Monday, 30 November 2009

Restaurant Review: Chilli Cool

Since a couple of friends were celebrating their birthdays in the Big Chill House in King's Cross I thought it would be a good excuse to go and have dinner at Chilli Cool, a local Sichuanese style Chinese restuarant. I've been their once before, but it was a bit of a rushed affair, so this time I thought it would be nice to linger over it a little more.

By the time I met 3 friends at the station I just wanted to get indoors and out of the rain. Thankfully one of them had the biggest umbrella I've ever seen, sort a marquee on a stick. Wonderful planning on his part, except it did mean he had to walk in the road every time we came to a lamp-post because otherwise it would get stuck between them and the wall running along the other side. Still given the dismal weather it was nice to see the steamed up windows of the restaurant. When we got in we were faced with a simple but busy place with a small front section and a far larger back room and an amazingly pungent smell of fried chillis and copious amounts of Sichuan pepper that hit everyone right in the back of the throat. After a little bit of coughing we got used to it and asked how long it would be for a table. We got told 2 to 3 minutes which turned into twenty, but the benefit of this was that we had all chosen dishes to share. This combination of chilli and Sichuanese pepper is what this type of Chinese food is known for, and has been made far more known in the UK by food writer Fuchsia Dunlop.

The food made the wait completely worth it (to be honest getting out of the rain had already done that, but saying that wouldn't sound as good). We decided on Aubergine in Yellow Bean Sauce, Green Beans Fried with Chilli and Mince, Vermicelli with Pork Mince, Sichuan Style Beef with Chilli, and the Chef's Special Pork Belly, with a lot of rice. The Aubergine was in a thick sweet sauce based around plum sauce with spring onions. In hindsight it was probably a bit sweet but at the time I thought it was delicious so I'll stick with this first impression. The green beans were fresh tasting and not at all overpowered by the chilli or fat from the meat, though they had a definite kick. The Vermicelli was good if not spectacular, it had a good amount of vinegar though, which worked very well given that all the food had quite a high fat content and some of the dishes had sweet elements. The Sichuanese beef was probably the weakest dish, although to be fair this is at least partly down to the fact we thought it was going to be a dry fried dish rather that the stew that we got. Having said this it was still well done, with a strong celery base to give it a bit of complexity to go with the hot chilli and Sichuan pepper. Sichuan pepper is used partly for flavour but mainly for the cool, tingling numb sensation that it lends your mouth, something particularly noticeable in this dish. This is quite pleasurable, its also quite useful given how much chilli is in the food since it stops it being overpowering. The pork belly was the real star. It was in a mild sweetish sauce, that had a delicate, wonderfully cooling flavour of cucumber. The meat in one corner was slightly tough and since this was the first part I ate I was slightly worried. The rest, however, was excellent, with a large amount of fat that had been rendered meltingly soft by slow cooking and a chewy glazed skin on top.

In short the food was very good and worth the trip if I wanted some well cooked authentic Sichuanese food. Also a very pleasant surprise was the bill, which came to £60 for 4 including beers. Sadly it was still raining when we left to go to the party, but at least there was still the big umbrella.

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