“WE’VE had a lot of people crying,” said a cheery Karl Willcox, purveyor of what is billed as Swindon’s hottest pub curry.
Had I not been about to try it myself, I would probably have been as amused as him.
“Grown men crying,” he added, warming to his theme. “Obviously there’s lots of perspiration, and we sell an awful lot of milk during that time.
“Somebody ran off to Tesco for yoghurt because we don’t sell it here.”
Karl has been landlord of The Abbey Mead in Elstree Way since last August, although he’s been at the pub for nearly three years.
As its many regulars know, the place is a community hub as well as a local.
“We’re trying to make it a traditional community pub,” Karl said. “There are events and offers that attract families. That includes children’s parties, the Easter egg hunt.
“Then you have the things for adults, such as live music, darts competitions, quizzes.
“It’s essential for people to feel comfortable and get into a gathering place in the heart of the community that’s not going to cost them anything, basically.
“We get a lot of groups coming in; school groups meeting, football teams meeting. We don’t hire out parts of the pub – they’re more than welcome.
“We’ve had church meetings here – we’ve got the church next door. The Wessex Male Choir practice next door and then pop in here. Swindon hockey teams come here on Saturdays after their matches.
“It’s a place where all sorts can go.”
The menu runs to several laminated A3 pages and lists dozens of dishes from light snacks to full meals, all of them carefully crafted to put a smile on the face of the diner.
All except one.
“When we took the franchise on in August last year, we changed the menu to include lots of things we didn’t normally sell.
“One of them is a super hot curry. The original was called Cut Throat, which had a Naga chilli rating of five. That would put it alongside a Vindaloo.
“It was very popular for people to try but not a lot of people finished it.”
Some did finish it though; an average of two people a month over eight months. A gauntlet had been thrown down.
“Because people were finishing it we’ve changed it and made it hotter,” Karl added.
It’s now got a chilli rating of seven, which is equivalent to a Phaal. It’s called Hot as Hell.
“There’s a warning on the till: when somebody orders something it comes up: ‘Warn the customer it’s very hot.’ So there are no mistakes.”
It’s been on sale for three weeks. Many have tried, many have cried but only one has finished it.
Just £5.80 buys the chilli-heavy curry plus chilli or rice, chutney, naan, poppadum – and pain. Oh yes, plenty of pain.
I managed about eight forks’ worth before my head turned the colour of the end of a Swan Vesta. The ensuing endorphin high was so intense that I seriously considered trying to finish the demonic thing. Then I came to my senses, for which I thank whatever deities protect fools.
Hot as Hell looks like any other curry, but the heat paints every surface of your mouth with pain in about two seconds flat.
Your experience may vary, but I found that pain to be not quite as intense as I’d feared. At least I wasn’t going to end up rolling about screaming, like those nutters on YouTube who film themselves eating raw chillies. I should also point out that the pleasant taste of the chicken and spices isn’t masked by the agony – which is the only point in its favour. But then Hot as Hell reached my stomach. Remember that bit in the first Alien film when somebody takes a scalpel to a dead face-hugger and its blood starts eating through the floor? Think of a bowl of that blood with some side dishes and a napkin.
If there’s a hotter pub curry in this town, I’d love to hear about it. Or look at it or smell it – just not necessarily taste it.
Oh, and to answer the question many readers realise can’t be asked explicitly in a family newspaper: Yes, several hours later, and worse than any torment dreamed up by de Sade.