Benito’s Hat – Mexican Kitchen

benitoshatWhat’s better than some hot Mexican food to warm you up when it’s cold outside? At least that’s what I thought when I dropped past Goodge Street to grab a quick bite to eat at Benito’s Hat before heading out for the evening. Unfortunately my glasses didn’t quite agree with me and fogged up so bad that I had to wait five minutes before I could properly see the menu board upon walking in. I, therefore, have to give bonus points to the attendant there who gave me a takeaway menu so that I could read it while my glasses defogged.

Benito’s Hat is one of the many burrito places cropping up around town. Much like Mexicali, they give you a small handful of corn chips with your burrito but for me, the real test, is whether or not the burrito tastes great. The menu is simple, and although they offer seating, it’s an order-pay-sit affair with no real table service. At least they offer some beer and margarita to wash down your drink. I had a steak burrito competitively priced against all other burrito places for £5.50 and although I asked for it to be extra hot and some additional chillis, it didn’t quite hit the same level I get at Daddy Donkey.

burritoName: Benito’s Hat – Mexican Kitchen
Found at: 6 Goodge St, Greater London, W1T 4
The Good: Many tables to eat your burritos, and some alcoholic beverages to turn a simple take away into a little bit more of a dinner out. Plenty of options and it’s warm inside when it’s cold out.
The Not So Good: The steak was a little on the tough side, and didn’t turn out to have anything that made it stand out. The salsa tasted much better than the bland-as Mexicali, though to me, still doesn’t stand out to either Daddy D or Freebird Burritos.

Where’s the good coffee? Manon Cafe

Jim found Manon Cafe when we were on a project in Clerkenwell and I have to admit it’s a great little store that sells an amazing brew of Illy branded coffee beans. Only open during the weekdays, their baristas are both friendly and efficient.


Most importantly, their coffee is well made, perfectly creamy espresso that never has that bitter edge of a badly burnt coffee made by a poorly trained barista. Their prices are reasonable (£1.90 for a small latte) and best of all, they offer a free chocolate sample with each coffee because they also happen to house a Leonadis chocolate store. It’s a great location if you happen to work in the area, and the only downside is that it’s not open on weekends to enjoy.

Name: Manon Cafe
Details: 110 Fleet Street

Cafe 52

staceWes and Stacy had booked a night out at a nice little restaurant in Aberdeen called Cafe 52. Booking in advance was a great idea since we ended up with the private room to the left of the entrance that gave us plenty of privacy and made the evening all the more special. Complete with a sliding glass door to keep the drafts from the entrance away, the only downside is that the staff had some trouble remembering that we were in the room every so often. For some reason, we ended up with yet another Australian waiter for the evening, who was fairly friendly but wasn’t particularly attentive, forgetting a number of the simple things (like water!) that we had to ask for several times. On the other hand, the chef was extremely helpful coming out to explain which ingredients were in what dish since due to dietary requirements, not everyone could eat everything off the menu.

thaiscallopsIn terms of ambiance, they had a decent soundtrack playing that wasn’t so overwhelming that meant that we could still chat away without having to shout over each other, and enough ambient noise to ensure that it never fell silent. The food was an eclectic mix combining quality Scottish produce with some tradition and definitely not so traditional recipes. I started with the cullen skink (£4.90), a traditional smoked haddock soup that went down perfect considering the sub zero temperatures outside. It matched exactly what I thought it should be, thick, creamy and full of haddock chunks. For the main, I ordered the prawns and scallops cooked in a rich thai cream sauce (£17.90). I had hoped for something with a lot more kick, but my palette instead met with a more sublime sweet sauce, infused the familiar Thai coconut flavours covering about four prawns and three scallops. Their home made fries, perfectly crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside made the perfect compliment for soaking up the rest of the flavours just as well as a chunky loaf of bread would have been.

coffeepannacottaThe dessert menu arrived and I couldn’t quite resist finishing the meal off with the coffee flavoured pannacotta though was fairly pricey at £7.90. It wasn’t the creamiest of panna cottas that I’ve had, instead lightly infused and a much lighter custard that went down almost a little bit too well with the slice of caramelised clementines. I would have preferred a much thicker coffee sauce as it almost felt like someone had spilled a little bit about coffee on the plate instead of someone making a proper sauce.

