Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Dinner at Benito's Hat Covent Garden



Most people may associate tapas with the flavours of Spain, but Mexican restaurant chain Benito's Hat in London believes this fun way of sharing food can be adapted for other cuisines too. This is why the eatery primarily known for its quickly served burritos and tacos has introduced a new sharing menu, which is available after 5pm and on weekends and is comprised of 'Mexican starter tapas'.


Mexican food is not the only thing the restaurant is known for, their margaritas take a prominent spot on the menu too and we couldn't resist the sound of the frozen strawberry version, which was of course the first thing we ordered when visiting their central London location hidden on the reasonably quiet New Row, a street which connects the tourist hubs of Covent Garden and Leicester Square.

We heard the margaritas being freshly made in the kitchen and they were served in big glasses with a fruity decoration on its rim. Ice cold (it is the frozen margarita after all) this is a perfect drink for hot summer evenings in the city, though we can definitely be tempted to return on a colder day as well for another hit of the delicious drink.

While we ordered our starters and mains at the same time, the first to arrive were the dishes from the main mezclar y combinar (mix & match) menu. Service was slow on the night we visited, with people ordering burritos and tacos for take away being attended to much quicker than the sporadic diners sitting down at the tables for a leisurely evening out.


It seemed there were no specific waiters for the restaurant, other than those standing behind the counter helping all patrons, and this was unfortunately very noticeable. Our mains eventually arrived after waiting over thirty minutes and finishing our first round of margaritas.

As the menu is meant for sharing, we made one order which was served on big dishes for us to pick from. We'd opted for two meat options from the principales; slow-braised pork with balsamic vinegar & cinnamon, and the chicken tinga with chipotle & garlic. To accompany these we also had the chipotle coleslaw with pomegranate seeds from the al lado section and finally four small flour tortillas from the basicos. All of this was served with salsas, pico de gallo (tomato, onion & coriander), Monterey Jack cheese and lettuce.

While the pork was adequate, the chicken was delicious. Perfectly seasoned (not too spicy, but not boring either) and very succulent that dish was quickly emptied and we wish we'd ordered more. The coleslaw was a refreshing accompaniment and the pomegranate seeds were a delightful crispy and fruity touch to the combination. The only thing we would recommend changing from this order, is to get more tortillas. Two small ones each was not enough for a main meal, so be sure to get two orders of these from the basicos menu when you visit.


After we'd finished our mains, our starters still hadn't arrived so when we eventually managed to catch the eye from one of the servers we were reassured it was yet to come, and indeed over 45 minutes after we had ordered them it did. At this stage we were unfortunately slightly rushed as we had tickets to go to the theatre that night and couldn't fully appreciate the huge antojitos served.

The sharing dish was comprised of a generous portion of nachos alongside potato & oregano taquitos, spinach & cheese quesadillas, chicken tinga tostadas and black bean & feta tostadas. We tried at least one each of the various tapas on the board and our favourites were definitely the spinach & cheese quesadillas and the chicken tinga tostadas. The nachos were a bit too salty for our liking, but then again they did taste well with the frozen margaritas.

We'd ordered our desserts before the starter came and they arrived fairly quickly after. I'd chosen the tres leches cake, which is not something I was familiar with and it sounded very intriguing. It turned out to be a fairly plain sponge cake, but soaked in different types of milk making it incredibly moist and appealing. Shows that sweet treats don't always have to be made up to the nines with swirls of chocolate and other decorations to hit the spot just right.


The food, when it came was tasty and exactly what we expected from Mexican street 'tapas'. However, for a more enjoyable experience visiting the restaurant we'd advise the employees to pay better attention to their patrons sitting down and not just those queuing up for a quick takeaway fix.

The only time we were asked how the food was, was before any had arrived at all and the waiting time for the dishes to arrive was simply too long. After all, they're located smack-down in the West End, so we won't have been the only customers paying a visit before heading off to the theatre.

Having said that, their delicious frozen strawberry margaritas made it worth the visit and this delightful drink is perfect both before and after seeing a show.

Benito's Hat Covent Garden, 19 New Row, London WC2N 4LA.

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