Burritos were for a time perhaps my favourite food. I always enjoyed the simplicity of wrapping various things I enjoyed individually together in a tiny flour blanket to make something greater than the sum of its parts. A good burrito is a special thing, something not too heavy and stodgy that it sends you to sleep, but something fresh and zingy that makes you think you could probably have another one if you didn’t have a life to get on with. Hoping to find such a burrito, today’s food adventure was to Benito’s Hat.
Benito’s Hat is a burrito chain that started in London’s West End back in 2008, and has since expanded to 7 shops across London and Oxford. It holds a special place in my heart for being one of the first places I ever went for lunch in my first proper job. Back then I was new to restaurants (I lived in a small village in the countryside and Wagamama was probably the fanciest place I had ever been), so in a way this was the beginning of my food adventures. Having expanded my horizons since then, I wanted to go back to Benito’s to see whether it would still capture the magic in the same way it did all those years ago, and who better to try it with than Isambard Kingdom Brunel, fabled engineer and runner-up of the 2002 ‘100 Greatest Britons’ poll.
I had told Isambard to meet me at the restaurant at 6 PM for dinner, and Isambard, being the precise technical architect that he is, arrived precisely at 6. I, on the other hand, found myself running late due to a broken-down tube on the Bakerloo line. When I finally made it to the restaurant at 6:30, I found Isambard had already started working his way through the margarita menu, and was now four deep. “ALAN!” He shouted at me as I walked in.
“It’s Andy, actually.” I said, as I shook his hand. I forgave him the slip, as in his defence it was the first time we had ever met as he had been dead for the last two hundred years, though at the same time I was a little bit taken aback that he hadn’t at least scanned my LinkedIn profile in advance.
“Sorry, Aldy.” He said.
“Hahahaha! Yes!” He said, as he slapped my back. “As in Andi Peters.”
“How do you know Andi Peters?” I asked, confused.
“And Edd the Duck! I love that duck!” He added. I was no clearer about what was happening than before. “Let me get you a drink. It’s two for one!”
“Let’s maybe have some food first shall we? Give this place a fair review before we start drinking.”
“Hahahaha! Andi Peters!” He said. “Ok.”
Benito’s Hat is a very casual dining spot, as burrito joints often are. You design your burrito at the counter, choosing from the usual options of black or pinto beans, salsa heat and designated meat. Benito’s Hat offers a decent selection, with chicken, beef, pork and a vegetarian option of sautéed vegetables too too. I on this occasion had chosen to go for the grilled chicken, my typical go-to for a burrito due to the succulent nature of the filling and its frivolous interplay with the other components within. Isambard meanwhile plumped for a steak burrito. “Steak.” I heard him say. “Pinto beans… Yes… Mild… No. A passion fruit margarita, please.” Before we knew it, we had a chicken and a steak burrito, and Isambard had another two passion fruit margaritas.
“I thought we were waiting until we started drinking?” I said. Isambard smiled and cheersed himself. “Ok, so mainly what we’re looking for here is the quality of the ingredients. Is the meat cooked well, how do all the ingredients work toget-” I had not finished my sentence before Isambard chomped into his burrito and began to drunkenly chew with his mouth open. “Ok, so the steak, is it tender? Is it quality meat? Would you say it’s more rib eye flavoursome or fillet tender?”
“I got steak.” Said Isambard.
“Yes, I know you got steak, but how is it?”
“Have you ever had pheasant?”
“It’s good, isn’t it?”
I could see that this review was all going to be on me. I took a large bite of my burrito, careful to make sure I got a bite significant enough to enjoy the combination of all the flavours at once. The smokiness of the chicken was met by the zinginess of the salsa, which in turn played wonderfully with the creaminess of the cheese and the guacamole, rich in both taste and additional cost to the burrito. It conjured up memories of a lunchtime back in 2011, a delicious Mexican interlude in an otherwise sad day in media planning and buying. A summer’s treat to brighten the se-
“F**K!” Shouted Isambard at the top of his voice.
“What’s the matter?”