Cafe 52 offers a great experience if you can get the private booth, though I think that each dish was definitely overpriced for what you get. The dishes are definitely on the small side for the prices you pay though the ingredients seemed fresh enough.

Name: Cafe 52
Details: 52 The Green, Aberdeen, AB11 6PE
Contactable on: See

The Potarch Hotel

Famished after our long hike on my visit to Aberdeen, Wes and I stopped into The Potarch Hotel for dinner. We’d actually stopped at another town for dinner but since it around 5pm, and no one was opened we continued on our journey back to Aberdeen, stopping in to see if the restaurant at The Potarch was open. Although open at six, the combination of a roaring fire, and the bartender saying she’d take our order immediately left little to refuse.


Defrosting in front of the fire, the menu looked amazingly appetising and I couldn’t decide what sort of food to order. In the end, I ordered the Peat Smoked Haddock & Leek Fishcake (£6.25), and the Pink Peppercorn Crusted Loin of Pork (£11.95). I think Wes tried the Breast of Ballogie Pheasant (£11.95) but I can’t remember because they also had some sort of poultry special of the day that looked just as tempting. We had a beer in the meantime to drink as we started to feel some sensations return to our hands and it wasn’t too long before our food arrived.


All of the food came out piping hot, obviously freshly made and the fishcakes were definitely the best out of the two dishes. With three reasonably sized fishcakes, the smokiness of the fish added an amazing depth that resonated well with the flickering fire. Both crisp, light and filling, I would have been happy by the fishcakes alone. It’s such a shame they were so expensive though. I was much more disappointed by the pork that came out obviously overcooked. Definitely dry and overly tough, the thick loin definitely needed the red wine jus to be edible. I’ll admit the pink peppercorn crust added a different dimension of texture and flavour but really couldn’t quite redeem it.

The Potarch Hotel is a lovely spot, obviously popular with locals since all the other tables had been booked out for the evening. Its surprisingly bright tartan carpet seems to fit in with the rest of the decore – photos of people catching fish in the summer and other memorabilia from its past. Service wise, I have to thank our Australian waitress who came over to have a bit of chat with us although she also admittedly she quite liked keeping warm by the fire at the same time too.

I think Wes and I agreed that The Potarch Hotel has a lot of potential, but with many of the dishes overpriced by a couple of pounds, you really want to pick the dish to enjoy.

Name: The Potarch Hotel
Details: By Banchory, Royal Deeside, Scotland, AB31 4BD
Contactable on: See

The evening with elBulli

As previously mentioned last night, I had the honour of sharing, with probably fifteen hundred other people, the evening listening to Ferran Adria. Organised by Jay Rayner, and held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on southbank in London, we all listened in awe at him sharing his experiences creating new and exciting gastronomic delights for the two million people who wish they could enjoy it, yet in reality only able to serve a few very lucky thousand each year.

Last evening’s format flowed smoothly with the majority of the time spent with Adria sharing his vision and how he’s managed to accomplish this by inventing new techniques. I doubt anyone can deny that he achieved his ambition, especially the way he talked about creating new languages, new characters and new words that are being used more and more frequently.

It wasn’t just him talking all night as well, with several audio visual clips prepared to demonstrate exactly how some of his techniques work, and the wide variety of unusual applications they have. From all the readings that I’ve done, most writers make it out to be like a laboratory when in fact it’s almost the complete opposite, being experimentation the way you’d imagine other chefs doing things, simply substituting gels, foams, and the visually spectacular liquod nitrogren where others would use boiling, frying or grilling.

At the end, Jay also opened the floor for questions and I couldn’t help but giggle a little at the veracity that some people had of raising they’re hands. As Jay best put it, “Give the microphone to that person that looks like they will die if they don’t get to ask their question.”

