Find and book great restaurantsFind a Restaurant
|Address:||The Old Westminster Library, 30-32 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BU|
|Tel:||020 7222 2555|
|Price: £64.00||Wine: £28.00||Champagne: £56.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sat 7.30am-12M (Sat 12N- )|
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
Date: Friday 9 August 2008
In the red corner – A new Hyderabadi dish claiming to be the hottest curry in the world. Sparring partners are minced lamb, taramind sauce, kashmiri powder…and a parade of chillies so nails they look like the police lineup after a raid on a vegatable crime family. Trainer: Vivek Singh, chief chef.
In the blue corner – Slightly sweaty 30-something, a Bellini and three flutes of champagne down. Undefeated, but has fought mainly local journeymen, including the Bengal Lancer's Kalapuri chicken. Trainer: Nicole
The dish was commissioned by Virgin as part of a stunt to acommpany the launch of Virgin's Bollywood TV channel. Singh's brief was to try and enter the Guinness Book of World Records for producing a curry that could be recognised as the hottest in the world.
Curiously, Virgin's involvement seems to have figured little in the ensuing publicity, which has included press reports and an appearance on Jonathan Ross, where the host braved the dish wearing fire-proof goggles.
Let's get ready to rumble
At this stage I had no idea whether the Burner was the hottest collection of foodstuff it's possible to put together on a single plate, or the hottest “real” meal that a restaurant could feasibly serve. Given that the Cinnamon is a venerable old eatery proud of its reputation, the latter seemed more likely. After all, if you just want chilli oblivion, you can neck a handful of raw peppers.
There was also the question of the “disclaimer” diners are asked to sign when ordering the dish. Was that for real, and is it possible for real physical damage to result from consuming too much capsaicin in one sitting?
The Bollywood makes no appearance on the menu: you have to ask for it specially, like some really extreme material in an adult store (I'd imagine). I asked apologetically if it was possible to try a little, wary of seeming like a drunken English guy slapping down the menu in his local curry house and demanding the hottest thing in the kitchen. Our waiter, friendly up to that point, seemed wary, but said he'd ask the chef what he could do.
And my eyes lit up as, sure enough, the mains arrived with a little something extra: what the waiter described as a full portion of the Bollywood. He entreated me to tackle the deer first and try a little of the Burner afterwards – perhaps he was hoping I'd be too full to risk it. At this stage he also presented us with the disclaimers. This is the one element that hurt the classiness of the proceedings: they were faded photocopies plastered with the Virgin logo and an old date. Clearly they were not intended to protect the restaurant from legal action, but were thrown in as part of Branson's publicity stunt.
The dish itself was beautifully presented: halved red, green and yellow scotch bonnets topped with minced lamb and sauce. I hardly tasted my main in the rush to finish it and tuck into the Burner. With a pitcher of water at the ready, I hauled the plate sporting the Bollywood in front of me, sliced into a bonnet and, vaguely aware of interested glances from other diners, prepared to be amazed.
With a forkful disposed of, I waited for it to kick in. And it was obvious at once that we were dealing with a lively fella. I could taste ingredients beyond the chillies themselves, but boy could I taste the chillies. Scotch bonnets have this especially sharp kick that jalepenos lack. The difference is not just in the heat: there's something almost pleasantly acrid about a Scotch. It's as well I like that taste, because it was destined to be with me for the next two days.
The Scotch Bonnets, named for their resemblance to a type of headware favoured by old Caledonian ladies, are only the most visible of the many breeds of pepper that contribute to the Burner. The recipe also mentions Deccan chillies and the Dorset Naga, currently rated the hottest in the world. Chillies are measured on the Scoville scale, devised by an American chemist to show the relative capsaican content of different breeds. The scale is strictly relational, so a pepper with twice as many Scoville points as another will necessarily contain twice as much capsaicin and by implication be twice as hot. Tabasco sauce has a rating in the low hundreds, whereas a typical supermarket jalepeno weighs in at up to 8,000.
Two minutes after the first sample, I was ready to go again. The chillies had burrowed into my taste buds, but I was pleased to realise that the burning sensation was already subsiding, and what was more, I could taste the quality of the dish. It was a pleasure to eat. This time I pushed more of the lamb and less of the pepper onto my fork. The result was the same: enjoyable flavours with a powerful but not overwhleming kick, and a robust aftertaste.
I was feeling more confident, and seeing my state of mind, Nicole was happy to sample the Burner herself.
The portion I'd been presented with was not big: if I'd ordered a madras and been served as much curry, I'd have been sorely disappointed. I realised that after only a couple of forkfuls, I'd disposed of perhaps a tenth of the dish. And at this point I was struck with a remarkable thought: I could finish the Bollywood Burner. I could tell people I'd eaten the whole thing. Anything else I might achieve in life would pale into insignificance: as the man who polished off the world's hottest curry, the name Conners would belong to the ages.
To stand a chance of finishing off the Burner, I had to act fast. Piling what was left onto my plate, I mixed it in with the leftover rice, necked a glass of water and got to work. I was up against the limitations of my appetite at this point – we'd already had starters and a sizeable main. And quickly I began to get dimished returns for my efforts. Half a dozen forkfuls in and the latent heat of the Burner was building up. Each new Scotch bonnet seemed hotter than the last. There was nothing to taste now but unadulterated capsaicin, and the prospect of finishing the Bollywood retreated into the distance.
Unforeseen complications began to set in. Speaking was a challenge. Sweat ran in rivers down my shirt. I didn't want to admit defeat, but I didn't particularly want to die either. Seeing the pain in my eyes and the pleading look on my face, Nicole made the call herself: the Bollywood was taken from me nearly 50% intact. The staff seemed keen to usher us out while I could still make it home in a taxi and not an ambulance.
Judges' Decision: Victory for the Burner by Technical Knock-Out.
I left the Cinnamon with my head held high. But if I thought the worst was over, I was in for a mighty shock. Ahead of me lay a night of livid dreams and broken sleep. At 07:00 I retreated to the bathroom for what I realised would be a lengthy visit. And then something worse: tortuous stomach cramps. A pain so intense I was writhing about and crying in agony. This lasted for about 10 minutes, during which I became convinced my number was up. Visions of tabloid headlines passed in front of my eyes. A permanent place on the Darwin Awards roll of honour was assured. I asked Nicole to call for medical assistance. With a number of doctors to choose from amongst our friends, she hovered over the number for a gastric consultant, before making the bizarre decision that she'd rather watch her fiance die in front of her than wake up a pal at 7 on a Saturday morning. I was about ready to make a silent prayer for divine intervention, when all at once the cramps passed. Grateful to have narrowly survived the experience, I made no complaints about the other, rather more predicatable, physiological effects that kept me occupied for the rest of the day.
Scarcely able to believe the trauma my system had endured, I researched the chillies that feature in the Burner. I knew that Scotch bonnets and Nagas were a an order of magnitude beyond common or garden peppers, but what I discovered amazed me.
The Dorset Naga weighs in at over a million Scoville points. Just below it on the scale is an anti-personnel spray used by South American riot police. Iraq was invaded for possessing materials less hazardous than that.
Reading the Sunday paper nearly 40 hours after the Bollywood experience, I could still taste the Scotch bonnets every time I breathed in.
Verdict: There may be men in the world who can scoff the Bollywood Burner as easily if it were a chicken kebab. I am not one of them. Never, ever contemplate eating it. In any circumstances.