New Mexican restaurant chain traces roots back to Edinburgh

The new Wahaca restaurant in Edinburgh. Picture: Contributed
The new Wahaca restaurant in Edinburgh. Picture: Contributed
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IT takes its inspiration from the streets of Mexico and its debut in this country was at London’s Covent Garden.

But according to its founders the Wahaca restaurant chain – which opens its first Scottish branch in the Capital on Monday – can trace its origins back to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is a city that’s always held a special place in our hearts

Mark Selby

Thomasina “Tommi” Miers and Mark Selby were both at Edinburgh University in the late 1990s.

And although they did not link up at that stage, they were later introduced to each other by a former fellow student.

Tommi said: “Mark and I were introduced by a mutual friend from Edinburgh – in a funny kind of way it was the birth of Wahaca. It is the most beautiful city – I think it was always going to be high up on our list.”

And Mark added: “I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant in Edinburgh. When Tommi and I met we always said one day we have to open a restaurant there. Edinburgh is a city that’s always held a special place in our hearts.”

Tommi studied modern languages with economics at Edinburgh University from 1995-99.

She said: “We swam throughout the year, bicycled everywhere, danced our socks off. It was the era of drum and bass and Edinburgh seemed its capital.

“And I cooked like mad – the produce was amazing – game, fruit, fish, local veg – it was a cook’s paradise.”

She lived in flats in the New Town and appreciated “high ceilings, cornicing, large windows”. “Living in London afterwards was a definite step down,” she said.

Mark did politics and economics (1996-2000) and said he had lots of favourite eateries.

“Stac Polly was an amazing place where a friend of mine was a waitress so we used to get a discount – I still remember the haggis parcels in a plum sauce. The Witchery was a winning date spot when really trying to impress. I used to love Fishers down in Leith and spent far too long in Negotiants by the university ploughing through countless large cafetieres of coffee. I blame that place for my mild addiction now. Also there was a great little Italian called DeNiro’s where we used to go for some delicious cheap pasta.”

Tommi and Mark decided to go into business together just after she had won Masterchef in 2005 and he had left his previous job in the City.

Tommi had visited Mexico before and was fascinated by the food. They went there together in 2006 and opened their first restaurant in London the following year.

Wahaca is known for its fresh Mexican market food and has won awards including “Best Affordable Eat in the UK”.

Edinburgh’s Wahaca at 16 South St Andrew Street will be part of a growing restaurant area with STK, Dishoom, and Drake and Morgan all due to open in the new St Andrew Square development.

The restaurant features a cocktail bar at the front and a bespoke mural by artist Max Rippon, inspired by street signs and texts he saw in the Mexican city of Oaxaca (Wahaca).

It will also be one of the chain’s most sustainable restaurants so far, with a heat recovery system using extracted hot air to heat water going into the toilets.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com