Inside Kentish Town’s new Wahaca

Factory fresh? We step into the upmarket Mexican chain’s characterful new branch above the tube station

By night: the new Wahaca is lit up. Photos: SE
By night: the new Wahaca is lit up. Photos: SE
Most readers will have, by now, seen the dazzling dayglo pink frontage, and the quirky Old T-Shirt Factory sign swaying in the breeze.

And now the hip chain, founded by Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers, will finally be flinging its doors open, with ‘to-go’ burrito bar downstairs and restaurant upstairs. Hell, they’ve even rebranded the adjoining Fruit Bowl – issues now resolved – in their distinctive logo.

For the uninitiated, Wahaca takes Mexican-inspired dishes and sources them as “ethically and locally as possible”. The menu mixes up street food dishes with bigger plates like marinated pork or grilled haddock with all manner of salads, guacamoles and sides.

They invited a couple of hundred locals to road-test the new joint last night, so we popped by to try the food on the house. And the good news is it’s pretty impressive – if, as expected on a pre-launch night, a bit chaotic.

The industrial staircase. Photo: SE
The industrial staircase. Photo: SE

Walk up the industrial staircase – its walls now swooshed up in on-brand colours – and the first impression is of the scale of the dining room. The four classic Leslie Green-designed half-moon leaded windows have been beautifully scrubbed up, allowing natural evening light to flood in (it’s west-facing, remember).

There’s no huge overhaul of the former factory interior inside – other than screen-printing machines and dripping paint cans removed, of course – and a sense of its past prevails in its stark concrete floor. Previous occupants, Fifth Column, used to produce all manner of both music and fashion-related t-shirts (including our own range of tees, hoodies and tote bags) before upping sticks to cheaper premises in Tottenham. They lasted an impressive forty years, though (read an interview with affable head honcho Cat Santos here).

The space is lit by globes overhead, splashes of colour provided by Wahaca’s signature Mexican pink-and-green furniture and detailing. An open kitchen is awash with chefs; and there are nearly as many enthusiastic waiting staff as punters. In one corner is table football, a magnet for teens and kidults alike, and low bar seating, should you need to wait.

Our advice is to bag one of many tables alongside the vast windows overlooking Kentish Town Road. That way you’ll get a real sense of location; and a fresh perspective on a familiar stretch. Sadly, by the time we arrived, it was packed, so we were squished in a more anonymous, brightly-lit back area – which, we concluded, recalled any one of the branches across the capital.

Pork pibil tacos. Photo: Wahaca
Pork pibil tacos. Photo: Wahaca

So what of the food? Well, if you’ve eaten at another Wahaca, you’ll know what to expect. It’s all about sharing, although many of the tacos come in threes, instigating the inevitable no-you-have-it-really-it’s-OK style palaver. The plates arrive when they’re ready: ours all came at once, and so we fought over tasty chargrilled skirt steak with chipotle salsa, pulled pork tacos (pictured), poached chicken taquitos (tortillas), a really good salmon sashimi tostada with crispy onions and avocado, a gooey chilli quesadilla, and zesty pea and mint empanada. Nearly every dish is about £4, so it’s easy to roam the menu. And there’s a full range of scary tequilas and Mexican cocktails too, but we didn’t risk them on a Tuesday.

Downstairs is the daytime-only burrito bar, once the reception for the former factory, with its tangle of huge plants, dozing office dog and bottle-green original tiling. Now it’s been reinvented as a convenient pit stop for office workers and commuters in need of some lunchtime Mexican heat.

Oh and, for the hell of it, have a butcher’s at this busy view from the roof, where we were lucky enough to clamber up a few years back. A potential outdoor dining terrace, perhaps? Well, you never know.

A sense of calm above the maelstrom below. On the roof of what is now Wahaca. Photograph: Stephen Emms
On the roof of what is now Wahaca. Photo: Stephen Emms
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Find Wahaca at 276 Kentish Town Road NW5 2AA. More info


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