Down Mexico way | New Mix-and-Match Plates at Benito’s Hat, 12-14 St John Street, London, EC1M 4AY
One of our biggest regrets during last year’s visit to LA was not making the short(ish) drive into Mexico. Instead we opted to give Sin City another chance, big mistake (apart from the amazing Prince concert at The Hard Rock Cafe). For had we gone down Mexico way I would have dived head first into their incredible street food – not literally of course, and we would have had a way better time than we did in Vegas.
It was Thomasina Miers‘s Wahaca that first introduced us to Mexican street food. This was a million miles away from the bowls of chilli, sizzling fajitas and stale tortilla chips that I was used to – then again I was a child of the 70s. The only slight downside with Wahaca is that I always seem to leave feeling hungry, one thing that definitely didn’t happen at Benito’s Hat, or perhaps that was purely down to the amount of food that we ordered.
This was our third visit, the first was for a salsa verde, tortilla and cocktail masterclass with executive chef Felipe Fuentes Cruz and owner Ben Fordham in their Castle Street branch. The second was to try some Burritos at their King’s Cross station branch. These two visits gave a great insight into what Benito’s Hat is all about, as their tagline says, they are famed for their burritos and margaritas.
But this visit to their Farringdon restaurant was to sample their new evening sharing menu. Decor at this branch is similar to the others, simple and functional yet with all their usual quirky touches that we love. The copper topped bar area is bathed in neon light from a display on the ceiling whilst buckets and tin-cans are used as light shades. There’s a serving area and small open(ish) kitchen at the back with heavy dark wood tables and bench seating arranged neatly making use of every available space.
This menu (available after 5pm weekdays and anytime at the weekend) is a selection of new mix-and-match plates. It’s more like Mexican tapas for you to make your own creations. Felipe Fuentes Cruz loves his burritos but he decided to mix things up and create these new dishes that combine all the flavour, zest and punch of your favourite Mexican meals but in refreshing and unexpected ways (especially the way I made my tacos).
As-per-usual we started our meal with a couple of cocktails, all of which are fantastic value. Even more so if you make it before happy hour ends (5-7pm every evening). Saff had a holifay-esque Watermelon margarita £6.50, I had the huge slushy Frozen strawberry margarita £7. Both Mexican classics given the Benito’s Hat treatment. While we were waiting for our drinks to arrive we were given five little dips of salsa verde, spicy pineapple, dried prawn, garlic mayonnaise and cranberry alongside crispy corn tortillas chips. They were all punchy with incredible flavour combos, some with a real hot pepper kick. The pineapple and incredibly fruity salsa verde were by far the winners.
The idea is to start with the Antojitos £6.90 which is a selection of nibbles and snacks to share. This platter comes with potato and oregano taquitos, spinach and cheese quesadillas, chicken tinga tostadas, and black bean and feta tostadas. As Saff can’t eat cheese, we had to skip this. But fear not for the next time Saff visits our dentist Zero Seven, which is literally over the road, I’m returning to share this great sounding selection with myself.
So what we did is dive into a selection of Principales £3.50 each, small dishes that can be used as a filling for the tacos or eaten tapas style. We had the Albondigas verdes – beef meatballs bathed in a green sauce that resembled a Thai green curry, but this was a subtle mint and tomatillo salsa. The succulent Slow-braised pork with its balsamic vinegar and cinnamon coating was a big hit (I had to defend my share from Saff), although slightly over-seasoned. Lastly the shredded Chicken tinga has a classic chipotle and garlic sauce with a fierce afterburn (well for a big baby like me). All Principales dishes come with pico de gallo, Monterey Jack cheese and cos lettuce so we could can mix and match our tacos to suit our individual tastes.
We also ordered a couple of Al Lado £2.50 each. These side dishes can also be used as fillings, but we treated them as an accompaniment to our Principales. The Chipotle coleslaw with pomegranate seeds has a satisfying crunch and a sneak-in-through-the-back door mouth burning effect. The Black Beans with Chorizo was my absolute star of the meal, for the simplicity of the dish it packed a heavyweight punch of flavour. I honestly think I could have eaten a bucket of this.
Just to finish off the whole taco construction process, we had a couple of Basicos £1.50 each. Rice with coriander and lime – the perfect cooling agent for the Tinga chicken and Chipotle slaw. Plus corn or flour tortillas, Saff wasn’t keen on the pungent corn variety, she felt they cancelled out some of the other flavours.
A couple more cocktails later – a refreshing Paloma £6, for me and a Frozen classic margarita £5.50, for Saff it was time to order our desserts. This was the easy part, there were only two to choose from and we have had them both before.
The famed Benito’s Hat Tres Leches Cake £3.95, is in my top five desserts – a warm and light sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk and cream (tres leches is Spanish for three milks after all), a-maz-ing! Saff couldn’t resist the hot Buenlos £3.65 – crispy tortillas that tasted just like giant Cinnamon Grahams, dusted with cinnamon and sugar and served with ice-cream.
They recommend two people share either: 1 x Antojitos, 2 x Principales, 1 x Al Lado and 1 x Basicos (at an average cost of £8.95 per head). Or skip the Antojitos and enjoy, 3 x Principales, 2 x Al Lado, 1 x Basicos (£8.50 per head). We recommend that you try everything. And if you don’t like it, then we’ll eat Benito’s Hat!
12-14 St John Street, London EC1M 4AY
Telephone: 020 7490 4727