By Leo Owen.
The ominous clouds are more mulled wine weather than frozen cocktails but with luminous coloured margaritas on tap who cares? Waiting outside the new branch of Poncho 8 for my drinking partner, I watch a scruffy, intoxicated man with exceedingly stained clothes and the classic red cider-drinking face being politely asked to move on. Looking a tad disheveled, having come straight from work, I'm half waiting to be approached myself but manage to squeeze inside and up the stairs where I'm told there's space. There's plenty of room up here but we're far away from the food and drinks and suddenly understand why everyone has packed into the small space below.
An hour on and it's 7.30. The nachos and dips are circulating and the margaritas are temporarily out. As I reluctantly settle for beer, I stand amazed after hearing one of the PRs mention 300 more people are expected in the already heaving room. Position firmly claimed, we stand next to a guy from ITV, strategically between the bar area and burrito counter where mini burritos (£1.70 - £2,10) with surprise fillings are piled ready to grab. I regretfully opt for two before realising there's a queue of more wised-up guests waiting for their own tailor-made full-size burritos (£5.90 - £6.30).
Queuing up, I meet one of Square Meal's writers before being faced with a series of decisions. Poncho 8 is the Subway of burritos, but at present only has three branches; this new addition is the only one selling alcohol (Pacifico, Modelo and Corona beers and frozen margaritas). Moving along the counter, I'm faced with a choice of three rices (brown, tomato and coriander), two types of bean (brown and black), peppers, vaguely-named hot sauce/medium sauce, cool sour cream, salads, salsa and guacamole. There's a vegetarian option for ethical eaters or a choice of Barbacoa (marinated spicy beef), chicken, steak and Poncho's pork for the meat-reliant. Even the indecisive are catered for with "Poncho's Pick", a burrito with its ingredients pre-listed.
By 7.45 I'm stuffed. I can suddenly see the floor and the room is miraculously quieter. The camera flashes seem to have stopped but the Aldous Snow lookalike is still annoyingly swaggering about. I still haven't spotted N-Dubz or any of the Made In Essex crew but end up chatting to a would-be artist-cum-hairdresser before a gentleman with an amazing bow tie catches my eye.
By now, fired up with margaritas, beer and emergency-rationed back-up wine, I can't resist complementing his attire. He confidently tells me it's soon to be back in fashion because he's wearing it and I'm flabbergasted to discover his family started up Harvey Nichols. Having casually dropped the bomb, he mystifies me by classing the family business as a boutique. As he lollops off towards yet another reveler who "just knows" him, we lollop off cheekily clutching tomorrow's lunch.