Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Shaftesbury Ave and Baker St
With due apology to all the places I've whinged about on this blog after only one visit, I made two trips to Chipotle, one to each of their two branches, before making my mind up about it. The first was a PR-organised lunch at Baker Street with everything that entails - a tour behind the scenes, the hard sell from the nevertheless charming American senior staff, and perhaps slightly more attention paid to what comes out of the kitchen than the average punter would enjoy. The second was, I hope, slightly more representative - takeaway tacos from their Shaftesbury Avenue branch, eaten al desko one lunchtime. Both were hugely enjoyable.
The fact that, as it turns out, I really liked the food at Chipotle came as quite a surprise. Though astonishingly popular (and numerous) in its native USA, the opening of the first UK branch in April last year was seemingly met by profound indifference by most food bloggers, with the tiny handful of people bothering to write it up split down the middle on whether it was a welcome addition to a city largely starved of decent Mexican food, or yet another bland American chain trying to do for tacos what Subway did for... whatever the hell Subway do. The general London public, though, just like their US counterparts, were more easily convinced - Chipotle is just as popular here as over there, with queues snaking out of the door almost every day.
I can see why, too, although I didn't love everything. Whilst the hot salsa (made fresh every day from fresh ingredients, I was earnestly informed on my first visit) was powerfully flavoured and carried just the right amount of burn, some of the milder salsas, particularly the medium-hot "Tomatillo" and the mild "Roasted Tomato" had nothing much in terms of body to make up for the lack of heat, though I did think the "Roasted Chili-Corn" was very good - buttery and rich with just a slight glow of chilli. Also, although credit is due to Chipotle for making all their Tortilla Chips in-house, on my second visit they were stale and chewy, and massively overseasoned with some kind of citrus salt.
But issues with ancillary foodstuffs aside, what Chipotle is really about is the burritos and tacos, and fortunately this is where the real magic happens. I have tried four out of the five main fillings, and can happily report that the "Chicken" is earthy and rich with a complex adobo; the "Steak" chunks are commendably moist and also benefitting from a good slick of the house adobo; "Carnitas" is straightforwardly enjoyable pulled pork, definitely up there with the best I've had in London; and - best till last - "Barbacoa" (note the spelling, Mr Oliver) is the most superbly moist, flavoursome slow-braised brisket. I would urge anyone who's not been to Chipotle before to start with something involving the Barbacoa - it really is shockingly good.
It's not saying much, perhaps, that Chipotle is the best of the burrito places that have sprung up in London over the last couple of years. I've tried a number of the various Burrito Bros / Burrito Burrito / Hey We Do Burritos and most are pretty dreadful, bland and stodgy and never particularly cheap. And in fact, Chipotle isn't particularly cheap either, an order of three tacos with (nice, creamy) guacamole and a bag of tortilla chips being the best part of a tenner. But, as ever, when the food is as tasty as this, fresh and exciting and served with a smile, it still feels like great value. Welcome to London, then, Chipotle - make yourself at home.