauce - sweet, creamy and smooth I could have downed the whole cup.
Wahaca is a great addition to Cardiff City Centre. It's not mind-blowing but it's head and shoulders above most other chains in town and a good alternative to some of my favourite independents.
Disclosure - I was invited to Wahaca, all food and drink was complimentary.
The Details:Address - Wahaca Cardiff, 51-53 The Hayes, Cardiff CF10 1GA
Telephone - 029 2167 0414
Web - http://www.wahaca.co.uk/