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Chilli White

What's in a name – and what's in that murky-looking cocktail? Felicity Clarke wants answers

Published on October 23rd 2008.


Chilli White

It's only when a new bar comes along with a name so utterly daft that you wonder how people come up with such names and what exactly they're hoping to get across. The bar formerly known as Townhouse recently reopened as Chilli White. What was wrong with Townhouse? In name terms it had a lot going for it, combining homely associations with a distinctly urban setting whilst being a straightforward description of the venue's multi-roomed, multi-storey set up. But Chilli White? What can this hot pepper and mono-colour combo possibly mean?

Thorough investigations into this perplexing name would obviously require a bar visit but first I looked to the internet, finding an unlikely source in the Daily Sport: 'A bar has invented a blistering cocktail that packs a fiery punch – the world's hottest chilli. Drinkers can sample the scorcher at Chilli White in Leeds where staff have pints of milk on hand to help punters cool off'. It sounded extreme and suddenly I forgot all about the name and looked forward to the challenge of a noga jolokia chilli pepper cocktail.

The challenge was set for Saturday night. A friend and I approached the five security staff flanking the entrance to experience Chilli White for ourselves. Somewhere between the bouncers and the stepping inside we died and went to join Biggie and Tupac (although maybe not together) in a decadent hip hop heaven. This was the White Room. We adjusted to this plush vision of the afterlife complete with mirrors, white muslin and lilies, and made a beeline for the bar.

Perusing the drinks menu we found the chilli cocktails but no mention of the famous noga jolokia chilli cocktail. I asked a po-faced bar girl who told me, “It's not on the menu, but we can make it. You have to sign a disclaimer though, and it's not at all pleasant to drink.” It's at this point I wimped out, and can you blame me? If this superhot cocktail is their USP (that's unique selling point to anyone not fluent in corporate codcrap) then it's senseless to draw people in only to leave it off the menu and persuade them out of it if they seek it.

Determined to sample some chilli and not abandon the cause completely, we had a chilli white (£6) and a basil berry spice (£6). The chilli white was a Sailor Jerry white russian with a tiny splash of chilli sauce served in a highball glass. More akin to a vanilla shake than a £6 chilli cocktail, it's milky blandness was the most notable thing about it. The basil berry spice was a bit better, tasting like a strawberry jolly rancher with flecks of basil and a little kick. It was served in an impressive cocktail glass with a fat conical stem. “Be careful with that glass,” said Po-face, which made me feel about five year's old.

We took our not-so-chilli cocktails upstairs where the gods of hell-funk have created a big budget version of the whore's boudoir that Laurence Llewellyn Bowen inflicted on those poor Changing Rooms participants back in the late nineties. The Red Room is all crushed velvet, black leather padded ceiling, diamond mirror wall and unfathomable fringed poofs soundtracked by the ubiquitous funky house. We quickly scarpered back down to enjoy the heavenly White Room and its eclectic hip hop beats.

To see how they fare with the classics, we went for a second round of a mojito (£6) and long island ice tea (£6). Both were disappointing. The mojito was wrongly served in a highball and if I hadn't watched it being made would've sworn it was a lime cordial and soda. The long island ice tea was a murky tea colour and the delicate balance of spirits was tipped entirely by tequila. My friend (a committed drinker) couldn't finish it.

There were decent enough numbers for a Saturday night but Chilli White have got some serious work to do if they want their name to be synonymous with top Leeds drinking establishment, as Townhouse was in its day. The extreme makeover, although somewhat garish, certainly creates a unique setting but the aspirations of grandeur need to be matched in an attention to the operations side. It's all very well getting national press coverage for a gimmick drink, but it's the punters and their drinks that need the focus now. I suppose it's too late for the name.

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AnonymousOctober 23rd 2008.

very dissapointing. As a regular townhouse visitor this new bar, club, lounge is townhouse with a paint job. The decor downstairs is now looking tatty and not very welcoming at all. Middle floor looks like a lap dancing bar and the top floor reminds me of a diner. I enquired on the door if the venue played any R&B and was told very directly by a manager, i think, they did not play that type of music as "that is not the sort of crowd we are looking for anymore". How nice! As i deceided to enter the veunue anyway i was amazed that all i could here was R&B!!! Message understood and they're not even discreet about it. I visited on a Saturday and it is a long way from the townhouse days and i'm afraid to say, very overrated. I had viewed a website saying that they hoped the bar would be the most exclusive bar out of London! Well, i'm afraid its not the most exclusive bar on the street. I dont think much more has to be said because it looks like customers are talking with their feet, they're simply not going. Superna is a much better experience and i would recommend that before chillie white anyday. Sorry to say guys, bad job.

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