Picture of Chilli Cool, WC1H 9EW

Historical version 6 of Chilli Cool, WC1H 9EW (view current version)

Cheap and cheerful cafe-style Sichuan restaurant in Bloomsbury/St Pancras. Its Chinese name, Lǎo Chéngdū (老成都), translates as "Old Chengdu". It's located in a fairly studenty area and has ambience to match.

Kake has visited twice now, once on a Wednesday evening in January 2010 in the company of Sarah, Ewan, and a couple of other friends, and once on a Tuesday evening in May 2010 in the company of bob. We hadn't booked on either occasion, but our party of five was seated immediately when we arrived a little before 7:30pm on a Wednesday, as was our party of two, arriving a little after 7pm on a Tuesday (though both times the place was full by the time we left, and other reviewers have mentioned having to queue for a table).

Everything we tried on both occasions was good, with the exception of the dan dan noodles (£5.80) photo, which were a little bland, and less flavourful than the ones Kake and bob had tried a few months previously in No. 10.

Beef and ox tripe in chilli sauce (served cold; a dish known elsewhere as "man and wife lung slices", £6.90) photo was a good rendition, with a good texture to both beef and tripe. Crushed cucumber in garlic sauce (£5.80) photo was nicely refreshing, and enlivened by its dressing of chilli oil and Sichuan pepper.

Dongpo-style braised belly pork (£8.80) photo comprised a large chunk of tender, long-cooked pork in a flavourful, slightly sweet gravy. Dry-fried green beans with minced pork (charmingly translated on the website as "stir-fried before stewing the jack bean dry", £6.80) photo arrived very quickly; although some reviewers have complained of saltiness in this dish, we didn't think it was excessive, and the flavour and texture were both good. Tea tree mushrooms with preserved ham (£8.80) photo were pleasantly chewy, and permeated with the flavour of the nicely fatty and rather bacon-like Chinese ham.

Hot and chilli crispy pork intestine (£8.80) photo was not entirely to Kake's taste, though bob thought it was pretty good (if less good once it got cold). Ma po tofu (£6.80) photo was a good example of its type.

Perhaps the most impressive-looking dish on either of our visits was the fish hotpot (£15.80 for the "medium" size) photo, which arrived covered in a blanket of dried red chillies. This dish is less scary than it initially appears; the chillies are there to provide flavour, rather than to be eaten, and the slices of fish and cubes of tofu buried underneath proved to be perfectly-cooked, with the fish retaining its texture right through to the last slice. (Note that although this wasn't "hotpot" in the steamboat sense, they do offer steamboat too.)

Although most of the menu is translated into English, they do have one Chinese-only page photo. We tried one dish from this page — 老成都耙耙菜 (lǎo Chéngdū pá pá cài; £6.80). Asked for a translation, our waiter offered the rather generic suggestion of "vegetables"; it turned out to be a stew of carrots, daikon, and Chinese leaf in a thin stock with a dish of spicy oil on the side to mix in to taste photo without spices, photo with spices. This was really quite pleasant, though vegetable-loving Kake perhaps enjoyed it more than meat-loving bob.

Minced pork dumplings with chilli oil (£5.80) photo were pleasant enough, with their slippery, silky-soft skins and modest size meaning a decent number in the portion. Dan dan noodles, as mentioned above, were disappointing. Steamed rice (£1.50/portion) was fine, though the five-person portion ordered in January 2010 was somewhat stingy for the number of people it was meant to serve, while the one-person portion ordered in May 2010 was huge.

On our first visit, we ended up paying £20/head for ample food and wine, including the auto-added 10% service charge. Our second visit was more expensive, since there were only two of us and so to get a good spread of dishes we ended up over-ordering. Service was a slightly frustrating combination of quick/efficient and forgetful. Our orders were taken and delivered very swiftly, but they forgot to bring us tap water on both visits, and on both occasions failed to provide any serving spoons (we witnessed other parties having to ask for these, too). Trying to pay the bill on the second visit was also a more protracted task than it should have been.

Kake's verdict: It's kind of cheap-and-cheerful, and the seats can be a bit uncomfortable, but the food is good, and I'd like to come back and try more of the menu.

Accessibility: No step to get in (just a ridge), but half of the seating is down three steps at the back, and the toilets (which were lacking both loo roll and a working hand-dryer on both our visits) are down a narrow, sharply-bending, low-ceilinged staircase.

See also:

Last visited by Kake and bob, May 2010. Opening hours taken from the Chilli Cool website, February 2010.
OS X co-ord: 530188 OS Y co-ord: 182522 (Latitude: 51.526610 Longitude: -0.124716)
This is version 6 (as of 2010-05-21 18:26:07). View current version. List all versions.