Few restaurants have been as successful in London over recent years as Wahaca. MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers and business partner Mark Selby opened the first branch in Covent Garden in the summer of 2007. Now there are 12 of them around the capital and more in the pipeline.
What’s particularly impressive is not the speed of the growth, but that the quality has remained. While we’re not generally partial to chains, Wahaca is one of the good’uns.
Our ears perked, then, when we got whisper of a new venture from Miers and Selby; another Mexican restaurant, but this time a one-off. Named DF Mexico (after the local slang for capital city Distrito Federal) it opened last week in part of the Old Truman Brewery off Brick Lane. It’s currently being billed as a ‘two year experimental residency’, but most things are these days.
The experimentation comes in the form of an injection of Americana, merging US diner grub with the cheese-slathered best of Tex-Mex. It might not sound all that dynamic, but in a restaurant scene where ‘authenticity’ is the buzzword-du-jour, the pair are proving that they do indeed have a pair by going against the grain and launching an unashamedly fusion-food focused gaff.
The space brings together dishevelled wood, concrete and prominent ventilation shafts with eye-sizzling neon splashes of yellow, orange and pink. Like the food, it’s well thought through but unrepentantly bolshy. It’s Wahaca on a bad streak.
The menu spans nachos, burritos and tacos as well as grilled meats, spiced fries and some things called NYC tortas, which are burgers in everything but name. We revel in fresh-faced guacamole that zings with citrus, and a nacho platter dripping in deeply spiced minced beef. Lightly battered and perky-flavoured cod takes centre stage in fully-loaded soft tacos, and sweet, honey-tinged pulled pork is a sultry filling for a massive burrito - although we’d have preferred more of the meat and less rice.
A DIY Mexican board offers tortilla wraps, a cabbage slaw and tangy chipotle sauce alongside our chosen dish of steak and cheese. The chunks of well-sourced beef come filthily drenched in melted cheese in a way only American-influenced food could. It’s the kind of dish you secretly long for in Mexican restaurants but that Mexican restaurants wouldn’t dare serve. If Wahaca is DF’s mother, then surely Old El Paso is the dad.
Portions are big and prices are small, with mains ranging from £6-£10. It's order-at-the-counter service of the kind you get at Nando's, and the food is quick to arrive at your table. Staff are friendly, efficient and knowledgable, even if their role is diminished.
DF Mexico's is the sort of hot-headed food that needs washing down, and frozen margaritas are a fine way of doing it. The ones here are seductively citrusy and generously measured, with the team’s determination to make these oft-diluted frozen tipples as strong as their liquid counterparts well and truly realised. At £6.50 a pop, they’re also rather keenly priced.
Beers don’t disappoint, either. A range of Mexican numbers is bolstered by a pair of South London offerings from Brixton Brewery and Gipsy Hill Brewing Co; the former is made especially for the restaurant and the latter is so brand spanking new that you won’t find it in many other joints.
For dessert, soft-serve Mr. Whippy-style ice cream comes topped either with dulche de leche or raspberry and popping candy. Opt for the former.
DF Mexico is at Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, E1 6QR.