Sunday 23 October 2016

Kiln, Soho

Kiln has just opened on Brewer Street, Soho, and it promises 'side of the road' style Thai food. There's no hint of eating at the side of a the road here, though; no tiny plastic stools or lizards running up your legs (another story...), but a shiny metal bar dominates the restaurant, extending down the side of the kitchen, where you can watch the chefs cooking in clay pots.

Kiln was opened by Ben Chapman, who is also behind Smoking Goat - a den of darkened spice, cocktails and smoke, where you go and gorge on fish sauce wings, and leave stinking wonderfully of garlic. Kiln is a rather more grown-up affair, the food meandering through Thailand, dipping its toe in Laos, Burma and sometimes Yunnan.

I went along for the preview (where all these pictures were taken), and it was so good I found myself back there less than two weeks later. I'm not the only person to think so; at 7pm on a Friday night, I was told there would be a two hour wait. I put my name down and headed for Bar Americain, under Brasserie Zedel, and merely an hour and 10 later that blessed text message came through. That is how to do Soho on a Friday night. 

Anyway, of the snacks, the lamb and cumin skewers are poshed up versions of my Silk Road stalwart. Juicy chunky pieces of meat and fat are dusted with cumin and chilli, compact and charred from the fierce grill. Fermented sausage comes with sliced shallot and a spritz of lime juice, and holy god those chillis pack a punch. Grilled chicken was sweet and smoky and tender, but for the simplicity of it lost out somewhat in the excitement of the sausage. 

Dry mackerel curry was the dish that made me suck air through my teeth. When you see the dish you think those peppers are... peppers... And a couple of them are mild and sweet, so it tricks you into thinking they all are, and then suddenly your eyes are watering, and you're having to slurp back really delicious orange wine to fan the flames of chilli fire. That was that mackerel dish.

I loved herbal pork soup the first time round. A light broth with Thai basil and fronds of dill, and pieces of pork so buttery and tender I thought it was mutton, originally. The dill makes it really fragrant and light. The second time round it lost its magic for me. The pork was a little on the dry side, as if they'd smoked it rather than cooked it in broth, and I don't remember much dill going on. My sadness was brushed to one side with the grilled pork neck with chilli sauce. At around 30% fat, it was charred to a sweet crisp exterior and butter within, and I was kind of hoping my date would be a fat avoider - you know the ones, the type that cut the fat off parma ham and you wonder why you're friends with them - but it wasn't to be. I had to share it. 

Langoustines. Sweet, sweet, langoustines, poached very briefly, and dressed with mint and shallots and lemongrass and very finely sliced chillis. These were a real highlight; the flesh is creamy and sweet, while all the aromatics are just there in the background, lightly perfuming each mouthful. I sucked the heads, ate the roe, cracked the claws and picked around in them before I remembered I was out in public. So, so good. 

The wild ginger and shortrib curry, pictured here from the preview, has actually gotten better. A darker, richer, coconutty sauce covers fork-tender meat. Luckily the brown rice they serve, still satisfyingly sticky, arrived just then for me to drench in that wonderful sauce. I woke up the next day resentful that I hadn't eaten more of it. 

Wild mushroom salad contained grilled, meaty mushrooms served at room temperature in a savoury broth, garnished with roasted ground rice. Squidgy, smoky perfection. Glass noodles baked in a claypot, so they're slightly crisp on the bottom, were flavoured with sliced Tamworth pork belly, and lots of rich, beautiful brown and white crabmeat. A sprightly green sauce came to drench the noodles with.

Kiln is exciting. It's a riot of herbs and fire, elegant seafood and rich meat dishes, interesting vegetables handled delicately. It's a flavour of the Far East, with herbs and vegetables grown in Cornwall, and using UK-bred produce. I can't wait to go back already, and my last visit was only 3 days ago. 

58 Brewer St, 
London, Soho W1F 9TL