Chilli Cool (London)

Dim sum
isn’t the only Chinese food we ate in London; we predictably also ate a fair bit of Sichuan. Predictably, because our love of Sichuan food is of a piece with the general food culture’s love of Sichuan food. Just as the Twin Cities have no other decent regional Chinese food worth the name but boast a handful of quite good Sichuan places, London too has seen an explosion of Sichuan restaurants in the last decade or so. Leading the way is the Barshu group, which in addition to their upscale eponymous restaurant also has a few hipper, more affordable outposts. We didn’t eat at Barshu but we did eat at another pricey Sichuan place opened by an ex-Barshu chef (more on this later) and at one of the Barshu group’s aforementioned hipper outposts (more on this later as well). First up, however, is this writeup of the altogether less fashionable Chilli Cool on Leigh St. in the King’s Cross area, a hop, skip and jump from the British Library and not too far from the British Museum (or, for that matter, the Dickens Museum).

It’s an unassuming space that seems to cater largely to a Chinese student population from the nearby colleges (at least that was my impression from the meals I ate there). There are a few small dining rooms that stress the functional in terms of aesthetic—though if you go in a very large group (as I did on one occasion) it might not be very functional (the 10 of us were crammed on that occasion around a table that should probably have comfortably seated only six). The menu, however, is capacious and filled with Sichuan standards (and also pictures of the dishes for those less familiar with Sichuan food), and, most importantly, the food is quite good.

This is hearty, classic Sichuan food and there’s no stinting with the chilli oil or the dried chillies or the Sichuan peppercorn in dishes that call for them—and the vast majority do. Prices are likewise reasonable—it’s very easy to get out at £20/head without drinks. If I lived in this part of London I’d be here often. There’s not a whole lot else to say about the place: it’s solid, it gets the job done. To see what we ate across a few visits please launch the slideshow below (apologies for the quality of the pictures: most were taken on my phone’s camera in less than optimal lighting).

As often seems to be the case at most casual Sichuan places, there’s no predicting the order in which your food will come out. Service is serviceable enough. On our first visit they told us they took payment in cash only (and kept reminding us of this fact) but on subsequent visits credit cards were accepted.

As I said, this is hearty, unassuming Sichuan food. It’s very good value and I have to say, all things considered, I’d take it over the fancier, more refined Sichuan place we also ate at and which will be the focus of my next London Chinese review. In terms of comparisons to American counterparts, I’d say that this is a little below the level of Grand Szechuan in the Twin Cities and quite a bit below the best Sichuan places in the San Gabriel Valley. Still, as I also said, if we lived in the general vicinity in London we’d be here often.

Okay, back to Indian for my next restaurant review but we’ll go up north from London to Liverpool.

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