I was recently invited* to dine at Café Chilli recently by the lovely owners Sebastian and Suchani (my favourite breakfast purveyors who used to run Vanilla Pod). They incorporate traditional Thai dishes with some fusion dishes that they say are becoming increasingly popular in Bangkok.
They opened five years ago as the Green Mango and underwent a full re-brand when they refreshed the menu a year or so ago. The restaurant is clean and nicely presented, quite simple and understated with low music humming in the background. The lighting is ambient without being too dark (although we picked a window table for lighting purposes). The staff are attentive without being overbearing and make genuine conversation with you, none of which is forced or contrived.
Lady K and I decided to pick one starter and one main each that we would both like so we could try four dishes. Seb, the owner, who was our server for the night, asked us if we had had thai salad before; both of us admitted that we had always thought “no, why have salad when you can have curry?!” He offered to throw one in for us to try and we asked for him to give us the one that was the most traditional.
The dishes have been given cute names such as ‘Heavenly Sea Bass’ (which, by the way, we tried on a previous occasion and it was heavenly) and ‘Crying Tiger’. They also offer an ever changing specials menu. You can see their everyday menus here for lunch and dinner.
We opted for ‘Crispy Chilli Squid’ and ‘Prawns on the Beach’ to start, followed by ‘Roast duck curry’ and ‘Angry Duck’ – I love the names so much I think they should do it across the whole menu, it’s definitely more exciting ordering ‘Royal Orchid Beef’ over a ‘Beef Paneng’.
The food was served promptly but not worryingly so – whilst it’s always nice to get your food quickly you don’t want it so quickly that you know it’s not been freshly prepared!
Both dishes were presented beautifully, particularly loved the inventive way of presenting the prawns!
‘Prawns on the Beach’ £5.95 – delicious marinated prawns with satay sauce. The prawns were big and juicy, there were 9 of them in total so for the price, we thought it was very reasonable. The marinade was light on the prawns so didn’t mask their beautiful flavour, they were well cooked and the accompanying vegetables on the skewer complemented the flavours. The satay sauce was not as an average Thai eating person would know it and was the star of the plate, it was a fresh, sharp dressing and not a sloppy peanut sauce which is omnipresent at lower quality Thai restaurants.
‘Crispy chilli squid’ £5.95 – crispy squid with salt, black pepper and fresh red chilli. They claim that if you try it you will love it. This is a bold claim but one that is justified. The squid was evidently good quality and was cooked well. The crispy coating was perfectly seasoned and the dressing that it was tossed in was really tasty. This dish was really good value for money, the portion size was generous.
‘Som Tam’ £6.50 – spicy papaya salad with lime, fish sauce, chilli and peanuts. Heathens that we are, we had to Google what a papaya salad was. We were searching around in the bowl for the bright orange fruit flesh that we associate with papayas and did not realise that papaya salads are actually made with the unripened shredded papaya. We both enjoyed the salad, in particular the spicy broth that coated the salad and sat at the bottom of the bowl. However, we both agreed that it was only good as an accompaniment.
‘Roast duck curry’ £9.95 – red rich curry sauce with roast duck, lychees, grapes and tomato. The curry was indeed rich but not overly so. It was thicker than an average Thai red curry that you would pick up at your local and was spiced perfectly, erring on the side of hot. The tender duck was perfectly cooked and the addition of the fleshy lychees and grapes was quite welcome in the rich sauce. Sticky rice was the accompaniment of choice (which we shared between the two mains) and soaked up the lovely sauce; in hindsight, I perhaps should have had a whole rice to myself but only because I personally love big portions. At £2.95 a pot of rice, it’s certainly reasonable. I mopped out every last drop of the sauce.
‘Angry Duck’ £11.95 – slices of roast duck stir fried with garlic, chilli, lemongrass and Thai basil. This is marketed as ‘bursting with flavour’ and it’s a valid claim. The dish really packed a chilli punch. It was really flavoursome and fresh. For personal preference we commented that the duck would be nice with some pink in the middle but then both noted that we had never had pink duck at a Thai before so perhaps it’s not the done thing? The duck was, however, very tender so it does come down to personal preference. If you like big chilli flavours that will punch you in the face, this is the one.
After we finished our meal, we were offered the dessert menu which we politely declined – both of us feeling comfortably full. We sat for quite some time having a catch up and were not hurried out. We had a lovely evening in the hospitality of Sebastian and Suchani and would highly recommend that you try them out if you haven’t done so already.
I would definitely rank it in the Top 5 Thais in Brighton & Hove.
Cafe Chilli, 8 Church Rd, Hove, BN3 2FL
* I was invited for a complimentary meal courtesy of the owners, but all words, thoughts and opinions are, as always, entirely my own.