I popped in to try a burrito the other day in the newly opened Tortilla Mexican Grill in Hammersmith. The setup mirrors Chipotle’s build-your-own-burrito-style and the line flowed outside the door, cue the rain and a disperse of foolish people without umbrellas.
I’m not sure who were first on the scene in the UK, Tortilla Mexican Grill or Chipotle, but Chipotle was created in the US in 1993 and I’ve been gobbling their burritos for years (there was a chain on my university campus). Having consumed what I roughly believe to be around 472 burritos since 2005, I feel I’m in a position to exert my expertise in the matter of constructed burrito.
Tortilla’s are good. £4.95 for medium or £5.95 for large. Their flour tortillas are soft and flexible (it needs to be to hold the ingredients and fold from the corners) with a warm crust that crunches when bitten. You begin by choosing your Toppings then move on to the Fillings. I went for black beans and lime-cilantro rice, shredded braised pork (other options are: grilled chicken, grilled steak (add 50p) or the Vegetarian case of guacamole), some Iceberg lettuce, Monterey Jack Cheese, Salsa Roja (which I’m told is the hottest option available, made from “some of the hottest chillies on the planet”, but which in fact is rather dull) and for a wasted 70p I added guacamole.
Moving along the assembly line you can view the construction in progress, pointing to the ingredients as you go. It’s all about hand size. The rice and meat and soggy ingredients are dumped onto the tortilla using a ladle, while the lettuce and cheese are added using a bunched handful. Note the hands of your creators, as you could be a victim of lady/or childlike hand swindle. Some, if you’re timely with your observation, will pick a few extra finger-nips of meat and top-up the mounting pile of ingredients for you.
The assembly formation reaches its peak with the real talent (and probably the most boring of roles): Chief Folder. All the others in line have the opportunity to liaise with the customer, look them in the eye, ask them questions, while the Chief Folder is operational in one thing (the most important, most repetitive, most skilled?), to neatly fold, tuck under, and wrap the tortilla. And if they fail – even once – and the flour circle cracks or leaks, then they are taken out the back and their fingers are removed with an electric breadknife. It’s an unfair truth but then, you can’t have a Chief Folder at the head of the formation who lets the entire side down.
A £4.25 Margarita made with Silver Tequila is only average. The glass rim is frosted with salt but it’s not strong enough and the ice is crushed so finely that it resembles a lime green Slush Puppy rather than an authentic Margarita. Even a slice of lime would jazz it up and add extra bite to the party, but it’s lacking in all decoration and potency.
£1.40 for a bottomless soft drink is a better option or ask for a free glass on tap-water and use your spare coinage for a £1.50 bowl of Tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa. Better still, for £1.50, pile on extra meat, and when your dome of ingredients is tipping over the edge and the Chief Folder is under pressure to fold, roll and serve, rest assured that you are testing the very best in the Mexican burrito assembly line.
Tortilla Mexican Grill may be a fastfood chain, but it’s substantially better than McDonalds, Burger King, Subway and all the other garbage accumulated muck, and from lunch it’ll keep you filled until home-time.