Curry is the nation’s favourite dish, so it’s only proper that we treat it with some reverence.
Earlier this week, the great and good from the curry world donned black tie for a glitzy London event referred to as the Curry Oscars.
The British Curry Awards, which have been attended by Love Islanders and Prime Ministers alike, recognise the best restaurants serving spicy food across the country.
Last year there were special gongs given out for the best takeaways and family teams operating during the pandemic.
But this year, we want to know the answer to a burning question overlooked by the Curry Oscars: where can we find the hottest curry in the UK?
Many restaurants have made the audacious claim over the years, from eateries in Edinburgh right down to luxury establishments in London.
The hottest type of curry generally available across Britain is the fearsome Phaal, a dish even hotter than vindaloo.
But some sadistic chefs have made it their mission to go even further, cooking up something so hot that just eating it – let alone enjoying it – is a challenge.
We set out to try some of the spiciest curries around the country to see which was the hottest – so you don’t have to.
Crocodile Inferno, The Dilshad, Cannock, Staffordshire
By Dan Hall
What happened to me at The Dilshad in Cannock, Staff., was profound and humbling.
The restaurant is home to the notorious Crocodile Inferno – a curry so diabolically hot that diners have to sign a disclaimer acknowledging what they’re letting themselves in for before buying it.
As the name suggests, the dish is made with crocodile meat because, as restaurant owner (and evil genius) Tony Uddin explains, it absorbs more of the spice.
There are over 20 chillies included in the £30 dish, including some of the most formidable on the planet.
Tony says: “Some of the hottest are the Trinidad scorpion – which is very competitive.
“And we also use fresh Naga which is also just ridiculously hot.”
You have to give the restaurant two days’ notice if you want a Crocodile Inferno because it takes that long to assemble the full bestiary of ingredients.
Aside from the disclaimer, there are a couple of other chilling insights into what I’m about to eat before the curry even arrives at the table.
One is that Tony insists I sit in an area away from other diners in case the fumes from my dish are too strong for customers sitting at another table .
And the other is that the chef preparing my meal wears a gas mask for his own protection while handling the weapons-grade spice.
The portents of doom continue when the waiter brings the curry to my table.
Before he even takes the lid off the dish, the spice is so pungent that my eyes start to water.
But even with all of these red flags, nothing could prepare me for what’s about to happen when I take my first taste.
As soon as the sauce touches my lips, the burning sensation is instantaneous and incredible, roughly akin to what I imagine it would be like to be flamethrowered in the face.
When the heat reaches my throat, I feel like I’m swallowing a chainsaw, and I start to hyperventilate as I’m consumed with agony.
For some sick reason I decide to persevere with the ordeal, hoping I might adjust to the Saturn V rocket launching on my tongue.
But I don’t – it just keeps getting worse the more mouthfuls I have, with the searing pain intensifying until my vision blurs and my hands start to tingle.
I’m knocking back beer to try and take the temperature down, but it doesn’t help – I would’ve happily necked a pint of liquid nitrogen had there been one to hand.
After about 10 minutes of heaving in a truly undignified manner and with the harrowing prospect of tomorrow morning in mind, I decide to throw in the towel.
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For those who really hate their own nervous system, Tony tells me he’s currently working on an even spicier version of the Inferno to be launched next year which will use shark meat.
To anyone interested, I promise you the crocodile is deadly enough.
Prawn Rogan Josh, MyLahore, Bradford, West Yorkshire
By Laura Connor
I head to UK curry capital Bradford to sample one of their hottest curries at one of the city’s flagship Indian restaurants, MyLahore.
I don’t mind reasonably spicy food and normally enjoy a tomato-based Rogan Josh as long as I can specify it comes with medium heat.
But I can barely get through a mouthful of their hottest prawn version, even when it’s absorbed by mounds of pilau rice and washed down with an entire jug of lemon water.
Laura Connor/ Reach)
At least I’ve definitely drank today’s daily recommended eight glasses of water in just one sitting.
This recipe is made with seven bullet chillies – which rack up 50,000-100,000 heat units on the Scoville scale (SHU), used to measure chilli spice levels – mixed with classic Madras spices, including eye-watering amounts of cayenne pepper and mustard powder. I take a deep breath before trying the scarlet-red curry, with visible bright green chillies menacingly winking at me from the sauce.
My waiter kindly brings over some yogurt and mint dip to help cool my mouth down – before asking if I would like to try their newest menu addition: spicy chicken wings.
Laura Connor/ Reach)
I try one and my mouth feels like an angry volcano so I politely ask for some Tupperware to take them home in.
Hopefully my mouth will have cooled down by lunchtime tomorrow…
City Spice Challenge, City Spice, Brick Lane, London
By Dan Hall
There’s no single street in Britain more synonymous with curries than London’s Brick Lane.
The legendary road was once home to 60 curry houses in the mid-2000s, with over a dozen still going today.
One of the best of them is City Spice, which has been referred to as the “King of Brick Lane” thanks to its endless accolades – which have included the Masterchef curry award 2017 for best restaurant in London.
As well as delicious delicacies, the Indian eatery is home to the City Spice Challenge.
Manager Reez Haque, 23, says the restaurant wanted to cook up a punishingly hot dish that could put even the most ardent spice lovers through their paces.
The £14.95 meal is a bhuna from hell, souped-up with some of the hottest chillies known to science.
One is the dreaded Carolina Reaper, the Guinness World Record holder for hottest chilli which clocks in at a shuddersome 1.6 million SHU.
For context, the pepper spray police use to incapacitate people is about 2 million SHU.
Reez says: “The reason we started the challenge was to do something for the local community.
“The idea was that if a diner could finish it off, whatever they pay for the dish would go to charity.
“Instead of putting the chillies directly into the dish, we blend them and get the juice out.
“The benefit of doing that is that it doesn’t kill the flavour of the other ingredients.”
After the first mouthful, I feel pretty cocky that I’ll be able to get through the City Spice Challenge without breaking a sweat.
But the hubris doesn’t last long.
As with a thermonuclear blast in the distance, the heat doesn’t hit you right away – you just get a flash of it on the first bite foretelling the fire to come.
The heat builds and builds until my mouth is a furnace, but I’m just about able to keep my cool.
And perversely, by the time I finish, I actually quite enjoyed it.
But if you’re going out for dinner, there must be something seriously wrong with you if this is the level of heat that you actually want – even if it is for a good cause!
Circle of Fire, The Crooked Skewer, Hull, East Yorkshire
By Greg Ford
We were warned.
Crooked Skewer owner Aminul Choudhury sits calmly by the table as he outlines the reduction process he has perfected to produce what he believes is one of the hottest curries in the county.
In truth ‘The Circle of Fire’ is a beast born from a touch of madness; 5kg of chillies including Ghost Pepper, Scorpion Pepper and Carolina Reaper dried and made into a paste.
The curry is then reduced over several days until it barely fills a bowl, with nothing added except water, because Aminul says he doesn’t want to risk losing heat.
The grill house beef is seared and thinly sliced before being glazed in a nine million SHU sauce named ‘Hell Unleashed’.
Aminul estimates the heat of the dish at five million SHU, and after tasting it I’m not in a mood to disagree with him.
The spice is present on the first bite, searing on the second and unbearable by the third.
Flashes of flavour are replaced with a pure and painful heat, numb lips and an insatiable appetite for mango lassi.
Fellow diners bravely accepting the tempting offer of a freebie instantly regret their choice.
One woman runs for the bathroom while a man showing off on a date makes a fool of himself by crying.
Genuinely the hottest dish to pass my lips and I hope for my body’s sake it stays that way.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.