Tuesday 18 May 2010

Chilli Cool - London

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.

Chilli Cool

15 Leigh Street

Telephone: 020 7383 3135



The Grubworm said...

Hmm, not sure what you're talking about when you talk about white shirts... not sure at all ;-)

You are so right about the confounding of expected taste - that was a real feature of the place for me. And those aubergine, oh my god, I'm still have happy (and now that it's down on screen, slightly disturbing) dreams about them.

meemalee said...

I want to go again. AGAIN.

I'm trying very hard not to lick my screen - beautiful pictures!

So chuffed you liked it x

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of Bar Shu, the only Sichuan place I've tried, but the dishes look even more tempting. The aubergine sounds amazing! Chilli Cool has now moved to top spot on my 'must visit' list.

Dan said...

The Grubworm - hahaha white shirts - indeed. Totally agree, I was blown away by Chilli Cool, so good.

MiMi - Thanks very much, and thanks for inviting me along. Loved it. x

Laura - I'd be really interested to know how you think it compares to Bar Shu once you've been.

Grumbling Gourmet said...

It's been a while, but that's just tempted me to go back soon! great shots too


Rachel McCormack said...

So nice of you only to post photos of the food and no the state of the diners post wine and post white shirt splashes Dan.
I had a great time there too and would also highly recommend.
*I will get my spelling right, I will get my spelling write. . .*

Kake said...

Oh, coincidence — I was there tonight! I'd been there before, and also enjoyed the dry-fried green beans. We had the crispy intestine tonight; not sure I like it as much as I like softer-cooked intestines, but it was fine for what it was. Really _loved_ the (cold) mashed garlic and cucumber appetiser though.

Did the fish-fragrant aubergine really have no meat in it at all? It usually has minced pork.

Hollow Legs said...

I've only been once; not quite sure why, as I loved it. The sliced fish hot pot is great. The pigs intestines were so good too. I must go back, I do love beef tendon and we didn't try that.

Dan said...

Grumbling Gourmet - Thanks.

Catalan Cooking - hahaha I have pictures of the diners post meal, and its not pretty - but then again, they were never pretty beforehand either. I couldn't inflict that horror on my readers.

Kake - that is a coincidence. Cold mashed garlic and cucumber sounds extremely interesting. Y'know, you could be right about the fish-fragrant aubergine dish, I didn't detect the minced pork, but then I think I just didn't expect there to be meat in there. And, lets be honest - by that stage, I was pretty drunk.

Lizzie - Sliced Fish Hot pot, that sounds very interesting. I know you're a a bit of an authority on Chinese food, so your stamp of approval re: Chilli Cool says a lot.

PDH said...

That crispy Pork Intestine sounds weirdly wonderful, loving the photos!

Food Urchin said...

Chilli Cool made me stink to high heaven the next day but boy it was worth it.

Great review mate but one thing the lamb skewers were covered in cumin yes? Or was I that smashed?

Urban Vegetarian said...

The sea spicy aubergine sounds awesome. Would a non meat eater be able to have a full meal here or was that dish a one off?

London Chow said...

Loved Chilli Cool the first time I was there and have been there a couple of times since. In fact, when a couple of friends asked me about some cheap Chinese eats, I pointed them there. The pig's intestine looks great, will go try it out the next time round! Cheers.

Kake said...

My photos from last night are now up: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kake_pugh/sets/72157623970318437/

I have photos of the menu there too (partly thanks to London Foodie!), and can thus confirm for Food Urchin that the lamb skewers are on the menu as "mini lamb skewer fried with chill & cumin powder".

Urban Vegetarian: as mentioned above, I don't think the sea spicy aubergine is vegetarian. However, I did have a dish from the Chinese-only menu that certainly appeared to be entirely meat-free — my only concern would be that the stock used to cook the vegetables might not have been veggie. It's here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kake_pugh/4621366165/ and was substantial enough that I would have been happy enough eating it with rice for lunch. The cucumber with mashed garlic appetiser (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kake_pugh/4621916514/) was also meat-free. I suspect the stir-fried shredded potatoes with green peppers would also be veggie, but haven't tried them to be certain. They would almost certainly be able to do you some plain stirfried greens to go on the side. I suspect all their tofu dishes have meat in.

Helen said...

It's probably in my top 5 favourite restaurants in London. The intestines are one of the stand out dishes for me, crispy and chewy at the same time. I'd like to try the beef tendon though.

Dan said...

Paul - It was great, and thanks very much.

Food Urchin - I honestly cant remember, but Kake has answered your question further down the comments. Yes, covered in Cumin.

Urban Vegetarian - Good question, and one that Kake has answered in his comment above much more comprehensively than I could.

Londow Chow - Seems like everyone loves it, yet to hear a bad thing said about the place.

Kake - Thanks for the link to the photos and answering some of the questions asked by your fellow commentees.

Helen - great excuse to go back!! I'd like to try it again, so many good dishes, wondering what else is superb on the menu now.

Kake said...

You're welcome, though you have mis-gendered me :)

Gareth said...

I 'discovered' the Sea Spicy Aubergine on my last visit a couple of weeks back - and 'frigging incredible' is a very apt description. Love this place.

signe said...

Great review Dan, looks like you feasted in style! I live near Chilli Cool and ventured in during the dog days of winter after hearing about it from Niamh of Eat Like a Girl, it's such a brilliant gem of a restaurant in a part of town that doesn't have a blazing array of great restaurants. Shall definitely try the sea salty aubergine next time :-)

Dan said...

Kake - sorry!

Gareth - hahaha yep, sea spicy aubergine is worth the price of admission alone.

Sig - Thanks very much. Totally agree, not many good restaurants in that part of town but Chilli Cool more than makes up for that. So jealous that you live nearby!