If I were a businessman hoping to establish a site for an Indian restaurant with a modern twist in Northampton, the shopping complex near Tesco Mereway would, I imagine, be near the bottom of a lengthy list; possibly somewhere between Brackmills Industrial Estate and Towcester Road Cemetery.
There’s nothing wrong with the wider area, far from it: Hunsbury, with a parish council, oodles of middle-class families and home-delivered copies of its own quaint community handbook, is among the most salubrious districts of Northampton.
Ripe for a nice family restaurant, in fact.
But who puts a serious restaurant next door to a supermarket? If shown to a window seat – normally the most prestigious area of any eatery – the best view you can possibly hope for is two trolley parks, teenagers watching other teenagers ride around on tiny bikes and a neon Tesco sign about the size of a house.
These are not horrifying sights in themselves but that doesn’t mean I want to gaze at them while chewing on my tandoori khazana.
The Chillies restaurant, for those of you who have walked straight past it while trundling your weekly shopping back to the car, is set to the side of said mega-market and almost seamlessly grafted on to the side of its sister building, the Chillies bar.
The latter being a very useful place for me to go to watch Sky Sports on a Sunday afternoon, I only came across the restaurant bit accidentally, having incorrectly thought its entrance was a fire exit for the bar.
But, knowing only too well that, in the restaurant business, appearances are quite often deceptive, I made a mental note to investigate it sometime, for a possible addition to my now long-list of walking-distance curry houses.
Arriving there on a particularly cold Friday evening some weeks later, however, things didn’t look wildly promising at first.
Outside, Chillies looks quite fresh and modern and, with its giant signage in a bright, clean font and new-ish brick, quite inviting.
Once inside the doors, though, you’re faced with a gigantic (and, on that evening, empty) loft conversion of a bar area which, coupled with ceilings seemingly reaching their apex somewhere into the lower stratosphere, immediately gave the restaurant an inhospitable feel.
Unfortunately, to our left and down a step, that wide-open feeling was also continued by the almost complete lack of any diners, which is rarely a good sign.
Unfortunately, the cold feeling also stretched to the air temperature.
Unless the management really wanted the air to ironically encapsulate the name of the restaurant, I presume the heating was broken and that this was not the usual experience, so perhaps we can let them off that one (in fact, the managers had tried valiantly to take the edge off with some 1980s-style gas heaters scattered around the room - none of which actually faced us – but, if I’m honest, it was a bit like lighting a few candles in an igloo).
But things soon got better. As we selected our dishes from some charming, friendly waiters, people started to file in and fill the place up and it started to appear much more homely.
And when our meals arrived, in very good time, they were very good and made us almost forget the cold. As joint starters, we had three dishes, all well-prepared. The triangular vegetable samosas (£2.95) were savoury pastry stuffed full of crisp, spiced vegetables.
The aloo chat (£2.95) was juicy cubes of potatoes with cucumber and tomatoes in a fresh ground spice.
Chicken chat (£3.95) was diced chicken with special char massala’, again with finely-chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, and generous green herbs.
For my main I had a brave (three warning chillies on the menu) duck tikka jalfrezi (£8.95). It had tender strips of meat cooked with freshly-sliced peppers and green chillies with a ‘slightly’ (actually very) hot sauce.
Nicole had the butter chicken (£7.95), which was barbecued then simmered in a mild cream, almond and butter-based sauce.
All of it was in generous helpings, as much per portion as any Indian restaurant I have been to in Northampton (which is many), so it is excellent value for money.
It is still a struggle to decide who Chillies is meant for, though, many of our fellow diners seemed to have come straight from Tesco and just fancied something to eat on the way home. There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s sad that its location excludes it as a destination option for a night out. It is quite a bit better than a mere stop-off before driving home with the weekly shop.
Assuming the heating is working, and excusing the non-existent views, Chillies is actually a very competent and excellent-value choice.
The total cost of the meal was £27.75, including drinks.
By Nick Spoors
Chillies 4-5 Clannell Road
Northampton, NN4 0JF