“My burrito split!” Said Isambard. I looked down to see that his trousers were covered in a mix of pinto beans and steak. “These are my best engineering trousers!” He said, as he drunkenly licked the palm of his hand and attempted to rub the stains off. “F**king hell! You!” He said, as he got up and marched back to the counter. “Your construction has fallen apart!”
“I’m sorry, sir. Sometimes that happens with burritos.”
“Not on my watch it doesn’t!” Shouted Isambard. “Make it again! Better this time!”
“Black beans or pinto beans?” Asked the burrista.
“Pinto!” Said Isambard. “Pinto, yes, mild, no!”
The burriterer made up the burrito, wrapping it as tightly as they possibly could to compact the filling.
“And a passion fruit margarita, please.” Added Isambard. “They’re still two for one, right?”
“Great.” Said Isambard. He somehow paid in shillings and crowns for the second time that evening and returned to the table with another tray of margaritas and a second steak burrito.
“Ok.” I said. “So the nachos too. Let’s try those.”
Isambard took a bite of the nacho, and crunched ponderously.
“Have you ever had pheasant?” Asked Isambard. Bloody hell. Ok, so the nachos had the perfect level of crunch. I find that with nachos, some restaurants try to overcomplicate something that’s actually at its best when simple, but these had the perfect depth, crunch and flavo-
“F**K!” Shouted Isambard at the top of his voice again. I looked over to see that he was once again covered in beef.
“Isambard, for the love of god can you just keep it together for five minutes while I review this bloody restaurant?”
“Ah, Andros! Like the villain from Starfox!”
“Where the hell are you getting these cultural references from?”
“These bastards can’t build a burrito to save their lives!” Said Isambard. He downed another margarita and stormed over to the counter. “You! Look at my trousers!” Said Isambard, gesturing to his once plain but now distinctly savoury trousers. “Great Western Railway? More like Great Western Beef Trousers!” He slurred, nonsensically. “Make it again! Pinto, yes, mild, no!”
“What?” Stammered the burriterer.
“Pinto! Yes! Mild! No! Make it again! Again! AGAIN!” Said Isambard. He flings the remnants of his beef burrito over the counter.
“Isambard, please!” I say, attempting to hold him back. “Come on, let’s just go!”
“The Clifton Suspension Bridge would be in the river if it were up to you!” Said Brunel, downing his margarita. “You’re all bastards!” He said. He spun on his heels to leave, but lost his balance, and fell to the floor.
“Isambard? Are you ok?” I said, rushing over. He did not respond, then came the sound of snoring. “I’m so sorry for all of this.” I say to the staff, as I look down at him lying there. I take a sip of my margarita. It is an absolute delight, the perfect blend of sweet and salty. I contemplate whether I have time to sit here and finish my review whilst Isambard takes a nap on the floor, but the faces of the staff (one of whom is covered in shards of lettuce from Isambard throwing his burrito) says otherwise. I sigh, take a minute to finish the drink, then I pick Isambard up from the floor and walk out of the restaurant.
“Gandalf…” Mumbles Isambard.
“It’s An- Oh, forget it. What?”
“We should build a railway together!”
“I don’t think we should.”
“But first, let’s get drinks.” He slurs. “Two margaritas, please.” He says to a bin.
“I think we should go home. Do you want me to call you an Uber?”
“TWO MARGARITAS, PLEASE.” He shouts, as he climbs into the bin. I now find myself watching one of the world’s greatest engineers fumble through a bin, somehow still believing it may be a bartender. “This is my home now! Let me introduce you to my parents.” He says, picking up an empty can of Sprite and a Kit Kat wrapper. “Well done on that bridge and things, son. We’re real proud of you.” He continues, in a squeaky voice.
“Any more thoughts on the restaurant?” I ask, wearily.
“Have you ever had pheasant?”
I give Isambard a pat on the shoulder and head home. Overall we’ve had a… time, but I think the fun has now come to a close. Would I recommend Benito’s Hat? Yes. Would I recommend going crazy on the happy hour deals before eating your burrito? No. Overall…
9/10. Good burritos with nice flavour.