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Wahaca is a vibrant Mexican chain that’s currently flourishing in Manchester. With its lively soundtrack, small plates and cocktails, it’s no doubt a big part of the dining renaissance that’s rehabilitated the Corn Exchange.
For years a reminder of the UK’s last financial slump, the Corn Exchange seemed doomed. But in recent years, the renovations and new names on the scene have transformed the city centre landmark into a go-to destination once more.
And of all the venues in the Corn Exchange, you’ll be hard pressed to find one more popular than Wahaca at the weekend. Spread over two floors in the historic building, it’s spacious, relaxed and attractive – with bespoke wooden fixtures and a corkscrew spiral staircase.
We arrived on a busy Saturday. The outdoor seating area, which spills across Exchange Square, had a waitlist of those wanting to bask in the sun – and the inside quickly got full, too, despite the Royal Wedding going on at the same time!
We had a booking, so were able to skip the queue and get some seating inside, overlooking the glass-domed inner circle of the Corn Exchange. Despite the large number of covers, there was never a delay in serving us, and both drinks and food arrived promptly without fuss.
What’s especially handy is that, if it’s really busy, you can pay by app. It saves having to call over a server at the end and waiting for a card machine.
Price-wise, it’s very affordable, and the quality of food is very high.
The servers were all very friendly, creating a casual and fun dining experience, which suits the colourful decor and Latin pop soundtrack.
The menu was briefly explained to us, with a suggestion to try one of the sharing platters if we were unfamiliar with the dishes and wanted to try a little bit of everything.
We dived straight in with drinks orders and nibbles. I had a non-alcoholic horchata, which is a dairy-free (almond milk and rice milk) drink with a hint of cinnamon. It was light yet creamy, and delicious, so I could have had many more!
My partner tried the Earl of Mexico cocktail, which is a sexy but sophisticated combination of gin and Earl Grey lemonade, with just a hint of refreshing aniseed.
We sipped these with fantastic handmade guacamole and Chicharrón-style puffed pork scratchings. The pairing had never occurred to us before, but was incredible. It’s a new summery snack of choice in our house.
For starters, we ordered smoked salmon tostadas and hibiscus-glazed wings. The smoked salmon starters come with cucumber, chipotle mayo, white slaw and avocado on crisp tortillas. They were light and decadent, and very, very fresh.
The wings were an interesting pairing of hibiscus with chipotle. That provides a sweet and spicy flavour with lots of fragrant notes. It certainly beats yet another plate of buffalo wings!
Next up we ordered our mains. Being somewhat sensible, I ordered The Sonora Salad with chargrilled steak on top (you can choose from chicken or winter vegetables too, if you desire). The Sonora comes with creamy avocado, crunchy pumpkin seeds, black beans, organic British spelt and cos lettuce. It’s all tossed in a chipotle dressing and served with or without a tortilla bowl (I went without).
Boy, was it a feast! Sometimes I worry that salads won’t fill me up, but this whopping salad was packed to the teeth with goodness and flavour. It was fantastic.
My partnered ordered a unique take on a classic sandwich: the Mexican chicken club quesadilla. This comprised grilled chicken, avocado, cos lettuce and chipotle mayo. Again, it was pretty filling on its own, although we ordered some desserts anyway…
Finally, we got round to desserts. We opted for a mouth-pleasing passion fruit sorbet and the richer but no less pleasing churros.
The sorbet was creamy and sweet, with just a slight suggestion of tartness to balance it out. The churros were crispy and dunked rather deliciously in the thick, oozing melted chocolate.
Wahaca is a bustling, enjoyable slice of Mexican cuisine in a gorgeous location in the Corn Exchange. It’s the ideal place for cocktails and dinner with friends, for al fresco dining in the summer, or for sharing unique and colourful dishes with a date.
The Corn Exchange, Exchange Square, Manchester M4 3TR / 0161 413 7493
Visit wahaca.co.uk for more information.