FoodIssue 18

Kiln It

Know anyone who refers to himself in the third person? Or how about that girl who chuckles “OMG classic me” whilst dropping yet another iPhone in the toilet at work drinks? Such derivative pomposity makes Hayley Daen want to flush it all away, but amongst chefs and restauranteurs such unoriginality is as ubiquitous as the dozen pairs of Ugg boots you have at the back of your closet, all crunched and sad-looking from stomping on them all the time. At the moment such a trite, self-referential style of cooking is all too familiar. Been to one Alan Yau restaurant? You’ve been to them all. In essence, Hakkasan is Yauatcha is The Duck and Rice is Cha Cha Moon. Even if the food is stellar, this gastronomical Groundhog Day is tedious and tiresome.
But on rare, glorious occasions a chef takes a concept and tweaks it, gently wrestles with an established idea. It’s recognisable, it doesn’t unsettle, but it’s like nothing you’ve had before. Ben Chapman manages to achieve this with his new restaurant Kiln. It may be The Smoking Goat in an alternate universe, but if so, it’s the universe I want to inhabit. The transformations the menus and flavour profiles have undergone become, for the diner, transformative.

Billed as a ‘side-of-the-road’ restaurant like those that dot the highways in the Thai borderlands, this space is really more sleek masculine Kitchen Confidential, than rickety, dusty Parts Unknown. It’s functional and minimal, with a stainless steel bar that snakes around the room enclosing an open, flame-fuelled kitchen and tattooed, man-bunned chefs. It is loud and dark and cramped, but surely that’s part of the fun. A backache from an evening spent perched on a stool and your swollen belly is a small price to pay.

While the restaurant’s name may have you envisioning terracotta pots being set ablaze, the chefs don’t actually cook in a kiln. Instead they burn aromatics like wood and corn cobs to embers in an oven to smoke their meats, before finishing dishes in woks and on the grill. Even though Kiln is mostly walk-in save for the basement, which is bookable for parties of four, the team pays incredible attention to diner experience, favouring it over concern with building hype or pandering to trends. You may leave your name and number (and maybe a Facebook request, if the hostess is smoking) and come back once you are summoned.

The wines are spontaneous and enigmatic as the playlist, which sees vinyls churning out a parade of unexpected ‘Tunes’, from Van Morrison to The Smiths to Guns ‘N’ Roses. Dedicated to seasonality and enamoured of terroir, Bitten & Written has curated a wine list for Kiln that is ever-changing and always intriguing. Natural wines abound, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to order one of the Australian or Italian ‘skin contact’ white wines. Because they’re fermented with the skin on, the grapes produce lovely apricot-coloured wines with a nervy acidity that are spicy and incredibly compelling.

At Kiln, your meal is best enjoyed with forks darting between plates and dishes shimmying back and forth between diners. Three or four dishes should suffice for a couple, though a couple more would never hurt. The smoked sausage with turmeric is heady with spice and a great way to ignite your taste buds before you move on to other dishes. The interior is coarse but tender, and the outside is seared for a snap beneath the teeth as sharp as a Reddit troll’s tongue. The sweet langoustines are halved, lightly poached, and served with thinly sliced shallots, kaffir lime, mint and chilies. Succulent and aromatic, the bodies surely deserve some attention, but, as those in the know can attest, head is best. Remove them from the shell and give them a good probing.

The wild ginger and short rib curry is dark, rich and fork-tender. Spooned over the brown jasmine rice and chased by a meaty Isaan mushroom or two, the short rib is a hearty dish to see you through the drizzle and disillusionment of the coming months. And, while, a slight deviation from the heat and smoke of the rest of the menu, the clay pot baked glass noodles might just make you forget you’d ever craved anything else. A rasher of Tamworth Belly bacon and silky, brown crab meat punctuate the tangle of noodles. Like a sprinkle of holy water, the bright accompanying dipping sauce is essential for the final steps to transcendence.

If you want an imaginative, satisfying meal, head to Kiln. You’ll be able to trace Chapman’s references with a sort of culinary bibliography, recognising flavours and techniques but not dishes and styles. This restaurant embraces its origins but takes them forward. It leaves the navel-gazing to the others.

 

Monday to Saturday 12:00 am–2:30 pm,
5:00 pm–10.30 pm
Sunday 1:00 pm–10:00 pm
£25 / person