Chilli Cool - Oh my God the Service is Bad
But the food is so good that I have to write a positive post...
My GF and I arrived at around 7:15pm to a more or less full restaurant. A white couple went in immediately before us and grabbed up a table. We asked a tall waiter (who is horrible, this coming from a lifelong waiter) how long the wait would be. He said he didn't know. Maybe 15 minutes? Maybe 30 minutes? He didn't ask me to put my name down or anything. While standing there they then proceeded to sit four Chinese couples before my girlfriend and I as well as two tables of four. After about half of the above groups were seated he asked us if we wanted to put our names down on some newly invented list. This did not help at all.
At one point they even offered a four top to two couples and offered in Mandarin for them to share it in order to sit sooner. We were never asked if we wanted to share it with one of them. Even as tables in the back (two two tops) opened up, they moved the sharing table couples to them instead of giving us one. They then gave the newly emptied four top to another Chinese couple.
We waited until past 8:30pm before a table we were talking to the whole time literally gave us their table as they got up to make sure we weren't skipped again. The restaurant was nearly empty by the time we sat and many of the couples that arrived after us and were seated before us (btw no one had reservations) were leaving before we sat down.
The tall waiter with somewhat long hair is absolutely useless and I ended up becoming very friendly with the rest of the staff (cool guy from Beijing), but that man singlehandedly destroyed service at the restaurant until he went for a smoke break. I have never waited that long at Di Fara Pizzeria (and I was wondering if I was getting some kind of long term karma backlash for my vicious line cutting practices there.)
The food is incredible. I'm happy that I waited and I will return. We ordered the braised pork belly dongpo style, the aubergines with green and red chillies, the vermicelli with ground pork, the pig's feet stewed in Coca Cola, and one rice. The portions sizes are great and I'd especially like to try some of their very popular mini-hot pots. The spicing was decent, though not off the charts (basically not spicy at all, but a step above Snazz Sichuan. They also give you tap water unlike Snazz!) The prices are quite reasonable as a result of the quality of the food and the portions.
The dongpo pork belly was especially incredible. It's simple and delicious; an entire chunk of pork belly (think what you'd buy at the butcher) braised until the fat would literally melt in your mouth. I've had similar dishes at Shanghai style restaurants, but this one was really good. 8.50
The aubergines had a nice vinegary flavor to them. It made me wonder if they used their own pickled chillies, but I think that they were fresh chillies. Nice texture, flavor, etc, but I don't think I'd get them again. 5.20
The vermicelli was basically a pork version of ants walking on a log. Similarly vinegary to the above and laden with awesome amounts of finely chopped pork. Great filler to make sure you don't leave hungry. I'm keen to try their dan dan mien. 4.80
The pig's feet were extremely interesting, but I wouldn't get them again. We ordered them expecting the lovely fried ones that are covered in chillies and hua jiao. The kind that ooze porkiness in which you end up numbing your lips with hua jiao as you try to literally suck the gelatin out. What we got was a generous portion of pig's feet stewed in a Coca Cola marinade. It was really good, but it wasn't really what I was going for. Imagine Coca Cola and Pork flavored Jello. Tasty, interesting, but not something I'd definitely go for again. 6.50
They're mislabeled as hot and spicy, btw.
The overall verdict is that Chuan is the better restaurant with better service and better food, but it's in Acton Town. If you don't want to make the trek (and especially if you go to UCL and plan on going here for lunch sometimes) then Chilli Cool is great. It seriously outshines nearby rivals Snazz Sichuan (and they give you tap water, I hate Snazz) and Bar Shu. Also, the Sichuan dishes are definitely better than those at Gourmet San (at least those I've had) which were so underspiced that some tastes bordered on ketchupy. Gourmet San is in desperate need of some chillies and hua jiao (Chilli Cool needs the latter too. I really wish some places would start putting shakers full of ground toasted hua jiao out with the food like you'd have with ma la tom.) Now I need to get to No 10 Chinese Restaurant!