A few weeks ago, I ate at Sichuan-heavy Ba Shan, where, except for the kung pao chicken, everything I ordered was mediocre and relatively pricey. And then I read this positive review of Chilli Cool Sichuan Restaurant by blogger, Mr. Noodles, who is a regular there, and I knew I’d have to try it out before the year was over.
Cue Londonelicious and Gourmet Chick, who proposed that we eat someplace cheap and cheerful after our last blowout get-together at Kai Mayfair. Chilli Cool fit the bill, so we met there yesterday evening.
I have a weakness for peanuts, which translates into a weakness for gong pao chicken. Londonelicious remarked that the dish was a bit on the sugary side, which is true, but I didn’t mind too much. There was enough vinegar flavor to keep the sugar in check. I loved that the peanuts were salty and crunchy, but I was disappointed that there were no Sichuan peppercorns in our dish. The red chillis on the plate, while attractive, didn’t add any noticeable heat.
Speaking of non-spicy: Chilli Cool’s dan dan noodles (photo at top) were a million times better than the lukewarm spaghetti noodles served to me under the guise of dan dan mien at Ba Shan. I loved that the noodles had the soft bite of fresh wheat noodles, and the pork had the saltiness of preserved veg mixed in, but where was the heat? I don’t think there were any Sichuan peppercorns or chili oil in there. I’m no spice masochist, but I like kick. That’s why I wanted to eat Sichuan!
The winner of the night was a dish recommended as “must order” by Mr. Noodles, listed as “sliced beef Szechuan style” on the menu. It’s a classic Sichuan preparation of protein swimming in chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns. The beef was remarkably tender. My one complaint: seriously not spicy.
Mapo tofu and dry-fried beans rounded up our order of all the Sichuan classics. They were fine, but without much spiciness, they were even less interesting than our gong pao chicken and dan dan noodles.
The room looks and feels like a greenhouse, with a high glass-paneled ceiling and a matching high temperature. Good thing cool Tsingtao beers were readily available. Our servers were efficient and good about bringing drinks and tap water (as well as packing up our leftovers). Obviously the company at dinner was unbeatable, and the prices were good. With three beers each, our tab came to £21 each.
Given Chilli Cool’s low prices and proximity to King’s Cross (and by extension, to my ‘hood, Angel Islington), I’ll be back. But next time, I’ll bring along my own chili peppers.
Chilli Cool Sichuan Cuisine, 15 Leigh Street, London WC1H 9EW; 0207 383 3135; closest Tube station: King’s Cross St. Pancras