Friday, 9 July 2010
To say Chilli Cool is a no-frills restaurant is something of an understatement. But then, the aftermath of eating Sichuanese food over a white table cloth would just be humiliating. This is a place to load up a big table with friends, feast messily on plates of spicy, chilli laden food and wash it all down happily with a beer or three. And watch out for the oil slicked floors.
First things first. The crispy pig's intestine. This dish has won the adoration of many a trusted food blogger and I wanted to love it too. It wasn't to be. Fried slivers of intestine, mixed with bright peppers, silken spring onion and gleaming lashings of chilli was a pretty picture of Sichuan goodness - but like an angelic looking child smiling sweetly on a sunny day, before breaking out into a full blooded, high pitched, screaming tanty, its looks belied the real truth, people. Slice by slice, it tasted precisely how one can only imagine a big old sweaty pig's arse would taste - after a long day at the trough. And it's a taste that not only lingers, but starts off more like a faint smell of arse, and then just when you think it's gone, it slowly creeps up on you and blows up in all its full arsey glory about 10 seconds after swallowing. A faecal creeper. Just not my thing. While I'm sure this dish is all about texture, these specimens were stiff giving way to a slightly disappointing softness, rather than living up to the crisp and chewy morsels I was expecting. However, others rave about this dish and I'm generally not a huge fan of offal so perhaps it's just me.
Nevertheless, our other selections made up for this initial disappointment and assured us of the potential within Chilli Cool's repertoire.
Dry fried green beans with pork mince and chillis were salty, tender and wrinkled like an old woman after a long bath. Not all that spicy (until I overdosed on 1 too many of the accompanying fried chillies) but lovely flavours and thoroughly enjoyable in all its simplicity.
Our whole sweet and sour sea bass delivered in black and glistening finery. Crispy flesh gave way to the moist meat of the fish which has been baked and smothered in a sticky, sweet soy based sauce topped with finely shredded strands of spring onion and fresh chilli. We were not expecting this dish to be all that spicy, and it wasn't, but a lovely, fresh option to balance out some of your meatier dishes at Chilli Cool.
Chilli Cool is good enough to go back again, next time with a table full of hungry accomplices which is the best way to sample a variety of dishes at places like this. But it's not up there at this stage with some of my favourite cheap eats, like Cay Tre (Vietnamese in Shoreditch). Nevertheless, I was impressed by the look of other plates making their way to surrounding tables, and any luke warm feelings may be more down to my menu selections than the competence of the restaurant. I remain confident there are plenty of gems still to be sampled (like the sea fragrant aubergine and the impressive looking spicy hot pots).
Expensive restaurants probably only get one chance to blow you way. However, this is a place that students go to feast. At just under £20 per head with a beer each, rice and service, it's not going to break the bank to go back and experiment with our selections at Chilli Cool again.
Chilli Cool, 15 Leigh St, Bloomsbury, London WC1H 9EW (Ph: 0207 383 313)