Kimchi (Korean) vs Wahaca (Mexican) in Cardiff

Two days in Cardiff last week gave us two meals out, and we tried to make them different

Kimchi is a modest, traditional Korean restaurant, whereas Wahaca is part of a small Mexican chain run by Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers.

So would we prefer the authenticity of Kimchi, or the more approachable if touristy Wahaca?

Kimchi is just beyond the centre of Cardiff on Cowbridge Rd East.
Not a smart area, but packed with interesting restaurants.
Chai St (Indian street food), Happy Gathering (Chinese banquet) & Purple Poppadom are all within sight of each other.
From the outside it looks more like a takeaway –
0_Kimchi Exterior – but inside it’s much more restaurant.
01 Kimchi Fans Yes, each table does have its own extractor fan.
Korea has a long tradition of BBQ served at the table that we were keen to try, so we ordered Galbi (marinated beef ribs) (£8.90) right away.
They accidentally brought us beef Bulgogi (marinated beef), but after some negotiations they returned with the ribs.
We were surprised that spare ribs didn’t have bones, and they looked just like the Bulgogi.
After not being able to hear the very faint waitress we didn’t discuss it further, and put it on the table’s BBQ.
06 Cooking Kimchi SteakI’m not convinced it was rib meat – it looked, cooked and tasted like frying steak, and the marinade wasn’t very flavourful.
This was not like the joyous shock of first trying Indian or Chinese cuisine.
I was a bit “Meh”.
05 Kimchi SteakThe beef comes with lettuce leaves to be wrapped in, which I liked, as it felt light and let the meat flavours come out (a bit).

The Bibimbap was much more successful.
This is a traditional Korean mixed rice dish, served in a hot stone pot.
We had the chicken (£7.70), which came with vegetables and rice, topped with a raw egg which is cooked from the heat of the pot!
03 Rice BowlWe were delighted with this exciting, beautiful and tasty dish.
The rice continued to cook in the hot bowl, giving it a touch of crispy.
Great value for £7.70.

Pork dumplings (£5.50) were a tasty diversion with light soy sauce.
02 Kimchi Dumplings

Finally, soft shell crab (£7.30) was a revelation.
04 Kimchi CrabThe batter was amazing – light & crispy. The crab was succulent- the whole thing was a fantastic tangle of battered fish.

07 Can DrinkDrinks were a nice (attractive) can of pear juice, and a quite-bad beer called Cass.

I wish I’d liked it more.
Some of it was great (stone pot, the crab) and some was dull (beef, dumplings).
It didn’t fire us up to have more Korean.

08 Kimchi BillI wouldn’t be comfortable asking the staff for more information, as they didn’t seem that sort.

The bill came to £35 for two with a drink each, which is pretty good for Cardiff.
They have an immense menu which I’d like to have another run at, but where are the sauces? Where was the gochujang spicing?

The next day we went into St David’s Centre for lunch at Wahaca.
It’s a very different place.
12 Wahacca ExteriorNext to John Lewis, the (extensive) menu is full of handy information about your meal, and the drinks menu has lots of information, including a wise section on pairing your beer with a tequila.
The staff have enough tattoos to be hip,  while still being friendly and caring you enjoy your meal.
It doesn’t feel as Authentic as Kimchi, yet the food looks more interesting than my own attempts at “Mexican” cooking.

The place is huge. This is the main dining area –
13 Wahacca Interiorbut there are additional levels on higher floors, including a stylish cocktail bar on the third.

We were quite early, and the kitchen had our starters and drinks out very quickly.14 Wahacca FoodThe non-alcoholic ginger beer was excellent, and I paired the surprisingly dark Mexican beer with a Calle 23 tequila.
The beer and tequila – sipped, not slammed – went very well together, though I was less sure about the tomato juice (I wasn’t hungover, I didn’t need a Bloody Mary)

Essentially, all the food at Wahaca is tasty stuff wrapped in different shaped bread.
Here our starters were the rolled Sweet Potato & Feta Taquitos (£3.95) and Smoky Chicken & Avocado Tostada (£4.25)
Both were nom nom nom – the Taquitos were crunchy with a velvety sweet potato filling. Mildly spiced, not hot, Yum.
The chicken tostadas weren’t that smoky, or that big (compared to others here) but they were cooling and fresh.

Up next were Ancho Chicken Baja tacos (£4.25) &  Battered Cod Baja tacos (£5.50).15 Wahacca FoodThe tacos were hotter from their Ancho chilli and with a touch of sweetness, plus extra heat from the slaw & mayo.
The battered cod was a big hit – big chunks of cod, very fresh, excellent crispy batter. A VERY posh fish finger sandwich, we were delighted.
(All of Wahaca’s seafood is ethically sourced)(and well-sauced)

With small plates you need 2-3 each, so we needed one more.
I fancied a Slow-Cooked Pork Burrito (£7.25).
It’s a larger portion, and was even larger when I spent another £2 “pimping” it up with extra baja cheese, guacamole & nachos.
16 Wahacca FoodThis Burrito was the last food to arrive, and sat there intimidating the other dishes, like a tank sitting outside your house.
Wahaca is about big flavours combined well, not just big chunks of meat, but there was plenty of pork here.
17 Wahacca Food This was my plate at the point where I was becoming tired, and I was still only halfway.
It was all delicious – I finished my lunch – but we both knew we’d had a big meal.

The different chillies in the meal – and the interesting sauces on the table – were mingling well in my mouth.
The final splash of tequila made my mouth flame for a second in an exciting way.

So, Kimchi vs Wahaca?

18 Wahacca BillFor me, Wahaca all the way.
I liked Kimchi, but didn’t love it.
I loved Wahaca, and it loved me right back.
The food is tasty and well-priced.  £39 for A LOT of food, and interesting drinks.

The staff are lovely, there’s a cocktail bar on the third floor.
We’re big fans of its founder Thomasina Miers, and Wahaca has managed to embody her philosophy.

When I’m on holiday, I don’t mind being a tourist.
Yes, I want to see stuff, but I don’t want to struggle.
I want to have someone else do all the hard work so that I enjoy it.
And that’s what Wahaca serves up.
They can guarantee a good time.

Kimchi (no website)                     Wahaca 
72 Cowbridge Rd E                      51-53 The Hayes
Cardiff    CF11 9DU                     Cardiff     CF10 1GA
029 2022 7122                              029 2167 0414


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