Police cordoned off three streets and firefighters smashed down a door after reports of a chemical attack on a busy shopping street in London’s Soho.
But instead of a terrorist attack or a toxic leak, all police found was a Thai cook preparing chilli sauce.
Emergency workers wearing protective breathing masks were called to D’Arblay Street on Monday evening after members of the public detected an acrid cloud of smoke.
A Hazardous Area Response Team was dispatched and specialist crews broke down the door of the Thai Cottage restaurant.
They emerged shortly afterwards with a 9lb pot of chillies.
Chalemchai Tangjariyapoon, the chef at Thai Cottage, was preparing nam prik pao, a specialist dipping sauce made with deliberately burnt dry-fried chillies, when the emergency workers burst in.
Restaurant staff, who are used to the pungent aroma, were baffled when firefighters broke down their door Monday evening.
“I can understand why people who weren’t Thai would not know what it was,” the chef told The Times.
“But it doesn’t smell like chemicals. I’m a bit confused.”
A waitress at Thai Cottage, which has been on D’Arblay Street for 17 years, said she and other staff members were led out of the restaurant by firefighters and had to wait in the street for three hours.
Nam prik pao consists of the burnt chillies, garlic flakes, dried shrimp, palm sugar, shrimp paste, tamarind and vegetable oil. It is often added to soups, stir-fries and noodle dishes.
Bonus: Recipe for Nam Prik Pao