I thought the evening was great. Adria surprised me by how humble he comes across, and like all great pioneers, cares more about sharing his techniques with others so that they can push the benhmark even higher. He’s funny, definitely talkative, and obviously still passionate about the things that he does and you just have to respect someone with all those qualities.

Roast at Borough Market

Roast sits overlooking London’s Borough Market. It’s no wonder then that this restaurant often has long lines. When I met up with Gerrod and Kristy for brunch, their suggestion for booking ahead was a good one, proving it wasn’t too hard to plan ahead via TopTable.

You get to Roast’s entrance via a circular staircase where a hostess greets you at the small reception, taking coats, bags and anything else you may care to leave them. On our visit, two people staffed reception and when we arrived seemed quite disorganised and everything excessively chaotic. Things didn’t seem to be much different when we left, with the chaos amplified by more people waiting in line.

From reception, you walk past the flames from the kitchen, into the main dining area, an airy room brightly lit by floor to ceiling windows and skylight panels. We were lucky to dine with blue skies and bright sun shining down, though I’m sure that even in a typical British, overcast sky, the dining room would still look spectacular.

Their breakfast menu looks simple, with pretty much all of the items you’d expect of a great British breakfast, even complete with kippers. I decided to go for the eggs benedict, one of my favourite dishes though too much effort for me to think about making it home for a normal occasion. Gerrod ordered one of the three egg omelette while Kristy ordered the tattie (potato) scone, accompanied by bacon, mushrooms and a single egg. I have to agree with Gerrod’s comments that they really should serve it with some sides like toast or something else (though you can at additional cost).

I have to give full thumbs up for the table service during our visit. The waiters took our orders promptly, and the food arrived shortly after. After our meal, we sat around chatting for some time and despite the ever growing queue at the entrance, I never felt pressured by staff to leave.

Name: Roast
Found at: The Floral Hall, Stoney Street, London SE1 1TL
Contactable on: 020 7940 1300 or Rating: 8 out of 10

Manchester: Second Floor Restaurant in Harvey Nichols

I hadn’t come to Manchester thinking that I would end up at Harvey Nichols, yet I’d never really been to the one in Knightsbridge that I thought Manchester might be the place to try it. Situated just around the corner from the Manchester Wheel, Harvey Nichols’ second floor is home to both a bistro, and the restaurant, with the bistro serving dishes a la carte, and the restaurant serving a set menu.

The menu looked impressive, with two courses priced at £30 and three at £40. I’d rarely pay this much for a lunchtime meal, yet the menu intrigued me.

I sat at one of the tables by the window, and as overcast as the city was, I still managed to get a very nice view of the surrounding area. I even had a small break the dark clouds, parted slightly for some glorious blue sky and sunshine, albeit briefly. With the food on their way, a waiter dropped in with a choice of brown or white bread rolls, and a small mound of softened butter topped with sea salt flakes. Both were not really worth writing home about.

I ended up going with the two courses since I wasn’t particularly hungry and I was surprised when the waitress brought a Wood duck, and pigeon terrine accompanied by a chilli reduction. Strong in gamey flavours and a great way to start the appetite, I would only prefer the reduction (the red ring around the plate) to have a bit more kick. Considering that most of the other people seemed to be either men doing business, or a number of elderly couple I can appreciate the chef’s choice not to.

The first “course” that I ordered was the Pigs cheek hash brown, hand dived scallop, roast cauliflower puree, caper and raisin vinaigrette. I had actually asked the waiter how this was served because I adore pigs cheek (thanks St Johns!) but wasn’t quite sure how it’d be served with the hash brown. I really had nothing to fear with the flesh shredded and mixed in with, effectively a potato rosti, and its strong flavours permeating throughout. “What a winner,” I thought as I enjoyed every bite. The scallop, perfectly seared and soft and the puree and vinaigrette surprisingly working well with the rest of the dishes. With this finished off, I certainly looked forward to the next course…

