The Bollywood Burner
A few weeks ago my friend Simon called to invite us out for a curry to celebrate his birthday. Instead of the regular phal from The Spice of India takeaway in Staple Tye, he suggested something a little more unusual. He suggested going to the Cinnamon Club in London and trying the Bollywood Burner.
The Cinnamon Club is situated in The Old Westminster Library, close to the Houses of Parliament, and was founded by classically trained chef Vivek Singh in 2001. The restaurant describes itself as a modern indian with “Vivek evolving age-old recipes to create dishes ‘beyond authenticity'”.
The Bollywood Burner is a special dish made to order and not listed on the regular menu. The main ingredient is the Dorset Naga, which has to be specially ordered a few days in advance, as well as the Scotch Bonnet. It is necessary to sign a disclaimer before trying the dish.
I was extremely nervous about saying yes but decided to give it a go. I wanted to try the dish purely out of curiosity, was quite happy to leave it if I couldn’t eat it, but was going to give it a reasonable go. At the end of the day I just wanted to say that I had tried what was once claimed to be the World’s Hottest Curry.
I had a few practice runs during the preceding week. I tried a supermarket phal with added Scotch Bonnet chilis, and the next day tried a takeaway phal, and ate those without any problems whatsoever, and so I was confident that I was at least ready to attempt the dish.
When the Bollywood Burner arrived it didn’t look too intimidating. It looked like a regular curry, with rice, and stuffed peppers on top. These were not regular stuffed peppers though, these were stuffed Scotch Bonnet chilis. Anyone bluffing at this point would be in for a sudden dose of reality.
The first mouthful was eye-opening. It was hot but it was not unbearable. The sauce, the carefully blended tastes, and the Naga chilis combined to make an exceptionally creamy and strong taste. You could taste the Naga chilis with every mouthful, and the Scotch Bonnet chilis were actually a welcome break.
After a couple of minutes I went a bit light-headed, and then a shortly afterwards I slightly lost feeling in my feet, but I decided to carry on and see what happened. My fellow diners pointed out that I had gone quite red and I noticed I had started sweating uncontrollably.
But the dish was not insanely hot, it was just very, very, very hot. I knew from the first mouthful that I could finish the dish, and I really enjoyed the gorgeous blend of tastes and spices. I genuinely wanted to finish the dish because it was one of the best prepared curries I had ever tried.
At the time I thought it tasted nothing like I had tried before, and very different to either a vindaloo or a phal, although upon reflection it does have a similar base taste to a bhuna, although of course several hundreds of times hotter.
Hot curries typically have a wall which kicks in and, if you are still eating by that point, you will struggle to finish. I was eating the dish very slowly because I was enjoying every mouthful but the wall kicked in with about 10% of the dish left. I braved it though and emptied the plate.
The staff kept walking past looking at us, checking we were okay, and the waitress kept my glass of water constantly topped up. Once we had finished the manager Hari Nagaraj came over and took a few minutes to talk through the history of the dish and to ask our thoughts about it.
Ice cream is compulsory after a hot curry so we ordered the Ice Cream selection of the day and, after several litres of water, I was almost my normal colour (although it took three hours to get fully back to normal) and could feel my feet again.
If you cannot eat a phal then do not attempt this dish. It is comparable to the hottest phal I have ever had. It is easier to eat than a phal as takeaway portions tend to be a lot bigger than restaurant portions, and the wall kicked in after about 10 minutes rather than 5 minutes for a phal, so you could take your time to an extent.
Every mouthful is infused with naga chilis so at minimum you have to be able to eat Scotch Bonnet chilis without any problems in order to attempt this curry. The dish is so beautifully blended though, and so if you meet the pre-requisites then it really is worth a try. Every spoonful is a wonderful experience.
I’m really glad I tried the Burner and actually found it slightly easier than I was expecting. It took me a couple of hours to start to feel normal again, and towards the end of the night I did briefly feel quite unwell, but the next morning am alive, writing this, and feeling good.