Exciting, inventive Thai food at Cafe Chilli
Thai is my favourite food, which makes me a bit of a discerning diner when eating at Thai restaurants. Sadly, so many seem to throw all of the right adjectives at you – ‘authentic’, ‘modern’, ‘fragrant’ – ramping up your hopes, only for you to see those hopes rapidly dashed by a greasy spring roll, or worse still, an apparently spicy curry that fails to excite a single taste bud. Not so at Cafe Chilli – a recently revamped and much improved version of its old self that promised Polly Humphris an authentic, flavoursome Thai meal and didn’t disappoint.
In the beginning, Cafe Chilli was The Green Mango, an inviting enough looking restaurant on Hove’s Church Rd with a brightly coloured façade, but one that I always considered to be more of a lunch option. And I ate lunch in their too, quite often, which was never disappointing, but for some reason I never thought of The Green Mango as an evening meal destination. Fast forward to this year, however, and it’s all change – Café Chilli is a reinvention of its former Green Mango glory, but made much more glorious and morphed into a fantastic eatery for both dinner and drinks.
The interior has changed for starters and is now a sleek looking space with dark wood flooring; lots of bamboo; gorgeous dark green plants that add that sense of life that only plants can while looking incredibly stylish too; and soft lighting, tucked away behind modern, gold shades. It looks Thai, without screaming an identity at you, which is the welcome sign of a thoughtful interior as opposed to one that looks too dressed or, worse still, themed.
I’ll happily admit that, food aside, what first made me jump at the invite to visit Café Chilli was the promise of an authentic Thai gin and tonic. There’s that word again: authentic; one that promises so much, but sometimes falls flat on delivery. Not this time though. The owner, Sebastian, knows his gin and the choice of premium brands available alongside locally sourced brands is fantastic. I opted for Brighton Gin (naturally) and was presented with a proper Spanish-style gin and tonic glass containing a heavenly blend of gin, Fevertree tonic, mint, lime and basil; the perfect pairing for strong Thai flavours.
Sebastian and his team have made a huge effort with the menu to include traditional Thai offerings alongside those that we all too often can’t resist. And for good reason – the Pad Thai and red and green curries here are delicious, but we wanted to try something new – so, we opted for the Thai sausage. Pork sausage packed with sweet and salty Thai herbs, fresh chilli, coriander and garlic, it really was a taste sensation; reminiscent of the flavour of steamed Thai dumplings, but with more bite. We also chose an entire, lightly battered golden crab, which came topped with a punchy garlic sauce and was so soft that we ate every last bit of it.
I am a big fan of spice, so if something claims to be hot, I want it to be really hot. On Sebastian’s recommendation, I chose the house special, the Café Chilli curry (with prawns), which is a variation of the classic red curry served with morning glory, a riverside Thai vegetable, and plenty of fiery red chilli. It was everything I had hoped it would be: hot, but with bags of deep, herby flavour. We also chose the Crying Tiger: strips of grilled beef sirloin served with a spicy jaeo dip (a hot, smoky accompaniment) and a tamarind dipping sauce. The beef was beautifully tender and neither of us had tasted the divine regional sauces that it came with, which was exciting in itself, although they more than delivered in taste as well as authenticity.
It’s fair to say that the best thing The Green Mango did was go into hiding for a bit and come back as Cafe Chilli – a bolder, braver and better version of itself. If you like Thai food, you’ll love it here, and if you like gin and tonic too, you’re in for an even bigger treat.
Cafe Chilli, 8 Church Rd, Hove, BN3 2FL