A Roasted turbot, oxtail ravioli, buttered leeks, carrot puree, forest mushrooms & crab emulsion foam. I have no idea why everyone seems taken aback with foams, and unfortunately as good as the rest of the dish was, I don’t think it really added that much to it. Firstly, the oxtail ravioli, a large hunk of oxtail gently wrapped and the pasta perfectly cooked went amazingly well with the leeks and carrot mixture. Combined with the earthy strength from the mushrooms, that alone would have been enough. However, it seemed that surf and turf was order of the day, and I almost as thoroughly enjoyed every last bite of the roasted turbot, with juicy flakes of just cooked fish melting in my mouth. I thought that the fish was slightly over seasoned, though I know I tend to be pretty fussy about that.

Service was absolutely perfect throughout the meal. I never felt rushed or hurried, nor was I ever sitting around waiting for my plate to be taken away. Admittedly, I don’t necessarily need to have that much of an extravagant meal but I can now cross Harvey Nichols off the list and did so enjoying almost every moment.

Name: Harvey Nichols’ Second Floor Restaurant (Manchester)
Found at: Harvey Nichols, 21 Cathedral Street, Manchester, M1 1AD
Contactable on: Tel: 0161 828 8888 or Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Manchester: Katsouris Deli

This image to the left is all I have to remember about Katsouris’ (wonderful) Deli, that I stumbled across while wandering around Manchester. I came across this joint found on the corner of Deansgate and St Mary’s Gate just in time for the morning coffee. Unfortunately in my excitement, I neglected to take a photo of the place and all I ended up with is this empty coffee cup.

Beyond simply a place for coffee, this surprisingly large venue, serves the myriad of crowds including the late brunching diners, the mid morning and mid afternoon tea and coffee drinkers, the lunchtime sandwich crowd and those simply wanting to take back some quality deli produce home. I figured that Manchester would have less of a coffee culture, and I would end up with some excessively milky, or deeply bitter coffee, both of which my latte triumphantly failed at. I’ll definitely be returning to this place if I’m ever in Manchester again.

Name: Katsouris Deli
Found at: 113 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 2BQ

Cha Cha Moon

Yes, yes, I know. Another Yau institute. This one has been open for some time yet I haven’t had a chance to go. Given all the rain after the movie Kath and I went to see on Saturday, I thought warming soup would be a great way to finish the evening off. The concept is simple – cheap, noodle and soup based dishes for the masses.

To keep things cheap, think of Wagamama’s style service turned up to the 10th degree. Starters are replaced with sides, arriving whenever they do. Waiters and waitresses whisk dishes away just shortly after you’ve finished with them, and with no desserts on the menu, there is little reason for people to hang around.

When we arrived, the queue for seating was almost out of the door. It seemed like if you’re in a big group, you’ll probably wait a little bit longer since the two of us got seated in about five minutes of standing there.

All the dishes are fixed at £3.50, including all the soup noodle dishes, wok fried noodle dishes and all of the sides. We decided to have a char siu mian and a wonton mian with a turnip side dish (mooli). If you can stick to tap water, or no drinks then you will walk away spending very little money as the drinks are significantly more. I couldn’t resist the non-alcoholic cocktail called Guava Collins priced at £2.90. The drink is based on guava and coconut juices and it reminded me of my time in India. Kath enjoyed it so much she ended up ordering one as well though at

Now, about the food. I had the wonton main, served with four large wontons, noodles in a light chicken broth. The broth was fairly tasty although the noodles seemed to overpower the flavour a fair amount when you ate them in conjunction. The wontons on the other hand were simply spectacular and the £3.50 was good enough value just for them as they were plump, juicy and bursting with flavour and texture. None of the consistently pasty texture you might find in other lesser Chinese restaurants around London. The mooli dish, a turnip cake stir fried with some bean sprouts also had plenty of flavour and their slightly toasted edges still had some bite despite the sauce that now covered it. The serve isn’t the biggest you’ll find around town but for £3.50 what else would you expect?

Name: Cha Cha Moon
Found at: 15-21 Ganton St, Soho, W1F 9BN
Contactable on: 020 7297 9800 Rating: 7 out of 10