The US burrito chain Chipotle inspires an almost cult-like fervour amongst burrito fans. Although Chipotle does have its detractors – there are nearly 1,000 branches and the company was once part-owned by McDonalds – by and large Chipotle is well loved, thanks to its stance on animal welfare and, of course, its ability to put together a decent burrito.
Charing Cross Road is the site for Chipotle’s London location and, thanks to the Crossrail construction, at the moment the neighbourhood is pretty bleak. The decor at Chipotle’s US restaurants is usually funky Southwestern with a rough, modern edge, but inside their London store the look leans more toward industrial chic. Long, high, metal-topped tables are flanked by beige stools, with some lower seating towards the front and a bar against the windows. Clearly knowing their quick-lunch or late-night-snack seeking clientele, there are a couple of high, round tables without chairs that you can lean on whilst you eat. If you eat in, food is served on the familiar round metal tray in a red plastic basket, lined with paper swirled with names of the company’s favourite musicians.
London burrito fans are used to the build-your-own method of ordering by now and Chipotle is no different. Choose your base from a large menu and it’s put together in front of you, with a member of staff asking which specific toppings you’d like. It’s a pretty easy process, hampered only by the fact that the clear divider – presumably there so that you don’t sneeze all over the food – is so high and thick that it’s quite hard to hear what staff are offering.
Chipotle prides itself on serving naturally raised pork, chicken and beef, which means that the animals aren’t given antibiotics, are fed vegetarian feed without animal by-products and have room to move around. Whilst not exactly free range, it’s much more commendable than battery farming. They’ve kept this same philosophy in the London restaurant, where the chicken served is ‘higher welfare’, the beef is ‘farm assured’ and the pork ‘outdoor reared’. This may account for the price, which is surprisingly high, especially compared to other burrito restaurants in the capital. Burritos, tacos, salads and burrito bowls range from £6.35 for the vegetarian mix of peppers and onions to £6.95 for carnitas (braised pork) and barbacoa (barbecued beef). Just under £7 may not be that much but it’s significantly more expensive than other established burrito places in the capital, and in London, every penny counts.
Besides the carnitas, barbacoa and vegetarian options, there’s also steak and chicken. The rice is coriander and lime, the beans pinto and black, the salsa mild, medium or hot and the cheese a mixture of Monterey Jack and Cheddar. Other topping options include sour cream, lettuce and corn salsa. There’s plenty of meat packed into the pork burrito, and the pork itself is soft, rich and slightly smoky – all the restaurant’s meat is braised in-house. Medium salsa, though, could be a bit spicier. Guacamole costs extra, which is common practice at burrito bars, except at Chipotle it’s a shocking £1.40. It’s nice enough – creamy and not too salty – but for £1.40 you’re expecting miracles. A side of chips (90p, £2.30 with guacamole and £1.60 with salsa) are crisp and not oily but need to be warmed more before serving. Mild salsa tastes fresh but strangely sugary.
In terms of alcohol, Chipotle offers Margaritas (£4.25) and bottled beer (£3.50) such as Negra Modelo, Pacifico and Brooklyn Lager. Sodas are £1 per can, juices, including Innocent’s This Water, are £1.85 and bottled water is £1.20.
The Last Word
Whilst it’s true that up until a few years ago, London was a wasteland when it came to decent Mexican cuisine, burrito fever is well and truly underway. Although there are plenty of places that can’t do as good a burrito as Chipotle, there are a few now that can roll them just as good – and for cheaper.