Side Hustle’s newly launched brunch menu is what we were here to sample / devour. Having had a quick peruse of the menu ahead of visiting, my mouth was already watering at the thought of Mexo Benedict- the Side Hustle version served with lashings of siracha spiked hollandaise and guac, not to mention anywhere that serves tacos for brunch gets my vote.
The day I chose to eat at Side Hustle was one of those days in London that starts off blue and then from nowhere turns black. Big, fat, heavy rain drops fall from the sky with such force you wonder if you will end up with bruises. The most well-seasoned Londoner’s become drowned rats, hair sticking to cheeks, anything and everything being used as make shift umbrellas – newspapers, handbags, small children. Puddles the size of lakes appear out of nowhere, drivers appear to adopt a private joke style game of seeing how many people they can drench. Tubes over crowd, buses stop working, basically it’s the apocalypse and every man for themselves.
Falling into Side Hustle, heaving open the heavy wooden door and hearing the screams of the drenched ebb away as it slowly closed behind me, I felt as if I had entered another world. Calm, serene, heavy with the scent of opulence, the host team perfectly coiffed and manicured, ready to welcome you into the dark panelled room complete with countertop seating and booths plus the option for diners to snack at the incredibly atmospheric bar littered with potions and blends destined for the signature cocktails on offer and curated with such flair that it has earned the bar a spot on the 50 Best list. The vibe was luxe, as a NoMad off shoot should be. Dark wood panelling, earthy deep greens and brass accents cutting through the moody aesthetic are balanced by warm lighting with subtle nods of Latin America bleeding into the décor – a whole shelf of curated tequilas, large skulls reminiscent of those synonymous with Day of the Dead that act as vessels for the house tequila laced Pina Coladas sit amongst huge vase style urns used to house the self titled ‘cocktail explosions’ that feed 6 and come with a warning.
It is one of those spaces that on entering you feel safe and at ease, content in the knowledge you will be taken care of, the booth seats are ready and waiting to receive you and the blinds offer the perfect balance of privacy from the outside world but just the right amount of give to people watch… or watch people drown, depending on the weather.
And so, settled and safe from the biblical monsoon outside we began our meal.
Drinks first and on a mission to remind myself it was actually July despite the madness taking place outside, I ordered the aforementioned Pina Colada. At this stage in the game I was unaware it came in a skull larger than mine, crowned with wedges of the golden fruit and her green stalk. She was giving Carmen Miranda albeit, a little darker. The drink itself was delicious, a Pina Colada stan, I was nervous for a tequila based rendition(that and it has been known that tequila can make me a little lary but in the name of good journalism I took the risk), this was the perfect balance of coconut and pineapple, not too rich nor too sweet.
Side Hustle offers both small and large plates that can be taken as starters and mains of ordered on mass to share amongst the table. First to arrive was the Mexican staple of some form of chip and dip (although in Mexico they are usually on the house). With three salsas on offer, we settled on the Pipian, a blend of pipitas, red pepper and chili arbol – an expertly seasoned offering balancing chilli heat and earthy seeds. It was one of those dishes where you felt the nutrition of the salsa outweighed the fried tostadas provided to scoop with.
We also shared Croquetas de Esquites and yellowfin tuna tostadas served with Aguachile. It never ceases to amaze me to see the different way corn is played with in Mexican kitchens and so I was excited to see the Side Hustle rendition – sweet kernels, running through crème fraiche, spiked with epazote, rolled and deep fried.
The tuna was fresh and light, a wonderful opener to the mains heading our way.
In preparation of the tacos and burrito, an apothecary style bottle of homemade hot sauce was delivered to the table – a nice touch and a welcome edition to our main plates. It was well made, you can taste the ingredients and feel the heat start to build rather than the instant fire that many hot sauces tend to deliver. Onto the main event – a plate of lamb birria tacos complete with tomato and radish salad and a breakfast burrito for my dining partner, served with a well made mole for max dunking.
The tacos were good, and yes I know I said my mouth was watering at Eggs Benny but what can I say, tacos are my love language and who am I to stand in the way of love.The lamb was melt in the mouth, falling apart and topped with wafer thin, perfectly pickled discs of radish, a welcome hit of acid to cut through the fat. The obligatory consommé served on the side, rich and fatty and delivered the perfect drip on every bite of the taco. The tortillas were perfectly cooked, pliable and full of flavour and when loaded with the rich lamb, the coriander heavy tomato salad and a few drips of hot sauce made for a winning combination.
The burrito was heavy and substantial – thank goodness, there is nothing sadder than an underfilled burrito. The mole complex and full of layers of flavour.
We completed our meal with another round of cocktails, this time I went for the ‘Pardon Plea’, a blend of rum, tequila, green apple, coconut and palo santo – which was eye wateringly punchy which in turn made it incredibly refreshing. My partner who doesn’t drink was equally well looked after as the bar has a fantastic mocktail menu that you can tell are as expertly thought out as the alcoholic menu. His first El Diablito, alight and refreshing blend of ginger, hibiscus and lime. His second incredibly unusual pandan situation which you could have easily mistaken for a sour – truly exceptional drinks.
And so, as much as we wanted to squeeze in a desert of Mango Prepardo or an ice cream sandwich, we were just too stuffed and with that we braced ourself for the carnage of the outside world, lucky for us, our Mexican morning had trickled out of the restaurant and into the streets of London and we were back to blue skies.
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