My 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 second visit? All that expectation and the unrepeatable joy of a new discovery is tough to beat.
I remembered the crispy flavourful intestines, the earthy and hot lamb skewers and most of all that heavenly aubergine. Oh God the aubergine. Obscenely tasty I’d elevated it onto an oil-drenched pedestal. So it was with both trepidation and excitment that I wandered into the dining room.
Once again, there was a big group of us. This is important because a lot of joy is found in sharing different dishes, exploring new tastes and sharing experiences with friends. Of course, it also helps when you have people who know what to order – thanks Mr Noodles and Cooking the books.
Oh yes, that trepidation? Totally misplaced. Despite a reservation cock up they managed to seat all eleven of us in a lovely conservatory area. And as soon as that long procession of plates piled high with deep red chillies, sliced and diced organs and slivers or meat started to roll in, I knew it was all going to be okay.
There was too much to run through every plate, and I talked about a lot of the food before here. But these are a few things I hadn’t tried before.
Gong hao chilli chicken and peanuts Fried chicken with chilli and cumin tasted perfectly meaty (an all too rare thing with chicken) with a little bit of a kick just to liven things up. A scattering of peanuts gave it a creamy nutty roundness.
Beef tendon came as light jellied rectangles that just enough texture to make them interesting and light beefy taste, not too strong or rich.
The fish hotpot was undoubtedly one of the most spectacular looking dishes I’ve dug chopsticks into. The regular (it came in large too) size bowl took up an entire table leaving little room either side for bowls and was laden with chillies, red oil and slices of fish and tofu floating in an intense stock.
The fish was tender and tasty and the tofu full of stocky and robust chilli flavours. And that combo of numbing sichuan peppercorns, dried chillies and chilli powder took my breath away. Literally. I coughed and spluttered my way through the surprisingly delicately flavoured fish.
The unsung star of the night for me was a cold starter of sliced pork belly in a chilli and garlic sauce. Slender bacon-like slices of pork belly were beautiful strips melting fat and tender meat with a gentle but firm flavour accentuated by the spicy sauce. It came with cucumber which gave a cooling balance to the dish. Wonderful, and surprisingly poised for a notoriously robust cuisine.
I could go on (and on and on) because it was a fabulous night, the food and the people all combined into a genuinely great night for me. But rather than witter on about it, take a look at these posts for more of a flavour of the evening:
Love Leluu: Chilli Cool – Sichuan cuisine
15 Leigh street, London, WC1H 9EW 020 7383 3135 www.chillicool.com