On arriving we were ushered downstairs from the main restaurant floor down into their more intimate bar space for a tutored tasting in that classic Mexican spirit, tequila. Before going on to describe how the evening developed I will just mention the decor – there’s a long coloured chainlink curtain that runs almost the whole length of the bar which is picked out with a Mexican ‘day of the dead’ theme that is very odd indeed, as are the strange arrangement of wall lights. That and the bank of table football contraptions overlooking the outlandish WC area makes for rather a jarring experience – the atmosphere is certainly not that of your typical soho bar… Before we got down to business we were invited to try out their unusual cocktails – I had a spiced chocolate cocktail that I can only describe as a punch in the throat from a velvet glove. I can imagine that if chocolate isn’t your thing you’d absolutely hate it, but the next time I’m back there its going at the top of my ‘wants’ for the evening.
So on to the tasting then , which was conducted by their chief tequila guru. Not many people are aware of the way in which tequila is made, so before I go on to describe the particular ones that we tried last night I’ll tell you some interesting facts about the drink itself. Tequila is made exclusively in the Mexican region of the same name (much like champagne can only come from the Champagne region in France) by harvesting the blue agave plant found in the valley of Tequila (from 1400-1500 metres above sea level) or up in the Highlands (at over 2100 metres) after it has been allowed to grow for a period of between 5 and 9 years. After it is picked this fibrous plant is then slow-cooked to bring out its sweet and syrupy qualities in traditional brick ovens or by using a more modern autoclave method, and then distilled in pot or column stills (not disimilar to the way in which whisky is produced).
Although blended tequilas are available, the ten different varieties that we tried tonight are all 100% (well 99% actually – producers are allowed to introduce 1% of a very limited number of additional ingredients if they wish to) and came from the three main kinds of tequila – tequila blanco (which is made from unaged spirit), reposado (which is allowed to age for up to two months) and anejo (which can be aged up to 1 year but only made in quite small batches). There are two other types which we didn’t try tonight but I’ll mention them for completeness – gold tequila, which is a mixture of blanco and the more aged spirits and extra anejo, which as you might guess is aged for up to 3 years.
Now I won’t go into copious detail about each one on tonight’s menu but I will just mention that the Wahaca ethos is for tequila sipping, not slamming. They really believe in the quality of their product, and in fact have designed their own exclusive wide mouthed small tumblers made from recycled Mexican glass to help people resist the urge to just bolt them down. Of the blancos that we tried tonight I rather liked the Tromba, which really reflects the best qualities in an unaged tequila – it has an unmistakeably ‘green’ taste and smell, in fact there were lots of cucumber and buttery notes, although it did have that long, warm tequila finish. Not at all what you experience when you drink one of the tequilas that you’ll generally find on the supermarket shelves – in fact tequila officionados tend to gravitate towards these blanco brands because they have that a very clean, unadulterated taste. I should also mention that Tromba comes in at a Mexican street price of $69, which you can imagine in Mexico is horrendously pricey – who says I don’t have expensive tastes? Of the reposados that we sampled, Don Cosme was my favourite – despite the acetone-like alchohol vapours that came off the drink (which a common smell associated with tequila by the way!) it had a very delicate taste with a curious combination of citrus, tropical fruit and nutty flavours. This one retails in Mexico for a much more reasonable $7! Coming finally to the anejos, my chosen tipple here was the Tres Mujeres (translated as ‘3 women’) from Amatitan – full of smokey flavours, licquorice and with a spicy pepper aftertaste – street price? $14.
Not wanting to let us stagger out into the street with all that alcohol swilling around inside us, our hosts took us upstairs into the restaurant (which has funky decor the equal of the downstairs bar I might add) to sample some typical dishes from their range of mexican street food – the kind you’ll find being sold from stalls in any Mexican town. Again there were some surprises here, because there was not a taco or burrito in sight, but dishes ranging from a cheesy baked meat concoction to fried wedges of sweet potato and even spiced parcels of seafood. This was all accompanied by their ‘house tequila’ – the reposado version of the El Tesoro brand.
Can I recommend Wahaca to you? Well if you’re bored of the usual staples then its a big thumbs up from me as the atmosphere, the food and the drink are unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere in London. My jaded palette loved every second of it. Of course if I’ve got you interested you can check them out on Facebook, and I should also let you know that, in addition to Soho, they also have outlets in Notting Hill, Canary Wharf and a location next to Westfield near White City.