Now the first thing I should probably point out is that this review took place almost a week into a pre-holiday cleansing diet. We’re talking no meat, no fish, no diary, gluten free, soups, smoothies and salads for five days straight, and quite honestly, it’s left me ravenous. So when I was asked if I’d like to sample the Mexican food from Smokin’ Gringos on offer at The Sidewinder, obviously I leapt at the chance.
Those who don’t venture any further into Kemptown than the bottom end of St James’ Street are missing out on one of BN2’s best establishments. It’s almost certainly the biggest boozer in the area, its beer garden is unrivalled locally and they know how to create a great party atmosphere at the weekend. I’ve lost many a night in this place.
We were greeted at the bar by Zamba, a friendly Australian who asked us what we wanted to drink. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but I’d promised myself that I wasn’t going to drink for two weeks to help get myself beach ready. I stuttered, and then accepted that I just don’t have the will power to say no when asked such a tempting question, so we kept it local and went for a pint of Brighton Bier’s Free State while my friend had a Brighton Gin & tonic.
The pub was really quiet indoors, but it was a warm evening, so despite both beer gardens being heaving, we went out to squeeze ourselves in.
One look at the menu told me I’d be breaking my health kick in spectacular fashion. As you’d expect all the classics were there – burritos, quesadillas, tacos and chilli, as well as other authentic Mexican dishes such as deep-fried cactus leaves and yucca fries (a root vegetable somewhere between a regular and sweet potato). With so many Mexican eateries in Brighton now, the chefs here have clearly recognised that average just doesn’t cut the guacamole any more.
We placed our order and while we waited, Zamba came over with Brighton Hot Sauce chipotle and pineapple condiments. With a devilish smile on his face, he asked us how much heat we could handle with our food. Naturally we told him to give us everything he had.
First, the nacho platter arrived, and while a lot of places simply load cheese and salsa over a plate of Dorito-style crisps, Smokin Gringo go the extra mile cooking their own huge tortillas fresh for each order, liberally sprinkled with cheese and jalapeños, plus homemade guac, sour cream and salsa in side pots. Our eyes were bigger than our bellies as we went for the large at £8.95 but I’m sure the smaller £5.95 portion would be enough for two.
Next came the Elotes Bowl. The way the feta cheese melted into the sweetcorn was delicious and – despite only being £2.95 – was enough for us both (perhaps we were just trying our best to take it slowly as we still had tacos to come). It was a good job we did save some space because our main course suddenly turned our evening into an eating challenge.
We both went for the Taco Platter in order to try the full range of fillings between us, and they arrived so loaded that we had to pick from each of them before they were slim enough to roll. The steak and prawn tacos both came with salsas (cactus and mango, respectively), which perfectly complemented their flavour with fruitiness. The pulled pork was classically coated in BBQ sauce on slaw, the brisket was nice and smoky due to being slow-cooked over a wood fire for 18 hours, and the chicken was the hottest of the lot thanks to some Brighton Hot Chipotle sauce. I actually thought the final taco was tofu, and having not eaten meat for a week was unsurprisingly left until last, but one bite into its crispy exterior revealed a fluffy halloumi centre which, along with the jalapeño & honey salsa, guacamole and cherry tomatoes, was absolutely delicious.
So not only were the tacos plentiful and extremely tasty, the platter options are also really good value with three different fillings for £10. If that’s too much food for you (which, believe me, it might be after a huge plate of nachos and an Elotes Bowl) you can have two tacos of the same type for £6.95.
Despite blowing my cleansing diet big time, we left full and truly satisfied. Next time I come to The Sidewinder to eat – and there will definitely be a next time – I’ll wait until after the beach holiday, rather than three days before it.
Smokin’ Gringos is at The Sidewinder on 65 St James’ Street, Brighton, BN2 1JN