6 other friends and I decided it was high time we visited. Places like this require more than solo dining or with just one other, as there were so many dishes you'll want to try and being such big portions, it's a shame to let it go to waste. Incidentally, my mum e-mailed my just after I booked it to let me know about some great Dan Dan Noodles she'd had from "some place on Leigh Street". It was meant to be.
Luckily, we're all pretty adventurous eaters, because there was a lot of offal on the menu. I'd had 'Beef Slices & Ox Tripe in Chilli Oil' (left) before at Leong's Legends, and really enjoyed it so I wanted to order it again. The dish was delicately spicy. The tripe contrasted well in texture with the beef, with the smattering of sesame seeds providing a hint of flavour. The spicy oil the slices were in had pieces of lightly cooked celery which made it all the more delicious. When the rice arrived we spooned the spicy oil from this into our rice bowls, it was so good.
We also ordered 'Hot & Crispy Pigs Intestines', pictured above. Initially when I made this choice the waitress looked doubtful and told us we wouldn't like it. I'm glad we persevered though, because this was one of the highlights of the evening. The intestines had varying contrasts - some were very very crispy, some only a bit, some fatty and squidgy. What was constant was that each bite of the intestine was intensely porky and rich. The dried chillis you can see aren't as spicy as you'd imagine. Whilst they're not edible as they are quite tough, they made the dish look very pretty.
Of course, none of us could resist ordering pork belly. This 'Sliced Pork Belly in Mashed Garlic Sauce' was a lot less pungent than I imagined. I have a recipe for this in Dunlop's book and I have been a touch too scared to make it for fear of the backlash. This was not so. The pork belly is sliced very thinly so that it's almost transparent and so there's no danger of being chewy or coming upon thick strips of fat. Instead, this melted in the mouth.
What I didn't get to try at Ba Shan, I certainly did here. These 'Shredded Potato Slivers with Dry Chilli' really delivered a massive hit of Sichuan peppercorn. The mouth suddenly starts to salivate more, the tingle spreads, and a slight metallic taste lingers. It sounds unpleasant but I assure you it's not - it's extremely addictive. I kept on munching. The potato slivers were very uniform; not at all starchy and they didn't stick together at all. I can guarantee you if I attempted this at home, it would be an unmitigated disaster.
Another highlight was the brasied tofu with minced meat (top, main picture). The tofu slices were fried on the outside and soft on the inside, soaking up all the thick gravy. 'Stir-Fried then Stewed Jack Beans' were much better than the name suggests, although veggies should note this also came with minced pork. Not the most veggie-friendly restaurant at all, actually.
Here, we have the 'Fish & Chilli Hot Pot (large)'. The pot was huge. Brought to the table steaming, we were given a slotted spoon to fish out the pieces of grouper, ginger, tofu, Sichuan peppers, and of course; the abundance of chillis. By this point my mouth was tingling like no one's business and it was making me feel a little giddy. The fish was perfectly cooked, which confused me somewhatthat it hadn't carried on cooking more - one finger dipped in the soup by accident and it was HOT. We even, at the end of the meal, had a competition to see who could hold their fingers on the side of the pot longest (it was a very highbrow meal) and it burned.
The fish was fresh and wasn't overtly fishy. Despite appearances, the hot pot was actually very light - the broth was flavoursome and nothing sat heavily on the stomach. It was a perfect end to the meal.
All in all, I loved Chilli Cool and I can't wait to go back. It certainly didn't hold back on the spicing like Ba Shan did and for that, I salute them. The service was a little hard to get the attention of, and one might take umbrage to the waitress being doubtful of our intestine dish choice, but rather than being disparaging I think she was really just concerned for whether we'd enjoy it. Looking around, we were the only (aside from 1 couple) table of English(ish) people. Unfortunately the '4 rounds of vegetables' that was supposed to appear with our hot pot was forgotten, both by the kitchen and ourselves. Oh well, we'll just have to go back...
Dinner came to £20 each with service, the feast we had and 2 beers. A bargain, I'd say.
15 Leigh Street
London WC1H 9EW
Tel: 020 7383 3135