I need a cheap, quick, decent meal on a windy Tuesday evening as I’m off to see some impossibly cool bands play at the Scala. You almost certainly won’t have heard of them, poindexter. A request for recommendations goes out on the MBFBY Twitter and a couple of kind folk bring up the fantastically named Szechuan restaurant Chilli Cool, just south of Kings Cross. “it’s cheap and awesome” they cry, with the caveat “you’d better refrigerate your Extra Quilted”.
I ventured down there to meet my gig buddy. I walked into a small, hot room full of young Chinese tucking into huge bowls of stew. I tried to get a table for two but the waitress couldn’t speak English, she just kept pointing at the door. A bit early to be chucked out, I hadn’t even taken off my trousers. Eventually she managed to yell “NEXT DOOR”, so out I went and noticed Chilli Cool is 2 separate premises next door to each other.
I went through the right door this time, was seated promptly and was brought a not-quite-cold-enough bottle of Tsang Tao. The room was bustling (bit of a mix in here but still lots of young Chinese). The menu is rather unconventional; lots of sharing dishes, most are based around the giant hot pots, priced around 20 quid a head. We reckoned we couldn’t manage one of those between 2 of us so we chose a selection from the misleadingly titled ‘appitisers’ section. Each dish here was around 7-8 pounds, and accompanied by a photo which sounds tacky (and is) but when you’ve got stuff like fried pigs ears and intestines on the menu I think pictures are warranted. The staff can’t speak much English, the lighting is bright, the windows are steamed up and it’s noisy. Yellow-tinted pictures of strange food suit this sort of place.
The first dish was fried beef with dry chillies and chilli powder. With hindsight we should have known what to expect but bloody hell, they really aren’t messing around at Chilli Cool. We were both starving so started shovelling back the delicious moist beef and gulping down the hot, sour sauce. Within minutes we were both sweating, eyes streaming, faces bright red. I think I was tripping at one point. Phew! The aftermath of this dish was still being felt when the other 2 dishes arrived. I bit into the “famous” braised belly pork, “Dong-Po” style, apparently. This was delicious, cooked to perfection and served with pack choi and a lovely dark sauce. Only problem was the hot fat re-activated the brutal chilli from the previous dish and I started to hallucinate again. We frantically signalled for more beer and water.
The final dish was a portion of spare ribs, these were the least spectacular dish, the ribs were hacked into chunks and the meat was a wee bit tough. The sauce and chunky vegetables were spot on, though. To be fair I couldn’t really taste much at this point, what with having had my taste buds pillaged by the chilli in the first dish and all. Three dishes was too much actually; they aren’t ‘appetiser’ size at all. You get LOADS. And the rice is plentiful, fluffy and a bit sticky. Mmmm.
Overall I liked Chilli Cool. They do cheap, interesting food quickly and with minimal fuss (once you’ve found the right door). I certainly haven’t had better Szechuan food in London. It ain’t perfect but for under 40 quid for 2 people, more food than we could eat, loads of beers and a complimentary out-of-body experience it’s difficult to beat.
15 Leigh St
020 7383 3135