Do you ever get to a Friday evening, look at the recipe you had planned for family dinner, and decide that your motivation levels just aren’t significant enough to cope with what comes next? That was me last Friday (well, actually most Fridays, but if we open that can of worms I’ll disappear into a family sharing bag of Frazzles and surface sometime around Sunday roast dinner). Very often, this means a takeaway (unhealthy, and likely to cause an MSG hangover), or sending Jason out to buy ready meals at M&S (not kind to our bank balance – he can never resist a 3-for-2 deal, or an extra chorizo-wrapped cheese stick).
Last weekend we decided to do something a little bit different. We’d been invited to the opening of new food joint Benito’s Hat, and I’d had good results from some medical tests that had been worrying me, so we were in the mood to celebrate. So once everyone was home, we threw work bags to the back of the cupboard, and headed out into town. Here’s what we thought:
Our meal at Benito’s Hat St Albans was free of charge. There was no requirement for me to write this review, and all opinion and imagery is my own.
Benito’s Hat Review (St Albans branch)
The first thing that struck me as we walked through the door on a freezing cold night, was how unpretentious this place is. And I mean that in a good way. When you eat out with children – even teenagers – you’re very aware of your fellow guests, and the restaurant’s expectations. Or maybe that’s just me – in a new place, I’m immediately on etiquette watch, to see how the décor, the menu, and service levels dictate I should behave. Hushed voices, or raucous banter? Best Italian pronunciation of ‘tagliatelle’ for the bow-tied garçon, or basic English version? When I’m out with my kids, I want to feel welcome, and relaxed. Benito’s Hat did that for me – the manager was wearing a sombrero! – and we settled in to peruse the menu.
Tacos, burritos, margaritas
A neon sign anounces that you should take your time to peruse the menu, and put together the meal that you want. This is because the menu is built around either a burrito, or a taco – or any number of duplications you want. Basically, you choose your wrap, and its filling (you can have a different filling in each wrap), then select salads and salsas to add in to your basics. I chose a pulled pork with onion and coriander, plus a steak taco with tomato salsa, guacamole, and salsa verde.
There’s a handful of tapas-style starters, plus side dishes of salads and black beans, and a variety of quesadillas, which are always popular with my kids, so there was something for everyone.
Then, you simply tick the boxes by your choices, add your table number, and hand in your order at the bar.
The sign also says – and any good Mexican knows – that you should eat your food with your hands. However, this being St Albans on a Friday night, manager Felipe told us he wanted to indulge us in a little bit of table service and some plastic cutlery, for which I was most grateful. (I’m known for being able to throw guacamole blobs at my jumper with amazing – if accidental – accuracy). The kids were much less fussed, and relished the opportunity to quite literally get stuck in.
Plastic utensils were not representative of the food though. Both my tacos were amazing, the salsa verde adding exactly the right amount of salt and tang I like in my food, and the guacamole chunky enough to know that you didn’t buy it from a supermarket (is it just me who thinks shop-bought guac has the consistency of toothpaste?) Jason washed his burritos down with a couple of beers he hadn’t tried before, while a perky Sauvignon Blanc in a chunky glass went down perfectly to get my weekend started. My kids know pretty much every soft drink on the market, but even they had some new options, with a mango, and a pineapple fizz they hadn’t seen before. And I will definitely be going back for one of the amazing-looking Margaritas. In fact, I think Benito’s Hat would be a great place for drinks with the girls over a huge plate of nachos as an alternative to dinner out.
Of course, we couldn’t leave without a plate of churros and chocolate sauce – did I mention that it was cold outside? Benito’s Hat was a winner for all of us – me for a fuss-free and delicious Friday night dinner that I didn’t have to make, and the kids for the fun atmosphere, and the type of food that they love. Maddie told me she’d be adding Benito’s Hat to her lunch dates with her friends – which is saying something as they’re all pretty committed to their Nando’s loyalty cards.
Benito’s Hat is definitely worth a try if you have one in your town. And if not, they’re rolling out quite quickly, so watch that empty retail space on the high street! Click on the website link to see the menu, and list of outlets.