A few nights ago, Laura and I hopped on a crowded Central Line train to take part in a taco and cocktail masterclass held at Oxford’s Circus Benito’s Hat. Perfect date night activity, right?
There isn’t much I love in life more than Mexican food. Well, apart from my wife and cat of course. And not necessary in that order… But when it comes to favourite comfort food, you can’t beat burritos, tacos, salsa and nachos to fill a gap.
The night started in fantastic fashion – with a good ol’ margarita margalitre. Founder Ben and head chef Filipe greeted us as we made ourselves comfortable surrounded by the unmistaken deliciously enticing smell of Mexican food.
Now. Being married to a Sicilian, I know fine well how much gravitas is attached to ‘traditional home cooking’. So much so I actually refuse to cook any pasta dishes, because whatever I make ‘won’t be how it’s made in Sicily’.
As Felipe and Ben explained how Benito’s Hat was born seven years ago, it was increasingly obvious that Filipe’s Mexican roots shone through in everything you find on the menu. They told us about how Felipe’s mum actually goes out every day to collect the food she uses for recipes, recipes that have been passed down a generation to Filipe.
Being married to this particular Sicilian also means any competition is taken seriously.
This was great news, as we were divided into three teams and would be learning under Felipe and Ben’s tutelage how to make salsa, tacos and cocktails from scratch.
The Manly Mashers were formed, and our Apple Pie margarita, super spicy salsa and lime and coriander tacos were born.GREAT NEWS! Our margarita was the best. Bad news! Our tacos were the worst. OK news! Our salsa finished second, but it was so close we were the overall winners.
Making salsa and tacos is actually a lot easier than many people think. Sure the base ingredients were already roasted for us, but it took 10 minutes max to do them. We didn’t follow a recipe. There weren’t set amounts. And that’s how Filipe likes it. It’s not about following a recipe to the letter – it’s about creating something tasty using your pallet. Want it spicier? Pop some more chilli powder in. Not a garlic lover? Then leave it out. The recipe was totally up to us.
The same applied to the tacos. One cup of flour. Half a cup of water. A pinch of salt. And that is it. We failed miserably here, but after a few attempts, we’re pretty sure even the most chimp-like chef could master them.
Benito’s have also made a few tweaks to the menu with dark days drawing in. Their sharing taco plates and cocktails are ideal for a visit after work, after the theatre, or after a few drinks. Try the beef for meat lovers and the bean for veggies – they are extra yum.
Our night finished with a beautifully indulgent, chocolate-topped sponge cake soaked in two different kinds of milk. I also had a Queen of the Night Pale Ale, which was pretty impressive.
Street food is so meta these days. If you haven’t had it, you’re in the minority. Don’t be in the minority. With a brand new restaurant opening up in London Bridge next year, there’s never been a better time to treat yourself to fast, quality, Mexican street food made 100% authentically.
Want to see what the food looks like? Check out our night at #BenitosAfterDark.