Chilli Cool

Sliced beef szechuan style
15 Leigh street, London, WC1H 9EW 020 7383 3135

I’ve read about it, heard people raving about it, even attempted to cook it. But I had never, till now, really tasted authentic Szechuan food. The cuisine du jour about four years ago when, with opening of Bar Shu, a chilli-fevered enthuiasm for it swept London’s food critics.

And so, when the call came through from foodie central (well, from Meemalee, which is pretty much the same thing) I grabbed my gear and headed to Chilli Cool in Bloomsbury to get my socks – I hoped – well and truly blown off.

Crucial to the whole experience was going in gang-style with seven other ravenous bellies. This meant we could sample a decent spread and we ended up enthusiastically chomping our way nine dishes and rice. Much respect to Meemalee who took control and weilded the conductors baton with relish, ordering a plethora of exciting plates.

And out they came, one after the other, veiled in a chilli laced fog of inviting aromas. Thank goodness someone (thanks again Meemalee) kept track of what was what, because soon after my first bite I sank into a chilli induced trance as flavours I didn’t even know existed befuddled my poor brain.

Hot & chilli crispy pigs intestine
Hot and chilli crispy pork intestine

First out of the kitchen was sliced Pigs ear in sesame sauce, followed in quick succession by beef and ox tripe in chilli sauce, sea fragrant aubergine, hot and chilli crispy pork intestine, sea spicy shredded pork, sliced beef Szechuan style lavishly topped with chilli & Szechuan pepper, stir-fried pork and green beans, mini-lamb skewers fried with chilli & chilli powder, and stewed beef tendon.

I won’t even try to go through all nine dishes individually, because there isn’t space. And because the whole experience blended into a whirlwind of new tastes and textures as I dug into one plate then another eager to pile as much into my gob as I could.

It was like feeding burgers to a starving man, like my first taste of steak for a decade when I was 21, I just couldn’t get enough. The chilli heat was as intense as anything I’ve eaten on four continents (and I’m not shy about heat) while the Szechuan peppercorn induced numbness added whole new layers of fun to the experience.

Highlights for me were the pigs ear, which came cold with helluva chilli kick that rose up from the back of your throat after your first nutty bite. It was chewy, porky, hot and cold at the same time. Wow.

Crispy pork intestine was full of texture and flavour, the crispy deep-fried exterior giving way with a crunch to the meltingly porky morsel inside. The delicate flavour somehow stood up to the heat and it was not nearly as offally as I imagined.

The beef tendon was completely new to me and it wibbled and wobbled in my chopsticks like a giant beefy jelly baby. It was incredibly satisfying to eat and, in comparison to the rest of the red hot and numbing dishes, was a gentle interlude.

But for me, king of the table and as luxurious as a Raja’s palace, was the sea fragrant aubergine. So called because it’s made with the same spices Szechuan cooks use for fish. It was heavenly. There was an entrancing balance of strong flavours. Eating it was like having your mouth massaged by the gentlest of tender hands. Hands covered in chilli.

Once the smooth rich fleshy aubergine slices had been mopped up, it was all I could do not to thrust my face into the oil and slurp it up. I made do with pouring it over my rice (and liberally down my shirt).

Chilli Cool remains
The remains

I could go on and on about every mouthful, but you get the picture. If like me you are new to the cuisine this is a great place for an intro. Don’e be frightened by the offal, dive in and try it out. Order liberally and widely and be prepared for an assault on the senses.

Oh yes, make sure you don’t wear a white shirt. That’s very important. Mine looked like I had executed some messy gangland hit by the end. Not that I cared. I was replete with a full belly and the fading whiskey warmth of a lot of chilli.

Finally, the whole lot, with wine came to £20 a head. Twenty quid. An absolute bargain for the experience.

21 Responses to “Chilli Cool”

  1. meemalee

    Beautiful write-up, Aaron – and thanks so much for coming!

    Chilli Cool is definitely a special place because that “king of the table” ie the aubergine was a corker (says the aubergine hater).

    Re me as “foodie central” – you are so cute, I could squish you …

  2. Mr Noodles

    I love this place and I’m glad you’re a fan. Being just round the corner from my offices, this is the restaurant that I’ve visited most in the last couple of years.

    BTW – steak exile for 10 years ? Did you go through some dark ‘veggie’ phase ?

  3. scandilicious

    Great post, Chilli Cool’s just up the road from me and I tried it after Niamh of Eat Like A Girl recommended it. A stonkingly good and bargainous little place, must visit again soon :)

  4. Carla

    Great write-up: it’s made me hungry again and I can’t wait to go back!

    Howver, I think that to truly highlight how amazing price-wise this place is you should admit how much wine was drank during the dinner…

    Actually… Scratch that and let’s be ashamed of ourselves in private…

  5. Food Urchin

    Brilliant post Mr Grubworm, here here for the aubergine dish, it was sublime.

