London - UK


Wahaca is a chain of Mexican restaurants, the specific one we visited in May 2013 is located 66 Chandos Place, a 5 minutes walk north-east of Trafalgar Square.

The food was very good and authentic. We had the pleasure of enjoying:
  • the Fresh Tomato Salsa and Chips: As expected from any good Mexican restaurant, the salsa was fresh and spicy, with the tomatoes blending expertly with the onions and chilies. For those not used to Mexican levels of spice, this might be a little bit over-the-top, but the authenticity and balance of flavours is still evident. The nacho chips are good, they leave nothing to complain about.
  • the Pork Pibil Tacos: Pibil is a slow-roasting method of preparing pork originating from the Yucatan Peninsula, where pig is normally roasted for hours in highly acidic sauces and special fruits. This delicious method of cooking creates a melt-in-your-mouth tender pork, and these tacos lived up to our expectations. They are topped with spicy onions that can subdue the pibil and it is worth taking some of them out. Just be careful of the juices as you bite into the taco, they can create a mean stain on your clothes when they drip out and splatter! 
  • the Chicken Tinga Tacos: These are spicier that the other tacos, but for those who love a little fiery bite from their Mexican food, it delivers that kick that hits the spot. However, I expected a little more smokiness when the menu promised a "smoky tomato sauce", and I feel like the spiciness drowned some possibly delicious nuances. Don't get me wrong, they're still delicious and I will order them every time I find myself at Wahaca.
  • the Grilled British Steak Tacos: These can be had with Chipotle Salsa or with Grilled Cheese and Salsa. We opted for the Chipotle Salsa option, because grilled cheese didn't seem to belong on a taco. While they weren't bad, and in any other company the Grilled British Steak tacos would have held their own, they felt a little flat when compared to the Pork Pibil and Chicken Tinga. They also left the spice buds alone, making this a good choice for those with adverse reactions to chillies.  
  • the Chicken Guajillo Tostadas: If food is poetry, then tasting any single ingredient separately from a dish is like quoting one line of a sonnet, out of context. When the plate of Chicken Guajillo arrived, I happened to get a bit of the sauce on my hand. Naturally, I tasted it and I was very disappointed; it was flat and missing any interesting character. I resigned myself to the fact that I would probably not enjoy this plate. But, taking a proper bite consisting of every layer; chipotle-marinated chicken, salad, avocado, and whatever else was in that wondrous sonnet, I stood corrected. The Chicken Guajillo at Wahaca should be a case study in balancing flavours and textures in the kitchen. If you eat at Wahaca (and why wouldn't you after reading all this), get this tostada. If you, or anyone you know, wants to understand the poetry of cooking, eat this tostada.
  • the Chipotle Chicken Quesadillas: This is perhaps the one weak link in the menu, but one can blame the British as much as one can blame Wahaca. Lancashire cheese simply does not work in a Quesadilla. Well, it isn't bad per se, but it simply misses the mark; it is like going to bed with a supermodel and finding out that she just wants to lie down and talk about cars. Yes, thats great; but not what we came for. I'd give these a pass, and order more tacos or tostadas instead. 
  • the Churros y Chocolate: Alright, if you still have room for dessert, it is hard to pass up the Churros Y Chocolate. And yes, they are as good as you might imagine. The Churros tasted fresh, warm, and crispy on the outside. The chocolate was okay … but the Churros are definitely the star of the dish.
  • the Chocolate Tres Leches Cake: Soak chocolate cake in a mixture of three milks; evaporated milk, condensed milk, and whole milk, and you end up with a lovely, moist sponge cake. The beauty of it is that it isn't overly buttery or rich, unlike many other restaurant desserts. I personally didn't care much for the peanut butter ice-cream that was served with it, being a fan of vanilla ice-cream myself. The next time, I might try something else.
The Smokey Chipotle Chilli sauce they put on the table is really good and authentic.

Our waiter was friendly.

Even though the restaurant was crowded, they don't push you to eat fast and get out. We stayed about two hours on a Saturday night.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is so-so.

The very disappointing and annoying thing is the fact that the waiting area/bar is next to the tables, so people waiting keep piling up next your table.

The wait for a table might be long as there is no booking.

We visited the following places in London in Christmas 2011, in May 2012, and in July 2012.

The Punch Tavern

The Punch Tavern is an old pub located at 99 Fleet Street, 5 minutes walk north of Blackfriars Subway Station. This charming pub has an air of splendid history, with its dark oak paneling, marble bar, a massive ornate fireplace and decorative ceiling, and this history is written out just at the entrance. Whilst a pub has been at that site since the 17th century, it was refitted in the 1890s by the "big-spending" Baker Brothers (according to The Punch Tavern's website).

But you won't get any old British dusty airs here, the staff is very friendly and extremely polite, which is always nice to discover in England. The first time we were at the pub, I ordered a bottled beer, accepted it, and took it back to the table before I discovered that it was not the variety I wanted. That was my fault, I had pointed to the bottle and the bartender gave me what I asked for. Well, I went back and explained I had made a mistake, and with no hesitation the opened bottle was taken back and I was offered a choice of something else.

The food lives up to the expectations that the ambiance and friendly disposition suggest. This is an important statement, so I will separate it from paragraphs:

This was the best fish and chips we have had in England.

In fact, this might be the only fish and chips that is worth some status as a "national dish". The fish tastes ... well, fresh. In fact, one can taste the fish, which is already more than I can say for most other pubs' fish and chips. The batter is not too greasy and even tastes like some culinary consideration was put into the mixture. The fish is flaky and the batter is not so thick that you wonder which ingredient ought to come first in the name. The only downside is the portion of fries that accompanies it is not substantial.

One great thing about The Punch Tavern is that their prices are extremely reasonable. Not only that, each day of the week showcases one dish as a special, 5 pounds for the dish and 2 pounds for the dessert of the day. Definitely not a deal to pass up, check on their website for more information and times.

Bella Italia

Bella Italia is a chain of Italian restaurants, the specific one we have visited is located 70 St. Martin's Lane, a 10 minutes walk north of Trafalgar Square.

We ended up there by luck on Christmas Eve, because it was one of the only restaurants open late that night. Even though it was Christmas Eve and the restaurant was quite crowded, the staff was amazing. They ran around squeezing past each other with full trays of food and drink and maneuvering around the tables and chairs crapped into the small restaurant, but they all had a smile on their face. Despite the busy rush, our waiter took his time to explain the specials to us, and was happy to give us a few more minutes to decide, and came back promptly when we were ready.

The food was absolutely fantastic. This is where we discovered the Pollo e Spinaci, a delicious gorgonzola cream pasta with spinach, mushrooms and chicken. The Agnello Tagliatelle was rich and robust, lamb with red wine ragu served over tagliatelle pasta is just a heavenly treat.

We were so happy with the food and the service that we went back in July 2012 during another visit in London. Once again, we found ourselves roaming around London on a Saturday evening with hunger gnawing at our stomachs, only to find restaurants full and waiting lists as long as the rainy season in England. We decided to try out this Bella Italia. We were slightly worried when we saw the crowd, but were told that we would have to wait 10-15 mins for a table. We were seated in 5 mins and the service and food lived up to every expectation we had of Bella Italia. We strongly recommend this restaurant!

Reviewed by Charline Leblond and Shyamal Addanki

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