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Wednesday, 30 December 2009
I first learnt of Sichuanese Cuisine when reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s book “Sharks Fin and Sichuan Pepper”. Fuchsia is an engaging writer – it was great fun reading about her adventures as a Westerner living in Chengdu, and learning about Sichuan and its cuisine. I have bought both her cookery books which are also very good.
After reading a positive write up by Mr Noodles of Eat Noodles Love Noodles (this is his favourite Sichuanese restaurant in London), I decided to try Chilli Cool last week. Mr Noodles is a real authority on regional Chinese cooking, and his blog is an excellent source of information on the subject.
Dr G and I arrived and headed to the wrong entrance of Chilli Cool – there are two: one for the Sichuanese hot pot restaurant on the left hand side, and another for the a la carte menu on the right. We were directed to the correct entrance (a la carte), and were soon seated.
The staff’s level of English isn’t great, although I found them to be efficient and polite. The decor was simple and with no frills, and the lighting was strong and bright. One unnerving aspect of the restaurant is how greasy the floor was – I could hardly stand on one spot without sliding away. If you can put that to the back of your mind though, you are in for a culinary experience.
The menu is well laid out and contains many pictures of the dishes to assist ordering which I found very helpful. Following the recommendations of Mr Noodles, we ordered a selection of dishes from the menu.
We started the meal with the less hot “Sea Spicy Shredded Pork” @ £7.80. This was utterly delicious, with the slivers of pork, julienned bamboo shoots and black fungus making for a sensational combination of flavours.
The sauce was rich and very flavoursome (I believe this to be also translated as “Fish Fragrant Sauce”), and despite the name, it has no fish ingredients – it is sour, sweet and spicy and made from ginger, soy sauce, garlic, chinkiang vinegar among other ingredients.
We also ordered “Sliced Beef Sichuan Style Lavishly Topped with Chillies and Sichuan Pepper” @ £8.80 (Also known as “Boiled Beef Slices in a Fiery Sauce” – shui zhu niu rou). This was another rich and delicious dish, and one of the highlights of the evening.
The beef was coated in flour and then boiled in stock and soya sauce giving it a silken texture. The addition of finely julienned celery and spring onions to the rich sauce made it hearty.
It was fiery but bearably so. It was about zero degrees outside but I was pouring with sweat – a perfect dish for this type of weather.
To accompany the meat dishes, we ordered some plain steamed rice @ £1.50 a portion, and two of my favourite Sichuanese vegetable dishes – “Dry Fried Green Bean with Minced Pork” @ £6.80 and “Sea Spicy/Fish Fragrant Aubergines” @ £6.80.
The greens were dry fried until tender and slightly wrinkled, and tasted delicious with the minced pork, Shaoxing wine and soya sauce. This was a simple but very satisfying dish.
The aubergine dish was the better of the two though – the fish fragrant sauce was complex and bursting with flavour. I have made this dish many times at home but have never managed to come close to the richness and concentration of flavour of Chilli Cool’s version.
We also ordered their “Chengdu Dan Dan Noodles” @ £5.80. I have tried this dish at several restaurants but Chilli Cool’s was I think the most authentic. It was seriously spicy and delicious with a generous helping of “Ya Cai” a type of Sichuanese preserved mustard green, and a rich sauce made from an assortment of spices.
We thoroughly enjoyed our meal, and it cost only £44. We ordered enough to feed 4 or 5 people as the portions were rather generous.
Verdict – Authentic Sichuanese cuisine in Central London at very reasonable prices. A must for anyone who appreciates this type of cooking. Delicious fish fragrant aubergines, sliced beef and shredded pork and charming service. Highly recommended.