Poncho No 8

In the guest blog written by Gary Bainbridge I posted here yesterday, I pointed out that I’m currently a poor little church mouse who can’t afford any cheese, let alone the tortilla wrap, rice, beans and meat to go with it.

But then I had a very bad day indeed, which I spent grumping about the place like a frowny rain cloud, and decided I needed cheering up. And that, of course, means food. Yum yum yum.

Last week, I went to the opening night of the new Soho branch of Poncho No 8, after emailing them about my extremely important blog and blagging an invite (nothing to do with me working for Cosmo, I’m sure). An eager crowd of foodie liggers were served extremely promising mini burritos and delicious frozen margheritas, and I couldn’t wait to go back.

DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM? Oh, you do. Oh…I’ll just sit over here then.

The interior is modern and minimalist, and although I favour the fake-cactus-and-sombrero style of burrito-joint decor, there was a soothing lime-green-and-orange thing going on instead, which got my vote by reminding me of my favourite flavour of tic tacs.

Service was a bit slow, which was understandable seeing as the burrista was probably all shiny and new, although he lost points by calling the guacamole ‘guac’, which is a pet hate of mine. I know four syllables is a bit of a drag, but it’s not your Uncle Guac. 

There was a choice of red (tomato?) and lime rice, and the black beans had red chillis mixed in, which was an unusual touch I haven’t seen before.

My burrito was a little on the small side, which meant it suffered a surfeit of wrap-to-filling, but the wrap was interestingly chewy (it started off being annoyingly chewy, but once I got used to it I decided I quite liked it), so all was forgiven.

It cost £6.10, although I’m sure if I’d revealed my true identity it would have been free, and they’d have carried me upstairs to the dining area on their shoulders.

It had a few things wrong with it – too cold (probably because of the Beginner Burrista Effect, which meant it took about 5,000 years to wrap), under-spiced, and slightly dry with al dente beans that got on my nerves a bit. I also accidentally chewed a piece of tin foil, but I’m not going to blame anyone but myself for that one.

However, despite these individual flaws, the whole managed to be greater than the sum of its parts. The chicken was full of flavour and nicely crispy, the rice was fluffy and tasty, and the tables had little bowls of lime slices you could squeeze onto each bite which worked brilliantly, lifting the whole thing above the norm.

An al dente burrito, yesterday

I’d liked to have seen some bottles of hot sauce on the tables, too, but maybe I’m just going to have to start bumping up my chosen salsa to Defcon Three when it comes to ordering, because lots of the burritos I’ve reviewed so far haven’t been spicy enough for a double-hard bastard like me.

All in all, my sojurn was a successful one, although not quite successful enough to turn my really quite spectacular frown upside-down.

Mood before: WAHHHHH!

Mood after: *Burp*. WAHHHHH!

Rating: Food 7/10, Ambience 7/10, Staff 6/10 (but they’re all new, bless ’em), Value: 6/10

Where: 11 Queen’s Head Passage, St Paul’s;  5 Steward St, Spitalfields.

Closest Tube: St Paul’s, Liverpool St.

Web: Here / @ponchono8

Recommended?: If you’re looking for burritos in Soho, this is your best bet.

UPDATE THE FIRST: Onwards and upwards (and, in the case of my stomach, outwards)

Despite Poncho No 8’s sterling work, I have grown to hate its chirpy green sign and proximity to my office. As the small early-days teething-creases have been ironed out, these burritos have grown in might and stature, and I have become ADDICTED, DAMMIT.

The worst (best) thing about the place, apart from the basic darn deliciousness of its burritos, is that they do tiny mini burritos for £2.10, which are perfect for luring innocent souls like me in, thinking, ‘I’ll just have a taste. Just a nibble.’ Then you eat one, dribble everywhere, and order a large immediately. Bad, BAD Poncho No 8.

