When I graduated university, I wanted to go travelling. The idea was to go to South East Asia: experience full moon parties, look at temples, explore jungles, and – mostly – try the food. Instead, I got a bar job and, a few years on, have still never ventured further than Europe. Fast-forward to the present day and I find myself transported to Thailand by way of a few dishes down at Café Chilli.
On an unexceptional Monday evening, I enter the restaurant. Quite pleased to make this quiet establishment my home for the coming few hours, other diners chat quietly around us. The interior blends beige walls and wooden features, making an unimposing setting for a bright and exciting meal. The subtle lighting softens the dark woods and the restaurant glows in the luminescence of the oval wall lights. Formerly The Green Mango, owner Seb has transformed his site to match the menu update. Scanning through, we order two glasses of a Hungarian Pinot Grigio by the name of Seven Towers. With citrus fruit notes, it makes for an enjoyable change to the usual Italian-made Pinots (£5.95 for a 175ml glass).
Scanning the long menu, I find myself slightly concerned – a lot of the time, a longer menu means there’s less attention given to each dish. Shaking off my worry, we proceed to our starting plates. I opt for the Spring Roll Duo. This dish has the benefit of duck as well as crab and spinach rolls, served with hoisin sauce and a particularly tasty sweet chilli sauce (£5.95). With a brittle and crunchy consistency, it’s clear these are freshly made and the wrapping sets off the flavours of both the duck and crab. Intrigued by the thought of spinach with my crab, I tuck in and am not disappointed! The filling of this roll is so soft it melts in your mouth; the chef of Café Chilli certainly knows how to prepare delicious Thai food with a kick. My dining partner opts for the Crispy Chilli Squid (£5.95). Served with generous lashings of salt, pepper and (of course) fresh red chilli, the menu said, “Try it. Love it”, and she definitely did. I find in big chain restaurants calamari or any crispy squid dishes tend to be comprised of identically sized pieces. This starter, however, gave away its in-house preparation as each piece was cut into slightly different sizes and the salty tones nodded to the freshness of the cephalopod.
Onwards, we come to our mains. My partner chooses a strange choice for a Thai restaurant’s menu. The Green Chicken Curry Burger (£11.95) is served with lightly battered sweet potato fries that are lusciously juicy and taste fantastic. The chicken patty is seasoned with green curry paste and Thai herbs. The paste makes this a bit of a messy eat as it spills out of the bun, just as any burger should, but the benefit is that this incredible curry then doubles up as a fabulous dipping sauce. As a seafood lover, I’m drawn immediately to a dish simply labelled Emperor Prawns (£13.95). They arrive swimming in a special curry sauce called ‘Chu Chi’, which Seb explains is a combination of red and paneng sauces. This blend is fabulous and makes the perfect bed for the prawns to lie in and is also served with sapphire rice. The rice is steamed with butterfly pea flower to give it a blue colour, and despite always being told not to eat blue food by my mother, it tastes great. I’m not always one for rice, I find it quite a boring component but the fun colour and added taste is a winner for me.
Seb clears our plates with a smile, and then offers us a luxurious looking dessert menu. Featuring the likes of Banana Spring Rolls, Thai Pancakes and a Hot Chocolate Brownie, starting from £4.95, we contemplate how much more food we might physically be able to consume. Deciding to skip dessert, we toast to a lovely evening and then head home to rest our full stomachs.
Café Chilli can be found at 8 Church Road, Hove, BN3 2FL