This prawn curry will transport you to Kerala’s balmy climes (via Hammersmith). Fiery but flavoursome, the chilli heat dial is turned up for juicy prawns cloaked in a clinging paste of gingery tomatoes spiced with popped mustard seeds. The heat begins with deceptively mild Kashmiri chilli powder (for colour) but ends with a rave of slit green chillies and a dash of sharp, tamarind-like kokum. Milder versions are available, but silent judgement will be passed on your weakness.
Spice rating: 4/5, this one is almost too hot for your aunty to handle.
The British take on devilled dishes wouldn’t even register on most Sri Lankan palates. Although there are plenty of fire-and-brimstone choices at this popular venue, we’re particularly fond of these ginger and garlic-steeped mutton slivers, fried in a lime-drenched masala of bashed black peppercorns, crackling curry leaves, onions and a powerhouse of green chillies. Whoever thought devilled eggs were spicy must have been living on another planet.
Spice rating: 4/5, devilled food – as hot as hell.
£6 for eight
Head to this East End food truck for fried chicken wings dunked in orange-hued chilli glazes of various strengths. If you’re after the full monty, order the rip-your-head-off Viper wings, laced with nagas – some of the hottest chillies on earth. Or, if russian roulette is more your game, try the Snake in a Basket, where one Viper is chucked in among seven others. All wings come with homemade blue cheese dip and celery sticks. Don’t wear your Sunday best and bring your own bib.
Spice rating: 4.5/5, keep the tissues handy – it’s a real tear jerker.
Homely Korean stew pots are punch-hot and crammed with big flavours. Sink your spoon into the marvellously garlicky broth of Dotori’s yukgejang, simmered with shredded beef brisket and a shedload of chilli-flake seasoning. The fiery intensity is taken down a peg with add-ons of wilted greens and the cool snap of beansprouts. Although Koreans love their steamy yukgejan all year round, we think it’s well suited to providing duffel-coat warmth against the vagaries of late summer and early autumn.
Spice rating: 3/5, good for bringing a rosy blush to your cheeks.
Eritrean cooking ticks our box for its diverse melting-pot flavours drawn from African neighbours, as well as Arabia and Italy. Chilli heat isn’t the name of the game here and dishes showcase the mellow side of spicing. We’re bowled over by the fried chunks of lamb, cooked in a robust onion-rich tomato stew. A seasoning of peppery fermented chilli paste adds depth and gentle heat. It’s served in the middle of an obliging injera (a spongy, pancake-like bread), which is great for mopping up spicy juices.
Spice rating: 2/5, laidback, easygoing warmth – with a bit of a kick.
North-eastern China gets its groove on with street barbecues that would blow our own plain-tasting mixed grills into orbit. Chunks of fatty, marinated lamb are skewered and turned over a fierce grill until the meat darkens, tenderises and takes on a splendidly smoky aroma. So far, so tame, but the spice action starts with a confetti-like shower of chilli flakes, toasted cumin and sesame seeds to contrast the meaty richness. Suddenly, things are looking that bit hotter.
Spice rating: 2.5/5, central heating for the soul.
Malaysian laksa is the king of souped-up noodles, and this ace vegetarian offering delivers five-a-day freshness inspired by Indo-Chinese flavours. Expect a striking medley of spiced, turmeric-hued coconut broth, cut through with lemongrass and a wake-up call of bird’s eye chillies. An allotment’s worth of veg is then tipped in – daisy-fresh green beans, peppers and babycorn – padded out with golden-fried tofu, noodles and crunchy beansprouts. Chilli levels stay on the right side of strident rather than relying on kickass ferocity.
Spice rating: 3.5/5, watch out for the stealth build-up of chillies.
We hate to think how many tonnes of red chilli the Barshu group gets through every year. Hell, every week. They literally bathe some of their dishes in it. No one’s expected to eat all of them – you would probably die if you did. But close proximity to all those little red devils (complete with their fieriest bits, the seeds) makes this dish and many others on the Sichuanese menu an experience you won’t soon forget. Prepare to sweat heavily.
Spice rating: 5/5, by the time you're done, you'll feel like the chicken isn't the only thing lying in a pile of chillies.
Tender goat meat, slow-cooked Trinidadian-style, doesn’t come top-loaded with chillies. It’s a corker of a curry, though, and gets its kick from a scotch-bonnet infusion, simmered with bitter gourd, green papaya, lime juice and leafy herbs rather than dried spices. The inferno-like clout comes with owner’s own-made chilli condiments on the table. Top of the scale is his saucy but lethal Ugandan yellow chilli offering, seconded by the wrath of Granny Suzy’s red chilli sauce, which delivers a volcanic rumble to this popular homespun curry.
Spice rating: 2/5, a safe bet until a splash of sauce blows your mind.
Don’t be distracted by this Thai venue’s location in the basement of an old-school boozer – the cooking here is the real deal. We’re all a-sizzle over their splendid salad, made with fried minced pork, spiked with lime, herby-licious leaves, shallots and roasted rice. The fiery action comes via a shower of sliced bird’s eye and ground red chillies. First up, the meaty juiciness seduces, then comes the sweet-sour bit, followed by a slow clap of chilli warmth that radiates to nuclear proportion.
Spice rating: 5/5, this one will blow your red-hot cotton socks off.
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Signed photos from many of Britain’s best-loved actors line the walls at l’Etoile, forming a great sea of thespian endorsement that fills every available space. The restaurant itself has been around for over a century, and its aesthetic is firmly of the old school; etched glass, red banquettes and starched linen remain the order of the day. The food is resolutely classic too: a ham hock terrine starter with apple chutney and sauce vierge is straight from the Left Bank; and a delicate double-baked mushroom soufflé is a well-judged French staple, served with a cool twist of chive crème fraîche. Main courses satisfied without enthralling. A light, fresh salmon and leek fish cake arrived with mushy peas and an endive salad, and corn-fed chicken accompanied by a mini kiev and red wine sauce was hearty yet undistinguished. There’s more imagination at work in the desserts. A light lemon tart came intriguingly topped with popping candy, and a hefty portion of rice pudding was decked with great shavings of caramelised pineapple. Elena’s faded grandeur and traditional dishes are part of its charm: this is a place for a nostalgic feed rather than an inspiring one.
Venue says: “Pre-theatre dining – two courses at £12.95 per person.”