In addition, they have now started putting this amazingly bright-green sauce on the tables. It is both delicious and a great colour. Look how happy it’s making @emily_nia!

“I LOVE GREEN SAUCE! AND DOGS!”

In view of all this, I have decided to upgrade Poncho’s rating to 8/10. Good work, burrito soldiers!

UPDATE THE SECOND: The Soho branch of Poncho No 8 has sadly closed (not through lack of appreciatiation of their deliciousness, I am assured, but because of An Offer They Couldn’t Refuse), but I’m sure the other branches are nice too.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Ello. I’m a big fan of the Spitalfields Poncho’s, so I’m going to poke my nose in here and sort what might have been first day jitters from what might have been an extremely crowded opening even from what’s business as usual for Poncho’s.

    First off: Red rice, tomato; green rice, coriander. And over in Liverpool Street, to my recollection, there are usually little bottles of hot sauce kicking around, along with the lime wedges you mentioned. But now that I think about it, I might be hallucinating. That said, the hot sauce could be what’s causing me to hallucinate.

    Second, the portion sizes (what you dub the wrap-to-filling [ratio]), in my experience, have only ever varied between splendid and intimidating. Indeed, my usual ‘skinny’ burrito (read: burrito bowl) is not ‘skinny’, at all. Freed from the austere contraints of the humble wrap, the Poncho’s burristas indulge the gaping eyes of their customers, creating something that might, perhaps, have once been mistaken for a taco salad, until puberty kicked in. Didn’t they say they were serving mini-burritos on your night anyway? The regular ones; they’re not mini at all.

    Thirdfully, all the burritos I’ve had from Ponco’s have been (temperature) warm rather than hot, which does a great job of keeping the lettuce crispy (hate flaccid lettuce) and suits me just fine at lunchtime, but I guess in the evening, you want your dinner burrito to be piping hot. Horses for courses, I suppose.

    Finally, the Poncho’s burristas are some of the best I’ve ever come across; despite the fact that I’m only ever there on (consistently, crazily) busy weekday lunchtimes, the staff recognise me and remember my order, which is simply wonderful. I imagine with a room as busy as that, and with new staff, yeah, you may have a wait. The Spitalfields team will chew through a queue out of the building and around the corner in less than ten minutes.

    Hope this clears up some of the discrepancies.!

    In other news; if YOU own a burrito shack and you’d like me to post favourable comments on reviews of your restaurant on burrito blogs, feel free to get in touch with me on Twitter. I’m all yours!

    Reply

  2. Haha! All fair points. As I made clear in the blog, I wouldn’t want to criticise anything staff-related in an establishment that’s a week old – everyone has to learn somewhere.

    The review was based on a normal night, when I was the only person in the queue, not the opening night, so my burrito was a regular-sized one. But compared to the behemoths at, say, Daddy Donkey, it was a little bit on the weedy size – I wasn’t particularly full afterwards, and I’m only small myself. I think part of the problem is that I don’t have lettuce or guacamole, and they tend to leave room for these as they assemble the burrito – meaning if you don’t have them, you lose out.

    My burrito also had only the tiniest hint of warmth – but again, I think this will improve as the staff get used to the delicate balance of speed and care I look for in a burrista. I may try the Spitalfields branch for comparison, but after the Benito’s Hat Tragedy, maybe I should leave well alone…

    Speaking of which, nice use of ‘burritsa’. Together we will make it a REAL WORD.

    Reply

  3. Additional note: Compare the Daddy Donkey pic to this one and you can see the size difference!

    Reply

  4. Hi, thanks for the write up! Poncho 8 Soho has now closed but you can still get your Poncho fix at our St Paul’s and Spitalfields branches.

    Poncho 8 St Paul’s: 11 Queens Head Passage, London, EC4M 7DZ. Tel: 0207 248 6744
    Poncho 8 Spitalfields: 5 Steward Street, London, E1 6AJ. Tel: 0207 247 2008

    Richard

    Reply

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