Born from a love of fresh, honest Mexican market food Wahaca opened its new site in Edinburgh this year.
After falling in love with the vibrancy and freshness of real Mexican food, Master Chef Winner Thomasina Miers and Mark Selby co-founded Wahaca. The restaurant chain is inspired by the cantinas found in the street markets within Mexico and this honest approach to food drove the pair to open up the first Wahaca site. After numerous successful years, the duo opened this new restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland this October.
“We first heard about the site around Christmas last year, which is when we started on the design of the restaurant,” commented Harriet Helps, Designer from Softroom architecture and design, “the fit-out started on site at the beginning of summer this year.” The landlord had already completed some of the shell work allowing Harriet and the main contractor, French Group, to transform the interior into something worthy of the Wahaca name.
With 160 covers that are spread over the ground floor and the mezzanine, the Edinburgh restaurant can cater to parties of any size, be it an intimate dinner for two or a larger group party. The overall design of the Wahaca restaurants is done in response to the freshness, simplicity, honesty and zest of the menu that Thomasina and Mark created.
“As this is the first Wahaca in Scotland, we wanted it to be distinctive and to emphasise the warmth and cosiness of the interior in comparison to the colder Scottish climate,” Harriet added, “it’s a unique space because it has an intimate bar area when you first walk in and there’s a large double-height space in the back that acts as a courtyard overlooked by the mezzanine. We thought it would be nice to keep those as three distinctive spaces to allow diners to have a variety of seating environments.”
The design by Softroom for the Mexican-inspired restaurant began, like all the other restaurants, by thinking of it as an external space. “We take inspiration from the mexican street markets and tend to use a material and colour palette which is usually associated with external spaces.” Beginning the design process this way provides a unique environment with each restaurant having their own defining characteristics for customers to enjoy whilst providing an overall buzz and atmosphere to the restaurant.
“We wanted to emphasise an inviting warmth when you looked through the shopfront,” commented Harriet, “many of the fabrics in the banquettes and the bespoke curtains are from the Scottish company Bute Fabrics, we made sure to use Scottish fabrics to tie the local area into the design.”
The bar sits at the front of the restaurant and is designed to create a cosy and comfortable area for customers to relax in. New to the Edinburgh site is an island bar with brass and tiled accents to transform the bar into more of a focal point.
“The mezzanine is where all the artwork is focused. We used artwork from Barcelona-based artist Max Rippon, otherwise known as Ripo, who was heavily influenced by his extensive travels throughout Latin America,” added Harriet. “The mezzanine has a brighter and airier feel. We also painted yellow semi-circles on the floor next to the arched windows to keep the warmth of the interior flowing throughout the restaurant.”
Within the double-height area features the main seating area for diners at Wahaca. Designed with a courtyard feel, this area is dominated by a large set of stairs in the centre. “It’s almost like an industrial stairway that could be found on the outside of the building, which is then surrounded by blue, timber double-height walls with plants trailing down them. This really emphasises the courtyard feel of the area,” commented Harriet.
Each Wahaca restaurant features a light wall which is internally illuminated to create a welcoming feel to the dining area. “We have a light wall in each Wahaca which gives the impression of the sun coming in from afar. The contrasting blue walls have yellow slots to make it look like the sun is creeping in,” commented Harriet, “on the ceiling of that space we recreated a sun straight above the diners, which used to have a glazed conical roof but due to above works such a re-roofing the landlord had to take out. So as we lost the natural light that came from this we put in this extra sun to recreate what was lost.” Compared to other sites, this feature is more dramatic than what would normally be done as the design team wanted to give a sense of warm light in an otherwise windowless area.
For the exterior of the site, there wasn’t much done to change the building. “We put some vibrant and graphic blue striped vinyls on the windows to animate and draw attention to the shopfront front along with our usual signage in order to make a presence on the street. As the building is Grade II listed, we simply emphasised the existing architecture with sympathetic lighting to highlight the building’s original façade.”
The menu for Wahaca, created by Thomasina and Mark, is a constantly changing, seasonal menu using ingredients sourced as locally as possibly, or grown and transported with care for the environment. Available for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Wahaca also serves food available to take-away. The menu features ‘nibbles’ for snacking, smaller ‘street food’ plates for sharing, ‘bigger food’ which are perfect meals for one as well as sides and desserts that make the food of Wahaca truly delicious.
Nibbles such as guacamole which is made fresh everyday, tomato salsa and chips as well as frijoles make perfect snacks to accompany drinks at the bar. Wahaca’s street food consists of tacos, tostadas, taquitos and quesadillas whilst main meals are made up of salads, burritos, enchiladas as well as grilled chicken, steak and fish. Dessert includes the Mexican classic churros with chocolate, coconut-crumbed plantain and a range of ice cream and sorbet.
The Wahaca Edinburgh was a real passion project for the designers. “It was a really good project to work on and the first in Scotland. Edinburgh is a beautiful city and the Wahaca is in a great central location. Actually, the refurbishment was happening alongside the Edinburgh festival so there was a real buzz in Edinburgh. The restaurant feels fitting for the area,” commented Harriet, “it feels like a place you can go for a great meal and spend a long time in relaxing too.”
UHS voted ‘the best furniture supplier in the hospitality industry’. The company continually inspires, creates, and finds imaginative and beautiful furniture solutions for restaurants, bars, and hotels.
UHS’ based in the UK and Europe with a global presence has resulted in UHS creating the finest, specific craftsmanship and design of furniture for the hospitality sector.
Most recently, UHS worked with the Wahaca design team on Wahaca Edinburgh.
Marketing Director Dan Gillmore said: “Our team at UHS work closely with the designers for Wahaca to come up with a great selection of interesting products to fit in with the bold interiors, from colourful painted chairs to screen printed tabletops.”
North of the Border…
The French Group have just completed another site in the popular Wahaca restaurant chain in St Andrew’s Square, Edinburgh. Located in the centre of this historic city, and refurbished by principal contractor The French Group, this will soon become a major meeting point for people who enjoy good food in relaxing surroundings.
Previously a Barclays Bank, this prestigious building in the historic district of Edinburgh has been transformed into a modern restaurant with a focus on the cuisine of Mexico. Blending with the original features of the traditional stone-designed arched façade, the restaurant sits overlooking St Andrews Square and the Melville Monument. This entire area is part of a re-development that will breathe new life into this significant part of the city.
The French Group have now worked as Principal Contractor on a number of Wahaca restaurants all over the UK. Keeping to the groups’ outstanding eco credentials this site has been built using sustainable materials where possible, while keeping to a high standard of finish.
The French Group also prides itself on keeping its emissions low and has installed Solar Panels at their site in Newick to produce power for their Joinery and Office. They also have a Biomass Boiler to convert any left-over timber in energy saving on its gas boiler.
Every fit-out of a Wahaca is different and French’s are always up for the challenge. The Edinburgh Branch is another example of the professional finish delivered by The French Group.