Chilli Cool, 15 Leigh St, Bloomsbury, WC1H 9EW
Meal for two with a few beers: £45 ish
It was Mr Noodles's review of Red 'N' Hot that finally made me visit Chilli Cool. I had read enough positive reviews to formulate a vague notion to visit for myself. But it was the possibility that it might out-cook Red 'N' Hot that made me call Mr Fork and inform him, in no uncertain terms, that we were dining out in Bloomsbury that night.
Chilli Cool was busy. Even quite late on a week night, they were pretty much full and a steady flow of people trickled into the restaurant well into the night. As a result, the service was a little erratic. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, mad service often adds to a restaurant's charm. However, on our visit, the service was perhaps a little too crazy and there was a palpable sense that staff were slightly panic-stricken as if they had lost control of that evening's service. I felt sorry for the people who ordered the green beans that were abandoned next to the cutlery tray and languished there for the duration of our meal (if we hadn't ordered the same thing, we probably would have re-housed them to our table).
The fried pork ribs with chilli were outstanding. It was reminiscent of Chongqing chicken, only better because in place of chicken were juicy, crispy pieces of pork complete with bones for gnawing on. The green beans with minced pork were good, the beans had a pleasantly charred taste which complemented the salty savoury sauce. So far so good.
Unfortunately, the sliced beef Sichuan style lavishly topped with chilli and Sichuan pepper was disappointing. Not much heat and only a hint of that unique head-rush pepper taste, as if the peppercorns had been hanging around in a cupboard a bit too long (I know this taste because my own spice cupboard stock control is poor). It wasn't awful, the beef was nicely tender but the lack of heat and a heavy hand with the oil marred our enjoyment of it.
So did it topple Red N Hot from its cherished position in the Fork household? No, not quite. It was close and the pork ribs almost had us, even with the disappointing beef. But it just couldn't beat Red N Hot's dark, steamy mystique. Yes, it does have a bizarre system of categorising guests according to preconceived ideas of spice tolerance but the chilli-loving Forks have never had a problem with this, we just ask them to make it hot (though hopefully not in a vindaloo-swilling way). But maybe it's been too long for me to be sure. I had better go back and check.