She has won acclaim as a chef and writer, but is now probably best known for being a co-founder of the popular Mexican chain Wahaca.
As a huge fan of Mexican food, and having run bars in Mexico, the gloopy, cheese-covered dishes served up in England under the guise of Mexican food did not bear much of a resemblance to the food she had enjoyed in South America,
As she says, “Not so long ago, tequila girls, cheap shots and greasy tortilla chips were images that sprang to mind when ‘Mexican’ was done in Britain. At Wahaca we shook things up a bit and started doing things a little differently.”
Brighton’s branch of Wahaca, brightened with murals by Mexican street artist Mazatl, opened a year ago on a corner in North Street.
Wahaca may be a chain, but it can definitely boast some Brighton-friendly credentials – it won the SRA’s Sustainable Restaurant Group of the Year award not just once, but three times (2012, 2013 and 2016).
There are also plenty of vegetarian options – showing a very different side to the usual meat-heavy plates that the UK associates with Mexico.
The menu is divided into nibbles, small plates of street food (20p from each dish goes to charities and campaigns in Mexico and the UK, according to the paper menu on which your food choices are circled by the waiter), larger plates either ‘from the grill’ or burritos, and desserts.
We started, like most people (although no doubt we missed out on the chorizo-topped frijoles), with guacamole with tortilla chips which was fresh, creamy and zingy with lime. The only drawback was a huge chunk of uncrushed avocado at the bottom which resisted our greedy prodding completely.
Opting for a selection of smaller street food plates to enjoy a decent range of cooking, the dishes ranged from the rich, unctuous pork pibil tacos (five-hour braised shoulder of pork cooked in a Yucatecan marinade with fiery pink pickled onions) to the lighter, vibrant crispy prawn tacos (corn tortillas stuffed with prawn, chillies, spring onion and coriander).
Vegetarian options include the ‘spring special’ mushroom fundido (roasted, glazed mushrooms baked in cheddar and mozzarella and served with tortillas), black bean soup spiked with jalapenos and oozing black bean and cheese quesadillas – a far cry from the sad solitary vegetarian option often found on restaurant menus.
Desserts are a blend of the familiar and the exotic: there’s a gooey chocolate brownie on the menu, but it’s made with cricket flour; while the vanilla ice-cream is served with toasted pumpkin seeds and drizzled with cajeta caramel sauce.
Of course, any Mexican restaurant worth its salt (and wedge of lime) must have a good margarita on the menu – Wahaca has four: the classic, tamarind, hibiscus and passion fruit. A selection of tequilas, mezcals, cocktails, beers and wines and mocktails show display its founder’s bar knowledge.
Wahaca’s charms are flexible – it can just as easily please a large group seeking cocktails and nibbles as someone sitting down for a serious three-course blowout, complete with extra sides such as sweet potato or rice and beans.
But whatever your reason for visiting, it will certainly give you a whole new appetite for Mexican food.
WAHACA RECIPE: Tommi’s classic Margarita
Makes: Two glasses
Time: Five minutes
fine sea salt, for rims
70ml blanco tequila
50ml fresh lime juice
30ml agave syrup
Two lime wedges, to garnish
“In this version of the classic, we use agave syrup instead of triple sec to sweeten the cocktail. The result is pure, refreshing and, we would go so far as to say, not bad for the health: with vitamin C from the fresh lime and low GI sugars from the agave syrup!
Prepare two tumblers with salt rims. Shake all the ingredients over ice and pour into the tumblers.
Garnish each with a wedge of lime.”
Address: Wahaca, 160 – 161 North Street, Brighton, BN1 1EZ
Phone number: 01273 934763
Opening Times: Mon – Sat: 12pm-11pm; Sunday: 12pm-10.30pm.