There's been a few new places opening up in the Covent Garden area recently that I've wanted to try out, so when a friend and I decided to go for dinner, I busied myself in research. One of these places was Benito's Hat Mexican Kitchen.
I had seen it a week prior whilst hunched over an espresso after work in the cafe opposite. There was a couple sat in the window with big foil wrapped food packages and little plastic take away cups of what appeared to be milk. I had heard a thing or two about its arrival on New Row at work, but that had sold it to me.
So, we headed down to check it out. Benito's Hat is an unassuming little place with a table arrangement not dissimilar to Wagamama's take on Japanese canteens. The menu is instructions painted boldly on bright green walls and the service counter sits at the back, with the ingredients laid out in front of you in metallic containers.
The staff are bubbling over with children's entertainer levels are perkiness, which makes a socially inept and quintessentially English lady like me die a little inside. But even I was amused by some of their banter with the customers and it added to the lively Friday night atmosphere of the place.
Looking at the wall-menu, there are options of burritos or tacos, beef, chicken or veg, black beans or refried beans and a selection of fillers including guacamole, sour cream and cheese. We both opted for the vegetable burritos, with anything extra going that was free. Guacamole is 50p for meat burritos but if you're going meat free, then you get guacamole free, too. So to speak.
I almost said no to the sour cream due to it being waved in my face in a America Diner ketchup-esque squeeze-y bottle. Sour cream in a squeeze-y bottle? I don't care how low-fi the joint is; this does not seem right to me.
After having our tortillas stuffed with veg and fillings and (free!) guacamole and then wrapped up and mashed within an inch of their life (which looked kind of fun) we were scooted down to the till. The burritos were enormous. As in, actually the size of my stomach, possibly larger. Loaded up with filling and wrapped up like a little tin foil parcel, they came to £5 each, which I think considering the size, was pretty good.
We sat down and unwrapped our food. The canteen was filled with people and had a lively buzzing atmosphere. Sat next to a table of Spaniards drinking Sol with wedges of lime in the neck, there was a real continental vibe.
I have to admit that I was quite convinced that the vegetables would be cooked to oblivion until they were a flavour and nutrition-less mush, but this was not the case. Amongst the sloppy mix of cheese and guacamole there were large chunks of courgette that verged on al dente (a source of consternation for my friend, who harbours an uneasy relationship with them) and crisp slices of a vegetable I identified as green heirloom tomatoes and was subsequently excited by.
Whilst playing with my food and watching the staff serve up tacos, I did notice the Soup of the Day board, featuring 'Chilli Con Carne'. Now is it just me, or is Chilli Con Carne not a soup, but in actual fact... Chilli Con Carne..? Yeah- that did not tempt me much.
The offering on the Cocktail of the Week board also made me laugh. Margherita. Hardly unsurprising really. I can only assume that next week will be Pina Colada- but after that..? Back to the Margherita? Seriously, I want to go back just to see where they go with that.
In conclusion? Benito's Hat was fun. Sure, its not somewhere you go for fine dining, 0r if you're going to take eating too seriously- and I have a real hunch its not even somewhere you would go for authentic Mexican food- but for a casual drop-by dinner with friends, its cheap, fresh and has a lively atmosphere. I love the little tray service, simple three option menu, and the portions are huge. For a quick and fun feed in an expensive part of town, its worth dropping in.
Benito's Hat, 19 New Row, London WC2N 4L, www.benitos-hat.com