“ Resteraunt International / Address: Am Weser-Terminal 8 28217 Bremen „
Note - this was written after my first visit to the Chilli Club in June 2012. I've been back a couple of times since and always had good meals, so my original 4 star rating has been reinforced by further experience.
~Not somewhere you'll find by accident~
The Chilli Club in Bremen describes itself as an 'Asian Brasserie'. It's located in an area of the city where old river warehouses have been converted into swanky restaurants and modern business offices. It's a very different Bremen from the typical historic touristy centre and quite a change from the places where I usually eat. Unless you know it's there and go looking for it, it's very unlikely that you'd just stumble across by accident. I went there with a local colleague last week after first trying another restaurant called 'El Mundo' which she rejected on the grounds that "Nobody should have to wait in a queue on a Tuesday night". I didn't mind - I thought the Chilli Club sounded more like my kind of place.
The restaurant sits beside the Weser river with a large outdoor terrace but on the day of our visit it wasn't really warm enough so we took a table inside next to the windows. It's a very large restaurant and there was plenty of space when we arrived although it did reach slightly over half full by the time we left, mostly with quite large groups. At weekends it's apparently always very busy and it's a place my colleague regularly goes to with her husband and two small children.
The décor was very pleasant with a combination of Eastern and European influences. The oriental touches are not too overwhelming - yes there are quite a few statues of Buddha around the place, but they've not gone over the top and hung dozens of bits of 'tat' about the place. The longest wall of the restaurant is hung with gauzy roll-up panels and a massive sign saying 'Chilli Club' and a lot of the colour comes from the seating - row upon row of comfy sofas and wooden tables. The seating is actually comfortable - there's none of that 'am I eating my dinner or is the sofa eating me?' which you can get in places that pick their furniture unwisely. There are also lots of oriental touches in the presentation of the food but this is 'influenced by the East' rather than being a Disneyfication of the Orient.
~Food Glorious Food~
I don't think we were offered an English menu although I've since discovered there is one on the website. We ordered drinks - a half litre of Franziskaner beer for me and an Aperolspritz for Kerstin - and settled to interrogate the menu. We took quite a while to choose which was surprising considering my colleague eats here so often that she ought to know everything they have. There's a lot of choice on the menu and I was tempted by many of the dishes. Dishes are clearly marked to indicate which are vegetarian (shown with a four leaf clover - how lucky!) and to show how hot they are (one, two or three chillies).
The menu starts with a full page of sushi and sashimi options. The next section is so-called 'Asian Tapas' and offers some really interesting twists on familiar dishes. We actually chose our starters from this section and I was surprised how large the dishes were because I'm often disappointed by anything that calls itself 'tapas' as it tends to indicate rather small portions. Two soups were available and I would normally pick a soup but neither were suitable as they both contained meat. There were also salads available either in starter or main course portions. Hot main courses are classified as 'wok' or 'curry' and I was tossing up between a vegetarian tofu curry (I'm always intrigued by German 'curry') and a tiger prawn wok dish and I decided on the wok. It was a bit of a mistake as I didn't spot that there were no chilli symbols and in fact only one of the wok dishes was classified as even mildly spicy.
Our starters were fantastic. Kerstin suggested the so-called 'bread mix' with dips which she tried and failed to explain. I suggested the Vietnamese 'cannelloni' without paying too much attention to what it was but just liking the name. I needn't have worried as both dishes were fabulous. The bread mix consisted of a selection of prawn crackers, small poppadoms, and 'normal' bread with a set of three dips, one of which was an utterly spectacular wasabi cream which totally blew my taste buds. The other two were a mango chilli sauce and a chilli sesame dip. Considering that this cost a mere Euro5.50 and comprised enough for us both to have plenty to test, I thought it was an absolute bargain. The other starter - the 'cannelloni' was sheer genius and comprised four large pieces of what looked like sushi wrapped in soft rice paper but was actually a pile of vegetable strips with a slab of sashimi - two tuna, two salmon - perched on top and then rolled in steamed rice paper. They were too big to attempt to eat with chopsticks and did a pretty comprehensive job of falling apart when cut into smaller pieces but I was really impressed by both the taste and the creativity and by the price of Euro8.
~Wok a Mistake?~
We both picked the same main course although I had mine with rice and Kerstin went for noodles. The dish was 'Black Tiger Scampi Wok' and cost Euro15 each. The wok dishes all contain peppers, courgette, sugar snap peas, bamboo, carrots, cabbage, mini corncobs, onions, leek and various sprouts as well as fine Thai asparagus, pineapple and cashew nuts. There were just four large prawns, one placed in each corner and whilst all the ingredients were fresh, tasty and easily handled with chopsticks, the sauce let this down for me by being too sweet. It was described as 'sweet and sour' but was definitely more sweet than sour and - given the name of the restaurant - I was disappointed that there wasn't even a tiny bit of chilli. I ate about two thirds of the dish but had enjoyed the starters much more than the mains.
One thing I really liked about Chilli Club was that it wasn't too noisy. A lot of large restaurants these days - and I'm thinking particularly of the UK-based 'Italian' chains like Ask and Pizza Express - seem to have intentionally designed their premises to consist entirely of hard surfaces so that all noise is reflected and magnified until it's almost painful to be there. The multitude of soft sofas and the fabrics on the walls meant that even when it was quite busy, the restaurant didn't get unpleasantly noisy. I was also impressed by the staff who were all very efficient (well it was Germany) but also smiley and jokey and good and knowing the balance between being fawning and being aloof.
The cost for dinner for two of us came to slightly less than 60 Euros which I thought was excellent value considering the quality of the food. Looking again at the menu, the lack of fish or vegetarian main courses was quite restrictive for me and I probably should have gone for the vegetable curry. But the good news is that I can't wait to go back and try again and there aren't too many restaurants where I can 'miss' on the main and still want to go again.
Chilli Club is open every day from noon until everyone's gone - in fact they don't give a closing time but the kitchen stops cooking at 11 o'clock at night. This is the kind of place where you could eat late and keep drinking for many hours and they'll let you stay until you're done. They also have a 'business menu' which changes each day although I haven't tried it but I'd feel pretty confident that it would be good. One thing to watch out for if you're driving is that the car park is quite small and poorly laid out and the on street parking comes with a fee during the day time but is free at night. Certainly the size of the car park is disproportionately small for such an enormous dining area.
If you're staying in the centre of Bremen, you'll need to get a taxi or find a friendly local to drive you out to the restaurant. I've eaten in a LOT of Bremen restaurants and this is one of the few I'd go out of my way to try to get back to. It comes highly recommended. And if I mess up and order something a bit bland, next time I'll ask for chilli sauce.