Monday, 9 May 2016

Benito's Hat, Farringdon, restaurant review

Founded by Ben Fordham and Felipe Fuentes Cruz, Benito’s Hat beings a novel take on Mexican food, showcasing good ingredients and freshness. Ben is a man after my own heart; a lawyer with a passion for food. He decided to pack it all in for the restaurant trade after being turned onto Mexican food whilst living in Texas. Felipe is Ben’s partner in crime, a Mexican chef from Puebla who first started helping his gran in the kitchen as a small child and who learned the art of Mexican homestyle cooking from his mum and gran.

Since opening the first Benito’s Hat Bar and Kitchen on London’s Goodge Street, Ben and Felipe have expanded, bringing their fun, colourful and friendly vision to 5 other locations.

Benito’s Hat wants its customers to enjoy a casual, colourful and friendly dining atmosphere. I visited the Farringdon restaurant, close to the station, amongst the thriving dining scene of St John Street. I brought my hubby, Him Indoors along on a Monday night. Monday is all day Happy Hour with cocktails on a 2 for 1 deal, making our first decision of the evening super easy!

Him Indoors went for the Pomegranate Margarita (£6.50); a fruity and highly refreshing blend, where the sweet fruit disguises the healthy dose of alcohol. A generous amount of Tequila made this a heady but lush drink. Not for those who prefer dry cocktails, definitely for those who prefer it a bit sweeter. 

I opted for a Mojito (£6.50), and I was not disappointed. Oodles of lime juice, plenty of mint and a good hit of rum. I love a lime-heavy Mojito, so this was just what the doctor ordered! Very, very good, I stuck with Mojitos for the rest of the evening. 

If you are not up for cocktails, or need to take it easy on the booze, there are several Mexican brands of beer available. I spotted a black Modelo, an Amber Modelo and Pacifico Lager. Sol and Red Pig are also available. (Beers are from £3.60 to £4.05 a bottle).

If you're having a dry day or just don't fancy having alcohol "on a school night", then non boozy options are available, and I found myself drawn to the rainbow colours of Jarritos, a fruity fizzy drink well known in Mexico. 

Time to start eating! We were feeling like trying a variety of things, as we often do. Some might call it greed, but we'd call it a spirit of adventure! We decided to go for a sharing plate starter. We chose the Carne Antojitos platter (£7.95). 

That's a very generous amount of food for under eight pounds. We were impressed by the amount we received. But how good did it taste? 

First up, we cracked and crunched our way through the house made corn tortilla chips with guacamole. The chips were beautifully thin, meaning you could enjoy a reasonable amount without feeling too full (there's nothing worse than going crazy on bread or poppadoms in a restaurant and then not being able to eat your meal!). They made me realise that many of the supermarket versions are too salty; these tasted natural and were all the better for it. The fresh and flavourful guacamole was chunky and funky. It's official, the UK loves avocados, and this guac is a great way to get a day's avo fix.

Next was the slow cooked pork tostada. The slow cooked pork was tender and melting. If it had not already been shredded for us, it would have been fall-off-the bone tender. A touch of spice, the meat was moist and mouthwatering. The avocado and pickled red onion relish brought tartness and freshness. The tostada tortilla, small and compact, was soft and delicate. A lovely little morsel of food. 

The Antojitos plate was completed by a tostada of Achiote braised chicken. This time the tostada base was a crunchy corn flatbread, topped with chicken, sour cream, spring onion and coriander. The chicken was excellent; my favourite item of the whole meal. Braised in a warming achiote sauce made from tomato and chipotles, the chicken was rich and spicy. The chipotles give it a kick which is enjoyable, but doesn't burn the mouth. We were kind of upset there was only one of these each, as we enjoyed the tostada immensely.

Time to choose a main course, and having seen the signs up in the restaurant for a new beef dish the "beef barbecoa pulled prime brisket", we had to opt for the burrito (£6.90 for regular, £5.50 for baby size). We chose the regular. 

The burritos are made from a 12 inch round flour tortilla. You can choose cheese or no cheese. There are lots of chopped veggies and salad to select from, which can be topped with the salsa of your choosing. We chose Felipe's Ranchera Salsa, an incendiary sauce made from tomatillas, coriander, lemon juice and chilli. Plenty of chilli! When I tried the salsa by itself on a tortilla chip, it knocked my socks off - very fiery indeed! But I was assured that the sweetness of the pulled brisket would mitigate the heat.

Thankfully, I was not steered wrong! The soft, floury tortilla brought together the succulent and slightly sweet meat. Brisket is one of those old fashioned stewing cuts of meat that is rightly coming back into fashion, and it suits this kind of low and slow cooking. Forget those burritos filled with mince, this is a far better way of enjoying a little piece of Mexico. 

We couldn't have had a burrito without trying a taco. These are not your rigid, shell like tacos, like the "Old El Paso" kits you can buy in the supermarket. They are soft, light, wheaty flat breads. They are gently warmed on a flat grill before being filled. 

The filling; cubed, grilled, marinaded chicken was piled on with abandon, dressed with sour cream before the salad, salsa and cheese was added. This time, I chose the hot salsa, which was nowhere near as fiery as the ranchera. Phew! 

A full portion of tacos (£5.20) would consist of 2 tacos, with the option of adding a third for £1.50. We did not want to order and not finish 2 tacos, since we totally hate wasting food. As a result, we had a half portion. Somewhat difficult to eat as the taco is not rolled up, we still enjoyed the combination of chicken, flatbread, salad and cheese, although it was not our favourite dish. 

Our "tapas" like accompaniment was a small but substantial portion of Black beans with Chorizo (£2.95).

The beans were comforting, cooked down until beginning to go creamy. Copious slices of freshly fried chorizo scattered on top. A rustic, home cooked style dish which isn't photogenic, but is tasty. 

Sadly, there was no space for dessert. I had hoped to dig into some Tres Leches Cake or Bunuelos, but it wasn't to be. I was stuffed! 

All in all, Benito's Hat serves up unfussy, fun food, made with care. Their value for money is excellent for Central London on both food and cocktails. Staff are always keen to explain the dishes and to help you choose fillings, ingredients and toppings. The fun decor with bright colours, neon lights and lamps made out of old buckets, tins and enamel jugs makes it well suited to informal eating with friends. A great place to meet for a bite before a big night out. 

Snigdha and Him Indoors ate at Benito's Hat as guests. Snigdha has received no incentive, financial or otherwise for writing this review. This review represents Snigdha's honest opinion.

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