    Have you got them stains out of the shirt yet?

  6. The Grubworm

    @meemalee No, thank you for the intro, it was ace, a rare moment of foodie revelation Old Testament style…

    @Mr Noodles the exile was BSE related to start with when my family stopped eating beef, and then I just fell out of the habit. My first bite in 10 years was a slab of a rare sirloin. Good God, those ten years were almost worth it for the memorable experience.

    @scandilicious – thanks! Yes it is amazing value, especially for the location

    @Carla – I was stomach rumblingly hungry as i wrote it this morning, and like you, i must go back soon. I’m more ashamed of my shirt splatteringly messy chopstick ballet. Actually, i’m not, i was too busy nom nom noming to worry

    @Food Urchin – thanks! That aubergine dish will live long in the memory. As for the shirt – bicarb is the miracle solution…

  7. Becca Rothwell

    I am immediately regretting giving this post a sneaky read at work as I am now even more ravenously hungry than I already was and am in literal danger of drooling all over my keyboard out of sheer unadulterated food lust.

    I already wanted to visit Chilli Cool, but now I want to visit it as soon as I possibly can. Unfortunately though this isn’t likely to be that soon, considering I currently have an ever expanding list of restaurants I want to visit, to the point that visiting them all would result in my being massively poor, massively massive, and both massively happy yet decidedly unhappy at said massive poor and masiveness. I’m even eating out at a local pub with friends tonight and all I’m going to be thinking of is how much I’d rather be eating this, damn it!

    A very effective, if frustrating post; my own fault, I must learn not to read such food porn at work, or at least not late in the afternoon when I’m already hungry.

  8. The Grubworm

    @Becca Rothwell – I’m revelling in the role of foodie corrupter ;-) Happily, this is one of those places where the impact of the food far outlasts the impact on your wallet!

  9. Helen

    God I adore this place. Adore it. Those intestines are one of my all time favourite dishes on the menu too. So crispy and chewy at the same time! Chilli Cool is the best Sichuan place in London for me by a mile.

  10. Sasa

    When I was a kid mum used to take us to eat a Szechuan place in Auckland but while I remember loving it, I’m not sure how authentic it was. However, if, as you say, Szechuan is the new in food, I’m feeling rather smug at my precociousness ;P Must try again, probably when I’m next in London though – there are (shock, horror and vom) only those weird pan-Asian restos here with sushi and green curry on the same menu. Ugh.

  11. The Grubworm

    @Helen – those intestines, along with beef tendon, were the revelation of the evening for me. They were properly tasty and not at all what i expected

    @Sasa – I guess sushi and green curry would make for, erm, interesting bedfellows. Sushi curry maybe ;-) Precociousness is always good. I can lay claim to scoffing pasties way before they took over the fast food world of station terminals… But then again, i did grow up in Cornwall. This place is definitely worth a visit next time you’re over here. If you via train, it’s very close to St Pancras international.

  12. Essex Eating

    Superb post, really was a fantastic evening eh? Funny thing is – I just wrote my Chilli Cool post, and then read yours afterwards – really interesting that we had the same impression of most of the dishes – that Aubergine dish was one of the best things Ive ever eaten.

  13. The Grubworm

    Thanks @Essex Eating, it certainly was a great evening, despite my ducking out earlyish at the pub… Agree totally about the aubergine. Here’s to the next night out ;-)

  14. Lizzie

    I love Chilli Cool, even the requisite stomach cramps from all that chilli the day after; totally worth it.

    Fish fragrant / sea spiced are both names for that aubergine dish; I love it, it’s one of my favourites.

  15. The Grubworm

    @Lizzie – it is a fab place, and totally worth any cramps (you didn’t have the ‘unstoppable chicken’ did you…). I could wax lyrical about that aubergine all day long.

  16. Tom

    Hey – you have driven Jen and I to another restaurant we weren’t planning to again (like Eastside Inn). We just booked instead of cooking and are off now. Seriously excited.

  17. The Grubworm

    @Tom – Glad to have driven you (hopefully more with the carrot than the stick), it really is a good place. I hope the food was worth it.

  18. Chilli Cool revisited « The grub worm

    [...] first brush with proper Sichuan/Szechuan cuisine was something of a sweat soaked revelation. It left me panting for more. The question is, would Chilli Cool get through that notoriously tough [...]

  19. James White

    Just came across this and might see if it’s still there!

    Love the expression “fading whisky warmth” to describe the post-chilli experience. You’ve nailed it!

  20. The Grubworm

    @James White – oh it;s definitely still there. If you go, do try the crispy pigs intestine – they’re delicious and a real highlight.

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