Hot stuff! The world’s hottest menu comes to Camden
Ian Pengelley has brought the top fiesty chillies to Stables Market
Of all ingredients that a chef can employ in his kitchen, none more so than the chilli pepper inspire competitive spirit in the diner. A quiet evening in the local Indian or Pakistani restaurant is proof enough: there’s always one, usually male, customer sat red-faced and defiant in the face of his extremely hot curry, which he has ordered as if to prove his masculinity.
The chilli is a funny little thing. It is the demise of many home chefs, who either use it to recreate Vesuvius style heat, or hurriedly take the punch out of the thing altogether so no-one knows it is there. Part of the trouble comes from the fact that today there are around 400 different variations of chilli grown across the world and they are one of the most widely cultivated crops today- it’s a culinary minefield.
Still, Ian Pengelley, the executive chef at Gilgamesh in Camden has brought three to our attention to create what he has called, rather grandly, the world’s hottest chilli menu.
In 1912 a man called Wilbur Scoville devised a scale of ‘hotness’ dependent on the level of capsaicin in a chilli pepper (the active ingredient that creates the heat). This was the Scoville Scale, and it is still used today to categories the tiny, firey things. An average red chilli at the supermarket registers at anything up to 5,000 Scoville units, depending on variation. On Pengelley’s roster, there’s the Naga at 1,041,427 Scoville units, the Scotch, up to 350,000 units and the Trinidad Scorpion Chilli which in the past topped the Guinness World Record as the World’s Hottest Chilli with a score of 1.4 million on the scoville scale, 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce (although now, that title is set to be taken by a British chilli farmer based in Thailand, if the waiter is to be believed)
So spicy is this menu, that before I try it, with my chilli devouring dining partner Elinor, we must sign a disclaimer. The signed disclaimer will state that Gilgamesh cannot be held responsible for any consequences diners may suffer during or after eating the dishes. It is quite a worrying thing, and reminds me of the contract Willy Wonka has all his unfortunate guests put their name to.
Still, we sample everything from this small menu. Here is perhaps the best point to explain that my dining partner Elinor, one of my oldest friends, is well known for her ability to stomach the spiciest of dishes. Perhaps it is because she is Vegan- chilli is her treat and for her it goes in everything. As her friend of eight years, my taste buds have become somewhat desensitised too. We’ve had chilli in some form every day for a long time.
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The staff of the vast, ornamental restaurant look on in trepidation as we are presented with a green mango and papaya salad, laced with raw chillies; a vegan chicken and cashew nuts with dried red chilli and a monkfish jungle curry, for which Pengelley has mixed a chilli paste from all the varieties.
The biggest complaint with chillies is that they take away any of the other flavours that may be present in the food. This isn’t the case with any of the dishes on Pengelley’s menu, although the salad is deceptive, with a heat that grows with every mouthful. There’s also a very present danger that the gimmick element of this menu will detract from any bad cooking. All of Pengelley’s dishes are flavoursome, the cooked physalis in the jungle curry being a welcome juicy twist (I’ve only ever had them before cold). The monkfish did seem a little fluffy and overdone- perhaps as a result of being stewed in the spicy light broth that makes up the curry. The kitchen kindly converted the chicken cashew nut dish into a vegan-friendly tofu dish. Although not as experimental as the jungle curry, this was a simple dish well done. The overall feeling of this menu is that the experimental element of it lies with the chilli. Occasionally a waiter would enquire as to our wellbeing. We’re OK; admittedly the food is very spicy but not unpleasant. They seem shocked. To finish we try the chilli berry sorbet, which, like Marmite chocolate is a surprisingly complementary combination. By this point though it is impossible to tell how spicy it is, as we have accumulated lots of heat. We have finished the menu with full and satisfied tummies.
All those who finish a dish receive a certificate, signed by Pengelley, congratulating them. To me this seems less in line with Pengelley’s statement of intent: to showcase some of the spicy cooking he picked up during some time in Thailand, and more in the school of the red-faced competitive buffoon in the curry house. The competitive element of this menu is one I could do without- if anything, this small collection of dishes’ main appeal is that it shows the versatility of chilli for those interested in adding a bit of spice to their dinner.
The chilli menu is available at Gilgamesh The Stables Market Chalk Farm Road, London, Greater London NW1 8AH
020 7482 5757