MasterChef winner, food writer, Wahaca co-founder and unofficial ambassador for Mexican food in the UK, Thomasina Miers is a busy woman. We grab 15 minutes to discuss the origins of one of London’s most successful restaurant groups.
Where did the idea for Wahaca come from?
I spent a year living in Mexico researching the food – I couldn’t believe there was no decent Mexican food in the UK when there was so much amazing food from the rest of the world. It felt that ‘real’ Mexican, as opposed to Tex-Mex, was the best kept culinary secret.
Tell us about a memorable turning point in the business?
Three weeks in! We had lied to everyone about when we were opening (our first site in Covent Garden) and then we were suddenly rumbled by a journalist… he wrote a review and the queue started snaking out the door and down the street. That queue didn’t budge until we opened up a site nearby in Soho and another one on the Southbank.
What’s been your greatest mistake and what did it teach you?
I think at the beginning I worried about how authentic, weird and wonderful I could go, but ended up dumbing our food down a bit. Our customers showed us that they had a real appetite to experiment with new ingredients, new dishes and hotter chillies.
What’s been the biggest change in the industry since Wahaca opened?
Food has exploded since we opened, as has the restaurant industry. It is unbelievable to think that ten years ago social media didn’t exist. That blogging was just starting. That Instagram hadn’t been invented. And more importantly talented, bright young people are turning to the restaurant industry as a viable career to rival any other – we are attracting real talent and I think we will continue to do so as young people see that they can earn a good salary and get amazing job satisfaction in this industry.
Why are design and branding important to Wahaca?
They are key tenets to our business.
Each site is designed differently according to the building’s history, where it is and the surroundings in which it sits. Each site is individually painted by a different graffiti artist picked from an internationally acclaimed selection of artists from around
the world and with no other brief other than to ‘create’. We see good design and good branding as a chance to stand above the crowd and show how individual we are.
What’s the best reaction anyone’s had to Wahaca?
I get a rush of excitement almost daily when I look on social media and see people discovering Wahaca for the first time, but I think the best one I’ve read is ‘aaaargh!!!! The food is so good it makes me want to dance about and toss things off shelves!’
Which dish of yours gets the most compliments?
Currently it is one of our specials – a crispy prawn taco with guacamole, chipotle mayo and fresh tomato salsa. We try to be as experimental as we can with our specials and mix it up.
What’s the future for Wahaca?
You tell me! Read me my future, oh crystal ball… As long as we keep on having fun, putting on incredible Day of the Dead festivals, commissioning great art, then I will be happy. Our new restaurant DF/Mexico is really exciting – a younger, more urban take on Mexican food – I think it is definitely one to watch.