I’ve been meaning to try Chilli Cool in Bloomsbury for ages. Like the rather fabulous Tayyabs in Whitechapel, its one of those places London foodies are all aware of. Everyones been there, or if not, are planning to try it soon. What it also has in common with Tayyabs is it’s rather bargainous menu. But, there the similarity ends. Tayyabs being purveyors of fine Pakistani cuisine, and Chilli Cool, Chinese – in fact, its much more specific than that. Chilli Cool specialises in food from the Sichuan province of China, which is famous for it’s spicy nature. Basically, nearly every dish is stuffed full of chillies.
The other interesting element of Chilli Cool’s Szechuan menu is the liberal use of offal…. pig ears, beef tendons, various types of tripe – all feature heavily on the menu, which can be a bit daunting for the unitiated. To be honest, I was intrigued and just a little bit nervous about trying some of the dishes myself.
But hey, what sort of food blog would this be if I didn’t eat the weird stuff?
The restaurant itself is located in a quiet Bloomsbury street, and to be honest the frontage is a rather non-descript, very misleading….you could easily walk past and not really give it a second look. On entering, the interior is a lot nicer, modern, light and airy with a dining area in a glass extension to the rear.
When we arrived and made our way through the restauarant every other diner in the place was Chinese, which was a good sign in my book. I was dining with a party of eight, which is perfect for somewhere like this, being able to order a lot of dishes to share and getting to try a good cross section of the menu.
We all had a bit of input into what we wanted to try, but left most of the ordering to my good pal MiMi who had eaten there before and therefore knew what was good to eat. (allegedly).
Food ordered, including a large selection of offal based dishes we cracked into the first of many bottles of wine drunk during the meal and waited to see what would appear first, the dishes coming out of the kitchen are deposited on the table as they’re cooked and not in any particular order
First up sliced pigs ears in sesame oil – which, I was expecting to be served hot. No, completely wrong footed – they were stone cold, and sliced thinly with a spicy sauce, if you didn’t know what they were, it would be hard to identify them, but and this is the main thing. They were bloody delicious. So good, with a suprising crisp, light texture.
What followed was a succession of dishes, containing tripe, tendons and who knows what else and all having one thing in common; an almost exquisite heat from the numerous chillies. Not a horrible gasping for water heat, but a hard to define almost pleasant burn with a real subtelty of flavour. Presumably it must be something to do with the type of chillies used.
For the record, we worked our way through the following dishes:-
Stewed beef tendon
Mini-lamb skewer fried with chilli & chilli powder
Stir-fried pork and green beans
Sliced beef Szechuan style topped with chilli & Szechuan pepper
Sea spicy shredded pork
Hot & chilli crispy pork intestine
Beef and ox tripe in chilli sauce
Everything was excellent, but the standout dish for me (somewhat suprisingly as it contained no meat) was the Sea Spicy Aubergine… it was frigging incredible. Just as I was wrongfooted by the cold pigs ears, I was completely surprised and stunned by the red hot oily sweetness of this dish. It was incredibly flavoured, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything quite like it.
I think this dish sums up nicely what makes Chilli Cool so good. All of your expectations about eating Chinese food, about offal, about the temperature dishes are served, about the burn from chilis are utterly counfounded. The whole meal was a delight from start to finish, and I ate most of it in a state of complete wonder. It was bloody delicious, and when the bill finally came at the end of the meal, it was ridiculously cheap. (I seem to remember it coming it something like £25 a head, and we’d drunk our way through a hell of a lot of wine).
I can’t recommend Chilli Cool enough, it’s one of London’s real dining experiences, if you haven’t been, you have to try it.
One tip though, don’t even think of wearing anything white if you don’t want it spattered in bright red chilli oil.
15 Leigh Street
Telephone: 020 7383 3135