I have a love/hate relationship with Benito’s Hat. I love their marketing and their vibe, I hate their salsa. I love their staff (now – didn’t have a great experience the first time), I hate their guacamole. I love their tacos, I hate their tortilla chips. You get the picture.
The last time I went, it was to the Benito’s Hat Goodge Street branch for a messy burrito with some work colleagues. You may remember, I didn’t rave about it – but all the people who work there are quite nice, and I’ve been in contact with the owner Ben since that experience who’s asked me a few times to come back.
The opportunity arose after I was invited to try their new line of tacos and burritos*, Lamb Barbacoa. On Monday, I ventured down to Benito’s newest location in Covent Garden to give it a try.
Barbacoa, I learned, generally refers to either goat meat, beef or lamb slow-cooked in a hole dug in the ground and lined with Maguey leaves. Wood is burned down to a pile of coals which are then poured into the hole, with a limestone slab placed on top. Once the stone is flaming hot, the meat – which is covered in water and salt and wrapped in avocado leaves – is placed on the stones. This is then covered in more Maguey leaves and woven matting to seal the oven. All this is then covered in soil and the meat is cooked for about four hours.
I went with the Barbacoa tacos. The lamb was lovely – very rich and tender just as promised. I hope they consider doing a goat version soon, as I imagine that would be just as good, if not better (Though they might have to be prepared for accusations of copying Mooli’s,but whatever). However, as alluded to above, my issue with Benito’s Hat lies with the condiments. They’re just not punchy enough. The pico de gallo and guacamole are in sore need of some lime juice. The hot sauce, while quite spicy, comes out one-dimensional. And the tortilla chips? In dire need of salt. It put a damper on what would otherwise be a fantastic dish.
That said, I really like this new Covent Garden location. It’s much more pleasant to sit down and enjoy a meal – more like a restaurant than the overly fast-paced atmosphere of its Fitzrovia sibling. I’d like to go again, and I would definitely order the Barbacoa again (though it’s only available till the end of February), but perhaps along with something else. I could be wrong, but I just can’t help but think that Benito’s is catering too much to a palette that’s afraid of what makes Mexican food so delicious.
*I was a guest of Benito’s Hat, which I bent my restaurant review policy for as I have been a paying guest in the past. The total meal value was around £7.